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Grand Canyon: Tim Elverson interview, part 2

Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes boss on his future stars, his season's goals and why it's cheaper to race abroad

Tim Elverson starts 2019 at the head of what is arguably one of the most exciting domestic squads assembled for some time. Backed by increased sponsorship – no mean feat in these turbulent times for cycling sponsorship – it’s a squad that our British Conti Insider thinks will be one of the powerhouses on the domestic scene this season.

In Part 1 of our interview with him, we discussed his approach to coaching riders, his thoughts on the team’s early season races, his views on his new squad and the team’s race programme.

In this second part, we learn about his approach to setting goals, the one rider he signed but wasn’t planning to, what he thinks of the new national road series, why it’s cheaper to race abroad than in the UK, which riders he thinks could make it to World Tour, and the challenge of team unity.

We started off by asking whether he sets himself and the team targets each season…

If we stood still I’d be disappointed

At the Tour of the Wolds, 2017
Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

On his season’s goals…

Do you set yourself goals at the beginning of the season? Do you have targets this year?

To be better than last year really. I always feel we’ve got to progress. I don’t necessarily have a, “Right we must win this race” target. Don’t get me wrong, last year I wanted to win the Tour Series and I set ourselves up to try and win the Tour Series. But if we hadn’t won it and we’d taken the right approach, we’d got very close and we’d won other races, I wouldn’t be crying about it. As long as I feel we’ve progressed in the way we raced, progressed in the way we’ve prepared, progressed in the way that the lads deal with situations, I just look for progression every year. And if we stood still I’d be disappointed.

My target is progression, but obviously if you do progress, in theory you’re going to win more races. Equally, when you’re doing bigger races you can’t go, “Right we must win five races.” Because if the majority of your races are now .1s and not .2s [UCI race classifications – see our explainer here] then it’s obviously going to be harder to get as many results. I want to be more consistent in the National A UK races but I’d also like to win a .1 because we took the race on and we won it in a certain way, rather than sneaking a win or whatever, so it’s sort of about how you win as well.

Celebrating with Harry Tanfield
Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

But yeah, progression is what I always work on. I finish every year deciding what did we do wrong this year, how can we be better at it. So I think every year I’ve had a team we’ve made progress from the year before, that’s really all I look for.

I’ve got the team I pretty much set out to get back in July, barring probably one rider

On his squad’s strength

Would you say this is the strongest squad you’ve ever had?

Yes

Does that put pressure on you, to get results?

Not really because we’ve stepped up a level with races we are doing. So in the scale of David vs Goliath it is probably still exactly the same. We’re going to La Samyn this year (a 1.1 race) and I didn’t do that last year. I’m starting with the Mallorca Challenge (also 1.1), that’s a massive step up. So on the scale of my riders to Valverde, it’s still a big gap. 

I mean there’s pressure but that’s pressure I put on myself every year to do better. There’s no more pressure because you’ve got a few better riders. Because of the way domestic teams folded last season and riders became available, there are other teams that are clearly very strong as well. I’ve got the team I pretty much set out to get back in July, barring probably one rider.

What one rider is that?

Dan Pearson was a late arrival. I wasn’t looking for another rider but he was available because of the Aqua Blue situation. The only position I felt we were in possible need was for another climber to climb with Max [Stedman]. So it was a very specific type of rider and that was really the only type of rider I would’ve taken to add to the squad. Any other type of rider I think we had most spaces covered with who I set out to get. So whilst there’s still some fantastic riders available I would be taking them on to the detriment of someone I’ve already signed and I don’t feel that would be fair.

Max Stedman (far left) and Dan Pearson (second from left) line up with their teammates ahead of the Trofeo Ses Salines race at the Challenge Mallorca 2010
Photo: Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

But Dan was different because Max could do with some support on the climbs and because we’re going to do a few more races that do stretch their legs in the mountains. I think it was an opportunity to take somebody that would be good for Max. I’ve got a lot of belief in Max going forwards and I felt it would be a good way to give him a bit more support in the crunch of a big climb. So that’s really the only weakness I felt we had.

I mean, shit, I want to win every race we enter, so the pressure doesn’t change!

So the squad is really good but there are other people out there that have got equally good squads. I mean Connor is staying at Madison – he immediately makes that squad much better and it was already very strengthened with Bibby, who’s arguably been the most consistently good rider in the UK for years. You know Mouldy [Jon Mould] is class, second in Commies [Commonwealth Games] last year, and he won the Grand Prix des Marbriers. He’s obviously class, so they’ve been strengthened. And with Vitus gaining the riders they’ve gained, and particularly Scott Thwaites, they’ve massively stepped up with that squad.

So, no additional pressure. I mean, shit, I want to win every race we enter, so the pressure doesn’t change!

It would be nice to have a few more .2 races the UK and maybe drag some foreign teams in

On domestic road races…

What do you make of the new national road series

It’s a shame to lose Chorley [the Chorley Grand Prix] but equally the Isle of Man race sounds exciting. The South Coast race is good, there’s a few more days of racing so that’s great. I think it’s a nice step, although it’s a shame the Beaumont Trophy isn’t a UCI race any more. 

