Sports agency SEG International will set-up its own development team for 2015. SEG, which represents riders such as Dan Martin, Sep Vanmarcke and Niki Terpstra, has been involved in rider management since 2007 and has decided to take the unusual step of producing its own talent.
“At the moment we are an agency, managing professional riders and under-23 talent and we get a lot of scouting questions from the market, so we thought that it would be better to control the development and scouting ourselves,” UCI agent and company director Martijn Berkhout told Cyclingnews.
SEG hopes its squad will work as a feeder team for both WorldTour and Pro Continental teams. The outfit will take over the structure of the existing Koga continental team, retaining current general manager Ton Welling. Koga will remain as the bike sponsor, and Shimano will come in as the equipment sponsor. They are already in talks with several WorldTour teams, who Berkhout says are willing to invest in the project, although he remained coy on specific names.
The new team takes its inspiration from the Ajax youth academy. The Dutch football club has developed some of the Netherlands' best talents, including Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp.
“They are famous for their youth academy and that is also what we want to do. We want to have a very high standard and only develop the best talent out there. Our ambition is to build the best development team in the world,” said Berkhout. “We know what teams are looking for. One team might be looking for a climber, one a sprinter and one a leadout rider. We will try to develop really specifically in the coming years.”
Uniquely, the team won’t just be aiming to develop the talent on the bike. Their aim is to help overhaul the whole cycling market by training up aspiring directeur sportifs and team doctors. They are yet to sign any riders, but should have the first few contracts inked in the coming weeks. They are reluctant to fill their roster too early, however, with several teams on the precipice of closure at the moment.
As cycling continues to shrug off its dark past, the ethical standpoint of a team has become increasingly important. Berkhout is keenly aware of how the past has affected riders of today, as many of his own found themselves in fear of their jobs when Rabobank pulled out at the end of 2012. In fact, that incident provided the spark for the idea.
With their development team, SEG hope to produce a new era of riders, doctors, coaching staff and directors with an ingrained ethical stance. “The most important thing for us is to change mentality. If you develop riders in a safe, clean and ethical environment then we are sure that those guys will think like that for the rest of their career,” explains Berkhout.
“We want to build a profile of the riders we have, from the age of 18. That will include blood results and progression in testing. Teams who come to us with a request for a talent, they will get a full profile from A to Z. They will be able to see if he is clean and what he has done and if it is normal.”
Try as they might, it will be impossible for the team to avoid the past. When it comes to their performance staff, SEG are taking a zero tolerance stance, but that has proved much harder when seeking out directeurs sportifs. To teach the talent of the future, they need experience, and that can mean delving into the murky waters of the peloton from the 90s and early 2000s.
Berkhout doesn’t see an issue with taking on staff members from era of cycling regularly referred to as ‘dark’. However, they are being very careful as to who will make the cut.
“We can’t say that we will only take guys from university. The problem with that is that they don’t know how to teach the tactical side of things,” he says. “For me the most important quality is that we see that they have key development qualities and that they have the same idea as we have. If we have one doubt about someone then we won’t sign them.”