Monday’s announcement that One Pro Cycling would move up to the UCI's Pro Continental ranks in 2016 is just the latest stepping stone for Britain’s fastest growing professional team. Former international cricketer and team owner, Matt Prior has been vocal about the squad’s hugely ambitious programme but he has backed up his initial promises of team growth with actions, and in 2016 One Pro Cycling will be vying for invitations to some of the World’s biggest races.
Cyclingnews caught up with Prior to talk about the team’s development, their rider recruitment, the UCI Biological Passport and their racing ambitions for next season.
Cyclingnews: What does securing a Pro Continental licence mean in terms of a racing and structural sense for the team?
Matt Prior: You can’t overplay the significance of how big it is to get confirmation of the licence because we made it clear that we wanted to step up and we made the signings of staff and riders. Everything goes up, from the number of coaches and directors you need to athletes. You’re also looking at a global race programme, not just a domestic one, so everything goes up five-fold. You can’t really compare it to Continental cycling. We feel that this is a really professional cycling team and brand. We said from the beginning how ambitious we are and this is certainly a huge step in the right direction but it’s merely a step. This isn’t the end game and we’ve got to keep learning and building before we can reach out ultimate ambition.
CN: In terms of ambition a lot of teams come onto the scene and talk about the WorldTour and the Tour de France but they don’t all make it. What’s been the key factor in your squad’s progression, making that next step and backing up those words?
MP: There have been a number of things. When we first launched a team and we made our ambitions clear we didn’t realise that so many had said the same before but for us they weren’t just words. They were actions and you can talk and make big promises but it became clear that people would only believe in our ambitions if we backed it up through actions. That’s the first thing we did. We put a huge amount in creating the right structure, environment and culture. That was the first focus - to make sure the riders were successful on the road, because lets face it, if people are going to follow a sports team they want to follow a successful one. We put the right people in the right places. It’s good people that make good teams.
Another thing is that we didn’t come in straight away at Pro Continental level. In hindsight, that was one of the best decisions we’ve made because it’s been such a steep learning curve, even racing at Continental level. We made sure we had the foundations and building blocks in place.
CN: A few weeks ago the UCI provided a list of provisional Pro Continental teams and One Pro were not on there. Why was that and was there a point where you were worried that you’d miss out?
MP: That provisional list, or missing it, was a misunderstanding. The big issues, we always had covered. When that list was announced and we weren’t on it, it was as big shock, I can assure you. However, it was actually good because it meant that there was no room for complacency or resting on our laurels. It really made us go over everything and make sure we had it nailed down. The licence application has been an almighty challenge and I’m hugely proud of everyone involved. If you look at some other bigger teams with vastly superior budgets and experience they have full teams of people just dealing with the licence. We had Simon Chappell, myself and Becky Frewing. For us to get through the application process has been a credit to the team, the brand and also our structure that we have in place.
CN: As part of the Pro Continental ranks you’re now involved in the UCI Biological Passport. What steps have you needed to take on that front and has that been a challenge?
MP: No, it’s not been a challenge and we’ve been very thorough in our research and looking at riders. It’s another reason why we’ve gone with young riders, and we’ve joined up with the Passport and our riders will now take part in it. We’re completely behind that and I don’t want to avoid the topic: We’ve a zero tolerance attitude to doping and that can’t come into play at any stage. This brand is about families, kids, and getting people into cycling for all the good reasons, whether it’s fitness or health. Our brand values are the core of the team and we won’t allow for anything to take away from our integrity. We’re very, very clear on that.
CN: You’ve talked about getting everything in place and one of those areas covers rider recruitment. What’s been the focus on that front?
MP: If you go back to the very beginning the first thing we wanted was to keep the core element of the guys who rode with us this year. Over the last year we’ve built a culture and I’m a huge believer in team values and that doesn’t happen overnight. It's about being part of a team that lives a certain way, and the standards we set for each other on and off the bike creates a full package. Being a professional sports person is 24/7 and it’s about appreciating that. What we didn’t want to do was move to Pro Continental and then start again. We’ve always said that the dream for our team was go to WorldTour and Grand Tours, and taking part with riders who have been with us since the beginning. That’s a whole form of development. At the same time we have a huge amount of respect for how big this step up is going to be.
There’s still a huge amount to learn but what we wanted to make sure was that we had experienced guys who had been there and done it and could act as leaders and role models. They’re the likes of Matt Goss, Kristian House and Sebastian Lander, who is a young guy but who has experience from BMC Racing. In among that you have a number of young riders who we believe that if they’re in the right environment, that they can go right to the very top. What we’ve not done is look at a load of WorldTour riders who are looking to finish their careers. We’ve looked at young guys who can see how far that they can go.
CN: You have signed a number of promising riders but one signing that stands out is Matt Goss, who of course won Milan-San Remo a few years ago. Do you think he can turn his career around and does he still have that required hunger?
MP: I absolutely believe that he does. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been signed by us. It’s all well and good looking at what he did a few years ago but it’s about where you’re at now and that’s one of the first questions I asked him. Ultimately, he’s the one on the bike and who has to do it and over the last few months we’ve had a number of conversations and it struck me that he’s now ready. He’s been through a lot in cycling, some things fantastic, some of them not so good, but 28 is still young and he’s now in a place where he still has the ability and talent because that doesn’t just leave you. He has a huge amount of experience having learned from the good and bad and now he can look at this as the second phase of his career and say, where do I want to get to? I see that as a personal responsibility as well, to help Matt get back to the level that he expects of himself. He is 100 per cent determined to get back to where he was.
CN: In terms of racing programme for next year, can you shed any light on where you’ll be heading in 2016? Will you be at WorldTour races, will you look to race Grand Tours?
MP: We have an outline and things need to be finalised in the coming months. We’d like to think that we could be at a couple of WorldTour races. Those are the races we’re targeting and I want this team to be put in tough places and races because that’s where you learn. We want to be in WorldTour and HC races. When it comes to Grand Tours, that’s an interesting one. You can tell from the things I’ve said in the last few months that I want us to be in a Grand Tour soon but what I don’t want to do is make too big of a jump too quickly. I want us to be ready for the commitments we make but for 2017, no shadow of a doubt, we’ll be targeting Grand Tours.
CN: What would represent a successful season for the team because obviously, as you’ve said, experience in the biggest races is important but it’s a results business at the end of the day?
MP: That’s an interesting question because we have to realistic about the results. For me, sport is about wining, and that’s why you do it. You want to be number one but you’ve got to be in a position to win and there are a number of factors to that. If we’re racing against a number of WorldTour teams that have larger budgets and more experience, the thing that I’ll look for from our guys is to able to compete – to be up there and have the mental toughness to say we’re here to put in a performance, and not to just be pushed out of the way or feel a bit intimidated. One of the biggest things I’ve seen this year was seeing how our guys competed at the Tour de Yorkshire and comparing that to how we raced the Tour of Britain a few months later. You could see the growth but the riders and their abilities hadn’t changed, but they had changed as people and sportsmen. That for me had ticked a box massively for our year. That might sound a bit cliché and soft but that’s where we’re at right now. That’s the reality.
We also have a very different business model and we have our membership. At the end of the day this team is about fans and giving access to them. Our membership scheme will continue next year but what’s great is that next year it will be for a global audience. I’m hopeful that we’ll have members in Denmark, New Zealand and continental Europe.