But I think it’s a good progression and it’ll be good for the British scene. And with the teams that have expanded and gained riders I think you’ve got quite a few teams that’ve got quite a few good individuals that could mean that the racing’s very good. I’m really pleased at that.

It would be nice to have a few more .2 races the UK and maybe drag some foreign teams in. But I mean you can’t have everything and I think the calendar looks nice. We’re in Belgium and Holland a lot so the gaps [in the national road series programme] are fine for me. I think if you’re relying just on doing the national road series then you’d be looking for races. But it’s a good balance for us and probably on most of the days of the national series, we’ll be racing abroad as well.

Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

It’s bonkers that I could do three UCI races in Europe in a week … and the bank balance has gone up, or I can do one race over here … and we spend an absolute fortune doing it

On why it’s cheaper to race abroad…

You said in a previous interview that it was more expensive sometimes to race in the UK than it was abroad. Why is that?

Well because we don’t have to pay to enter when we race in the UCI races that are abroad and they nearly always give us start money. It’ll either be actually physically transferring us money or it’ll be giving us the accommodation for free. Or in some cases it’s both. In the .2s where they are now keen for us to be there it’s normally both. In the .1s where we’re still sort of pleading to get there if you like, it’ll be one and maybe not that much. But still, if they give us for example 500 Euros and it’s in Belgium for us, it takes us four and a half hours to get there, we spend one night in a hotel, we put 500 Euros in the bank rather than paying an entry fee which means we can pay for the tunnel and in most cases all of the hotel. So we come back and in a lot of cases our bank balance has gone up not down.

Whereas when we do a National A, we’ve still got to go in a hotel because of the times they start, and hotels in the UK are no cheaper, if anything they are more expensive. And then we pay 200 odd quid to do the race.

Seems a bit perverse really?

Yeah completely. I mean it’s difficult and I don’t like to sound like I’m in the wrong place when I talk about this, because the promoters need the entry fee to do the promotion. So it’s not the promoters fault and I thank every promoter for trying to put a race on because we want the British scene to be more. I will always do the races because again I want to support the British scene and the whole point is to do well in the UK. I’ve got a lot of sponsors that are British based, we want to do well in the UK scene so we will be doing the UK regardless of the way in which we have to enter or do it.

There is no way we wouldn’t, but it’s bonkers that I could do three UCI races in Europe in a week which gives the riders a lot more, nearly always on Eurosport, and the bank balance has gone up, or I can do one race over here which’ll invariably be up north and we spend an absolute fortune doing it. And yes it’ll be televised and yes my UK sponsors will be happier but that’s not really helping us help the youngsters. The whole point for me personally is to create some stability for the team which means you have to make sure the sponsors get out of it what they want, but I want to see young guys come through, move on and go to the top tier. So to do that I have to give them the best platform and the best platform is as many good races as possible, so I’ve got to make my pound go as far as possible to do that. And obviously the UK races don’t allow my pound to go as far.

Now I know some people out there will say, “Well if you’ve got a budget you should be budgeting to do these races.” And that’s fair enough and we do, hence we do them. But if the British promoters got a bit more help from somewhere, then possibly the race would get more UCI teams out to race which would then maybe increase the roadside participation which in turn would allow them to get more sponsors. I mean why are Yorkshire and the Tour Britain so successful at the roadside? It’s because there’s riders coming to do the races that they don’t always see. I appreciate you’ve got the stars, that’s the main reason they’re there but you’ve got a lot of die-hard supporters in the UK that if they thought they were going to watch a race that might have three or four European teams in you might get a lot more roadside people.

And therefore you’ve got a better opportunity to actually promote that race to sponsors and actually get some money back in. Problem is, it’s your chicken and egg situation, where to do that someone’s got to give somewhere.

We have discussed this with British Cycling, they do seem to be getting a handle on it. The last meeting we had was very positive and you know it sounded like they were potentially going to help some promoters to help some teams get to the races to allow them to get more teams there or more support.

So it might start to take care of itself. It sounds like they are listening and if they do then that might allow these UK promoters to do a bit more for the teams. It’s very difficult, I don’t envy them in any way but we go to a Tuesday race in Belgium and the start and finishing village is literally rammed with people and it’s just like a Tuesday afternoon, it’s a midweek .2 race and it’s mental. But I know it’s a culture thing in Belgium as well, so yeah I don’t know, it’s very difficult. I’ve said before that it’s more expensive to race in the UK just because it simply is. It’s not necessarily me moaning, we’re doing the UK races, but it is more expensive to race in the UK at this moment in time. It’s a simple fact.

With last season’s talisman, Harry Tanfield
Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

On which riders he thinks could join the World Tour…

You’ve obviously got some really exciting riders in your squad this year. Riders that I think probably could be World Tour potentially one day…

Yeah, I think I’ve got two or three that could definitely could go all the way.

Is one measure of success for you seeing riders leave at the end of the season to step up a level?

