In 2015 rider agents Eelco Berkhout and Martijn Berkhout broke out from being just rider agents and set up their own U23 development squad under the name of the SEG Racing Academy. In just twelve months they’ve seen several of their talent pool move up to the WorldTour ranks. The team are taking that momentum with them into 2016 with several new signings and a race calendar that will take in a number of U23 events. In this interview Martijn Berkhout talks to Cyclingnews about this season, why the team was set up, and how they hope to improve the sport.
Cyclingnews: The 2015 season was the team’s debut year in completion. How would you assess the campaign?
Martijn Berkhout: We want to be the number one development program in the world so we aim high. Not only on the performance side but also in the set-up of the team. We are happy with our achievements in this first season from a development perspective but we have seen a lot of things we want to improve and do better. Next to the development of the riders we are proud of the organization itself. We were able to bring a group of people together with a lot of specific qualities. We invest a lot in our staff and that pays off.
It was the first year for the Academy and all the people involved. Eelco and me started with this idea during the 2012/2013 winter, when professional cycling was reaching it’s absolutely low. We felt that we had to make our own contribution to the new era in cycling. And now in 2015 we play our part on the development side with our Academy Program in which we make sure talents can develop in a clean and safe environment.
CN: You have started to see riders move up from your team to the WorldTour. How pleasing was this for you and how many riders do you think can follow in 2016?
MB: The team is built on two key factors: Talent development and product development, which means we need to develop talent for the next level. Not only riders but also coaches, trainers and staff. That’s the goal. We develop for the whole professional cycling market. Of course it’s a big compliment for our performance staff that Team Sky’s first signing, Alex Peters, for 2016 came from the SEG Racing Academy. It say’s something about our position in the market and the work which is done day-by-day at the academy. Alex had maybe ten options but there was no doubt Team Sky was the right one. But it’s a example of our set-up, we develop talent and create options for our riders and for teams. U23 European Champion time trail Steven Lammertink signed a deal with Lotto-Jumbo during the summer and we had two other riders up the road as stagaires with WorldTour Teams. Koen Bouwman with Lotto-Jumbo and Jasper Bovenhuis with Cannondale-Garmin. From who Koen Bouwman earned a deal with Lotto-Jumbo for next year.
The longterm goal is to develop riders for specific positions but in a first season that’s difficult to achieve because of the time you have. Now we are heading towards our second season we are able to develop more specifics. There is already interest in some of the riders on the 2016 roster but to turn that into concrete deals for 2017 and beyond we have to do a lot of work first. Next to riders we have already seen staff moving up to the WorldTour as well. Our performance staff is doing great work and that’s recognized by the professional teams, it wouldn’t surprise us when there will be more and more interest in them as well. And that’s what this project is all about.
CN: So what are the team’s plans for 2016?
MB: We'll especially focus on the organization and set-up. We want to make the next step. Ideally that would mean coaches and athletes could work day in day out with each other on the same location, using same facilities and working on the same goals. Sadly, this is not a reality, yet, in cycling. Nevertheless we are trying to come with the SEG Racing Academy as close as possible to that structure already in 2016. The team works from two locations, Eindhoven and Girona. Both cities are known for their sport culture and great facilities. The Cycling Performance Centre in Eindhoven is our stadium, other facilities are the CTO sport campus in Eindhoven and the SEG Racing Academy team house in Girona. That process and other protocols we want and need to improve, innovate and structure more.
CN: Who have you signed for 2016?
MB: We are a youth academy so it means we will see a lot of changes in the roster. From the 2015 team five riders remain for next year: Belgium classic specialist Jenthe Biermans, Chinese talent Zhi Hui Jiang, Magnus Bak Klaris from Denmark and two Dutch youngsters, Julius van de Berg and Fabio Jakobsen.
For next year we welcome Australian's Freddy Ovett and Nick Schultz, junior riders Matthias Norsgaard (DEN), Jack Maddux (USA), Marten Kooistra (NED), Yannick Detant (NED) and third-year U23 Martijn de Jong (NED). All riders are U23.
CN: How are you able to sustain the team from a financial point of view, are you looking for more sponsorship?
MB: We run the Academy as a company. We want to create a sustainable position in cycling and not depend on a single sponsor. Obviously we, as Sport Entertainment Group (SEG), are the big investors in the academy. The business side is mainly covered by our work on product development. We work together with our industry partners on the research, testing and innovation of products. The team is like a riding field-lab. The cycling industry is finding us and we hope to welcome more and more brands to work together with on product development. Company’s who believe, like us, in talent development are welcome as Academy Partners.
CN: Do you know the race programe yet for 2016?
MB: The program is an essential factor in the development program. If we divide the four U23 years in categories, we let the first- and second-year-U23 riders discover their specialties in various races. The third- and fourth-year-U23 riders will race already a more specific program based on their current and future qualities. The program is almost set for 2016. We start with two training camps in Loutraki, Greece. One in January and one in February. Race highlights will be for sure races like Tour de Normandie, Tour de Bretagne, Paris-Roubaix U23, Tour de Berlin, Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, Giro Valle d'Aosta and of course all the other important U23 races on the calendar.