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One Pro Cycling

One Pro Cycling training
Pete Muir
28 Apr 2015

What happens when a cricketer tries to change the way fans get involved with cycling? One Pro Cycling happens.

If you get into a discussion about football, it won’t be long before somebody asks, ‘So, what team do you support?’ It seems natural that any sports fan should have an affiliation with a team – following their results, cheering them on, sharing their highs and lows. Except when it comes to cycling.

Ask a cycling enthusiast what team they support and it’s likely they will look at you blankly. Patriotic British fans may want Team Sky to win the Tour, but they are probably just as happy when Mark Cavendish wins a stage for Belgian squad Etixx-Quick-Step. And as for domestic events, the spectators by the side of the road usually just want to see good racing, and it’s rare that any of them will be flying the colours of a particular team. But cricketer Matt Prior wants to change all that. The England and Sussex wicketkeeper and batsman is co-founder and CEO of new British UCI Continental team One Pro Cycling, and he feels that it’s time the sport took a different approach to the way it engages with cycling audiences.

One Pro Cycling ENVE

‘If you’re trying to create a fan base and get loyalty behind a team, like Man United has, or Arsenal, or England Cricket or Sussex Cricket, it’s tricky to do that if you’re changing your name every year. Your branding changes, your name changes, so how do people follow you and grow this allegiance?’ Prior says to Cyclist. ‘That’s why one of the first major decisions we made was that One Pro Cycling would be One Pro Cycling for the duration. We weren’t going to sell the title sponsorship.’ It’s a brave move in a sport that relies almost totally on sponsorship for its funding, but Prior hopes it will provide stability in an uncertain arena.

Traditionally the sponsor dictates the name of the team, and when the contract ends, the team name either changes to that of a new sponsor, or the team disappears if no sponsor can be found. ‘That way you’re flying by the seat of your pants year-on-year,’ Prior says. ‘We asked ourselves, “Can we become self-sustainable?” Then we’re not reliant on corporate funding.

I’m a Kickstarter…

‘Look at football. Arsenal Football Club is Arsenal Football Club – they can have any logos on their jerseys but they’re still Arsenal Football Club. It’s done in football, it’s done in rugby, it’s done in cricket, so why can’t it be done in cycling? It’s a valid point, but the question remains: where will the money come from? The answer, Prior hopes, is from the fans themselves.

One Pro Cycling F&F

‘Cycling is the fastest-growing sport in the UK, in participation and viewing,’ he says. ‘There are hundreds of thousands of new cycling fans, and I just saw it as an opportunity to say, “Here’s a team that you can be part of, not just get behind and support, but be part of.” And I think that’s important.’

As well as initial seed investment money and sponsorship deals (sports clothing brand F&F is the main – not title – sponsor), One Pro Cycling is inviting fans to buy membership packages through its website, whereby the more money you spend, the more perks you get. These can include priority invitations to events or team jerseys, right up to joining the team on training camps abroad if you stump up for one of the £5,000 packages. Spend enough and you get to be directeur sportif (only kidding).

‘I come at it from being involved in a different sport and seeing how that was run,’ says Prior. ‘There were a few things in cycling that I thought could be done differently – not necessarily better, and I can’t say it will be a success, just that we’re coming at it from a different angle. All we’re trying to do is get cycling out there and get fans behind a team. It comes from the passion of being a cycling fan myself.’

How to make a pro team

One Pro Cycling matt prior

So how did an international cricketer come to be running a professional cycling squad? The initial spark came from Becky Frewing, now One Pro Cycling’s team manager, who worked previously with British teams such as UK Youth, IG-Sigma Sport and NFTO. ‘I met Matt when I was working at Sigma,’ says Frewing. ‘When he got injured in the summer last year he texted me and said he might need something to do, so I said, “Find me a sponsor and we’ll run a bike team.”

‘Matt has the profile. He’s a big cycling fan, or “cycling badger”, as he puts it. I’ve worked with Nigel Mansell [at UK Youth] and there’s a lot that a profile like that can bring to the sport. Also Matt has a good business head on him, and I knew he understood where I was coming from. I didn’t want to set something up that might just last a year and then be uncertain where it goes from there. We wanted a grander plan and we had the same thing in mind.’

One Pro Cycling Sa Calobra

Once Matt Prior was on board, he brought in businessman Simon Chappell and, like all great schemes, a deal was struck over a few drinks. ‘Matt and Simon went out and had a lunch meeting,’ says Frewing. ‘It sounds like the work was done pretty early on, and then I got a call at about 8pm from a couple of drunk men who said, “Yeah, let’s do this.”’

In September last year, Frewing, Prior and Chappell got together with Rob Over (‘he’s our detail man, and he looked at the crowd funding options’) to agree on the commercial model, decide on a name (‘at first we all liked “Aura” but it was already taken’) and then tackle the tricky problem of actually creating a race-winning cycling team. Frewing says, ‘We agreed that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it properly, and that’s when I suggested Steve Benton.’

The talent

One Pro Cycling Benton

At the time, Benton was coaching several riders, having previously been full-time coach with UK Youth. He says, ‘Becky came up with an idea that was very loose. She and Matt were looking to put together a new type of team that was athlete-orientated. They would give me full rein on the performance side of things, and that was of interest to me.

‘It was quite late in the season so we had to move quickly. I had a clear idea of the kind of riders that I needed. As with any sport, if you’re looking to put together a roster of athletes, you can’t have 11 centre forwards so you have to have the right personalities that are going to combine together, work well together, as well as having the right physical attributes.’ High on the list were Yanto Barker and Chris Opie, experienced riders who were already being coached by Benton. Many of the other riders are young talents.

One Pro Cycling Mallorca

‘The average age of the team is 25,’ says Benton. ‘I’ve got strong hopes to see George Harper continue his development. A lot of people don’t realise that George has really only been riding the bike for two or three years, but I pulled him into the structure really quickly and he’s been great. And we’ve got Tom Baylis, who’s only just turned 19. He’s got a lot of ability. He’s also got a lot to learn, but what’s pleasing is how they respond to their team-mates’ feedback and their willingness to learn.’

For some of the riders, Benton’s involvement was the deciding factor in joining the squad. ‘It was because of Steve,’ says Chris Opie, who moved from Rapha Condor-JLT to ride with One Pro Cycling. ‘I really owe my career to Steve – he’s coached me for five years. He contacted me about the team, he trusted it and believed in it and that was enough for me.’

One Pro Cycling team

Within weeks, the riders were all on board and the work began on fusing them into a team. ‘What’s great is that everyone is treated as an equal,’ says Opie, ‘as opposed to some teams I’ve been at where the management talk to you as if you’re children, and that doesn’t work. Matt [Prior] knows how to make a team work well together and he’s brought that across to us. It was really interesting – we sat down and talked to him over several nights as a group and I learnt more about team dynamics than I have at any time before.’

It seems to be working. In their first month of racing, One Pro Cycling notched up five wins, and they have high hopes for the Tour Series and Tour of Yorkshire later this year. Prior has already stated his ambition to take the team to World Tour level within five years, and looking at what he has achieved in just five months it would be foolish to write him off. If he proves successful, it could just be that a cricketer will change the way that cyclists look at cycling.

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