Interviews Teams

The rough guide to starting a bike team: Matt Hallam interview, part 2

The 'rider-manager' who set up an elite-level cycling team from scratch in just 8 weeks

What would it take to start and run a cycling team? One person who knows is Matt Hallam. 18 months ago, he decided to set up an elite-level cycling team to promote this new business, Crimson Performance. This was no straightforward task. He had no experience of running a bike team before. And he had just 8 weeks to find sponsors, to find a team of riders, to sort out paperwork, admin and lots more besides…

In this second part of a three-part interview, Matt Hallam tells us about the team’s first season, the importance of the women’s deveopment team, how he has doubled the team sponsorship for 2019, what his plans are for this season, and which of his riders we should keep a close eye on.

If you missed Part 1, catch up on it here.

I really hope this season that we can be contending for a top 10 national finish in terms of team rankings. That’s the big goal for me this year

Matt Hallam. Photo: Alex de Palma

The vision for the team is very much rooted in the Northwest of England, both in terms of riders, but also the businesses involved and so on. Other teams have done something similar, such as Saint Piran in Cornwall and Cycling Sheffield. How important is that, having a team based on a geographic area? 

I don’t think it’s a gamechanger, but it gives a team an identity. We have a strong regional identity. All our riders were Northwest-based when we started the team in 2018. It’s not the case now. I have brought riders in from Yorkshire, the Midlands and the Northeast, we are branching out of the Northwest and I think that’s important for the future growth of the team. 

But you know, we do have that strong regional identity over here. A lot of the sponsors, like Orientation Marketing, Brother, ANS and Grasscroft, are based in and around Manchester. I like to communicate really well with my sponsors. So, you know, I meet with the sponsors regularly. I was over at the Brother HQ a few weeks ago to meet Phil Jones MBE. I try and meet up with our key sponsors every other month. I went mountain biking with Mike Coulter the MD from Grasscroft before the New Year. I’m in regular communication with them. That helps, being based locally, because it allows me to do that, with all of our sponsors being in a 30 to 40 mile radius of Manchester. But I don’t think it’s an essential ingredient in terms of having a team.

I have made a conscious effort to try and avoid a pressurised environment for the riders, the focus is on having fun first and the results come next.

The team at the Redditch round of the Tour Series. Photo: Alex de Palma

How did the first season go, racing-wise?

It went well. We were realistic in what we wanted to achieve in the first year. We knew that if we were doing bigger races like the Tour Series and Premier Calendar races, then we wouldn’t be competing for podiums. I wanted to provide my riders with experiences racing in the highest profile non-UCI races in the UK. I knew these experiences would be invaluable this year. We didn’t shy away from opportunities to race the bigger domestic teams, we embraced every opportunity. My riders have been lifted by the experiences from last year and have stepped up their game this year.

But within the first year we also picked up some really good results. We did really well on a regional level, we were the number one regional ranked team in the Northwest. We also did really well in terms of national points too. Collectively we had 22 wins, 22 seconds, 15 thirds. Across our full squad, we submitted over 400 race entries.

So, I really hope that this season we can be contending for a top 10 national finish in terms of team rankings. That’s the big goal for me this year. I want to be winning more National B road races too, I have a squad strong enough to do this. I have set certain rider’s individual goals of top 20 finishes in Premier Calendars too. 

Results are obviously important for a race team, I didn’t set the riders any unrealistic expectations of what I was wanting from them last year. Results are one thing for us, but it’s everything else that comes along with riding for Crimson. I have made a conscious effort to try and avoid a pressurised environment for the riders, the focus is on having fun first and the results come next. There’s so much more to our team than result sheets.

Having a diverse race team, that supports both men and women is quite unique in the U.K., and it’s a unique asset regarding content production for sponsors.

And the women’s development team, was that always in the plan from the beginning?

The women’s team was a goal for our second year, but things panned out very differently from our original vision. The opportunity to get involved with the women that are now in our team, came about through another Northwest based women’s team collapsing and folding a few weeks before the start of the 2018 race season. The 4 women already had agreements in place. They came to me and asked me for an opportunity to ride for the team, and I absolutely embraced it, 100 percent.

I could see straightaway they were going to be brilliant ambassadors for the team and the sponsors. They provide inspiring stories all round, breaking down stereotypes and boosting regional race participation is a big goal for the women’s team. It was a no-brainer for me to welcome them in. 

