“I settled on a plan to take a chunk of time off from my corporate life this year to do some work in the international cycling world,” Cycling Canada president John Tolkamp said from his home in Vancouver a few weeks before he moves to Paris where he will take up a role with the re-election campaign of UCI president Brian Cookson.
During his sabbatical from his corporate work, Tolkamp had decided to look for opportunities to contribute to the globalization of cycling and contribute to its growth here in Canada. Tolkamp is a member of the UCI track commission, was a founding member of the UCI ethics commission and has worked on the UCI management committee so he has accumulated a great deal of experience. President of Cycling Canada is a volunteer position Tolkamp has held since 2009.
Cycling Canada was one of the first national federations to back Cookson during the election campaign that saw Pat McQuaid unseated after a hard fought and contentious campaign.
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Four years later, Tolkamp was offered and accepted the position of strategic advisor and campaign manager for Cookson’s re-election which will take him away from Canada to Europe for the next six months. “I got the full endorsement of the Cycling Canada board for my efforts to help Brian and the endorsement of the UCI ethics committee,” Tolkamp explained. “It’s a great opportunity for us in Canada to elevate our role as we develop into a much stronger cycling nation.”
Cookson took over the UCI following the fall-out from the Lance Armstrong reasoned decision. More recently, British Cycling and British-registered WorldTour Team Sky have come under increased scrutiny in the media that has prompted United Kingdom Anti-Doping to open an investigation into the organizations.
“We will wait to see what comes of it,” Tolkamp said of the UKAD investigations. “Brian feels and I do as well that under his leadership the sport was growing in the best possible way and had a good environment. If things come to light that are not what Brian has indicated and not indicative of the individual, his principles and values, then I am ready to reassess my support,” Tolkamp said.
Tolkamp spoke highly of the work Cookson has done noting that changes are hard to make in organizations like the UCI.
“I didn’t hesitate at all,” Tolkamp said about his decision to join Cookson’s campaign. “I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to lead the UCI the next four years. I think he has done a great job. The UCI is a large and complex organization. It is hard to change the culture and he has done a fantastic job making significant changes and steering it in the right direction.”
Tolkamp first met Cookson outside of the velodrome in London during the 2012 Olympics. “Are you going to leave any medals for the rest of us,” he recalls joking with Cookson who was then president of British Cycling.
During the spring of 2013, Tolkamp says that he was unhappy with the response of then UCI president McQuaid, “I didn’t think the UCI leadership was taking us down the right path.” Seeing an opportunity for reform and to contribute to changing people’s perspective of the sport, Tolkamp backed Cookson’s successful bid for the presidency which started the development of a good relationship.
Tolkamp is very pleased with the direction cycling in Canada has taken in the past years with steady growth in all disciples. Though men’s road cycling is the most visible he noted that Canada is on the cusp of some really big results and potentially even a victory in the Women’s WorldTour. He also said that Canada has an extremely strong group of under-23 riders and the most promising crop of juniors ever.
“Canada has two WorldTour events that have become a staple on the calendar and we also have the Tour of Alberta race. We’ve done well with the Milton velodrome and there are things in the works for other international events,” Tolkamp said about the state of cycling in Canada hinting. “In mountain biking, we have had the longest running World Cup at Mont-Saint-Anne.”
Taking up a position with Cookson is a great opportunity Tolkamp said. “I will be working on Brian’s maifesto. I will have the close ear of Brian and his team which is always valuable as we go through things like bidding for events or selection criteria for events,” Tolkamp explained. “It also allows up to better understand what other countries are doing to grow the sport.”
During his time in France, Tolkamp hopes to contribute to the globalization of cycling and improve his French. Visits to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are also on schedule. Tolkamp will also continue his work with new Cycling Canada CEO Pierre Lafontaine until he returns in the fall when he is up for re-election. Tolkamp hopes he will get another four-year madate as president.