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Sky Opens Up: Sunderland Talks Signings!

PEZclusive: Team Sky is continuing to take shape with the announcement earlier today of the signing of ten new riders from eight different countries. Together with yesterday’s announcement of Chris Froome, Stephen Cummings, Geraint Thomas, Russell Downing, Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard, today’s ten names mean that there are still a few more contracts to be made public before the full strength of Team Sky is revealed.

The ten men named for the squad today are Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Thomas Lцvkvist (SWE), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), Simon Gerrans (AUS), Juan Antonio Flecha (SPA), Kjell Carlstrom (FIN), John Lee Augustyn (SAF), Greg Henderson (NZL), Lars Petter Nordhaug (NOR) and Morris Possoni (ITA).

As soon as the names were made public, PEZ jumped on the phone to the team’s Sports Director, Scott Sunderland to get the lowdown on next instalment of riders for what is planned to be the biggest team ever in the history of British cycling. Thanks to Scott’s generosity with his time, however, what started as a chat over signings, ended up being a discussion about ProTour licences, contract buy-outs and team philosophy. Read on for another of Scott’s “insiders” look at professional cycling and Team Sky.

PEZ: Scott, it seems that with the current announcements Team Sky will have a good combination of future stars, proven race winners and experienced hands. A rider like Juan Antonio Flecha is a handy signing for the team. Do you think his results in 2009 reflect his true talent?
Results wise, maybe, but he has been good all spring. Juan Antonio was very strong in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, in Paris Nice, very strong in the Tour of Flanders and rode an exceptional Paris Roubaix this year. I thought he was unlucky in the sprint in Paris Nice with Chavanel, where you had a French rider who you maybe could have forced to make the first move move in his home race. Maybe he was a bit too hungry for the win there and in the cold, you never really know how good you are until you go for it.

Juan Antonio Flecha has long knocked on the door of Classics greatness. Will 2010 see him to the big win?

But, having said all of that, he’s totally motivated for next year. There’s a real commitment from both sides and together with Kurt Asle Arvesen he’s one of the cornerstones of the foundation of our team.

These guys have experience, they know what it’s all about. They’re buying into everything with the team for the coming four years. They’ll help and mentor the younger riders and play a role in rallying the troops together and be our road captains. Mind you, it’s just one of the roles they’ll play. They both know what it takes to win and that’s why they are in the team.

PEZ: Simon Gerrans looks to be a great signing. Not only a great last two years, but a fantastic past month. As a guy who is incredibly good at reading a race you look to have another sure winner on the squad.
You’ve got it in a nutshell with Simon, there. He can go into a stage race and say “I’ll work for the team here, here and here, and then on this stage I think I can do something” and he does exactly that. Simon is a guy who I’ve been looking to get involved with and work with for a long time. I thought that was going to be at Cervйlo, but now I’m excited it is going to be with Team Sky.

Simon Gerrans was a huge signing for Sky.

PEZ: Do you see him on the stage hunt in three Grand Tours next year or will it be a target to improve on those top ten placings in the spring classics?
We have to look at the program and discuss it with Simon, but I imagine the Ardennes classics will be a target for next year. We need to look at what he can and can’t do, but probably something along the lines of Paris-Nice, Ardennes, Tour de France. There’s a small chance he might do the Giro but there are plenty of other races that are important too, like the Dauphine.

PEZ: Thomas Lцvkvist is a rider who rode well in the early stages of the Giro this year. Do you see him as a future Grand Tour spearhead for Team Sky?
Thomas is a rider with a lot of potential for improvement. With the right guidance, he can do well in one day classics, also stage races and there is the potential there for three week stage races too. He proved at Tirreno-Adriatico that he can ride a strong GC in stage races, so we are looking to develop his talents on both fronts.

Thomas Lovkvist had a spectacular early season complete with wins at Tirreno-Adriatico, L’Eroica, and some time in Pink at the Giro. There’s much more to come!

PEZ: Greg Henderson has had a great year and a great week. Will he be the go to man in the sprints for Team Sky?
Greg is a great rider. He’s 31 years of age and had a full season with Columbia HTC. He’s a former world champion, Commonwealth champion and up until recently he has generally done half road and half track through the year. With a full season on the road now behind him, I think he’s ready to step up to do some fantastic results next year.

He’s done really well this year but we’ve got coaches who can help him in the winter and get Greg winning even more. There are plenty of teams who would be happy with nine wins total, in a year, let alone to have it from one rider.

PEZ: Will we see a Team Sky lead out train coming in the near future? Is it part of the plan for 2010?
Well, with no disrespect to Greg, but we probably wont go as far as that. We want to be more of a complete team. If you had the fastest sprinter in the world in Cavendish, it would be arrogant not to build a lead out train around one rider like that. It’s our first year in, next year and we need to show how we are at a broad range of races, so concentrating on one area with one rider would not be the way to start out. This is what we are. We’re going to be a complete team that can tackle all races and be, not just competitive, but actually add to the races we’re entering.

