By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Alex Cataford is at the crossroads of his professional cycling career.
Released last month by Israel-Premier Tech after four years with the World Tour team, Cataford has returned to the drawing board and is looking to connect with a new trade team for the fast-approaching 2023 season.
“At the moment, I am still looking for a team in 2023,” Cataford wrote in an email interview late last week. “I have had some good talks, but nothing is done at the moment.
“It is a tough market at the moment with a few teams that have unstable futures. I will keep looking until the new year, and, if at that point I can’t find anything, it may be time to look at my future after professional racing.”
Israel-Premier Tech, which is facing an uncertain future as a World Tour circuit team for the next three years as it wasn’t a top-18 ranked team after the 2022 season, has downsized its team for next season. After carrying 33 riders in 2022, Israel-Premier Tech has released seven riders and saw three retirements. But the team also welcomed six new riders, which included neo-pro cyclist Derek Gee of Osgoode, ON., from its Israel Cycling Academy.
Cataford was part of the academy team in 2019, raced for Israel Start-Up Nation in the COVID 19-pandemic seasons of 2020 and 2021 and for Israel-Premier Tech in 2022, but didn’t have his contract renewed for a fifth season.
“The team had always said they were very happy with the work I had been doing for them for the past four years,” Cataford continued. “However, when I was recovering from my broken collarbone, I started to hear from them that they may not have space for me in the team for the next season.”
After missing “a fair number of races in June,” because he tested positive for COVID, he returned July 25 for the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika stage race, but crashed on the first day, broke his collarbone and didn’t reach the finish line.
He missed eight weeks of competition in a challenging second half of his season. He returned in late September for the six-stage CRO Race and two one-day races in early October, which included his third Classic, the Il Lombardia.
“So, it (non-renewal of his contract) did catch me by surprise, but in the end it is their decision,” he added. “I do think the team will be six riders less than this year, so a downsizing could have been a part of it.”
Cataford, whose role was to serve as a domestique and assist the top riders on the Israel-Premier Tech team, including Ottawa’s Michael Woods, had six one-day races and one tour to start the 2022 season.
He followed that with two more multi-stage tours to prepare for his second career Giro d’Italia, which was his third Grand Tour event. He also raced the Giro in 2020 and the Vuelta a Espana in 2021. His only result was a 101st-place showing in this year’s Giro.
“During my time here, I have met some really great people and made life-long friends,” Cataford wrote. “I also got to compete in the world’s biggest races, including multiple Grand Tours and monuments (three), which was always a dream of mine as a young cyclist.
“I did feel that in the past two years I did not get to develop into the rider that I could have been with constant changes in my calendar and a lack of direction from the team, which is something I had hoped would have gone better.”
If Cataford had remained with Israel-Premier Tech for the 2023 season, it’s uncertain if he and his teammates, which would have included Woods, would have been participating in any of the major races, including the Tour de France. The Israel-Premier Tech started a 10-day training camp on Thursday.
When Israel-Premier Tech didn’t finish with enough team points to place in the top 18 on the World Tour, the International Cycling Union was forced to eliminate their automatic entry into the major races and restrict their competition to the individual races. Israel-Premier Tech is reportedly challenging the Union’s ruling through the courts.
“At the moment, we can’t say much as we are waiting to see what will happen,” Mikkel Conde, the Israel-Premier Tech communications manager and press officer, commented in an email. “As soon as we have any news, we will communicate it.”
If Israel-Premier Tech, which also released Montreal’s James Piccoli and has four Canadians left on its team, loses its licence as a full World Tour team, it would have to drop into the Professional category.
“I understand that by the rules that were laid out by the UCI (our sports governing body), we will be relegated and be a second-division team next year,” said Cataford, whose 2022 contract runs out Dec. 31.
“The big difference with this is that the team will receive a lot less automatic invites to the bigger races and will have to fight to be selected by the organizers for the wild-card spots. I believe there may be an ongoing legal challenge, but I am not sure on what basis it is, since we did get relegated according to the rules the UCI published three years ago.”
If the 29-year-old Cataford, who is a Queen’s University graduate in physics, doesn’t find a new pro team and decides to travel down a different road, he has had an incredible ride in his 13 years of professional and elite amateur riding.
In his nine years on the pro circuit with five different teams, which started in 2013, he has had 377 race days and covered 53,350 kilometres, which is once around the world, following the equator, with about 13,000 kilometres left over.
Besides racing in three Grand Tours, but not the Tour de France, and three Classics, he also represented Canada in its annual World Tour races, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Cataford also attended four world championships, wearing a Canadian jersey as a junior in 2011, a U23 rider in 2013 and 2015 and a senior in 2020.
At the Canadian road championships, he excelled in the individual time trial, winning five medals – bronze, senior men, 2018; silver, 2016; gold, U23 and bronze, men, 2013; and gold, junior men.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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