Pan Am Games Puts Cycling in Spotlight

2015/06/09
Pan Am Games Puts Cycling in Spotlight - Painting by Luigia Zilli, Tumulto
Pan Am Games Puts Cycling in Spotlight - Painting by Luigia Zilli, Tumulto
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Cyclists pedalling from A to B are a common sight in most Canadian cities, but when it comes to competitive cycling, the sport doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as, say, hockey or football. For now, at least.

The upcoming Pan Am games will feature both road cycling and track cycling and experts in the industry predict the exposure will help increase the sport’s popularity across the country. “There’s definitely an excitement that’s filtering into the community,” says Matthew Pioro, editor of Canadian Cycling Magazine. 

In particular, the new Cisco Milton Pan/Parapan Am Velodrome, built especially for the games in Milton, Ont., is attracting a lot of attention. “It’s getting traction locally. (People are) intrigued. They want to know more,” Pioro says.

For Joseph Veloce, an Olympic track cyclist who represented Canada at the London 2012 summer games (and whose name, which means “fast” in Italian, is very apropos), there’s no doubt this is a key moment in the development of the sport nationally, not just among amateurs but at the elite level, too. “On track it’s drawing quite a few people,” says Veloce, who lives in Ancaster, Ont. “Especially on the sprint side, the sport is exploding across the world.”

And it’s terrific for Canada to finally have a world-class training facility at home in time for the games, he adds. “There’s no doubt the whole team wants medals in every event.”

While it’s true Canada doesn’t have the same cycling tradition as Italy or France, Pioro says, it does have a very dedicated core.

For example, Canada has its own versions of the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia – just think of the Tour de Beauce or BC Superweek – which are well known in North America.

At the elite level, it doesn’t hurt that the women’s Canadian cycling team brought home a bronze medal at the Olympics, Veloce says. “That was an eye-opener. When we get to these races, we’re respected.”

The added bonus for athletes like Veloce, who started cycling competitively in 2004, is the new facility allows them to finally train at home, rather than decamp to Los Angeles or even further afield to Europe for track training.Among amateurs, Pioro says, cycling has really taken off in Canada in the past decade or so. Road cycling is growing more popular in the 40-plus demographic, for example, and along with track cycling, there are dedicated mountain biking and BMX enthusiasts in Canada. “It’s a participant and a fan sport,” Pioro says.

Oakville-based visual artist Luigia Zilli is also a cyclist who grew up competing in the sport in Italy. 

Eight years ago, she turned her love of the sport into the subject of her work, selling canvases around the world to collectors who, like her, love to pedal on two wheels. “I remember in those days there was the Tour de France on television,” Zilli says, recalling what inspired her first canvas. Since then she’s gone on to sell her work to cycling enthusiasts all over the world. “I like to see that too because we share the same passion,” she says of her buyers.Perhaps the trickiest part of painting cyclists is conveying speed, she notes. “You have to make the subject look like he’s in motion.”

Trained also as a sculptor, Zilli would also like to start creating three-dimensional cycling-themed work.

Zilli says she plans to catch a few cycling races in between art shows at the Milton Centre for the Arts, where her work will be on display during the month of July.

When it comes time for the games, there will be no shortage of cycling events to see. In track cycling – the discipline where Veloce will compete – cyclists whoosh around a steeply-inclined wooden track on lightweight bikes with no gears or brakes. Cyclists can reach speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour in events that focus on endurance and speed.

Road cycling is one of the original Pan Am games competition sports. Male cyclists race in teams over a 160-kilometre route, while women race over an 80-kilometre route, both of which cross through parts of Toronto. Pioro recommends trying to snag a spot in High Park or on a corner along the route. “It’s a fabulous spectator sport,” he enthuses.

Painting by Luigia Zilli, The Thrill of the Win

Painting by Luigia Zilli, On the Track

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