We are lucky enough to have had ten riders contributing to our rider journal series in 2021. Our latest arrival, 21-year-old Scot Joe Reilly, has ridden for ASPTT Nancy this season, supported by the Rayner Foundation. In his third post, he pays tribute to domestic stalwart Steve Lampier, who recently announced his retirement…
Within the vast space of the Indian Ocean lies Sentinel Island. The size of Manhattan, it’s home to an indigenous tribe of around 100 people that has lived there for an estimated 55,000 years.
Throughout the centuries, they’ve made it very clear that they do not want outside contact. Whilst their neighbouring islands were colonised, they fought off any invasion and subsequently did not suffer from western diseases like flu or measles. They withstood the pressures to conform, to modernise, to change their way of life. They rejected the norm and continued their methods which had worked for thousands of years.
Having raced for just shy of 30 years, the manager and rider of Saint Piran has seen a dramatic change in the cycling world
Enter 37-year-old Steve Lampier. The Cornishman does not live on an island in the Indian Ocean and certainly doesn’t carry around a spear for fishing. He is, however, an emblem of the ‘old world’. Having raced for just shy of 30 years, the manager and rider of Saint Piran has seen a dramatic change in the cycling world. From being a junior in the mid-90s through racing in Spain, France, Belgium and latterly being a mainstay of the British scene, he’s witnessed first-hand the shift to the new world order.
What started with Team Sky, a fascination turned into fanaticism. Watts, aerodynamics and intervals have taken over, leaving little of the pure, simple, and romantic bike racing world. Leaving Lampier marooned on his own island, upholding the traditional methods, not wanting outside contact.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been a complete rejection of modernity. Lampier sometimes wears aero socks but usually doesn’t. He had the aero bars on his bike changed to traditional round bars. Not because he doesn’t think the aero handlebar is faster – he does – he simply prefers the old version. “Aero bars are the future. Yet you can’t beat a pair of classic shallow drop bars… for that nonchalant look”. This theme trickles down to his coaching methods; he doesn’t set vanilla 3 x 20-minute intervals at a strict power; he sets what he likes to call “Vandenbroucke Efforts”. These are around 20 minutes in length on a rolling road, imagining you’re in a solo break, smashing the climbs, tucking the descends. What seems unusual these days, he doesn’t train to achieve better numbers; he ‘trains to race’. He trains to win.
That’s the kind of rider Lampier is; cool, calm, professional. A rider of instinct. The term old school is a cliché. He’s vintage – a 1947 Cheval-Blanc
This is personified in a story he tells about when he lived in Spain. He once joined in on a weekly group ride, one that Alejandro Valverde joins when he isn’t racing. As they were riding through and off, he says, “Valverde punctured, but as he was on tubulars. He could continue to ride – albeit precariously. Kilometres passed, and he didn’t miss a turn, proceeding to sprint – then win – the end of ride sprint, all whilst riding on the rim”. You can’t plan that in a Training Peaks session. Yet that’s the kind of rider Lampier is; cool, calm, professional. A rider of instinct. The term old school is a cliché. He’s vintage – a 1947 Cheval-Blanc.
Having raced for countless teams in his long and prolific career, Lampier cofounded Saint Piran in 2018, a team where he is both manager and rider. He has combined passing on his sought-after experience through managing while keeping his sword sharp by racing alongside. Although this role is a tricky balancing act, it has been a triumph. When 2020 came around and the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Lampier got to spend more time at home in his beloved Cornwall. He says that his choice to live in his place of birth has its perks but has several drawbacks. Each weekend race is often five-plus hours drive away; even a mid-week local race can be a four-hour round trip. Although it’s a sacrifice, he’s happy to make it. “Cornwall is the best place on earth”, he proudly states. With a bulging trophy cabinet and decades of high-level racing experience, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d be above attending mid-week criteriums. But he always does. Like Valverde, who races from January to October for the love of it, Lampier will attend any race he can; it certainly beats a training session, he says. At the recent Tour of Britain, his old contemporary Mark Cavendish noted, “Lamps, I f***ing love how much you love bike racing”. That attitude is less common than you might think in the modern peloton. But then again, he is vintage.
