It doesn’t feel like too long ago I thought my racing days were over. No team and not too many prospects to put a solo project together. A few kind people and some big results in some World Cups and the situation seemed to be fixed.
Now with the blessing of these partners, I’ve been lucky enough to put pen to paper on a new deal with a Belgian team, Experza. If you missed the news, two days ago I signed with the team who have just made the switch from road to cyclocross. I’ve got some great teammates and a big role to play off the bike too.
The New Team
I have a spent a huge chunk of my racing career in Belgium, but never raced for a Belgian team. There have been various reasons for this, but an overriding one is that despite many opportunities, I’ve never found the environment they created particularly conducive of what I want from a “team.”
When joining a team I’ve always had one question before any other, “What can the team provide that I can’t do alone?” I’ve seen people switch teams for seemingly no reason at all, but this can leave a series of burned bridges in the rearview mirror.
The lack of “team” in the European team model can perhaps be shown well in the rider parking area. You’ll see teams with 20 riders across 4 categories, which is great for the sport.
The part I don’t understand is that 20 riders need 20 motorhomes, meaning all riders are individual much of the time. Take a look over in the USA at the leading team and you have Stu Thorne’s Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld team with one base camp for all their riders.
That environment appeals to me and seems to make commercial sense too. It’s a dream situation for sponsors and media with a one-stop shop to get to all the stars. It’s an opportunity for riders to learn and share knowledge. I’m sure it can accelerate progression.
Having been approached by Experza I took my time to see all aspects of the team. The mechanics of a transfer can be really different for each rider, but to me, this particular transfer had a new emphasis on it.
I’m 37 and not long after the season, I’ll be 38. I can still get a good result and despite three wins this season, I feel frustrated that my issues with vertigo immediately before the season have held me back a lot. I know I’m not going to be racing forever and the selfish days of wanting to win above all else are behind me.
Saying that if you take me to sprint, I’m still using the outside ring. I’m pretty much addicted to the pain of training, I love the adrenaline of racing, but I’ve got a passion for driving the sport forward and help the next generation of riders. This was a major factor in joining the team.
The Art of the Deal
The first part of the transfer mechanics was actually being asked face-to-face. A conversation in Spain in the pit zone (it helps to have a UCI Agent for a husband) led to a knock on my camper door.
In recent years, most approaches come via social media DMs, and call me old fashioned, that’s just not the way I like to do things. Let’s have a coffee, maybe dunk a biscuit or two and see if we share common goals. If I’m going to be on the road with you for long periods of time we best get on.
The next part of the mechanics was complicated, as I had a group of committed personal sponsors who I had contracts with, and some of them clashed with team partners. So everyone took a step back, looked at what could be achieved and reconvened at a later point to discuss. This wasn’t simple but everyone wanted to be a part of the bigger picture.
The third part was the future direction of the project and could my ideas help them achieve something meaningful in the sport and for the riders they select around me.
Who will the other riders be and will I be able to help them? If I’m going to coach, mentor and develop a rider, I need to be able to see how that pathway will work. There are so many factors in choosing a rider for a team and the team environment is key.
Experza has a tour bus and all of the riders use the same vehicle before a race. I think I’ll post a Cribs-style video of it over the coming weeks as it’s such a cool toy for any team. I’m not sure how the kids are going to like my music playlist but I’m sorry guys S Club 7 have classic feel-good music so google them.
So when all these parts fell into place, the fourth part of the transfer mechanics is to put pen to paper. If you’re young and looking to join a team yourself, remember that getting on a team is only the beginning. Never stop working and never stop communicating, and never jump ship for a new crash helmet when you can stay put and build something bigger where you already are.
So I hope I have good answers for my first question of “What can the team provide that I can’t do alone?” It’s given me a new focus and I’m feeling pretty good about it. We’ve got lots of news to share in the coming weeks, but for now it’s all about racing.
Back to the Races
My first race for Experza was at Otegem on Monday, and I finished fifth. Slow start, solid middle and good end, that’s my race report. This race came fast on the heels of the National Championships. I simply wasn’t in the speedy condition to get a better result than third, but I know I’m heading in the right direction and I’m pleased with my performance.
It was at the Nationals that the Helen100 came to fruition, with more than 100 young female riders having their entry fee paid for thanks to the very generous donations of great people. Overall it was the largest ever number of female entries in a cyclocross championships in the UK across all categories.
It was quite overwhelming to have so many riders and parents there and wanting to chat, all enjoying being part of a community which the Helen100 seems to have created. I’m extremely keen for this to continue into next year and expand. The big step now has to be turning this into a commercially funded project.
As previously mentioned, I’m not racing Pont-Château World Cup this weekend due to previous traumatic experiences there but instead will be playing in fields in Luxembourg before my favourite World Cup of the season in Hoogerheide.
‘Til next time.