And it’s worked very well for us in terms of asking for more sponsorship input. Having a diverse race team, that supports both men and women is quite unique in the U.K., and it’s a unique asset regarding content production for sponsors. And for us anyway, it’s just important to have women in our team. Because we’re big on trying to increase participation in women’s racing.

The team at the Redditch round of the Tour Series. Photo: Alex de Palma

So let’s move on to year two then. I understand you’ve increased your sponsorship. How did you manage to do that? What was it about your team that enabled you to get that increased sponsorship?

Yes, we increased our sponsorship by over double [from £10,000 in this first year]. Going into the second year, we had a clear vision of what we wanted to do. The first year was about establishing the team. The second year was always about pushing the team in terms of its presence on the domestic racing scene, for example doing more national A races. I was able to re-sign all the 2018 cash sponsors for this year. As well as welcome new cash sponsors into the team too, most recently Equilibrium Asset Management. It’s very much a team effort. The sponsors understand that the growth of the team relies on monetary input. Some of the sponsors kindly shared contact details for potential investors, which I would follow up with. Of course, there were a lot of knockbacks along the way, but if you stay resilient and focused eventually your efforts will be returned.

I started planning for this season back in May 2018, I was already signing agreements off back then. I showed last year that it can be done in just 2 months, but I wanted to avoid the stress of doing that again. Plus, I was in a much stronger position to ask current sponsors to re-sign for another year. I met with all the 2018 cash sponsors and I was able to sign agreements off by August. I went to the existing sponsors with the vision of supporting a full programme of Premier Calendar racing for the men’s team. As well as a regional programme of racing for the women’s team. The existing sponsors could sense that this year could be a breakthrough year for us.

Matt Hallam. Photo: Alex de Palma

How does this increased funding change things for the team this year?

The plans for 2019 required more money, a lot more money. When I met with the existing sponsors I made them aware of the funds we have, and how the second year was going to be a step up from what we did in our first year. And, from a professionalism point of view, we wanted a team car, and just small things that make the team a bit more professional, we wanted to have that in our second year. You know, a gazebo to warm up in, rather than just a bunch of little pack-up chairs at the Tour Series. These things we just happily did in our first year, but I just wanted to make the team more of a professional outfit, basically.

There seems to be an expectation from a small percentage of riders that a contract with an elite team includes a bike, race entries, kit, nutrition… it doesn’t.

We’ve gone from having 14 riders in 2018 to 21 in 2019. Increased funding allows me to support the riders with more opportunities too. We were running on absolute bare minimum in our first year. We showed it can be done, but it was the absolute bare minimum. Our increased sponsorship funding allows us to provide a solid team infrastructure, some extra kit and a diverse race programme. My riders are extremely appreciative of the support they are given. We are completely against throwing bikes and kit at riders who don’t invest their time and efforts back into the team and its sponsors. There seems to be an expectation from a small percentage of riders that a contract with an elite team includes a bike, race entries, kit, nutrition… it doesn’t.

We invest money into the women’s race programme, as well as the men’s, which is a substantial amount of our sponsorship money. Increased funding allows us to pay for all the race entries that are covered in our supported programme. That’s where the money is going. It goes back into the racing. I mean, we’re a race team at the end of the day. That’s what we do. And there’s so many other costs that you don’t foresee. Photography costs, registering the team with British Cycling costs £400. There’s lots of things to consider; insurance for people driving the team car, there’s a roof rack for the team car, there’s so many things.

But you know, we always lived by that statement I’ve already mentioned: ‘never overpromise and under deliver’. So everything’s managed, the accounts are all managed, it’s all run like clockwork in that sense. We never have any cash flow problems. And I can see a lot of teams that could fall into that trap, very, very easily. This is just my background of being organised, and just being in this for the right reasons. I’m very much on top of everything with the team. There are times when it gets busy, but we just make sure the fundamentals are done. So, race entries are paid for, accounts are up to date, invoices paid. Just the basics. And then we have to do everything else on top of that. It sometimes feels like a full-time job for me. I make sure that I reflect on how far the team has come in such a short space of time. I remind myself about the opportunities the team provides the riders. That’s what makes it all worth it.

Photo: Alex de Palma

So, we can expect to see Crimson at all National Road Series races?

Yes, you can. The only race that we won’t be doing is the Isle of Man stage race. But we’ll be at all the other races. We are hoping to be guesting at the Tour Series again. It’s going to be a busy year of racing. And we kick it off in February.

