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How I created a cycling team

VeloNews writer Sadhbh O'Shea on how she and a group from the Isle of Man set up a cycling team from scratch.

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Setting up a new cycling team is far from a solo effort and creating one needs a group of dedicated people to get it off the ground.

Last week, I and a group of four others launched a team called Cycling Club Isle of Man. For me, it was the culmination of two years of work, but it was more than that for some others involved in the project.

Watching our work finally begin to bear fruit in recent weeks has been equal parts thrilling and terrifying.

Cycling has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I recall sitting on the crossbar of my dad’s bike, and accidentally knocking him down once when I got my foot stuck in his spokes — I still feel bad about that one.

When I got a little bit older, I began racing in a junior league on the Isle of Man. My career as a rider never took off, though I’d never had designs on racing for a living, but I stayed involved in the sport through my writing.

Many have come to know the island through the exploits of Mark Cavendish over the last decade and a bit, but the relationship between cycling and the Isle of Man goes far deeper.

It once hosted the world’s best cyclists each year for the one-day Manx International bike race, which had winners such as Tom Simpson and Jacques Anquetil. Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx also competed in the race during their careers. It ended in 2003 but returned as a stage race in 2016.

Manx rider Millie Robinson was the winner of the first, unofficial, women’s Tour de France in 1955 and Steve Joughin became the first Manxman to win the British national road title in 1984.

Cavendish isn’t the only current professional from the island with the likes of Mark and Anna Christian, Lizzie Holden, Sam Brand, Amelia Sharpe, Matthew Bostock, and Leon and Tom Mazzone all racing for UCI-registered teams.

Thanks to some very well-established junior racing, the island has a wealth of young talent but there is no support for them once they outgrow that system. That’s why we decided to create Cycling Club Isle of Man, which will act as a development squad for Manx riders.

Getting stuck in

It was because of my writing that I initially became involved in the project back in July 2020. The original plan was for me to act as a media officer for the team but a change in personnel saw me take over as the chairperson.

Some of those already involved, including Paul Jones and Tony Keating, already had experience in creating a team from nothing with FC Isle of Man. The soccer team made history as the first from the island to compete in the English football league system.

Setting up a cycling team was a completely new experience for me and the others, and it would prove to be a steep learning curve. The challenges of getting started in cycling were also very different to those in soccer.

After a decade as a cycling journalist, I knew some of the hurdles we would face but there was a lot to learn about finances, registration requirements, and all the tedious behind-the-scenes stuff that you don’t see when you sit down and watch a bike race.

I called some friends, who had been there and done that, for advice and we also contacted British Cycling, which was hugely supportive of what we were trying to do, for guidance.

We quickly learned what was realistic and what was blue sky thinking. When I joined the project, there was talk of starting at Continental level and a Continental team remains a target, we soon downgraded our initial ambitions.

To reach even the lowest rung of the UCI ranks, the team would need to raise a substantial budget of around £250,000. Instead, we decided it was better to start small and build our way up.

As time goes on, our plan is to be funded partly by sponsorship, but also by paying members, who will effectively part-own the team. However, like most teams, we needed a good sponsorship deal to get us off the ground. We also needed to pull together the right people to run it.

In addition to myself, Tony, and Paul, we also had local lawyer Gill Crennell on the team’s board. We all brought our own expertise, which would come in useful as we tried to pull everything together.

There were peaks and troughs along the way and one of the biggest disappointments was when we were rejected for lottery funding midway through 2021. We’d put a huge amount of effort into crafting our application, but it didn’t work out.

It wouldn’t be the only setback we’d have and there were other potential sponsors that didn’t come through in the end. The coronavirus pandemic also proved difficult for us with border restrictions on the island — which were some of the strictest in the world — postponing the competitive debut for FC Isle of Man by a whole year.

With the focus becoming, and rightly so, about getting the soccer team up and running in its debut season last fall, the cycling team was placed on the backburner. As we approached December, we had to face the reality that it might be another year before Cycling Club Isle of Man could race.

We met in early in January to make a call on the future of the project. Thankfully, we wouldn’t have to delay another season because we had a race entry for 2022. It was the boost we needed to get us over the line.

With a first race to work towards, we were able to secure a sponsor in the Law Trust. We’d already had a kit supplier design us a kit and the sponsorship meant we could finally press go on getting it produced, we could also start asking riders to commit.

Through Paul, who works for the island’s sport governing body, we were also able to add newly retired rider Conor Davies as our team manager. Conor has been instrumental in pulling together our roster as well as building a race calendar that will both test the riders and give them a platform to show what they can do.

In early April, we were finally registered as a club with British Cycling. There were times when it felt as though it might never happen, but once one part fell into place, it became like a domino effect. It’s busier than ever now with logistics, equipment, and all sorts to arrange before the riders make their debut.