Yeah that’s perfect for me, that’s what I want. If I’m trying to fill spaces because I’ve lost riders going up then I’m really happy. That’s what I want. Losing Harry to Katusha was a really good day for me. I had so many people go, “Oh but your team won’t be so good without Harry.” Well I personally don’t believe that because in my opinion the team’s creating a journey for these riders and the team has been consistently improving every year. If you look I’ve changed my squad quite a lot every year.

So I keep the core riders that I feel have got the right values and they’re moving in the right direction. I move [the squad] around possibly too aggressively, but you know we all know what we’re trying to achieve but we’ve kept improving. I proved at the Tour of Britain when I didn’t select Harry that we still had a successful race.

I feel Max will be ready [for World Tour] at the end of this year in my opinion

So I’m really optimistic that if the team gets people to go up [to World Tour] I’m very, very happy. But equally the team’s success will carry on because I mean I’ve already got a couple of juniors potentially lined up for 2020 and I find my young guys really early on, so I can start preparing them for the step up. The ideal thing for me is to see guys go forwards, I’m not sure I’d want to lose five in one year, but I’d be well happy if I did. But one every year would be brilliant, a couple some years would be great.

I feel Max will be ready [for World Tour] at the end of this year in my opinion. He was very, very close to being ready at the end of last year but I think even he would agree he needed one more year with a slightly increased calendar to get him properly ready.

But I think he will be next year and depending on how they hit the ground running I’ve got a couple of other under-23s that I think will definitely get there, it just depends how this year goes for them as to whether they’re ready at the end of the year.

Jacob Hennessy with his sprints competition prize after the Trofeo Ses Salines, 2019
Photo: Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

Hennessy’s a tricky one as well. He’s a rider I believe is of that level. I’m not sure how this year will go, whether it will be enough to push him straight up. The reason I mean that is because he’s obviously having quite a lot of changes and he’s come back from racing in Asia a lot, which is a different style of racing, so it’ll be how quick he settles into our style. But he’s got all the attributes that really suit my teams. So I think he could do very well.

Jacob Vaughan I particularly like. I tried to sign Jacob Vaughan out of juniors but he went to Lotto. So he’s somebody that I’ve had contact with for quite a few years and I was really pleased when I convinced him to come back to the UK. But I mean he’s seen us in our calendar all of last year and the fact that we’re at nearly all the same races as him he knows coming back to a UK team doesn’t mean he’s changing his race programme. And it makes more sense for him. He’s one we’re coaching and he’s already showing really, really good signs so I’m excited about him. I’m excited about Bostock, I’m excited about Alex Colman the Belgium, he’s only 19 and he’s like a machine.

So I’m optimistic but it’s difficult because there’s no way five guys are going to flourish. The way you set yourself up, it’s hard for that to happen in one season. But they’re all quite different riders, I think Jacob Vaughan has a very similar style to Tom Stewart, so having Tom in the team is going to be really beneficial for Jacob and he can see how Tom goes about winning a bike race. They’ve got similar strengths and weaknesses so he can really learn because Tom’s obviously learnt how to win with his attributes so Jacob can feed off of that.

I could have … signed a load of Pro Conti or World Tour riders that are still looking for rides … but I want to feel the gain of moving someone from A to B

Having two Jacob’s and three Alex’s is a right pain in the arse but otherwise it’s all good! I think we’ve got an exciting team and as I say I could’ve gone for the obvious and signed a load of Pro Conti or World Tour riders that are still looking for rides, because there’s still about five of them out there. But for me, the reason I do it is, I want to feel the gain of moving someone from A to B. So for me it’s about helping youngsters or helping our rider take the journey. I say youngsters, they don’t have to be really young, it’s about helping riders take that journey. So I still feel like I have to watch out for the team and if I just signed ten guys that were race proven and race winning and all the rest of it, yes, I’d possibly win a few more races but I don’t think I’d get the same satisfaction.

So it’s also about helping guys take their journey. But you have got to win because it’d be boring if you don’t win.

Jacob Hennessy in the break at the Trofeo Ses Salines. Photo: Challenge Mallorca

On the challenge of keeping riders happy…

Yeah well you certainly seem to have winners. I imagine you’ve got a lot of very hungry riders all wanting to win. Is that a challenge in terms of creating team unity?

It’s a good challenge to have but yeah it is a challenge. Because I think we’re going to have [a good race] calendar, it is a challenge that we should be able to manage because expectations will be, “Oh well I didn’t do this race but I can see I’m doing that one next week.” If you were having three UCI races in a year then that would be a ridiculously hard challenge but because we’ve got a lot, it’s not such a big deal and I should be able to get nice rotation and hopefully keep some consistency through the year because I won’t have the team fizzling out in late July. Simon [Holt] is also very good at looking at rotation and we sit down quite a lot to decide where we think someone should be rested and how we think we should build somebody up to a certain point so it works well.

It is going to be difficult, I have got a lot of hungry lads, but it’s a nice thing to have to manage.

Read our preview on the team here.

Read Part 1 of the interview here.

Thanks to Tim Elverson for the opportunity to chew the fat with him.

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