Tielt-Winge, Canada

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

Steve Bauer is a legend in Canadian cycling, and not just because of the medals he won at Olympics and world championships, or because of his success on the fabled road courses of Europe, including the Tour de France.

The great thing about Bauer, The Fenwick Flash, was that he excelled without ever taking crap from anyone.

Don Cherry would have loved this story: At the 1988 world road championships, near the Belgium town of Ronse, Bauer and Belgian hero Claude Criquielion, the race leaders, made a sprint for the finish line with less than 100 metres to go.

Bauer made his move first and Criquielion responded.

As the two charged to the finish, the Belgian attempted to pass Bauer on the inside.

Criquielion then bumped Bauer and the Canadian's right elbow flew up, sending Criquielion crashing into the barricades.

Bauer was disqualified and denied the gold medal, despite his argument that the elbow came up "reflexively" as he tried to keep his balance.

But here's the intriguing postscript to the story.

Criquielion sued Bauer for assault and sought $1.5 million in damages, calling Bauer a "bandit" who displayed "a hockey player's instincts".

For his part, an unimpressed Bauer, called Criquielion "a dummy".

Years later, a Belgian court ruled in Bauer's favour.

Bauer always did it his way and was, in many ways, a trail blazer for Canadian cycling.

One of the keys to Bauer's success was that, after competing on the European circuit for a number of years, he moved to Belgium, so he could train between race events without having to fly back and forth from Canada.

Canadian athletes, particularly cyclists and ski racers, often complained that the constant travel negatively affects their performance.

Bauer maintained the move to Europe ultimately aided his career. And now the Canadian Cycling Association has bought into the idea.

Thanks to financial support from the Own the Podium program, the CCA recently established a European training base in Tielt-Winge, a tiny municipality located in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant, 75 km east of Brussels -- allowing the cyclists from all disciplines to train and compete in Europe while living in a "professional and comfortable" home base.

Instead of being forced to stay at different hotels and renting cars at various races and training camps, the Canadian team is settled in one spot, close to everything.

"The big advantage is that it becomes very cost efficient to be able to keep teams over in Europe for a longer period of time, rather than flying over from Canada to hit two competitions and then flying home again, and paying the highest price for this," said Greg Mathieu, the CCA's CEO.

The Canadian women's road team recently competed in a four-race series in Europe, with the first event only a two-hour drive from the team's base and the final event just slightly further than that.

By all accounts, the proximity to the home base was a huge bonus.

"After (the final event), the team packed up and drove three hours back to our 'home away from home' in Tielt to hot showers and home cooked meals," national women's team endurance coach Denise Kelly reported.

Mathieu said the base has everything the team needs, from Internet and telecommunications access, to a garage big enough for the team's cars and bikes, as well as a working space for the bike mechanics and enough room for the team's support staff.

"That's what we wanted, a home away from home. It has the things we need and we don't have to uproot our athletes every time they go to a competition," said Mathieu.

After winning a gold and silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Canadian team failed to win a medal at the 2008 Beijing Games and the CCA began searching for ways to give its athletes a leg-up on the road to the 2012 London Olympics, as well as the world championships.

An obvious idea was a European training base, something that Australians had done years before.

"In this context, we can certainly take inspiration from the Australian model which was established in Italy for over 20 years and saw one of (their athletes), Cadel Evans, become world champion in the 2009 road race," said Canadian coach Vincent Jourdain.

The CCA also believes that a European training base will eventually lead to more Canadians taking part in the professional road racing.

But there is a catch.

Mathieu said while the CCA has committed to the European base for the three seasons leading up to London, he said continued funding from OTP will largely depend on how Canadian cyclists do between now and then -- though he is confident that the team has turned the corner.

"We believe the base will be a big help," he said.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos