News feature, October 27, 2005
VMG Racing isn't the biggest name in US cycling, but its role in supporting emerging athletes may be one of the most important, with cyclists and triathletes receiving sponsorship from the company. Established in 2004 by Mark Holowesko, VMG and Aerospace Engineering sponsored a team that participated in NRC races this season - but Holowesko's company has started something new behind the scenes to develop some of the best talent from America and the Bahamas.
Based in the Bahamas, VMG Racing provides athletes with a headstart in their careers through training and financial support; until recently there were athletes from a variety of backgrounds receiving VMG's support - but maintaining a high level of control over operations was proving difficult. Scott Hirshorn, one of the team at VMG Racing and an equities trader at ABN AMRO says that "We had all these athletes in different areas, but there wasn't enough control, so we decided to simplify things a bit." VMG Racing had co-operated with Aerospace Engineering during 2005, but when that particular relationship ended VMG looked to the Under 23 ranks and saw a need for development in the area.
"There are plenty of riders with the ability, but not the resources," said Hirshorn. And so the company decided they wanted to help develop these riders through the establishment of an U23 team, much in the image of TIAA-CREF, former pro rider Jonathon Vaughters' squad, which has enjoyed excellent results in 2005 throughout the US and Europe. "We spoke to Jon Vaughters and Tiger Williams, along with Steve McCauley and Justin Rogers from USA Cycling, and they've helped us a lot with their ideas and experiences," said Hirshorn.
VMG Racing decided they'd have three sections to their team, led by the 'flagship' U23 development programme, which has recently applied for a UCI Continental team licence, consisting of riders aged between 18-23 years old, with a couple of 'mentor' riders in the 23-26 age group. The top two riders from the Bahamas will ride with the team to help develop the sport in that region. "Lee Farmer and Jonathon Massie will be the riders from Bahamas, and we have a lot of riders picked already," Hirshorn said. VMG Racing have also handpicked their DS, with Dan Larson filling that role; Larson comes from a strong cycling background, having worked on the cycling programme at the University of Florida as well as being an accomplished rider and partner of Rebecca Larson, who rides for the Colavita-Cooking Light squad.
The other two sections are masters and juniors, with a focus on Bahamian riders. The juniors will feature college students and riders from the Bahamas - they'll receive technical support, with a scholarship due to be established soon to assist financially. VMG Racing, along with ABN AMRO, is focussed on developing the next generation of riders, not looking to gain outstanding results in their first year - this is something emphasised by Hirshorn. "We could go out there and buy ten of the best U23 riders and win plenty of races, but the aim is not to go overboard in the first year and build for the future," he said. "Lance Armstrong laid a foundation, lit the candle; now it's time for someone to grab the torch and keep on going. Guys are interested in riding because of Armstrong - it's now time to provide the infrastructure for them to stay in the sport and progress."
VMG Racing's contribution to this infrastructure predominantly consists of providing a place for young riders to race and the right mentors. "We look to provide the physical training, plus training in sportsmanship and ethical concerns, particularly a strict anti-doping policy," said Hirshorn. "The depth of cycling in the US is quite shallow; what we aim to do is provide a grassroots infrastructure, and that requires those lessons in riding plus the sportsmanship and ethics. The goal is to create momentum and a structure that can produce great young cyclists for the future."
VMG Racing also aims to continue their support for individual charities such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation on a case by case basis, and they'll also run races such as the Tour of Bahamas and Westchester Triathlon. Eventually, Hirshorn hopes the team can be another TIAA-CREF, and more importantly provide an example of how development in US cycling should occur. "There's no point putting together a bunch of young guys, taking them to [the Tour of] Georgia where they get their butts kicked - that's no fun. Instead, I want this team to progress and really get U23 racing going in the US, like it is in Europe. There are so many U23 teams in Europe, but so few in the States; that's something we're aiming to change," says Hirshorn.