Champion System is a Hong Kong based manufacturer of running, triathlon, moto-cross and cycling apparel who want their name awareness increased across all three continents.
On the eve of his jetting off to China in anticipation of the team’s launch and first training camp, Beamon took time to talk to PEZ.
PEZ: Were you happy with Champion Systems 2011 campaign, Ed?
Ed Beamon: The team structure in 2011 was a really different one from how things will be in 2012.
The team was run by a Swiss management company and I helped out with organising a North American programme in mid-summer.
The only parallels are that the sponsor remains the same and some of the riders have come along.
Beamon and Kirsipuu.
PEZ: Jaan Kirsipuu is still there at 42 – is he still as motivated?
EB: He’s an amazing man; he has the enthusiasm and energy of a U23 rider.
He’s been around the block a couple of times – then a couple of times more, but he still has the fire.
It’s not like he’ll be lining up for the Tour of Flanders but he’s intrigued by the whole Asian aspect.
Kirsipuu in yellow at the 1999 Tour de France.
PEZ: Does his name open doors?
EB: Last year when I was organising the North American programme, I’d mention his name to race organisers and they’d get so excited at the prospect of having him in their event.
He’s obviously not the same guy who was winning the French Cup ten years ago but he’s so well respected in Northern Europe – there’s his name and his reputation, but he also made a lot of friends in the sport due to his personality.
Kirsipuu winning Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne solo.
PEZ: And Craig Lewis comes from HTC.
EB: He’s not fully recovered from his injuries at the Giro but he’s got character, determination and is a fighter.
He’s fought back from tragedies before and I think when he does it this time we’ll see him a different level altogether – better than he’s ever been.
PEZ: Gorik Gardeyn comes over from Vacansoleil, too.
EB: When we started to get invites for decent European classic-type races and then Oman and Qatar, I realised that needed a rider with experience of those races.
We were talking to five or six guys who were coming out of the Pro Tour but Gorik with his experience stood out.
When we spoke I was impressed by his personality, his motivation and his interest in the Asian connection.
It’s not going to be a team for riders who are ‘old school’ or set in their ways – it’s a multi-cultural team and I think that Gorik will fit right in.
PEZ: Will you be running a dual Euro/Asian programme?
EB: We have 18 riders – and the team may get a little bigger – so yes, we’ll be running two programmes.
There’ll be the European races and the Asian/North American races.
We’ll have our base in Belgium with a small service course in New York and of course our offices are in Hong Kong – that gives us a footprint on every continent.
PEZ: You’re accepted for Oman and Qatar – no mean feat.
EB: I didn’t ‘push any buttons’ to get into those races, in fact I felt a little intimidated approaching such high profile events.
But I think that the organisers realise that it’s a historic thing that we’re Asia’s first Pro Continental.
Asia is such a huge market and our team creates an opportunity to generate interest in that market place.
The 2012 Champion System Professional Cycling Team.
PEZ: You have some good invites, but as a Pro Continental squad you have to rely on wild cards much of the time.
EB: Yes, and that’s stressful.
At this level it’s tricky, there’s a whole pool of teams competing for the rides.
The World Tour guys know pretty much what they’re riding from back in July, but we’re at the mercy of organisers.
On the positive side I know that we have a solid calendar of good Asian races, early and late in the season – six and ten day tours.
And I can also count on a solid North American calendar so we’ve ticked a lot of boxes – it’s hard, but I’ve experienced worse.
Champion System will be aboard Fuji Bikes in 2012.
PEZ: You were involved in management with Navigators for 14 years.
EB: Yes, Navigators were the longest continuously sponsored team in North American cycling history.
The momentum was still building when we stopped, but the Navigators Insurance Company had changed a lot in that time – the company had grown and there was a new board of directors.
There comes a point where a company’s awareness has saturated that part of the market it’s aiming at and then it’s time to stop.
But it had become home for me and I established some great relationships in that time.
PEZ: You were with Team Type 1 in 2008, after that.
EB: I was there in their first year as a pro team – my task was to get it up and running and I’m still proud of what we achieved.
I took some of the Navigators riders and staff across and things were building nicely for our second season when I was notified on December 18th that my services were no longer required.
There are always politics in sport and in some organisations things aren’t always what they seem.
My thinking has always been that your first responsibility is to address your sponsor’s needs.
But your next responsibility is to create the best environment for your riders to perform in.
You can’t expect your riders to perform if the environment isn’t the best for them – maybe I stated my case on that point too strongly and didn’t think enough about what was the best thing to say when it came to my own interests?
PEZ: And then there was the Fly V/Pegasus situation.
EB: We had a good year as Fly V in 2010 – good guys, good results, good chemistry.
We were very excited about the prospects, the first Pegasus camp training went well – and then we discovered there was nothing there!
But those situations have set the stage for me here at Champion Systems.
PEZ: 20 seasons – you must have seen a lot of changes?
EB: I was just thinking about that the other day – when we started Navigators there were just pro teams, no divisions or anything like that.
Then they introduced the Division 1 and 2 system – and now you have the World Tour.
In total there were maybe 40 teams back then – there are so many more nowadays.
And the money that’s involved to run a Pro Tour team would have been unfathomable, 20 years ago.
Social media has made such a difference – and there’s so much more TV coverage.
But whilst the equipment has developed so much, at the end of the day, when the rubber meets the road – it’s still the same game!
PEZ: What’s your proudest moment as a manager?
EB: I guess the bait is that it should be some race win – but in fact I’d point to two occasions when my riders were in very serious accidents.
I was on the scene both times and able to keep the situation positive – and was very proud to eventually see them back on their bikes and racing again.
The rewarding moments don’t necessarily come just from seeing your riders perform well in races – it might well be in other aspects of their life.
PEZ: What do you still dream of as a manager?
EB: I haven’t taken a team to the Tour de France – and that has to be the ultimate goal for this team.
However, we’ve created Asia’s first Pro Continental team and if I had to ‘hang it all up’ today then I’d be satisfied.
But there’s no doubt that the Tour is what everyone in cycle sport dreams of.
PEZ: The UCI – your take?
EB: As a child of the 60’s I have a natural inclination to reject authority – and I think that most folks react negatively to authority bodies, especially if they can see that there’s too much politics involved.
You have to say that in the last decade they’ve helped grow the sport’s popularity – whilst it’s been a challenging time for them with the doping problems.
I think that sometimes they regulate stuff that doesn’t need it – many of the equipment rules aren’t necessary, for example.
But they’ve brought in positive factors like minimum wages for riders and bank guarantees – although that didn’t work with Pegasus!
PEZ: Ed Beamon will be happy with Champion’s 2012, if?
EB: If the Asian guys integrate into the European peloton – then when they go back to race in Hong Kong, Malaysia, China they get the kids out there into cycle sport.