With an all black kit devoid of sponsors, Continental Team Illuminate is on first appearances one of the more mysterious teams in the peloton. A race programme that has included Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Colombia, Romania and Azerbaïdjan in 2018 further evidence of a team that beats to its own drum.
Pulling the strings of Illuminate is Chris Johnson who explained to Cyclingnews his focus is having fun and providing opportunities. In 2017, Johnson added a women's team to the project, and in 2018 is planning on a programme that will include events both his squads can simultaneously attend.
"From the start, my goal has been to put a group of athletes together that are not only going to be able to race but also have fun," Johnson told Cyclingnews from San Francisco. "You can tell we are having a really good time, but it also shows in our racing. That is a critical thing I try to do when putting the teams together."
While having fun, the team also enjoyed several UCI wins, the majority via Colombian Edwin Avila, to prove Johnson's approach also provides results and not just good times. Developing from a primarily US centric team, including the signing of Chris Horner in 2015, this season was for Johnson another year of experimentation.
"The team is about showing how the bicycle can bring individuals, communities and cultures together. When we have the opportunity to go and race in another country, we usually jump on it," he said. "This year we had the opportunity to compete in some races we have in the past but also some new places. Once you start travelling and doing those sorts of races, the riders adjust and it helps motivate them. Doing a different schedule and races I think helps the riders stay motivated and set goals throughout the year."
Keeping the rosters small for both the men and women's squads is key, ensuring no riders are left on the sidelines as Johnson explains.
"We keep a really small roster for the professional teams because it allows us to consistently race riders on the team. It also allows us to promote the riders and have that group of riders, people can learn about them," he said.
It hasn't all been plain sailing for Johnson this year though with Schneider sisters Samantha and Skylar leaving the team after just one American race.
While the black kit and list of sponsors largely kept private suggest a squad wanting to keep a low profile, Johnson is keen to let the cameras and press in to profile and share the stories of his riders. Partnering with the Matador Network to film the men's team across the last season and a half, at the Tour of Rwanda for example they returned home with 18 hours of footage in the can.
For Johnson, creating 'content, stories and videos' is not for the 'traditional' cycling fan but for people yet to fall in love with the sport and bring them into the cycling universe. Travelling across the globe for races also fits into this philosophy and remains key to Johnson's long-term goals.
"We didn't set out to with the intention of racing as globally as we did. We ended up competing on five continents, North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. We won UCI races in four of those continents. We didn't win a UCI race in the US but hopefully next year we will have the opportunity to compete in Utah or Colorado and check that one off the list," he added.
Although is Avila moving on to Israel Cycling Academy with several other riders incoming and outgoing for 2018, Johnson is keen to continue Illuminate's world tour. For stop for 2018 will be the Colombia Oro y Paz in February and from there, the world is their oyster.
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