By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
An article last week in the British Columbia newspaper The Province reported that the Canadian continental Symmetrics team is currently undergoing financial woes due to sponsors pulling out, affecting the team's plans for this season that could result in the team dissolving after its fifth year of existence. The paper reported that Coast Capital, B.C. Hydro PowerSmart and FarmPure have all ended their sponsorships. Members of the team told Cyclingnews that the current budget would only last until mid-June, when the Canadian Cycling Association will choose the Beijing Olympic team, unless a new sponsor is secured.
Team co-owner Mark Cunningham, who owns the team with his brother Kevin, told Cyclingnews that the all-Canadian rider team supported by Canadian companies is hurting from the weak U.S. dollar. "What has happened is the Canadian dollar has gotten really strong so it affected Canadian business and their sponsorship," he said. The Cunningham family owns one of the supporting sponsors that makes plywood, and the bursting bubble of the U.S. housing market has taken its toll. As a result the team has significantly reduced its budget from $1 million to $650,000 for 2008, despite remaining sponsors increasing their commitments.
Subsequently the team has curtailed many plans for the season, including a major trip to Europe to compete in four UCI races. The invitation came after the team rode strong at the Vuelta a Chihuahua in Mexico last October. The Spanish promoter offered to cover all of the racing expenses for the team – but with a slashed budget, the team could not afford the airfare.
"The Vuelta a Chihuahua organizers invited us to four races – Christian Meier placed high there and so they invited us to all these races," said Mark Cunningham. "It would have been great racing and a chance for UCI points for our riders – there were three 2.1 and a 1.1. We were going to be there for 22 days and racing for 14 days. But we would have to pay for air fare and the days in between, plus staff over there. Any other year we would have gone."
The sponsorship woes could not come at a worse time for the team, with the main goal of qualifying riders for the 2008 Olympics – with the Canadian Cycling Association using UCI points as the metric. "Racing wise the team is doing remarkable," said Mark Cunningham. "We had a phenomenal 2007 and we just won San Dimas. Obviously, we love going to big races but it is important for our riders to get points for Olympic selection, and that closes on June 15.
"The CCA is taking 2007 results plus 2008 results up until June 15," Mark Cunningham continued. "Zach Bell qualified in the points race, and we are hopeful for a Madison team – but then it is getting riders into the road race. So going to races with UCI points is really important for guys like Svein Tuft. The CCA is really screwed up in how they pick the national team – it's four guys picking the team with little to no criteria other than points."
Find out more about the dire situation here.