This evening sees the launch of the new ONE Pro Cycling team, headline by CEO and Sussex and England cricketer Matt Prior. To find out more, Brendan Gallagher spoke to him ahead of the team’s unveiling.

Loads of sportsmen and women, from all disciplines, love their cycling these days and given their well honed competitive instincts they pick up they inevitably pick up its intricacies quicker than most. That said it is still a quantum leap to act on that new sporting passion and become the part owner and CEO of a UCI Continental Team.

Which is was makes Matt Prior’s hands on involvement with the newly formed ONE Pro Cycling team so fascinating and anybody who has met Prior, no matter how briefly, or indeed watched him play cricket for Sussex and England will doubt for one second that he means business. Competing hard, giving everything 100% through thick and thin, and playing to win his an important part of his DNA

In many ways it’s a massive leap in the dark but in one important and intriguing aspect Prior has felt at home in the cycling from day one. Both sports somehow celebrate the outstanding individual within the team environment which is an extraordinary and sometime difficult dynamic which many struggle to get their heads around.  When it works its close to sporting perfection, when it misfires it can get messy.

Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins are celebrated Tour de France winners but could achieve nothing without their colleagues and indeed the entire Team Sky entourage – mechanics, coaches, masseurs, medics – that kept them on the road. Mark Cavendish grabs the headlines and the glory for his sprint wins but the first thing he acknowledges is that nine time outs of ten he couldn’t have won without his lead-out and indeed his team workers much earlier in the race.

“I get that side of it totally from my cricket,” says Prior. “If somebody takes eight wickets they will obviously have bowled brilliantly and they will be a world class performer in their own right but the likelihood is that there will also have been some  very good fielding three or four great catches to have helped that haul. Perhaps another bowler has done invaluable work bowling uphill into the wind, keeping an end very tight and creating the pressure. It all contributes to the team result even if one player, individually, is seen to excel.

“I remember once early on when I was getting into cycling watching a race with my Dad and the domestiques were toiling away all day at the front to set it up for their sprinters and of course the winner got all the podium attention and champagne while the workers were collapsed out the back exhausted and unnoticed. ‘I’m not sure I could handle that, where is the satisfaction and plaudits for the worker’ said Dad.

“But I knew instantly how that team worker would feel, what a reward it would be to see his man take the honours. As a wicketkeeper long six hours days in the field are absolutely routine, they are the job.   You are there at the bowlers’ service, to keep people focused, to drive them on, to tidy things up when it gets ragged and to make your catches. An outstanding day for a wicketkeeper is basically when you don’t get mentioned – when the bowler has taken five or six wickets and we have worked our way through a good batting order and established a winning position.

“So I love that aspect of cycling completely straight away apart from the physicality and mechanics of the sport if you like. I suppose when I think a bit deeper about it what I really love is the feeling of being a part of a team. That was brought home to me recently when i attended out pre-season camp in Majorca. I enjoyed myself so much I stayed on for an extra three days!

“I made it quite clear from the start that I don’t know about cycling and how to win a bike race, that’s why we have hired some very talented people and backroom staff. I will not be interfering on that score at all.

“My contribution I hope is to know what it takes to thrive in an elite sporting environment. I believe I understand the passion and commitment needed, the logistics, the stresses of travelling and being on the road and I appreciate there will always be ups and downs. I am well aware of the dynamics of a team and how great things can be achieved when everybody is on exactly the same wavelength.

“I’m very competitive and I want our riders to aim for the very top. As we develop I want to hear riders talking about aiming to become full Pro Tour rider, I want to hear them talk about their Tour de France dreams and the other great races. Of course it is early days but my dream and that of the team is to give them an environment where stuff like that can come true.”
 
Prior will be 33 next week and talking as a staunch Sussex fan, hopefully  his cricket career isn’t quite done and dusted although he has been forced to effectively to take a long sabbatical as he attempts to overcome a long standing Achilles injury which needed surgery on last year. The time away from cricket and the rehab – much of it spent on a bike – has reinforced his love of cycling but you fancy he would still welcome the opportunity to exit cricket on his terms.

As a wicketkeeper batsman he has scored 3,930 runs at an average of 40.84 in his 75 Tests and taken 217 dismissals behind the stumps including 13 stumpings. He had seven Test centuries with a ton against every major Test nation except South Africa.

