After making the call to cut my cross season short for this year and refocus on getting fit for the road came another tough decision about choosing a team.
At the end of the road season every developing rider is in one of two situations. The first is a rider who hasn’t had the season they had hoped usually due to injury, illness or any other factor and is desperately searching for a team. The other is a rider with some significant results who is looking to progress onto bigger things. This year I was lucky enough to be the latter.
Before I talk about my situation this year let’s discuss the first rider. Coming off a road season without many results is hard, especially if it is due to factors outside your control. However, it is something that everyone will go through at some point. You end up constantly panicking that you won’t get a contract for next year and applying for every possible team you can think of. That was me last year. I was lucky to have the support from everyone at RP Vision (now Vision Innovative Leisure) to allow me to continue with the team for a second year despite only getting mediocre results. As a junior this is exactly the kind of team you want; somewhere that can support you and understand that you have important exams to undertake such as GCSE’s & A-Levels so performances may dip. Being with a team like that kept my confidence high and for that I am extremely grateful. Even so it is far from a perfect situation to be in, especially if you aren’t as fortunate as I was.
There are so many things to think about when choosing a team but before we even look at that let’s talk about applying for teams. Unlike sports such as football, cycling doesn’t have a specific ‘transfer season’ and there’s nobody there telling you when to apply or what to do. Do I apply in July despite still racing or do I wait another month or so until my season is over and I’ve got a full set of results? There is no official right or wrong answer but I do believe that the earlier you get it sent the better. Obviously, I’m not suggesting applying for teams in April because that is completely unrealistic with few races having been completed but getting your name out there is one of the best things you can do. Personally, I send an application in early July as that gives the teams time to watch me race and allows me to keep in contact with updated results etc so I am not forgotten. This is made even harder by teams who do not communicate with you after sending your application. It is so easy to acknowledge a response with a blanket email saying if you haven’t heard by a given date it is a no to save them hassle. However, many teams aren’t that helpful. Waiting for responses not knowing the verdict is tense enough as it is, riders don’t need the stress of putting off contracts because they haven’t heard from a particular team despite the team having no intention of replying. I am still baffled as to why so many teams think it is acceptable to ignore riders who have put a lot of time and effort into an application. They at least deserve an answer.
Then there’s the whole lack of knowledge of teams with many teams closing (especially this year due to Brexit) and very few teams announcing of their formation. Who to apply for is a serious consideration made even harder by this. It’s hard to know the difference between what is aspirational and what is just plain unrealistic especially when teams change dramatically from year to year. Going into my first year as a junior I applied for the Corley Drops cycling team at the time it was just a good UK domestic team however I was unaware that the next year they were going UCI and I was now applying for the UCI Drops team which was completely unrealistic with no road racing experience.
Now we can move on to rider 2 mentioned earlier with good results and multiple offers. I was in this situation this year after what I consider to be my most successful road season to date. I really didn’t know where to start, I wanted to make the step up despite loving the team I have been riding with and felt faced with an almost impossible decision. I consulted numerous friends with varying levels of experience and this is something I would really recommend if you get in the same situation. I found my friends found points that I hadn’t even considered and really helped to consolidate my thoughts. It had got to December and I still had not made my decision but I honestly felt so stuck. Then I decided to ask a friend and local rider Ali Slater (JLT Condor) who has had plenty of experience on the team front. He made me ask myself some very important questions which then made the decision significantly clearer. What did I want from this season? What races were 100% guaranteed? What races do I want to perform in & where will I get the best support to do that? These are the things most important in terms of rider development. In all honesty funding and what we ‘get’ with the team was the least of my concerns. All I wanted was a team that could push me, aid my development and help me learn.
Team 1 offered all the races I could want. Tour Series, National Series & numerous UCI races including the Lotto Cup. I knew the DS and knew that they would run a great team and had the knowledge & experience. This team would put less pressure on me so I can focus on my exams as it is an U23 development squad however that leads to less experienced riders on the team to learn from. The sponsorship sounded great but there was one major downfall; Nothing was confirmed. It had got to mid-December and in all honestly that scared me a lot. I was worried I would be left without a team and for the potential gain of a few races I wasn’t sure if it was worth the risk. I needed to be focussing on my mock exams rather than whether the team was going to materialise at this late point in the year.
Team 2 offered the full British calendar with potential for racing abroad too (nothing confirmed). I knew the riders were all older and more mature so would be up for helping me develop so I would feel a lot more relaxed. Although I’m missing out on potential UCI races what is the likelihood of me performing in them as a first year U23? Most of them clash with my A levels too so I think it is best for that to be based at home. Originally, I thought there would be a lot of pressure on me to perform because of the calibre of rider I am racing with however I have found they are all welcoming and the atmosphere is focussed on development so I don’t feel too much pressure. The team is run on little funding but that doesn’t bother me the riders are there and so are the races.
I decided on team 2 not only because it was a safe option but I felt I would be more at home. The girls are lovely and I can’t wait to get started. Another factor that contributed was the fact that I am planning to move over to Belgium after my exams so hopefully that will get my name out there a bit and it also means I’m not missing out on racing abroad.
I am really looking forward to next season with NJC Biemme Echelon as I think it will bring me on so much. With cross over for now and road training in full swing I am happier and more motivated than ever before. Let’s see what this season will bring!
But not forgetting a massive thank you to Vision Innovative Leisure for the past 2 years. It has been amazing.