Uno-X: From bikes with no saddles to a Tour de France debut
How a six-year plan paid off for the Scandinavian squad with big ambitions: 'We're not going to the Tour to be in the TV breakaways.'
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“If someone told you I said six years ago, ‘Hello, I’m starting a Conti team, I’ve accidentally ordered 11 bikes without saddles, but I’m going to race the Tour de France in six years,’ everybody would laugh,” Team Uno-X boss Jens Haugland said.
“But no one is laughing now.”
It’s been some journey for Haugland and his mustard ‘n’ ketchup colored Uno-X crew.
After bossing the lower tier calendar as the “Uno-X Norwegian Development Team” through its formative years, the Scandinavian squad booted the door down to the big league in the post-pandemic era.
Haugland’s bunch of young male Norweigan and Danish talent muscled up to the WorldTour elite in the 2021 classics and went on to barnstorm its way into the eyeline all through the season, every season.
The creation of a women’s team last year that dived directly into the Women’s WorldTour built the fuel stations-backed project even bigger.
A framework founded on Norwegian national ethos of steady development and collective harmony saw homegrown stars like Rasmus Tiller, U23 TT world champion Søren Wærenskjold, and Tour de l’Avenir winner Tobias Halland Johannessen pump the ProTeam-level Uno-X into so many headlines that Tour de France chiefs could no longer ignore it.
“Organizers like us being different. They like our identity and the racing style, that we seem to stand out. And they like how we’ve built up steadily,” Haugland told VeloNews. “And at the same time, we have riders performing well. I think having identity and performance was key for us getting a Tour invite.”
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A history-making invite to the 2023 Tour de France in addition to a return to the Tour de France Femmes closes the first chapter on the team’s masterplan to embed Norway onto the pro cycling map.
“Everything has to play out perfectly, but we’re not going to the Tour de France to be in the TV breakaways, we are racing because we want to perform,” Haugland said of his male division. “That is always the ambition of our system, and it’s the ambition for the future.”
Putting a plan into action
Uno-X roars toward the Tour de France with a stage win in mind and a longer-term goal of GC conquest.
Wærenskjold’s stage victory at the Saudi Tour at the turn of this month sets the tone for a big year for the Scandi squad.
“The last weeks have just been completely massive, the interest and new exposure. You realize how big Tour de France is in the world in general. And you realize that you need to be very focused on what you want to achieve and how to achieve it,” Haugland said in a call last week.
“Going down the road now, it’s going to be a very intense six-month period. But we have planned for this. Plan A for the system as a whole was always to ride the Tour de France this year. So we are not caught completely by surprise, and we have a plan that we are going to execute.”
Also read: Uno-X makes public plea for multi-million partnership to back post-Tour de France future
Haugland started putting his grand plan into action last autumn when he signed grizzled monument ace Alexander Kristoff to the team for the coming three seasons. The 35-year-old brings experience to a squad with 16 riders younger than 25, and a Norwegian figurehead to focus around.
The further arrival from the Team Sky/Ineos setup of sport director Gabriel Rasch and chief medic Rory Nolan sees Uno-X carry extra brain and Kristoff’s brawn into 2023.
“These guys, they’re confident, have a lot of experience, and they will give us another level. When they speak, people listen,” Haugland said. “We knew we needed people like this.”
‘We want to compete against the best for many years to come’
The off-season bolstering is all part of Uno-X’s long-term plot to bust to the top of the sport, and to do it fast.
It made an ambitious – if ultimately rejected – application for WorldTour status in 2023, and recently made an open plea for new backers to bring added funding to its big vision.
A flood of wildcard invites for Paris-Roubaix and a bunch of prestigious WorldTour-level races made for a reward for Uno-X’s bold and boisterous approach.
“My blog asking about a new sponsor was not a way of saying Uno-X is reducing its targets. It’s about saying, ‘Hello, we are now in the Tour de France’ – we now have that card to play,” Haugland said.
“We want to make sure that we want to be able to compete against the best for many years to come. We want to be in the WorldTour, we want to be able to fight at the top of the Tour de France. It’s about utilizing that momentum.”
For Uno-X, this year’s grand départ is just the start of a Tour de France journey it plans to last far beyond 2023.