Tirol to re-focus on developing U23 talent

In 2018, Austrian Continental team Tirol is returning to its roots with 100 percent under 23 roster. Founded in 2008 with the guiding principle of developing young talent, the team has taken on board older riders in recent years but for team owner Thomas Pupp, Tirol's USP is development.

"It was more or less the core target when we started the project and this was quite a strong USP for two or three years to focus and develop U23 riders, giving them the chance to get into a pro career," Pupp told Cyclingnews at the recent Tour of Rwanda where his team was competing.

"Then we changed a little bit. We had some elder riders, 26-27, which brought us some nice success but it was more of the same."

Of the current Austrian WorldTour professionals, the likes of Georg Preidler, Marco Haler, Michael Gogl, Patrick Konrad, Lukas Postelberger and Gregor Mulhbuerger all spent time with Tirol before making the jump into the top tier. While the team will retain an Austrian core, Pupp, also a politician, lawyer and communications expert, explained that there will be an international feel to Tirol in 2018. Partly to achieve a long-term goal of being the best under 23 team posible.

"I think it is important in cycling to have a USP and that is why we came back to U23," he said. "I have a nice target to become of the strongest under teams in the three years. The core will be Austrian riders but we would like to go international. We will have three maybe four German riders next year, one Australian guy, Rohan Wight, and Sam Dobbs from the BMC Development team. It is quite a nice roster and it is nice to work with young riders and from a marketing perspective, it is a USP.

"We have also realised it is also a little bit easier to gain money from sponsors to work with younger riders."

There will also be further changes from the 2017 Tirol roster as seven riders age out of the squad, including recent Tour of Rwanda stage winner Valens Ndayisenga and former Bardiani rider Filippo Fortin who took four UCI wins this year.

For Pupp, having Ndayisenga on the team opened his eyes to new possibilities and also started a love affair with Africa as he explained with future Rwandan or African representation likely as a result.

"It was a very nice experience with Valens and we appreciated working with him," he said. "I feel in love with this continent and what Rwanda is doing with cycling. If we as a European team could put a little cobblestone into this project, then let's do it."

Financial recompense for developing riders

Having seen riders progress into the WorldTour or Pro-Continental ranks, it is a process that Pupp is accustomed to and welcomes as it has ensured further development of his athletes. However, Pupp has been working a proposal with fellow Continental teams to guarantee financial recompense for the time and effort required for rider development.

"We are in an interesting and challenging negotiation with the UCI now for three years to change the stagiaire system," he said. "We have launched an email as a resolution to all the Continental teams in Europe and outside of Europe to start a conversation with the UCI to change the system. The problem we had every year is that one or two riders had the chance to ride as a stagiaire with one of the big teams. These guys are employed with us, they are contracted to us, and we have to pay them while they are riding with a WorldTour team. We would like to change this and so far, more than 20 teams have signed this resolution. We would like to send this resolution to the UCI at the beginning of December."

For Pupp, he is not just looking after the finances of Tirol but proposing a better system for the benefit of cycling in general.

"It would be a chance for cycling that the three levels of cycling, WorldTour, Pro-Continental and Continental, work together," he adds. "The base for everything is Continental and it would be a nice opportunity to gain some money for the Continental teams. I am a little bit optimistic that we can move the UCI on this topic."

Along with the support for accepting stagiaire offers from WorldTour of Pro-Continental teams, Pupp is also in favour of a transfer system, a la football, to further teams such as his own, to be encouraged to put time and effort into developing young riders. While others have also proposed a transfer system, Pupp explained he has already thought through what he believes would be a fair fee.

"A system like football would be clever. We would have to discuss the transfer sum but in my consideration, it should be something between €10,000 and €20,000," he said. "Let's say €10,000 for a Pro-Continental team and €20,000 for a WorldTour team to reinvest and repay the investment of the Continental team. €10,000 over a year is approximately the amount we are spending on the young riders in training costs, travel costs, materials and so on."

While Pupp and Tirol would benefit from such a system being put in place, again the emphasis is on bettering the sport for all and ensuring fans and sponsors continue to watch and support cycling.

"This would also be a good opportunity to reinvest in young riders," he said. "The UCI has to move in this direction because the big shame in cycling is that there is no chance, even for the big teams, to raise money outside of sponsors. All the television and marketing rights are going to the likes of ASO and other big organisations and the UCI. That is not good. For me, I have been watching the Tour de France for 30-35 years but it is really getting boring from year to year because you have a very strong Team Sky with a lot of money. They have four riders who can win the Tour and that makes the sport boring and also maybe boring for the spectators and sponsors. Something in the direction of transfer fees has to happen."

Although Pupp has gripes with some of the current financial models in the sport, he remains committed to the developing of young riders. Whether or nor his proposals are enacted in 2018 or 2020, Pupp and Tirol will continue the successful approach of focusing on under 23 talent.

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