Canuck cyclist recruiting hockey players

DAVE ELLIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:56 PM ET

TORONTO - He's the pride of tiny Fenwick, Ont., a Canadian sports legend who has been seen by hundreds of millions of fans around the world.

But in Gretzky's on Blue Jays Way on a weekday afternoon he's just another guy.

The greatest cyclist this country has ever produced — one of the legendary hard men in the toughest sport going — slides into a booth in the hockey shrine to The Great One.

Surrounded by the jerseys, sticks, trophies and other hockey memorabilia that fill the sports bar, Steve Bauer’s right at home.

Before he got fired up about cycling, hockey was his passion.

His career topped out with him playing a few games as a member of Port Colborne’s Junior B team.

Apart from the shaven head, the 5-foot-8 Bauer, now 52 and only eight pounds above his 170-pound racing weight, still looks like the pro athlete who competed at the highest level.

His mark on his sport is just as remarkable as The Great One’s on hockey.

Bauer left his imprint on the Tour de France, arguably the world’s toughest sporting event that’s been compared to running 21 consecutive marathons.

He’s one of the few athletes to wear the leader’s yellow jersey for an astounding 14 days.

And then there’s the Olympic silver in Los Angeles and victories and podium finishes in the classic races of Europe, like the bone-jarring Paris-Roubaix run over cobblestones in northern France, and a string of Canadian championships.

And now he wants to get other hockey players “intrigued with our sport,” he says.

He’s running a pro team and he needs riders for the future.

And he knows where to look — Canada’s hockey rinks.

“Hockey is Canada’s sport and it’s a large pool of ability — it’s a pool that I came from,” Bauer says.

“We know that hockey players are solid athletes ... they have the leg musculature and the foundation.

“I think we can have a championship team if we can be successful in making that transfer,” Bauer says.

“Hockey’s not the only sport but if you had to choose one, why wouldn’t you pick hockey?”

Bauer knows his sport is barely on the radar of most Canadians, but says with a grin, “We want to change that. It takes time and a few champions.”

Most young Canadian hockey players find their competitive careers end in their mid-teens — the perfect age to start getting serious about the bike.

And it’s relatively simple to spot the kids who could do well on two-wheels, Bauer says.

“The good thing about cycling is it’s easy to measure real-time performance and wattage,” he says.

“You can identify talent fairly quickly in raw horsepower and then you can take it from there.”

Hockey players from 15 to 20 would be the target group.

“They’re young enough and the perfect age to identify physical ability.”

And hockey players bring other qualities that Bauer says are key — “good stuff” that transfers into another sport.

They’re team players and know how to be coached and their work ethic and character would come in handy.

“Cycling’s a tough sport, you’re going to have to dig deep to be a professional cyclist,” Bauer says.

“It’s extremely tough, the toughest sport in the world.”

To get those “diamonds in the rough” he’s initially looking for hockey players to feed into cycling development teams in Ontario and Quebec.

Bauer and his inner circle are working on a protocol for finding and testing promising hockey players, most likely involving Paulo Saldanha and his PowerWatts training centres based in Montreal.

His ultimate goal is to get his Canadian squad — SpiderTech Powered by Planet Energy — into the Tour de France.

The team has just been granted a Continental Professional licence, putting it one step away from the tour.

To get there, he’s building a Team Canada on wheels — 16 of 19 of his riders and all his core backers are homegrown.

The SpiderTech team has attracted some high-powered Canadian corporate partners in Research In Motion, Pinetree Capital, Saputo, NRS Brakes, and Planet Energy.

The first Canadian team in a tradition–bound European sport is drawing attention.

“Obviously a Canadian team’s unique,” Bauer says.

“I go back to my career when I was known as Le Canadien Bauer. It wasn’t Steve Bauer, it was always Le Canadien Bauer,” he says.

“It had a bit of cachet and they’ll remember that.”

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Paulo Saldanha has the background to find the “diamonds in the rough” that Bauer knows are in hockey rinks.

The president and founder of PowerWatts, a network of three training centres in Montreal, he has worked with Olympic medallists like free-style skiers Jennifer Heil and Alexandre Bilodeau.

“The idea is to try and identify talent in athletes in Canada, to build a feeder system into the sport of road cycling,” says Saldanha, 47, who is a former professional triathlete and the first Canadian to go sub-nine-hours in the Hawaii Ironman.

The holder of a master’s degree in exercise physiology from McGill, he says the demands of the two sports are similar.

“The drills that (hockey players) do allow them to jump on a bike and generate high amounts of power,” he says.

And if they have the horsepower gene they can learn the rest.

“It’s going to take up to three years to convert a hockey player — the learning curve is big,” Saldanha says.

Bauer’s career is a template for the switch from hockey to road racing.

He joined the St. Catharines cycling club as a 16-year-old and in two years was competing at an international level and a year later was Canadian champion.

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Ray Arbesen is the brains behind NUCAP Industries (brake components) and SpiderTech (cutting edge medical tape), two of Bauer’s key sponsors.

The 61-year-old businessman got hooked on cycling after going on high-end bike tours run by Bauer and brings his entrepreneur’s optimism to the table.

“We have a chance, a good chance to win the tour in a couple of years,” Arbesen says.

“I’m doing it because they can win the tour if they get the right guys.”

He took an inventory and calculated the team has everything it needs to go all the way.

“It’s not going to be difficult, we have all the pieces,” Arbesen says.

“There’s not a better guy than Bauer to identify talent.”

When Lance Armstrong began his seven-victory onslaught on the Tour de France, the guy he wanted to guide the team was Bauer, Arbesen says.

“His first call was to Bauer.”

And it’s Canada’s unique hockey talent, a huge number of players who have been training like pros from early on that is key — “they’re serious guys,” he says.

“You need the horsepower and we’ll find it in those young kids,” Arbesen says.

“What do you do with kids who don’t make it to the NHL? This is another option for them,” he says.

“Why don’t we have 30 to 40 guys who have a shot to make the pro tour. I think we can do it,” Arbesen says.

“We’ll let them know there are jobs open and why not go for those jobs. We can show them the way.”

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In February, Bauer’s team is setting up shop in a villa in the French walled city of Carcassonne, just north of the Pyrenees, the mountains of southern France.

It will be their base for a three-month campaign before they head home for major races, like the Tour of California, that attract all the big European teams.

But first SpiderTech has the official team launch on Feb. 4 in another shrine to our national sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame.


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