Bauer pedalling his own team

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

For five days in 1988, Steve Bauer wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, putting him on a one-way road to becoming Canada's most celebrated cyclist.

He would finish fourth. There was a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics, three Canadian road racing championships and 11 seasons of running the hills of the French countryside.

It was a remarkable achievement for a kid born in hockey country. The St. Catharines native put cycling on the Canadian sporting map -- then someone lost the map.

Only two Canadians since Bauer have ridden in the Tour de France -- Ryder Hesjedal last year with Team Garmin-Slipstream, and the now-retired Gord Fraser in 2006.

Bauer took a step towards fixing all that at a press conference yesterday in Toronto, introducing his Planet Energy Pro Cycling Team. What makes this project unique is that the team is comprised entirely of Canadian riders.

"We need to have more of these teams. We have athletes who can compete at this level. We just need the sponsorship and support to make it happen," said Bauer, whose team gets its first test next week at the Vuelta Cuba Road Race. That will be followed by runs in Mexico, Redlands, Calif., and Uruguay, before making its Canadian debut April 10 at the Hamilton Good Friday Road Race.

It has long been Bauer's dream to put together an all-Canadian team to compete with the elite in Europe. This is the second year in his five-year plan to get Canadians back to the Tour de France as he tries to bring together sponsorship dollars and our best racers.

"We're on a tight budget of $700,000," he said yesterday as he introduced a 14-member team. On the sponsorship side he has Blackberry, Saputo (a large Canadian milk processor) and real estate giant, Iberville. Even with that kind of backing, it's not enough to pay all of his cyclists. "Eventually we hope to have a team where everyone is paid a salary," he said.

This year, the budget doesn't stretch that far, so Planet Energy's youngest get experience instead of a payday.

"To be one of the most competitive teams at our level in North America it would be $1-million plus because then we could acquire more of the top-level Canadian riders. We have some of the best Canadians but we do not have all of the best. If we had all the best Canadians on the same team we could be competitive with some of the teams now in the Tour de France. That's what I want to do."

When bicycles alone cost as much as $10,000, an elite team needs more than mere pedal power to be a success. "But this feels right. We're building on our own entity as Canadians," Bauer said. "There should be a Canadian professional team."

Bauer's enterprise includes Francious Parisien, 26, fifth in the U.S. Air Force Classic and a former Canadian champion. "He's capable of winning the biggest races in North America," Bauer said. Martin Gilbert won the U.S. Pro Criterion two years ago. Ryan Roth, of Bright, Ont., second at the Canadian Time Trials, has returned after competing on a U.S. team.

"I'm racing for my cycling hero, Steve, which is cool," said Andrew Randall, 34, a Toronto native. "We're not a huge cycling nation but the talent is there to compete (in the Tour de France) ... we have guys who could win stages. The main obstacle is pulling together enough dollars to get the infrastructure together."

Bauer believes he now has the foundation for that infrastructure -- despite a wonky economy, despite a sport ravaged by doping revelations. "It's difficult being on the cutting edge of anti-doping because you take the flak of it. Because we're testing better and more in-depth, riders who cheat are getting caught. In other sports where there isn't the scrutiny, guys just aren't getting caught.

"We're going in the right direction," Bauer said. "Cycling will be one of the cleanest professional sports in the world. You'd have to be a complete dummy to keep doping because you're going to get caught"


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