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Britain’s got talent: Matt Brammeier interview

British Cycling's new senior academy coach on his approach to managing and developing the academy's young talents

Matt Brammeier retired from professional racing in the middle of last season to take up a new role at British Cycling as the Men’s Senior Academy Coach.

Brammeier began his racing career with British Cycling and took the junior British national title at the age of 18 and the U23 British title in 2003. He also raced for Britain on the track. He later switched to an Irish racing licence and went on to ride for a host of professional teams, including HTC-Highroad, Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, Champion System, MTN-Qhubeka and Aqua Blue.

As he begins his first full season in his new role, we caught up with Brammeier to find out more about his approach to managing and nurturing the latest crop of British talent on the road and track…

We’re one of the world’s strongest cycling nations now and riding in that jersey is bloody special and needs to be respected

OVO Energy Tour of Britain – Stage 1: Pembrey Park to Newport, Wales – Ben Swift of Great Britain and Matt Brammeier. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

How do you go about deciding who should be in the senior academy endurance programme? What do you look for in a rider?

I look at a number of factors when we come around to recruiting the new cohorts each year. The first thing I need to look at is what do we actually need according to who has moved on from the team. Do we need to bolster the team pursuit team or do we need to add some more strength to our road side of the programme.

From there I’ll always look at character first; what the attitude is like in terms of commitment and how much they want it is first and foremost the most important factor for me. Then we look at talent and potential on the bike and abilities off the bike with things like organisation, communication and resilience.

Lastly, we look at desire and respect to the jersey. I think that opportunity has become a little taken for granted over the last few years and that’s something I want to change. We’re one of the world’s strongest cycling nations now and riding in that jersey is bloody special and needs to be respected. There is a pile of talented kids out there, it’s how much they want it and how resilient they are and able to get over set-backs that will tell them apart eventually and make the biggest difference to if they ‘make it’ or not. 

What’s your approach to managing the balance between track and road for the riders?

Of course it all starts with what the riders want. We have a programme of track races through which we strive to nurture the world’s best track riders, and a road programme through which we strive to nurture the world’s best road riders. Of course, there are only so many places available each year, so we sometimes need to balance things a little, and crossover from both road and track is preferred but not always essential.

If you asked me to create the best platform and pathway for a developing road rider it would 100% involve a chunk of track and vice versa; if you asked me to create the best pathway for a world class track rider it of course involves a chunk of road work. Both can add masses of benefits to the riders’ toolkits and the goal is always to help them learn and grow into bike riders with a more complete package to progress in the real world. 

I think our road programme is arguably better than the majority of ‘development’ teams out there

Photo: British Cycling/James Gaukroger

I know some riders left the programme last year because they felt they wanted more of a road focus (e.g. Jake Stewart and Adam Hartley). Is that something that is inevitable when you have a mixed track and road programme?

Firstly, one left and one wasn’t renewed. It’s a bit of a tricky one to answer really as I think our road programme is arguably better than the majority of ‘development’ teams out there. I think it needs to be made clear that we are not a 100% track programme. We are a step in a pathway to developing bike riders to be the best they can be and that’s neither track or road. It’s not out of the question to include riders who barely touch the track and also riders who barely touch a road race. It all depends what we all want and what is best for the individual. 

What’s the road programme looking like this season? From what I’ve seen, it looks as though you are doing a few races that GB have done in recent times (e.g. the Baby Giro). Are these new races part of a conscious decision to change the programme?

To be honest it came from the riders, I asked them what they wanted. Riders inside the programme, young riders outside and some of the older lads like Tao [Geoghegan Hart]. Of course, the programme needs to make sense to me and everything we are doing is for a reason but riding bike races the riders want to ride is pretty much a no brainier. This made me push a little harder to get us into these races. 

A rider without goals, dreams and a plan of how they will reach them is pissing into the wind

Do you have any particular road goals for the riders this year?

Every rider has a set of goals, on the bike, off the bike. We make these together and this is a massive, massive part of what we do. A rider without goals, dreams and a plan of how they will reach them is pissing into the wind. It’s a big part of what we are doing. 

I know riders I’ve spoken to like Jake Stewart and Jacob Vaughan are hopeful they might make the team for Nations Cup races like Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix What’s your approach to involving riders outside of the endurance programme?

There will of course always be opportunities for riders not on the Academy programme but the priority will always be with riders inside the program. They are all selected to be here for a reason and have all committed to the team for the right reasons. These Nations Cup races are a key part of our programme so I’ll always include as many Academy riders as possible. 

British Cycling – HSBC UK National Cycling Centre, Manchester, England – Great Britain Cycling Team Media Day – (from left) Ethan Hayter, Will Tidball, Joe Nally, Ethan Vernon, Jim Brown and coach Matt Brammeier. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

And every U23 rider I speak to wants to ride the road Worlds in Yorkshire this season! Do you think you’ll have your hands full making a selection for the senior and U23 squads? How early on will you start thinking about your squad for the word champs?

To be honest nothing has changed here, every U23 rider wants to race the worlds every year and it’s always a difficult decision. We have a handful of riders on the long list already and competition is going to be fierce to who will go into that race as a designated leader. Again, the team won’t be purely selected on results and talent but commitment to the team values and ability to help the team. It’s going to be an interesting one. 

Finally, I know you said when you retired from pro bike racing that you were ready to stop. But do you ever miss being a pro bike rider? And do you still find time to get on the bike?

I don’t miss bike racing one bit and I love my new job a lot more than I loved bike racing this time last year. I still ride my bike a fair bit and always will – that will never leave me. 

Feature photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com