It’s sometimes compared to fantasy football; get a budget and spend it on your dream team. But the reality of forming a successful cycling team is anything from fantasy work for me. The realities of team selection provide me with more low moments than fantasy highs. Non-renewal of existing riders contracts and the non-selection of riders with phenomenal talent leaves me butting my head against the wall for many weeks.
The selection process begins with budget. The process of putting together a budget for the team takes me six months. From the minute our team launch is complete, usually around the end of February, part of my weekly work switches to building the team’s budget for the following year. Then there is timing; I need to make sure I have certain areas covered long in advance. These specific signings give your security that you can be competitive. Knowing your proposed race program and your rising targets several seasons in advance, means you can efficiently search for suitable riders during the busy racing season.
For 2015, I had a different element in place from what some teams might be trying to achieve. I wanted to build a team of riders very passionate about riding specifically for this team. A squad of riders that want to be at this team, not because it’s giving them the biggest deal, or the biggest race program, or the best bike. I wanted a group that really wanted this team as their first choice. The entire 2015 squad applied to us rather than us approaching them. That’s remarkable given the level of riders we have assembled.
So budget element of selection is all-powerful when it comes to any professional sports. Although the market for women’s cycling is clearly increasing, and boardrooms around the world are noticing the sport given it’s increasing media profile and television coverage, running a professional women’s team is a huge privilege. It’s not a right, and I have to work very hard to stay in the privileged position I’m in. I have so much more I’d like to achieve for my riders and that makes me very driven when it comes to finding ways to provide a return to my partners.
The winter months are the key time for this as we set out our media plan, identify target events and look into other unique opportunities. Without this planning and the support team in place behind the scenes, we will fail our partners, and relationships like we have with Matrix Fitness, which is entering its 6th year, simply can’t exist.
There are many areas of the team establishment process that are a lot of fun. We work with Milltag, a London based clothing company which design and produce our race wear. Two graphic designers established this company and their passion for design has driven us forward to work on our brand. With women’s cycling in a position where funding is precarious, input from those connected with the team in their particular area of expertise is something that’s allowed us to accelerate our passage to the top tier of the sport without leaving gaping holes in the substance that holds us up.
This winter has also given us the challenge of making the step up to professional racing from amateur level for all of our riders a reality. We need to prepare each athlete for what lies ahead mentally and physically. That work has already started with winter warm weather training camps in place, as well as several riders heading to Australia and New Zealand for several months. Our 2015 bike partners are an example of how the step up professional level brings with it the need for much greater detail as we look to make gains in all areas. Each rider, as well as getting several race bikes, also has personal bike fitting services provide by Trek. We need to make sure that the bike doesn’t only look good, but that the cutting edge technology within it is being pushed to the limit as the rider is perfectly positioned upon it to achieve maximum outputs.
That polished professional look of the team isn’t an overnight job. We have to work hard to gain each partnership we have. To keep a team on the road takes a lot of products, a lot of juggling of priorities and a lot of good will from those that support us and help raise our profile. 2014 saw many changes for women’s cycling and the next few years promise many more as the sport looks to secure its place firmly on the mainstream sport calendar.
Despite the challenges we face, the hard times and disappointments, I wouldn’t swap this job for the world. All in all it’s a very exciting time for everyone at the Matrix Fitness team.