Not only does he come from a world in which personal achievement can be starkly measured statistically but he also knows that facts and figures don’t tell the whole story just as power outputs and wattage can never convey the full genius of a ride such as Cavendish.  Again a rather unsuspected parallel with cycling.

He also comes from a world in which performance coaches looking at very specific skills are commonplace as are sports psychologists dealing with the every day stresses and strains that can on occasions accumulate and immobilise a sportsman.  All this is absolutely routine for him, this is a world he understands and thrives in.

If Prior is very much front of house, trying to knit everything together, among the men charged with the day to day running of the team are the Director of Sport Matt Winston, the former British Cycling Olympic Development Programme coach who joined the team on January 1st.

“Obviously we are a new team and you learn on the job when you are starting from scratch like this. Deep down you aim big but at the same time you need to clear each hurdle as it comes along and not try and run before you walk. We believe we have the riders to earn us invites to the Tour of Britain and the Tour de Yorkshire but we must apply ourselves immediately to the nuts and bolts of racing the domestic circuit against equally ambitious teams

“We need to try and hit the ground running and get some results which is why it was a good moral boost to fill the podium at the Perfs Pedal Race the other day, our competition debut. Most of the other big British teams weren’t there, we appreciate that, but it’s always nice to get a win under your belt.

“I would say the Pearl Izumi Tour Series is a big initial target of ours. We certainly have the capability to make an impact there if we get our preparation right and if we can go well there it would set us up nicely for the finale of the season.”

Winston has worked with some big-hitters in his coaching career with GB cycling but already has been impressed with what Prior has brought to proceedings.

“I have been lucky enough to be involved with British Cycling for eight years and work with some of the best coaches and managers in British sport from Sir Dave Brailsford downwards and I have to say I couldn’t be more impressed with Matt.

“He came out with us for our entire training block in Majorca which was pretty blowy, wet and cold if I’m honest – we weren’t lucky with the weather – and has rolled his sleeves up at every level. He is the first to admit that he has no expert knowledge on bike racing and tactics and that is our department but he knows sport and sportsmen inside out.

“He knows the systems and squad dynamics that work what is needed to operate at an elite level and when he speaks he is very inspirational indeed. Everybody tunes in and listens. His enthusiasm and motivation is infectious and he leaves you pretty fired up and wanting to try and achieve something special.

“He wants to be involved as much as possible although if his rehab goes well he will obviously hoping to get back on the cricket field as well. Even if he does get back playing regularly there it is easy to keep in close touch these days – Skype, drop boxes and the like – and he has said more than once just pick up the phone if there is anything bothering us.

You can never quite tell how a squad is going to gel but certainly on paper ONE Pro Cycling look well equipped to fight for honours domestically. Team leader Yanto Barker (left) needs little introduction and is still riding strongly at the age of 35, getting his season off to a winning start by taking that Perfs Pedal Race. Barker has been there and done it as an amateur and a professional and has retired at least once to my knowledge. His experience and racing nous should improve invaluable and he knows all about what it takes to get a new squad firing on all four cylinders.

Jon Mould enjoyed a cracking season with NFTO last season winning three rounds of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series and taking the overall Sprint title as well as winning the Leicester Castle Classic and Castle Combe Easter Classic. The onus for early wins and publicity for the team will be perhaps fall on the Welshman but that responsibility should be good for his career. At 24 he should be approaching his peak and expecting big results of himself.

Jonny Bellis is well known to readers of these pages who have admired his comeback from that appalling motorbike accident six years ago. A former World Championship junior Bronze medal winner in the road race and a really quick sprinter in his youth possibly the most difficult thing for Bellis has been to accept that his future now is probably a team worker and not an out and out winner.

Elsewhere there is talent everywhere you look. George Atkins (right) is a really good circuit and criterium racer, Marcin Bialoblocki is a rock solid and consistent all-rounder and Chris Opie is another talented circuit racer and sprinter who finished runner up in the British Circuit Championships last year. Joshua Hunt and Sam Williams gained valuable experience racing with NFTO while Denmark’s Marc Hester is another rider to look out for. The season is young, the team is young and all dreams are permissible.

Thanks to ONE Pro Cycling for their assistance with the interviews and photographs.