Irish legend believes smaller teams should be rewarded for rider development
Sean Kelly has called for the International Cycling Union (UCI) to implement a transfer fee system to compensate smaller squads when riders are drafted by larger teams. His comments come after Irish national champion Matt Brammier's signing to HTC from Kelly's own An Post-Sean Kelly squad.
"Unfortunately there's no transfer fee, which is a disappointment," Kelly told Cyclingnews. "That's something the UCI has to take a look at because you look after a rider for two years and then a big ProTour team come along and take them from you. I feel there should be some form of compensation for a Continental team who look after a rider for a couple of years."
Brammier confirmed a one-year contract for 2011 with HTC early last month after two seasons with An Post-Sean Kelly. He declared Irish nationality in 2009 and in June this year claimed the Irish national road race championship. Kelly said that although he was disappointed to lose the exposure the national title had already brought the Irish-Belgian Continental team, he was pleased that the 25-year-old would have his chance in cycling's top flight.
"In one way it was our goal but in another way it's a disappointment because it would have been nice to be able to keep Brammier in the team. Especially for our sponsors, the vast majority of whom are Irish, it would have been good to have the national championship jersey.
"But when a rider gets an offer from a team like [HTC] there's no way you can hold on to him because a guy can get that opportunity and he can move at any time. Uou can't blame him for that. Moving to that team, for Brammier, is a great situation."
Brammier is the latest in a string of the team's top riders who over recent seasons have moved on to larger squads. The high turn-over rate makes it difficult for smaller teams to cultivate the depth that would feed their expansion and growth.
"It isn't only Brammier, last year we moved Steven Van Vooren into Topsport-Vlaanderen, and then of course we had [Daniel] Lloyd and [Dan] Fleeman who went to Cervélo two years ago," he said. "So we're turning riders over, but hopefully we can continue to do well. We've taken on some of the better Irish guys for the coming year."
Irish foreign investment
Compounding the pressure upon the squad is the limited budget with which it has to work. Although the team's future remains secure for the coming season, the dire situation of the Irish economy at present means sponsorship opportunities in the country have become increasingly scarce. Yet Kelly is pleased with what the team has achieved in it's first four years of operation and believes sound foundations are in place for seasons to come.
"When you look at our results over the past couple of years and talk to people in Belgium they agree that we have a very serious set-up but we do that with a limited budget of course, so we have a constant search for sponsors that would like to come on board," he said.
The team enjoyed five victories in 2010, including Brammier's national title and two wins by Belgian journeyman Niko Eeckhout. Next year the team will look to its younger riders to step-up to the plate.
"We're doing well and this year we had some good results in some very important races. For next year we're looking towards our younger riders, from Ireland and Belgium. I think in general we have a much younger team."
Indeed, the team has demonstrated it's commitment to the development of younger riders with a host of new signings for next season, including two Lithuanian riders: Gediminas Bagdonas and Darijus Dzervus. The two will join Ireland's Philip Lavery and Sam Bennett, Britain's Andrew Fenn, as well as Belgians riders Kenny Terweduwe, Kess Heytens, Kevin Claeys and Dries Hollanders all of whom were recently confirmed as joining the squad for 2011.
From a management perspective, too, Kelly is confident that the team has a sound future. Although commitments as a commentator for British Eurosport don't allow Kelly to manage the team at races as often as he'd like, he said the team was in safe hands under the guidance of fellow director Kurt Bogaerts.
"I do a few of the races in the earlier part of the year. In the past couple of years I've gone to the Tour of the Algarve and then some of the races we do in Belgium like Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne; the semi-Classics. So I do some races, but not as many as I'd like because of the clashes with my Eurosport work," he said. "But I'm in contact a lot with Kurt Bogaerts who looks after the team, he's the man that's running it on a day-to-day basis. It's something that he loves...he loves that more than he loves his girlfriend.
"It's great when you have an enthusiastic guy like that, he's young, he's energetic and that's what he likes to do and he's doing a good job I think."