Bahati Foundation takes new approach to sponsorship and coaching

When the Bahati Foundation Pro Cycling Team launches in 2010, the newest U.S. continental team will be about two things: philanthropy and coaching. Well, three – if you count bike racing.

By Brian Holcombe

When the Bahati Foundation Pro Cycling Team launches in 2010, the newest U.S. continental team will be about two things: philanthropy and coaching. Well, three – if you count bike racing.

Despite the name on the jerseys, the team is actually the brainchild of Colorado Premier Training partners Rick Crawford and Steve Owens. The two well-known coaches began their search for sponsors for a new elite team in August 2009. At the time, Crawford and Owens knew that they wanted to establish a sustainable and service-based sponsorship model in the program.

After signing the fledgling team’s first rider, Australian Nathan O’Neill, in August, Crawford and Owens began their sponsorship and charity searches in earnest. In their second signee, Rahsaan Bahati, they found not only a potent sprint weapon, but also their charitable partner and title sponsor – the Bahati Foundation.

Bahati, the 2008 U.S. professional criterium champion, grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Compton, California. The former Rock Racing leader found a path out of poverty through cycling, which he discovered at the urging of his parents and a seventh grade teacher. Bahati founded his namesake foundation to leverage his success in cycling to help underprivileged youth find their own paths out of challenging circumstances.

The Bahati Foundation will employ the cycling team as its primary promotional vehicle in 2010. Riders will visit schools in urban areas on the racing circuit, providing not only public speaking engagements, but also working with local groups to establish sustainable youth cycling programs.

“As we travel around the U.S., we’re going to be very involved with going to middle schools and high schools around the country in inner cities and talking to kids about cycling and how it’s a lifelong healthy sport, how it can provide opportunity, like in the case of Rahsaan’s story, and how it’s a whole industry out there and there are a lot of jobs,” Owens said. “We’ll go to the schools and get them to the races – get them out of their environment a little bit and show them that there is opportunity and there are jobs that you wouldn’t even imagine out there.”

Returning from a three-year stint in Europe with Slipstream Sports, Jason Donald, who Crawford “snatched up as quickly as possible,” pointed to the team’s charitable work as a major determinant in his signing: “To have a chance to meet some of these kids and let them ride bikes and give them an idea of what else is out there is the best thing that I could possibly ask for.”

The team announced earlier this month partnerships with the Endure Media Group and NBC Universal Sports to produce a three-year, 18-episode television program following the team and detailing the foundation’s work. Other promotional efforts, including work with mainstream celebrities may still be in the works.

Crawford sees the relationship between the foundation and cycling team as mutually beneficial. While the foundation benefits from the team’s involvement in its mission, the team benefits from the sustainability of its agreement with a cycling-oriented service organization. The ever-optimistic Owens says that in years to come the Bahati Foundation program may well be viewed as a monument in the sport.

This is about coaching
When Crawford began shopping around the idea in August, he knew that just as important to him as the charitable side of the program was the platform the team would provide for a new coaching model in the sport.

“This is about coaching,” Crawford said. “We’re going to show the world that a team that is coached and managed is better than one that is not.”

Crawford, who will direct the team in 2010, will personally oversee each of his athletes’ training programs on a weekly and often daily basis. Colorado Premier Training staff will monitor rider diets, training loads and mental stress at a level unlike any other team in the domestic peloton.

“We’re going to coordinate the schedule at a level that’s probably never been done. We’re going to have 21 riders basically all periodized, ready to show up in-form, not over-trained, not doing anything foolish,” Crawford said. “We want, just like any other sport in the world other than cycling, for the coaching to be a given, not something that just happens if an individual rider seeks it out.”

Owens says that nearly half of the team’s riders work with non-CPT coaches. Crawford will work cooperatively with these coaches, including Donald’s coach Jon Heidemann, to ensure that his riders don’t fall off the radar when they return home from races. While Crawford will not mandate training techniques for these athletes, he is expected to have some heavy influence on their programs based on the team’s race schedule.

Of all his new athletes, Crawford appears most excited to work directly with Bahati.

“As much as he’s won, he’s still underachieved. I am really looking forward to coaching this guy, cracking the whip with him, making sure that he trains sufficiently, adequately and intelligently, and I tell you, that guy is going to win races this year,” Crawford said. “I’ve been around this industry for a long time and (Bahati) has one of the most explosive finishes on the road that I’ve ever seen.”

While Crawford may be most enthusiastic on the individual level to take on his new sprinter, the team coaching aspect is his biggest draw to developing the program. He and Owens hope to reshape cycling team structure, creating more cohesive team units, a concept that proved successful for Crawford at the collegiate level, as he directed Fort Lewis College to multiple national collegiate championships during his tenure.

If all goes according to plan for the Colorado Premier Training duo in 2010, we could see new American racing take a new approach to both sponsorship and coaching in the domestic peloton.

2010 Bahati Foundation Pro Cycling Team

  • Rahsaan Bahati
  • Ryan Baumann
  • Ian Burnett
  • Peter Carey
  • Hilton Clarke
  • Corey Collier
  • Jason Donald
  • Cesar Grajales
  • Alex Hagman
  • Evan Hyde
  • Bobby Lea
  • Phillip Mann
  • Nathan O’Neill
  • Matt Rice
  • Lanell Rockmore