What’s your first race?

The first race of the year is the Clayton Spring Classic [Sunday, 24th February]. It’s a great Northwest-based race and it’s always well attended. After that, it’s the Eddie Soens, which is always a good smash fest. The first National A will be the Klondike GP.

With the Isle of Man race, is the fact that you’re not racing down to cost?

Purely down to cost, And I’m sure we’re not going to be the only team in this position. It’s a huge investment of money, and when we’re entering eight riders into a National Road Series race, it’s a lot [£280]. Then you throw in the additional cost of the ferry and accommodation over there, it’s quite a substantial amount of money at the end of the day.

What about your squad this season? Are you racing this season again?

I will be, yes, but in a lesser capacity to what I did last year. I realise that I bit off a little bit more than I could chew with the racing last year. My duty will be with the managerial responsibilities first, rather than riding. But I’ll still be getting stuck in with the lads at some key races during the year.

And then so on the men’s side, how big is your squad?

I’ve got a squad of 14 riders [see squad list here for the mens‘ and womens’ teams].

When we spoke previously you mentioned you might take on one more than that?

It’s not the case at the moment, no. We were talking with a high-profile domestic pro at one point, but that agreement didn’t formalise. We’re just keeping things as they are now, we’re quite happy with the squad as it is.

We had over 70 rider applications for the team and I didn’t even put anything out there advertising any spaces

It’s been a really tough contract year across the sport. You obviously had a core of riders that you brought through in the first season, but you must have had a lot of riders interested in joining. Just how difficult was that for you?

It was tricky. We had over 70 rider applications for the team and I didn’t even put anything out there advertising any spaces. It’s crazy when you think about it, a year ago I was working hard to build my squad from scratch then 1 year later we have over 70 rider applications.

Selecting my 2019 squad was difficult, because you know, we have so many riders to choose from. But I stood by my squad from 2018. I am not in this to start dispensing riders straightaway. I’ve invested time in my riders, I’ve invested money in my riders. I want to continue growing them as athletes, and that’s why I stood by them. And I’m glad I did, because it’s just testament to the image of the team. I just didn’t want to have a completely new squad for 2019, because you know, it can show that the team is just a conveyor belt for riders joining and leaving with no real loyalty. 

I just didn’t really want that sort of image to be associated with our team. So I stuck by a lot of my riders, and I’m happy I did. I’ve got good relationships with them all, and we’ve welcomed in some strong riders to fill the gaps for this season.

Jake Womersley. BIKE Channel Canyon. Tour of the Wolds. British Cycling HSBC UK Spring Cup. Sunday, April 9, 2017. Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

Jake Womersley is one name that stands out in particular, given his background riding for Bike Channel Canyon and Holdsworth… 

Yeah. He’s got a point to prove this year, definitely. And he’s absolutely up for it. We’re a team that uses our technology and our software to help us. Before we sign a rider we ask for power  data. Specifically, maximal sprint data, three-minute power data and 12-minute power data. Using the Crimson Performance platform, we can produce a power profile for the rider, it allows us to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie and if they have the right physiological attributes to strengthen the squad. 

We’ve got some riders in our team that are chucking out insane power numbers this time of year, so we’re excited to see what they can do in the early phase of the race season. A lot of our riders aren’t really known on a national level, but I am confident that’s going to be a bit different at the end of this year.

Jamie Ridehalgh wins the Rutland CC Tunbly Road Race. Photo: Craig Zadoroznyj

Can you name me a couple of other riders we should look out for this season?

I think Elliot Harrison is going to have a standout year with us. He won the North Wales Road Race Series, and that’s an incredibly tough series to win. He’s an absolute mountain goat. He was in the breakaway at the Ryedale Grand Prix, so, he can hang in there with the big hitters. We’ve got some incredible younger lads with us as well. Jamie Ridehalgh has had a flawless winter of training and he has been picking up results on the track. I’m expecting him to go well this year. We also signed Jonathan Bridge from Zappi’s under-23 team. His 3 and 12-minute power is up there with the best I have ever seen, it’s exceptional. He has ridden some big under-23 races like the Strade Bianche and Piccolo San Remo. He will be a focus of my National Road Series squad. The riders are absolutely up for it this year. They’re all training super-hard at the moment. We’ve got some riders that can certainly show themselves in the bigger races.

Read Part 3, in which Matt give his tips to anyone thinking of setting up their own team and considers whether the team will step up to UCI Continental level next season.