The most Canadian WorldTour team is Israel Start-Up Nation(ISN). That might sound like a far-fetched claim. After all, the team is not called Canada Start-Up Nation, is it? But join us and team sponsor Maxxis tires as we take a close look at ISN and all its Canadian connections.
If there was a competition for the most Canadian WorldTour cyclist, Guillaume Boivin would probably win. The seasoned pro has spent many cold winters on the trainer, he’s bilingual and he loves hockey (like, really, loves hockey).
Very Quebecois beginnings
“Hockey might actually be my favourite sport,” says Boivin. The Montreal cyclist has always been an athlete, but his elite sports career started with a sport much better suited for a Quebec winter. As a teen he played competitively and was progressively moving up through the ranks.
One summer, during his off season, he went to visit his extended family for three weeks. His cousin was into cycling and suggested Boivin take his aunt’s bike and join him on some rides. “‘Jump on it if you wanna go,’ he said, and I went—and it wasn’t too bad,” remembers Boivin.
The next year he saved $1,000 to buy a bike (to keep his summer form for hockey of course). That’s when the sport really drew him in.
Boivin was then faced with a choice: Compete in Quebec junior major league hockey or pursue cycling and see where that takes him. “When I told my coach, ‘I’m stopping hockey. I’m gonna ride my bike,’ he said, ‘What are you talking about? You’re gonna ride your bike around with your buddies?’”
Though he made his choice in his sports career, Boivin has still been known to dabble in hockey. “I still compete in a beer league with my buddies in the off season,” he says.
From skates to races
Boivin says it’s always hard to break onto the scene coming from Canada. “Even going to Europe for three or four months as a junior, it’s a commitment,” he says, “it’s not always easy to leave home at 16-17.”
He feels lucky to have had sponsors that supported him on SpiderTech. He joined the Canadian continental team in 2010, the year he finished third in the U23 world championships road race. One year later the team transitioned to pro continental, which gave a number of Canadian cyclists the opportunity to compete internationally. In 2012, Bovin came third at Tro-Bro Léon, just behind his Canadian teammate Ryan Roth, who won the race.
While riding for SpiderTech, Boivin met Sylvan Adams and Paulo Saldanha. Saldanha, who is now the performance director at ISN, would become his coach for the next 10 years. “I think I’ve trained more at PowerWatts (Saldanha’s indoor training studio) than on the road,” says Boivin with a laugh.
Cannondale and beyond
In 2013 he moved to the WorldTour level when he joined Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. He raced with the team until they folded in 2014, at which point he returned to North America.
Boivin describes says the next year was difficult. He was racing with American team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies (now Rally). “I was in a rough career period,” he says. “I didn’t really know if I would continue.” As he contemplated his next steps, Sylvan Adams (who had just gotten involved as the owner of the team that would become ISN) got in touch with him.
“Sylvan said to come,” says Boivin, who has raced with ISN ever since.
Development and visibility
Boivin sees ISN, particularly the continental feeder team, as a clearer path for younger Canadian riders to come up through the ranks of the cycling world. “The main focus of that team is to develop cyclists,” he says, “and there’s a will to help Canadian cyclists.”
As an experienced rider (“After 10 seasons as a pro I feel old,” jokes 31-year-old Boivin) he understands the importance of a team that helps riders get to the highest level. Even the presence of the Canadians on a team can have a positive impact.
“For young Canadian cyclist with talent, seeing the number of Canadians on the team shows them there’s a possibility. It’s something that they can go to bed and dream about.”