The sight of Idar Andersen chasing down Gianni Moscon in an all-or-nothing bid for victory at the opening stage of the Tour of the Alps was both a surprise and yet somehow expected.
The red and yellow livery and Scandinavian complexions of Norway-registered Uno-X have been muscling up alongside the heavy hitters of the WorldTour throughout the season so far.
Although Andersen was left second-best in the Alps on Monday, Uno-X team manager Jens Haugland is confident his budding development squad won’t be easing off anytime soon.
“Those moments [at the Tour of the Alps] are for sure important,” Haugland told VeloNews. “But at the same time, it’s important for us to tell a story that we’re not trying to get into a spotlight. We’re searching for creating a culture of trying to win races. We’re trying to create a mentality to always try among the big boys.
“Idar did that Monday and we have tried to do that a lot of times this year, but we haven’t won yet,” Haugland said this week. “Step one is at least trying to get yourself in a position of the possibility of winning. Step two is to win.”
Du tenkte kanskje at Uno-X ikke kunne overraske sykkelverden flere ganger?
— Vegar Kulset (@VegarKulset) April 19, 2021
Inspired by Hagens Bermans Axeon and powered by the big engines of riders finessed by cross-country skiing, the Danes and Norwegians of Uno-X have been consistently punching above their ProTeam weightclass in 2021.
After playing animator from “opening weekend” of the classics all the way through to the Amstel Gold Race, Uno-X has harvested a swathe of podium places at the Tour of Turkey and took top-1os at several marquee one-day races.
Despite the setback of having to leave the Tour of the Alps early Wednesday due to a COVID case in the team, Haugland is confident you’ll be seeing plenty more of Uno-X as he looks to move Scandinavian cycling to the center of the international cycling scene in the coming years.
“We’ve had these huge amounts of great riders from Norway — Alexander Kristoff, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thor Hushovd, and I think it’s about time that we were coming up with a project with a Norwegian base,” Haugland said in a telephone call.
“Norwegians are very good at other endurance sports, especially during wintertime, and I think we have a lot of competencies within this way of thinking and training. We want to put all that on the map and make sure that we continue to develop the sport of cycling within Norway and Denmark for the upcoming years as well.”
— Uno-X Pro Cycling Team (@UnoXteam) April 11, 2021
Fully controlled by Haugland’s-own chain of Uno-X car washes and unmanned filling stations, the squad was initially thoroughbred Norwegian, with only home-grown talent on the roster. Since stepping up from Continental to ProTeam level in 2020, the team has started to embrace Danish talent, with Haugland envisaging a 50-50 national split in the near future.
The pan-European influence doesn’t stop there.
Haugland sees leading Dutch soccer team Ajax and its undeviating pursuit of “total football” as a template as it pursues excellence at whatever level of the sport it finds itself.
Also read: Halvorsen sets up photo finish in Turkey
“I’m very much inspired by Ajax philosophy – being very consistent over time, making sure that you sometimes end nearly in the Champions League final, sometimes the Europa League,” he said. “We want an atmosphere of trying to win, of doing something, in every race we started in. We maybe don’t win that often, but you don’t if you’re not Ineos or Quick-Step anyway.”
Where Hagens Bermans Axeon meets Ajax
The inspiration from Ajax extends further than just a competitive strategy. The long-running soccer squad has long been a powerhouse in developing young talent through its academy system, and Uno-X is equally focused on building Scandinavia’s next Kristoff, Kasper Asgreen, or Mads Pedersen.
Some 24 of the squad’s 26 riders are under 25 years of age, and Uno-X has regularly been fielding the youngest team at every race it has started.
And rather than pinning down rising talents to multi-year deals like those handed to Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel, the team embraces the outlook of U.S. talent factory Hagens Berman Axeon, which acts as a revolving door for WorldTour-bound stars.
“We have a philosophy and we stick to it,” Haugland said. “We’re all about development. You accept the fact that riders will leave the team, and you support them when they leave. You don’t nag at them and say, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ I don’t want to be that manager, and I don’t want to be that team. That’s why I also have this WorldTour clause for every rider: If they want to go, they’re allowed to go. I’m not going to put limits on them.
“Hagens Berman Axeon was a big inspiration for us when we launched first as a Conti team,” he continued. “I was very inspired by Hagens and SEG and a couple of the other development teams as well. And I think it’s possible to continue with that philosophy, even as a ProTeam. We are not necessarily an end station, but we are a really good station to be at some point in time of a rider’s career.”
— Uno-X Pro Cycling Team (@UnoXteam) April 12, 2021
Although the squad brought in former Team Sky and EF Pro Cycling sprinter Kristoffer Halvorsen and NTT Pro Cycling departee Rasmus Tiller at the start of this year, Haugland said the poaching of WorldTour talents is an exception rather than the way forward.
The 37-year-old manager says even the likes of Kristoff or Boasson Hagen would only be welcomed on motivation and merit rather than palmarès and reputation.
“I respect Kristoff enormously – he has always been 110 percent professional and managed four kids,” Haugland said. “But if he was just looking for an easy exit at a home team, I would need to consider his attitude. Of course, you will always think around about that because Kristoff is Kristoff. But, that will be an exception, not the normal situation.”
Instead, Uno-X is for sending riders the other way – from the second division up to the WorldTour, with Jumbo-Visma’s Tobias Foss and Team DSM’s Andreas Leknessund notable alumni. And with Danish cycling hitting terminal velocity with the likes of Asgreen, Pedersen, and Jonas Vingegaard, Haugland is hopeful he has the next Tour of Flanders champ in his squad right now.
“I hope we already have the next Asgreen,” he joked. “We will see if I’m right or not.”
Whether Haugland’s hopes come true in future years, it’s certain that you need to get used to hearing about Uno-X a little while longer.