We often talk about what it takes to race your bike at the highest level in terms of fitness and physical ability but there are a lot of great riders out there and only a few ever make it to the pro level. Race results are important, but they form only part of the equation.
It’s a clichй, but cycling, like any professional sport, is a business. As owner and director of the Wonderful Pistachios Professional Cycling Team it is up to me to choose the riders who will best represent my sponsors for the 2011 season. Here’s glimpse at the decision making process that allows me to extract just 12 riders from the more than 500 resumes I received this year.
Race results are a factor in my decision but what does that mean specifically? I’m not so interested in your home town crit series or state championships you’ve won. I want to see your experience at the highest level, i.e. NRC and UCI races. A top 20 at an NRC race is more significant to me than any results at the local level no matter how good. I want to know that you can win races, but if you don’t have solid experience at the national or international level, I can’t be sure that you will have what it takes to hang at the professional level.
Past team experience
This may not be the most accurate way to judge a rider’s worth, but past professional experience is definitely a factor when considering a potential hire. If I see that you have been hired by other professional team directors in the past, it tells me that they saw something in you that they liked. Guys who have ridden for top pro teams often don’t have much in the way of personal results because they have spent their careers sacrificing for other riders. A rider without a single top 20 result who has ridden consistently at the pro level for many years is someone who I know will be a good team player.
I get resumes from riders from dozens of countries, many I have never heard of with letters in their names that don’t exist in the English language. If I haven’t heard of the country, chances are I don’t recognize the races you have won or the references you list. The unfortunate truth is that in order to consider an international rider there truly has to be something about them that is exceptional. It is also very difficult to deal with a language barrier and the expense of bringing in a rider from outside the country. As a final barrier, the UCI requires that a majority of your riders be citizens of the country where the team is registered. So if you are an international rider the cards are stacked against you.
Personal references are one of the most important factors I consider in making my decision. Character is vitally important when picking riders. I want guys who will work together, ride selflessly and be easy to get along with. A good personal reference is also the best safeguard I have against potential dopers. Generally I won’t even consider a rider without a strong referral. So if you are sending me a resume, make sure you list someone on there who is well known and well respected in the community. For instance, when someone like Gord Fraser tells me that I would be crazy not to hire a certain rider, I listen. And if you are moving through the ranks with the goal of some day becoming a pro, seek out a mentor early on who meets these requirements. It’s a great investment in your future.
At the Continental level, the UCI requires that a majority of the riders on your team be less than 28 years old. That means that on an 8 rider team, only 3 riders can be 28 or older. Therefore, age is the very first thing I look at on every resume I receive. I understand the reasoning behind the UCI rule but for several reasons, I think it is a bad policy. Twenty-eight is very young in a cyclist’s career, and many of these young riders do not yet have the physical or emotional maturity to handle the rigors of professional racing. It also discourages young riders from pursuing an education before striking out on their pro career. Because of these factors, my personal philosophy is that I look for riders who have completed a college degree and are as close to the 27 year old cut off as possible. A rider over the age of 27 has to be truly exceptional to earn one of those coveted few “over” slots.
In the first year that I ran this team I hired a lot of good, all around riders but did not focus enough on specific strengths and weaknesses. When Wonderful Pistachios came on board as a title sponsor they asked me to target races that had expo and sampling opportunities for them. This meant the spectator friendly downtown circuit races and criteriums. Therefore I hired riders who could do well in these races; big, powerful, aggressive sprinters. I wanted riders who could not only win these races but would also make the race exciting for the spectators along the route. A side benefit of these larger riders (two of my guys are 6’ 4” or taller) is that they make a better moving billboard than a 5’ 3” 130 lb climber!
Rate of development
This is perhaps the biggest factor in determining the potential of a given racer. Take for example my rider Victor Riquelme. He has some top 10 results at the NRC level which by themselves would not turn my head. However, when you consider the fact that it is only his second year riding, those results suddenly take on greater meaning. One thing that I learned over a 20 year racing career is that all the training in the world doesn’t replace natural talent. As a racer, I worked very hard for many years and was extremely disciplined but ultimately my natural ability was my limiting factor. When I see a rider who has done in 2 years what took me 20, it tells me that they have tremendous natural talent and that they are nowhere near the limit of what they are capable of. Because we don’t have a huge pay roll like some of the bigger teams, it is important for me to snatch up these riders while they are on their way up.
Geography is an important factor in choosing a rider. There are a lot of expenses and hassles involved with transporting and transplanting riders. All things being equal, it is much easier for me to hire a rider who is geographically in synch with my race schedule and my other riders. Therefore, a majority of my riders live in California. It is fortunate that there are so many strong pros in this state. The riders who I’ve hired outside of California had to live up to a slightly hire standard to make up for the difficulties created by their locality.
Ultimately, I hire each rider based on their ability to sell Pistachios, bikes and whatever other sponsors’ products I am responsible for. Their ability to help the team win races is part of this but it is far from the only factor. The unfortunate truth is that our sport at the domestic level has very little built-in press. Winning a race, even at the NRC level often does very little for my sponsors. Therefore it is important that each rider bring something to the table above and beyond their cycling ability.
I look for riders who are very active in social networking and have large Facebook or Twitter followings. I look for riders who write blogs for cycling news website or training articles for websites and magazines. Since event marketing is the focus of the season for Wonderful Pistachios it is also important that my riders have the ability to interact with fans at a personal level. Looks are also a factor as riders who are easy on the eyes and photograph well tend to make it into the magazines and catalogs.
So now you have the inside scoop on what it takes to turn the head of a pro team director. There are many more racers out there than there are teams so it is vitally important that you excel in as many of these areas as possible.
If you are a spectator, think about some of these factors as you follow the sport to get an added perspective on what truly makes a successful professional bike racer.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Josh is the owner and manager of the Wonderful Pistachios Professional Cycling Team. Josh is also USCF Certified coach. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.