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PEZ Talk: Michael Cotty On The Road Less Travelled
Interview: We would all love to be riding the World's high mountains, fitness aside, but to be able to do it as your job is a dream too far. Mike Cotty is the man with the perfect gig, but it didn't happen overnight. PEZ literary editor, Leslie Reissner, managed to trap Mike for a few words on his upward trajectory, on the bike and his career.

The worldwide growth of interest in cycling has opened up all kinds of new businesses, from companies offering race-following tours to small-scale manufacturers of specialized products to enthusiast publications to training apps. How many of us have had a particularly good day on the ride, acing all the turns and descents, enjoying the scenery while the bike just hums along underneath us, and thinking: “How can I get paid to do this?” Pro racing is a solution for only a few genetically-gifted and fearless types but with some imagination there are answers. Among the most intriguing, and taking full advantage of modern social media, is the career of Michael Cotty, British endurance rider and founder of Media-24 and the Col Collective.

PEZ recently spoke to him at his office in the United Kingdom.

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PEZ: How did you get started in cycling?
Mike Cotty:
Growing up in the South of England, I played football and other sports in school but started with cyclocross at 12 or 13. I liked the individual aspect of the sport and not having to rely on others. Put in the work and you get results. I would go for long training rides and I enjoyed the freedom. I worked through the ranks in cyclocross and then began mountain biking in the mid-1990s. I fell in love with this kind of riding and pushing as hard as I could.

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PEZ: What is your educational background? How did it lead you into cycling as a career?
I was in a program at BAE Systems Infrared where I worked for four days and attended college for one day each week, studying mechanical engineering design and getting a good view of the practical side of things to accompany the theoretical. The work program allowed me to cover my tuition costs. But at the same time I was living a parallel life in bike riding, doing lots of time on the road, attending training camps and thinking about where I would go next. I knew that I wanted to work with bicycles somehow and not necessarily take the “safe” course in my working life. The question was how to channel this passion—one path could have been via racing but I knew there were better riders who were more naturally gifted and I would have to work very hard to match that level, if ever.

In the late 1990s the UK lacked the kind of infrastructure British Cycling offers now and I realized that my best route lay in Europe and that I needed a real job as a safety net. I began scouting on the Internet. I had always liked Cannondale and the flashy SAECO pro team headed by star sprinter Mario Cipollini. It was a cool brand and as an engineer I thought they were highly innovative. I found an opening advertised and found myself with the company in Switzerland, doing automated presentations, interviews and other public relations work. I was 21 and had changed everything—country, profession.

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I was at the bottom rung of a global enterprise and from 2000-2005 I developed good contacts as I worked with the media, writing features, contributing to advertising and acting as press liaison for Cannondale. I was a kind of “brand ambassador,” and not only believed in the company but also wanted to help people get the most out of the sport.

I participated in Grand Trophée rides when based in Basel, along with many Eurosportive rides, and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains. In 2006 we were contacted by Markus Neuert of CycleFilm, who was looking for support for a project of doing videos to prepare people for each year’s Etape du Tour, which is an organized day event for amateurs and follows one complete stage of the Tour de France. I ended up “starring” in the videos done in 2006-2007, along with a number of other CycleFilm productions. At this time I was thinking of how I could do more in the mountains.

In 2005 I shifted back to the UK with Cannondale and in 2009 the company was purchased by Dorel Industries and became part of the company’s Cycling Sports Group (CSG), which then purchased the UK distributor for the range of company products—GT, Mongoose, Sugoi, Schwinn and so forth. The company grew nicely, from 18-20 people to 45 by the time I left in 2012.

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PEZ: What prompted you to leave a secure position at CSG?
For a year I considered how I could bring together my cycling experiences into a way to enable other cyclists to learn and enjoy from them. In 2011 I went from racing to endurance rides, tackling l’Etape du Tour and tough sportives. I went on crazy epic long rides, often alone, exploring the mountains. Racing is so very difficult and I found my new direction more satisfying. One Friday morning I found myself with my girlfriend driving to Spain. Saturday afternoon I was on my bike heading out on a ride along the Pyrenees, tracing the range 620 kms from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean before driving home again on Sunday! No entry fees, no organization—it was a ride into the unknown and my life would not be the same any more.

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I felt that YouTube was a platform that could be used to benefit and educate cyclists wanting to tackle the great climbs, a way to reach out to people beyond one or two events where I could be present. In late 2012 I decided to take the big gamble and live out my dreams. I had developed good relationships, such as the one with Mavic going back to 2006, and after the Eurobike trade show that year I went about putting together my business plan and how I would become independent and away from the security of a “regular” job.

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PEZ: How did the leap into the unknown unfold?
Media-24 was now established and I was fortunate to be contracted by Cannondale to produce content for them, covering the professional racing team, including videos, as well as technical videos for their products. These employed 3D graphics and modeling but still allowed me my own time to develop my own project which was aimed at benefiting the collective group of cyclists that wanted guidance, a group representing a wider community beyond racing. At the beginning the question was how to support ourselves and the arrangement with Cannondale was a good compromise. We have other clients as well. For example, we have provided footage to the producers of the Sufferfest training videos.

