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The best way to learn is by doing, and Canyon-SRAM gained a whole load of knowledge last season as it ran a development team for the first time.
Canyon-SRAM Generation was created with the primary purpose of giving riders from smaller cycling nations an opportunity to race in Europe. Its inaugural eight-rider roster boasted seven nationalities, including Jamaican, Malaysian, and Namibian.
While running a team was not new to Canyon-SRAM boss Ronny Lauke, looking after the varying travel and visa requirements for such an international roster did pose some challenges. The team’s first season was far from smooth sailing, but Lauke has not been put off and hopes to apply the lessons learned in 2023.
“It was a learning process. I wouldn’t say we are perfect, and I wouldn’t say that everything will be easy, but we are confident that we can manage it again. The learning curve is steep, but it will continue,” Lauke told VeloNews.
“We knew before that for some riders, it might become difficult with the visa issue, especially since the team was new when there was no history that the embassies can look into. We expected the difficulties, but we experienced nothing worse than what we expected.
“Overall, I would consider it a success. I’m glad we have started this team because it’s a nice stepping stone from junior ranks, or early elite years into having proper racing, some good guidance, some support, and making the next step for the pro career without having to handle any pressure, but simply try to find the joy of bike racing and get support for it.”
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The biggest learning curve for Lauke and the rest of the team was all of the hurdles they needed to jump to get some of its riders into Europe, where most of the racing program is.
Riders from Africa proved a particular challenge due to the hefty amount of paperwork often required to travel outside of the continent.
Website Passport Index ranks the world’s passports by how many places people holding that document can go without requiring a visa or only requiring one on entry. In the 2022 list, the vast majority of African countries are ranked in the bottom third. Seychelles, Mauritius, and South Africa are the top three and are ranked 23, 27, and 45.
“It was very challenging to bring [the riders] in,” Lauke said. “For some reason, authorities have a particular problem bringing them in, which I personally don’t understand. On one side, you read everywhere that the governments and society want to have one world, but then they make such big obstacles for human beings from a different continent, in order to visit another continent, or just to do sport on another continent and that can be hard to understand.”
Visas to allow riders into countries were not the only issues that the team faced.
Lauke also had to deal with the internal politics of individual national federations and, on some occasions, governments. With no history of working in many of the countries it was dealing with, some were suspicious of their intentions and it took a lot of effort to get the various organizations on board.
With many new relationships forged across the world, problems with federations is a challenge that Lauke hopes won’t pose such an issue as it goes into its second season.
“Sometimes the federations were not supportive and in one country we got accused by a national federation member of trading people. The National Olympic Committee was involved, the Ministry of Sport was involved in that whole process,” he said. “You get to know a lot of people bringing riders from non-traditional cycling countries to Europe.
“You have to deal with some personal issues of some federation members because somehow this rider plays an important role for them. For some, they really didn’t know what we wanted to do with the riders. There were a lot of fights with federations about getting riders here, training them, and giving them an opportunity to race and make progress as a cyclist. This was not understood by everyone.”
Despite the challenges, Canyon-SRAM Generation got off to a strong start and finished the season an impressive 22nd in the UCI’s world rankings, beating some WorldTour teams and far more experienced rosters.
The team unveiled its new eight-rider roster for the 2023 season with four riders staying on from last year’s line-up. Those that have left are Ricarda Bauernfeind and Antonia Niedermaier, who both earned promotions to the WorldTour squad, Fatima Deborah Conteh, and Siti Nur Alia Mansor.
Conteh leaves after not racing for the team once due to issues with getting her out of Sierra Leone. In November, the team was still working to try and get her to a race but had to give up.
Agua Marina Espinola (Paraguay), Valantine Nzayisenga (Rwanda), Liori Sharpe (Jamaica), and Olivia Shililfa (Namibia) all earned new contracts, while Nesrine Houili (Algeria), Justyna Czapla (Germany), Diane Ingabire (Rwanda), and Daniela Schmidsberger (Austria) are new signings.
One major change for the team in 2023 is that riders with the Generation squad will be able to make some guest appearances with the WorldTour team. Previously, development teams operated as an entirely different setup to the elite teams, but the UCI amended its regulations for the 2023 season to allow for development teams to race up.
It is an opportunity to give the riders more experience of professional racing, a key part of their development.
“The intention of creating this team is that they can learn from the best, and from the highest level. Of course, you train together and have a conversation between riders, but in the end, you need bike races on the highest level, when they can dive in to race alongside the top teammates. That will definitely help them to improve further and to make progress,” Lauke said.