Wheels of fortune? Professional pathway more by grand design than luck
Peter Dunne has hailed the success of the Bermuda Bicycle Association with more of the island’s cyclists moving closer to professional opportunities overseas than ever before.
Since being established in 1974, the BBA has played a role in the development of a number of local high-profile cyclists careers including Olympian Elliot Hubbard and Commonwealth Games veteran Kris Hedges.
That continued with the emergence of Olympic triathletes Tyler Butterfield and Flora Duffy, a two-times world champion, as well as cyclists Dominique Mayho and Caitlin Conyers, who represented Bermuda on the international stage.
In the past year or so, the association’s long-term youth developmental aspirations have really started come to fruition with a focused programme helping a larger number of cyclists to gain opportunities overseas. This has culminated in Connor White and Kaden Hopkins being handed deals with professional development teams in Canada and Spain respectively.
“Clearly our results back up something good is happening,” said Dunne, president of the BBA, who has been credited as the key reason behind its success over the past dozen years by the likes of Hopkins.
“To have two guys in Kaden and Connor at this level internationally at the same time is a real rarity for us as nation; it’s incredible.
“When we started to intentionally try and create an actual programme for the purpose of growing cycling through a developmental stage rather than just recreationally, it was only really Dominique Mayho at that sort of promising high-school level around 12 years ago.
“I was determined to do things differently and better because we wanted to be competitive overseas. We needed a bigger pool of children to get into the sport, develop and compete overseas.
“What we wanted ideally is a continual pipeline because if we don’t have those children coming through, you get to a point where everything halts and you have to almost start over again. I had to focus on what was coming next.
“That takes time and we are only seeing now over a decade later that we have a pipeline coming in and a high-end performance at the other end going overseas.”
That dedicated approach has certainly reaped rewards; crucially closing the gap between the years of individual prospects coming to the fore.
With Hopkins and White now entering the next stage of their development abroad, Dunne is well aware he doesn’t face a long wait for the next crop of burgeoning talent with the exciting trio of Nicholas Narraway, Liam Flannery and Alexander Miller primed to follow a similar pathway should they choose to do so.
“Now we have a group of young cyclists who have the opportunity to really progress in the sport,” added Dunne. “In the past there was always a big gap in years from Elliot Hubbard to Kris Hedges, then from Kris to Dominique. We have a much closer continuum of talented cyclists now.
“In recent years, you had Kaden and Connor looking up at Dominique and now you already have the likes of Nicholas and latterly Liam and Alexander seeing a realistic pathway to a possible professional career.
“With Kaden and Connor now on that professional pathway, there is a tangible pathway for guys like Nicholas to see that ambition is possible in the near future.”
A key aspect of the association’s more recent success has been the ability to offer riders the opportunity to impress on the international stage within the region, with both Hopkins and Conyers enjoying success at the Caribbean Championships in 2019.
“We have been fortunate. When opportunities have presented themselves, we’ve been able to grab them,” Dunne said. “We’re not splashing out vast amounts of money for people to compete around the world, but we have been smart in choosing the competitions we’ve sent people to for good opportunities.
“I’ve always felt that a good way to get a move to Europe or other big regions is to do something in our region, get noticed here. When Kaden and Caitlin won gold at the Caribbean Championships, the president of cycling’s world governing body was watching. He came to me and said, ‛what are you doing in Bermuda?’ People are recognising what we are doing.
“The younger guys we have on island are desperate to go and compete overseas, and I think that shows how far we’ve come that we now have a pool of talent at a strong level.”
Despite the undoubted success of the programme, Dunne, its architect, conceded improvements can still be made, particularly with helping to promote women in cycling.
“I’ve been lucky in the sense that the board have given me free rein to almost do what I want,” added Dunne on his leadership of the programme. “We have such a great pool of talent at the moment that, if we can keep them riding, there will be more local cyclists having opportunities abroad.
“However, there is still a lot more to do from my point of view. I feel as though we are failing the women’s side of cycling. After Nicole Mitchell, we had Caitlin Conyers, but after her there is a huge gap.
“We need to have a method to help develop young women in the sport and try and help keep them in it.
“One thing we are going to do is to start a Saturday group for all children aged 13 to 14 coming out of the cycling academy run by Anton Gilbert. That will be the outlet for them to help their development and should give us another group of high-school aged children to come into the development programme.”