In 2013 we entered into a partnership with Mavic, a company that was sympathetic to my emphasis on cycling as an adventure, a means of exploring and testing one’s limits. I undertook a ride from Lake Geneva to Nice, along the Route des Grandes Alpes that year, and it was covered by a video team. This challenge was followed in 2014 by a 1000 km ride from Venice to Mont Blanc in 50 hours, which saw me climb 21 mountains in all kinds of weather conditions and became the video production “the Road to Mont Blanc.” I had done a recon ride of the route with my girlfriend but the actual event, which included heavy rain and impenetrable darkness in the Dolomites, was amazing. This kind of thing puts you into a state of heightened focus and as it pushes you to that higher level you forget everything else.
Needless to say, 2014 was a crazy busy year. We did lots of Cannondale but also prepared the first season of videos for the Col Collective, which we launched on YouTube in October/November that year.

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PEZ: What is your aim with the Col Collective?
I want to make people dream about the next summit. There is a cathartic feeling that comes from riding the great peaks, a way of achieving serenity and peace, and I wanted to share this experience. It is meant to offer inspiration—somebody viewing it should think: “I can do that!” It is 5-10 minutes of escape, of getting away from the world and bringing the mountains to life.

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PEZ: What has been the response to the project so far?
The Col Collective is bigger than just the videos as a community has developed around it as it is a voice for those seeking a different kind of cycling experience. Feedback has been excellent and the audience is made up for a very diverse group. In my view, the direct communication I get in talking to riders can’t be beaten. People ask for advice and are a bit surprised that I answer personally. Our team is small: it consists of myself, my girlfriend—who has also made the leap from the corporate world, our videographer, who is Italian, and our graphics designer, who is based in Montreal.

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PEZ: What was involved in developing that first season of the Col Collective?
We aim to develop a comprehensive video library of climbs and Season 1 was pretty ambitious. We did three trips to Europe and covered a total of 30 climbs, doing up to three climbs each day. It was hard to do all this, given the limited time and resources. We currently have 40 videos online, with another 30 or so that have been filmed and will be introduced. There will be 10-15 videos covering descents (the emphasis until now has been more on the climbing parts) but we also want to do more in the direction of education—training, nutrition—as well as equipment.



In addition to the “classic” rides in the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees, we have plans for video coverage of Spain, the Canary Islands, Norway and Switzerland. We have a huge amount of content available and want to streamline how we manage it, as well as offer better service to our community. It would be great if we could organize a big event, like a two week tour!

Needless to say 2014 was hectic, between the work for Cannondale and filming the Col Collective. Not much time for recovery at all but I think we met our objectives.

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PEZ: How did you get involved with the Haute Route event? (In September PezCyclingNews reported on this year’s Haute Route).
In the past I always did one stage and then did a presentation in the evening. My topic was really about getting through and how you achieve more than you think you can with the proper approach. I spoke with the organizers in winter about how we could a better experience for participants and how I could provide coaching as well as introductions to each day’s ride. I find it very satisfying to develop personal relationships with these passionate cyclists. I have not been able to do as much personal riding as I would like due to the needs of expanding the business so I was pleased to put this year’s Haute Route into my calendar. As well, I produced the official guide to the event, along with other content.

As I mentioned, I have a good relationship with Mavic and they are also big supporters of the Haute Route. They want to elevate the status of endurance riders and so we share that goal in common.

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The 2016 Haute Route was a phenomenal experience. It is a hard event and I rode all three courses offered this year. Being out on the road every day gives you credibility if your role is promoting the sport. The participants were Col Collective types: from hard-core roadies to those who feel a lifetime achievement would be just finishing one of these rides. It was fun to do a little video every day highlighting the ride.

At next year’s Haute Route I will serve as a kind of “open resource” person, offering advice and answering questions. Through the Col Collective and our partners we have developed a great network and can cover topics ranging from equipment to training to nutrition.

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PEZ: What is next for Mike Cotty and the Col Collective?
In addition to editing all that raw video footage and getting it online, we want to connect more with our community and getting everyone more involved. How can we make your ride better? Perhaps there will be training camps or tours in the future.

I am very proud of what we have accomplished in two years through our passion for cycling. It has been an organic process as we have built on existing relationships. Lots of people have seen and enjoyed our videos and I am looking forward to doing more with the Col Collective community—more riding, more videos, more challenges, more accomplishment. We will show some of the hidden jewels of the mountains—there are a lot of them!

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Great talking to you, Mike! Thanks for letting us in on how you have made your passion for cycling and the open road ahead work for you; good luck with your future projects.

Enjoy the beautiful Col Collective channel on Youtube.

Learn more about Mike’s work at www.Media-24.co.uk.

Noted for his yellow shoes and his standing-on-the-pedals style (there is reputedly a Twitter hashtag #mikecottysitdown), Mr. Cotty also has a soft spot for the lovely cows he sees on his mountain rides. On April 1 this year he presented a highlight video on this subject.

Photos courtesy of Magic, the Col Collective and the Haute Route.

The "Cow" Collective:






When not planning to crest over the Tourmalet with Michael Cotty (right: in his dreams), Leslie Reissner may be found descending rapidly into the off-season at www.tindonkey.com.

 

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