Toolbox: Reshuffling of the Decks
If there is one thing consistent in the world of bike racing, every year brings a reshuffling of the deck in terms of team rosters. Cycling is one big world of “free agency.” You may not be signing a mega-deal as a rider, but some careful consideration is still required to pick the best team or club to join to maximize your progress in the sport.
Even at the regional and local levels, if teams have significant product and money, they can be the New York Yankees, where getting talented riders to join the team is not an issue. If they don’t have that backing of product and money, they might resemble a small market team like my beloved Cleveland Indians – always losing talented players to big market teams!
All the talk of new teams seems to start about mid-season of the current year. We already hear riders discussing new teams being formed for the following year. It hits its peak late-Fall as teams scramble to finalize their rosters and sponsors for the upcoming season. Unlike the professionals, who have agents representing their best interests (they hope), the purpose of this article is to give amateur riders some advice and suggestions about choosing the team that is the best fit for you. Once you’ve decided on that team, we will offer some important points on how to successfully integrate into your new environment.
The free agent market
The comfort zone.Hands down, the most important thing to take into consideration in my opinion is joining a team where you LIKE your teammates and get along with them. Let’s face it; most riders work for a living and bike racing represents not only a hobby, but an important social aspect of their lives. When you are away on the weekends, spending all that money and time, you want to be with people with whom you truly have fun. If you don’t, I can promise you that you that the season will be very long and will feel like your second job. Racing and traveling with friends that you honestly care about and are willing to work for during the races makes life more enjoyable. It’s called chemistry.
Similar goals. If you are considering joining a smaller team (<15), make sure the team’s focus is in line with your goals and riding strengths. This one is pretty straightforward. You are a climber and focus on the hillier races. The rest of the team focuses on criteriums. Probably not a good match for you. Look at the category makeup of the team. If you are new to racing, look for a team that has a lot of riders at levels that will help guide you at the beginning of your racing career. For example, as a new racer, you are at Elite level 5. A team with a good supply of Elite 3’s and 4’s might be perfect for you. First, they have just gone through the same process you are about to go through. Second, having a good supply of riders will give you the opportunity to get some good advice during training and at races.
Track record.Look at the track record of the team leadership. Do they have a good history of doing what they say they will do or are they like a cheap politician, promising things they never deliver. If they are new to the management thing, try to research their past a bit as a rider. Knowing how they deal with various situations may clue you in as to how they will manage the team. Do your homework upfront.
By all means, do NOT ask, “What do I get as being part of the team?” – Better yet, ask what you can give or contribute to the team and their role in the community. Sounds like a JFK quote!
You’ve signed the big contract!
Sponsors. Supporting your sponsors is probably one of the most important goals for a rider on a team. Take the time to investigate what each sponsor represents and make an effort to meet them personally. Find out specifically why they are supporting your team and by all means utilize and promote their products first! True, we are not talking about a professional contract here, but sponsors are putting themselves out there on the jersey or offering discounts for a reason. Mainly because they love the sport of cycling and want to see it grow. They also are businesses and expect to get financial gains from their investments. Even if you don’t normally use their products or services, bite the bullet and start doing so. Take the time to appreciate what they are offering and support them in any way you can by promoting them to others.
Pay your dues. It’s important to enter a new or existing team remembering the simple premise that bike racing is a team sport. It’s one of the few, if not only sport where a team works for the glorification of an individual. I can promise you there will be good “karma” if you play the team role first and help get your teammates to the podium more. Your time will come; there will be plenty of opportunities to have your 15 minutes of fame.
Communicate your goals and ambitions. Everyone deserves to succeed in some way. Everyone has goals for the season from winning National Championships to upgrading from 5’s to 4’s. Be upfront and continue to initiate a good communication process with the team. A lot of negative issues can be avoided if all team members just spoke up more.
Be professional. Show up at training rides and races looking like a professional. Wear team gear (not some older jersey), keep your bike clean, and positively represent your sponsors.
Choosing and integrating into your team environment is analogous to your bike fit. If the fit or team is uncomfortable to you, it will negatively impact your performance. If the fit or the team is optimal, the bike or team politics are almost transparent, thus allowing you to focus on the important aspects – a higher level of fitness and success in the 2010 season.
Ride safe, ride strong
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 9 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them Twitter Twitter.