Dowsett features in first episode of Hagens Berman Axeon video interview series

While the team is sidelined because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Hagens Berman Axeon squad are celebrating more than a decade of developing top talents by launching a series of video interviews with WorldTour alumni.

The first episode, released on Friday, features Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation), who recalls the team's incredulity when Ben King, who won the U23 title in June 2010 with a 40km solo attack, went on another massive solo flyer with more than 80km to go to win the pro road race that September.

Cyclingnews spoke to team manager Axel Merckx about the series and his long history of developing riders who then go onto the WorldTour.

Merckx said the idea for the video series came because everyone was stuck at home because of the coronavirus lockdown and the team had to get creative to find a way to engage the riders and fans. He and the team's marketing crew brainstormed the idea and it took off.

"We came up with the idea to get some alumni to come in and talk with me about their experience on the team. It's been obviously a while since the program started," Merckx said.

The team began as Trek-Livestrong in 2009, two years after Merckx retired from racing, and he estimates that 36 riders from his programme have gone onto the WorldTour.

The videos will delve into the team's history with plenty of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and highlight the unique atmosphere that has allowed riders to become successful.

Future episodes will feature Ben King, Sam Bewley, Ian Boswell, Joe Dombrowski, Neilson Powless, Lawson Craddock, Jasper Stuyven, Nate Brown as well as riders who never went onto find WorldTour success.

"It's pretty light and just casual conversation to catch up. It was fun to do - we recorded a few of them so far," Merckx said.

"You really get a sense of what the team is about and how it functions really well and it's just a good group of guys.

"I think it also starts from the staff that we've had over the years that have really contributed to the program and believed in it and set the tone. I think we were able to create an image of the team that is first of all very positive but also very cool.

"It was very flattering and I'm very proud of it, you know, especially after talking to those guys - some guys I haven't talked with in a while. I always wondered how they look back on the team - some of them are in their 30s now and have a little bit more experience. A lot of them have said it was a really good time in their career - all of them says it was the most fun they had, so that's pretty awesome to hear."

Some of the stories were unexpected even for Merckx, who wasn't always privy to the team's shenanigans.

"It's like you find out from your kids when they get older - 'by the way, we did this and we did that but you didn't know about it'. It's kind of fun interesting to see the interaction between the generations, even if they were not teammates, how they came to relate to each other the same way."

Merckx is keeping the current team together - all of the riders are still receiving their salaries - and hoping they'll be able to get some racing in this season.

"I want to try to support the riders and as much as I can financially because these are already hard times emotionally and if I start cutting their salary, it's becoming even more stressful."

He hopes the video series will please his sponsors and keep them on for another year and keep the momentum going.

"We do have support from our sponsor. We're lucky in that way. But, you know at the same time we want to give something in return and that's challenging for sure."

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Laura Weislo
Managing Editor

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.