“Last year was all about fear – this year is all about excitement!”
With a season that Team GB Olympic Medallist Bryan Steel admits delivered far more than he could have dreamed to achieve in his fledgling race academy’s first tilt at the peloton behind him, it’s an admission he can now afford to make. Naturally, the word ‘fear’ was nowhere near the press release lexicon of 12 months ago as the new venture was presented to the world amid smiles and talk of developing raw local talent. I spoke to Bryan back then about his goal of one-day seeing one of his academy youngsters sign a contract with a team racing at an elite level in Europe. When we spoke again last week, as the 2017 team launched, I metaphorically raised my hat with the opening gambit “Well, well – you’ve only gone and done it!”. A string of impressive results during a late summer campaign in France and Belgium led to Ross ‘Lambeke’ Lamb inking his name with the Flemish outfit United CT and securing Dave Rayner funding for the 2017 season.
“Happy and proud!” is how Bryan sums up his feelings about the team’s first year; “Of what Ross and the guys achieved and that we hit our ultimate target in year one! We really didn’t expect to do so in year one. The really nice thing is that when we approached our sponsors, Vision Express, Godfrey Bikewear, ETS, Carter Legrand Wealth Strategies, Long Eaton Cycles, at the outset, this was what they bought into; not just winning races but these guys and developing their potential into real talent, the development of these young riders. It was very nice indeed to be able to announce Ross’s move to United CT to the sponsors on our annual bike ride and secure the next year’s funding – but now I guess it just adds the pressure: We have to do it again!”
But the atmosphere at today’s launch at the squad’s favoured coffee stop of choice, Spoke & Co, West Bridford, is one of celebration: At the success of the team and the level to which the riders have risen after just one year of the project. It’s this passion to help young, local talent – squad riders must be East Midlands based and under 23 – grow, develop and achieve that drives Bryan. Seeing them develop so much is what Bryan singles out as having given him the greatest personal satisfaction.
But it isn’t just the riders that have developed – the team as an organic entity has grown & learnt throughout the first year and banked the experience. “There were definitely challenges. The whole logistics side of things, especially. The coaching, in many ways, was the easy side of the job. But the whole organisational side was new to us as a team; we had an attitude of we’ll buy things as we need them, we couldn’t really know in advance exactly what we’d need to buy. For example, a team car: We got one from Perrys Mansfield Ford and it exceeded our expectations – but then we’re thinking ‘Well, all the kit is in this car, that’s great and we’re in the convoy – but now we need one of us to get ahead to the feed or the guys have no food!”
There was also the whole off-the-bike side of running a team of young, growing men. “Yeh – Last year was a learning curve!” chuckles Bryan, perhaps having thought that his nannying days were behind him. “One thing that we quickly had to learn was how to manage the riders – not in a cruel way, but to support the riders as young guys. Me and Mick (Padley, Team Manager) started as team managers but ended up as agony-uncles in many ways in all sorts of situations! It’s all learning; we’ve tried to catalogue everything the year has thrown at us and now we feel we have a more robust programme all around. The established guys are physically better, plus mentally & tactically better – and now seeing them pass this experience on to the new ‘year 1’ guys is just great. Onwards and upwards!”
And so to the oft cited ‘difficult second album’ and 2017. Nobody involved seems fazed. The squad are geared up and focused – they ooze that excitement Bryan speaks of. It stems not just from the shiny new mounds of kit but knowing that this whole package of backing works; bottom line is that it’s a now proven pathway to a higher level in young racing careers. Bryan is excited about his squad. “I’m just dying to get a number on their backs and see what they can do. We look to win every Regional and Divisional race. That’s goal number one. Goal number two is to expose these guys to National races. We know we’re only a small team when it comes to National races but we aim to do what we can at that level. Things like the Rutland CiCLE Classic is a great experience for the guys, likewise the Lincoln GP. It’s exposure to a very different way of racing and level of racing. But that’s the end goal, for these guys to be truly competing at that level. Our other big aim is to get the guys over to France and Belgium in the late summer, UK scene lull. We’ve come to the conclusion that this is the way forward. Last year we went out there flying, got the results and Ross got the contract. That’s what we aim to do again with these guys”
Photo Credits: Brian Hall