Two significant and insurmountable issues have catalysed his transition from rider-manager to full concentrating on team management in 2022. The first was a severe crash he had in the middle of 2020. When descending a Cornish back road, a van reversed out of a gateway, unable to see any traffic and Lampier unable to see him until it was too late. A “broken collarbone, shattered shoulder blade, three broken ribs, a punctured lung and a ruptured spleen” resulted in a long, hospital-induced recovery. One that he is still not fully complete. Yet, true to form, he was back racing this season and in very good form too. As if the words of Mark Cavendish needed any affirmation.
The second factor is the recent changing of the guard in the British scene. Reflected in the WorldTour, suddenly young riders are upsetting the apple cart and dominating the races, leaving many veteran riders scratching their heads. Lampier puts this down the recent lockdown. Steve says that before then, in domestic racing, you had teams who had paid riders who could train full time. Then you had university students and other part-time riders who had to balance work and training, creating a clear physical hierarchy. With COVID-19, all jobs stopped, and universities closed. Thanks to the furlough scheme, suddenly, “everyone became a full time, paid bike rider” – resulting in many surprising results. Lampier doesn’t lament this fact; it excites him. As a manager, he can now help, guide and develop these new talents on to great things.
Being a manager for a British UCI Continental team isn’t an easy role. Stock markets and racing teams in Britain have one thing in common, and it’s not money. They tend to have evolutions of boom and bust. Sustainability is like gold dust, rare and often elusive. The cycling news is littered with reports of new teams coming and trying to reinvent the wheel, promising the world to the riders and fans and a new business model that will revolutionise the industry. These teams often last a few years and then quietly fold, leaving a trail of broken promises in their wake.
However, Saint Piran has quietly found what Steve describes as a “sustainable, ground-up model”, with the community at its heart. Saint Piran boasts three race teams – elite men, elite women and a development squad. Each team has different sponsors. Lampier identified that some companies might wish to “support a women’s team but not a men’s, or others want to help develop riders so will only sponsor the development team”. The race teams are supported by the Saint Piran Cycling Club, which anyone can join. Lampier says that from the keen mid-week time triallist to “my own mother”, these people are part of a community that supports the race teams whilst also bearing the same Cornish badge. The team sells Saint Piran coffee, ice cream and cider. They deliberately design a minimalist, sponsor-free kit so that “people worldwide will buy it”, and they do.
Lampier reports that the team also has long-term sponsors. Its partners, including bike, shoe, helmet and wheel manufacturers, are all “signed to three-year contracts, many with the option to extend to five”. He says they have created a brand that people are choosing to buy into, all of which generates support for the club, development team, plus the men’s and women’s elite teams, “from grassroots to the pro team”.
In every person’s career, there will come a time when they start to think about their legacy. Lampier will be no different. As he transitions from a rider-manager to a full-time manager, how will he reflect? He could look back on his many wins and podiums. His three top 20s at the Tour of Britain, winning the illustrious National Road Series overall, Tour Series team wins, Tour Series sprint jersey wins, and so on. Or he could reflect on the numerous top-level teams and riders he has ridden with, famous names like Sigma Sport, Raleigh, JLT Condor and Caja Rural’s development team.
He will also have this continuing involvement in Saint Piran, a team that offers riders – many of them Cornish – the space to develop their craft. With sponsors pinned down to longer-term contracts and an emphasis on developing a community of support, it offers a model that has the potential to provide a respite from knife fight of one-year contracts. To free riders from the anxiety of uncertain futures, be it personal or team. His greatest legacy? If the Saint Piran project succeeds, it might well be leaving the British racing scene in a far better state than when he found it. To that, we can raise a glass. Or a Cornish pasty.
Featured photo: Dave Dodge Photography. Steve Lampier at the 2021 Tour of Britain
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