Greg Henderson is coming into his own as one of the sport’s top sprinters.

PEZ: Speaking of the “complete team”, yesterday’s announcement of some of your British riders, really reinforced the ‘flavour’ of the squad as British. Today’s announcement of eight different nationalities, however, showed it will be an international team too. How do you strike a good balance between the two?
Together with my colleagues, we looked at all of the British Riders who were professional and all of the up and coming riders to see if they had the capabilities to be part of the team. We didn’t just say “We need 25 riders, so we’ll take the top 25 riders in Britain”. We know the level of British riders and we have looked at the 10 best at the moment. Then, we’ve looked at their strengths and what they can do and said,”Ok, what’s missing, let’s go and find that” and that’s how we’ve come to the other signings we have made.

Together as a team, we’ve looked at the capabilities of the riders, their personalities, capacity/willingness to work as part of this team and of course, if they are ‘clean’. We’ve also had to look at who was available, as this year, there are a few guys we would like that are still under contract.

The other thing to understand is that this is a four year project. We’re not where we want to be in 4 years, now, but we are going into 2010 where we want and need to be in 2010. If we need to change riders and staff along the way, so be it. We cant predict exactly what that will mean in year one, but we are as close as we can be for where we need to go.

PEZ: Many of your riders appear to have signed two and three year contracts. Is there still room to move riders in and out in 2011 if required?
We will be announcing 25 riders this year, so that gives us five more signings that we can make to bring us up to 30. Also there are riders on one year contracts and there is always the option of people leaving part way through a contract.

Edvald Boasson Hagen has had a stellar 2009. He’ll be aiming higher in 2010.

PEZ: How does that work, exactly. There is a lot of talk in this current transfer season about contract buy outs. There is a perception that if a rider wants to move to a new team part way through a contract, the new team has to buy him out of his old team and then pay his salary on top of that. How accurate is that perception?
Look, I guess from our point of view, if a rider is not happy and he wants to leave, it is probably better that he goes. If we can come to mutually agreeable terms then he is free to leave. However, there is still a binding contract in place, but it is just that, a contract, not a “sentence”.

PEZ: What about riders coming in to Team Sky who still have contracts. What role does the team play in ‘securing their services’?
If a rider expresses an interest in the team or vice versa and there is still a contract in place, we say to them, “great, we’d be interested in having you, just as soon as you sort your current situation out”. That rider chose to sign their agreement for whatever terms via their management, and it is up to them to negotiate with their current team, how they might be released from that. It is up to them to sort that out and then come back to us and say “I’m available”.

PEZ: The team is obviously working on the basis of being a ProTour squad in 2010 and beyond. Do you have a contingency plan if the team isn’t granted one of the available licences?
Well there are a number of teams needing to renew their licences as well as new entrants like Team Sky and Radio Shack. All up there are 21 teams in the running for 20 ProTour licences. I’ll say we are confident that we will be awarded ProTour status in 2010, but if it happened that we weren’t I think, yes, we could still get a lot of the race starts that we targeted.

PEZ: The PEZ crew have seen both you and Dave Brailsford at a number of races this year. Have you been out talking to organisers to try and make sure Team Sky is a name that they’ll already be familiar with?
Dave Brailsford and the Team see that as an integral part of the whole project. We’ve been meeting and talking to representatives from the UCI, ASO, RCS, Unipublic and the other race organisers, saying “here we are, we are real, and next year we want to be part of your event”. We have been projecting ourselves into the races, but not just with a list of riders’ names, but by telling them about our philosophy and our goals and hopefully we can arrive at a situation where they want us because of what we are and what we represent.

Kurt Asle Arvesen will be one of the cornerstones of Team Sky.

PEZ: So where to from here? When will the first get together be for the new squad?
The final week of November will be our first official get together. It won’t necessarily be a ‘training camp’ but there will certainly be bikes there available for the riders to try out and our full support team of coaches and sports scientists to assist the riders. It will also depend upon each particular rider’s goals and needs for the coming season. It’s going to be a great moment when we are all together in the one place for the first time and I think there will certainly be a bit of a “Wow!” factor, for all involved.

PEZ:Final question, there are still some names to be announced and one British rider in particular that everyone is very interested to know about. When will we know the full Team Sky line-up?
Stay tuned!

(and no, we didn’t really expect to get a straight answer on that one either…)

A big thanks to Scott for again taking the time to talk to PEZ and giving us the run down on what is happening at Team Sky. We look forward to seeing the team roll off the start line for the first time in 2010, and appreciate the fact that PEZ readers have been allowed along or the ride so far.

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