In a recent interview, Brendan Gallagher caught up with Matt Prior to look back at a successful debut season and forward to next year and stepping up to Pro-Continental level.

It seems like yesterday that Matt Prior and Business partner Simon Chappell were launching ONE Pro Cycling in some style at the Skyloft at Millbank Tower on a bitterly cold February evening.  Yet here we are heading towards November and the former England cricketer is already deep into preparations for the 2016 season when, as long as there are no complications with the paperwork, they will make their debut as a Pro-Continental team.

Right from the start ONE Pro Cycling have made no secret of their ambition to be become Britain’s second World Tour team within five years and Prior, much encouraged by a promising first season at domestic level, sees no reason not to step up a level after just one season’s racing.

During the 2015 season they picked off a decent crop of wins around the British circuit. Pete Williams won the Eddie Soens Memorial race and the Clayton Spring Classic, while Marcin Bialoblocki  – a star performer in various roles from start to finish – took the Primavera Road Race and the Betty Pharaoh Memorial Road Race.

Not to mention the teams bullish display at the Pearl Izumi Tour Series, which saw a tug-of-war between ONE Pro and established team Madison Genesis all the way to the final round in Bath, cruelly falling short at the final hurdle with Yanto Barker suffering a severe mechanical causing him to abandon the race.
That aside the entire team put their best foot forward at the Aviva Tour of Britain when they mounted a superb campaign which resulted in both the SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey and the YodelDirect Sprints competition.

No sooner had the Aviva Tour of Britain finished Prior went to work strengthening his squad, a process which probably topped out with the headline making acquisition of former Milan SanRemo winner Matt Goss from MTN Qhubeka, who also has a silver medal at the World Championships to his name from 2011. Goss is coming over as a sprinter pure and simple and has the potential to make sure that his new team are consistently involved in the carve up for line honours.

Other big signings include fellow Australians Steele von Hoff and Glenn O’Shea, the former JLT-Condor duo Kristian House and Richard Handley along with Karol Domagalski, Sebastian Lander, John Ebsen, Hayden McCormick, James Oran, Dion Smith and Martin Mortensen. Prior has been certainly been playing a few strokes this autumn!

“To have a rider of the status and ability of Matt Goss approach us was a huge validation of what we have been trying to achieve during our first season,” admits Prior.  “It was a huge tick in the box for us. Matt phoned up and suggested a catch up and it very quickly came clear that we could have a very good partnership going forward.

“I like to think that he had picked up on the fact that we have tried to adopt the standards of a World Tour team from the start so we had no hesitation in making the next step up straight away.

Nothing we have done has been an accident. It’s all been the result of very careful planning and a huge amount of hard work from everybody involved.  You set your own standards at the start and those standards need to be very high. We have made it very obvious right from the start how ambitious we are as a team and a brand.

I had spent a long time with English cricket playing at the highest level of that sport and on a personal level I didn’t want to come into an environment in which the standards expected and the professionalism was any different. If a thing is worth doing its worth doing well, in fact to the very best of your ability.
“If you start with those high standards my hope and expectation is that it will make stepping up through the levels just a little bit easier although I have no doubt we have some major challenges ahead. We will be in bigger races riding against more experienced competitors and our resources will come under strain. We will be expected to undertake extra media and commercial activities but at least we have a year of experience at operating at a very high level under our belts
.”

In a funny sort of way by stepping up immediately ONE Pro cycling avoid any possible second season syndrome. If they had stayed essentially as a domestic British team – with the squad they have now amassed – they would be expected to be more and more successful, a big fish in a small pool. But this way they are still the underdogs on the way up, they have brought themselves a second year of grace if you like.

“It is 100% the right decision to be stepping up, we are hugely excited at the prospect,” continues Prior,  “We are waiting on the licence and are going through the application process and everything else, but when that license arrives it’s going to be huge for everybody involved. We have to be realistic though, it will be another very steep learning curve.”

Prior is an interesting mix of laid back and driven which he doesn’t find in the least contradictory. His philosophy is that the best performances come from a happy smiling environment in which everybody is having fun. The actual physical process of flogging yourself on the bike is not always fun but working as a team and winning – and sharing that moment – most certainly is.

“The target I set myself was to create an environment which allows the riders to be the best they can be. Watching the individual riders grow and improve from the beginning of the season to the end of the year, culminating a successful week at the Tour of Britain,  has been extraordinary and a very rewarding process

“There has been some testing personal challenges, but I actually found the switch from player – participant – to manager has been easier than I thought. I suppose the big thing in that respect is that I am couple of steps removed from the actual sporting battle ground if you like. I am not the Director Sportif, I am not the coach, I am a manager who now gets his sporting buzz from trying to establish a culture of sporting excellence in which professional cyclists can flourish. 

“My message is always ‘guys these are the days and years or your life. Enjoy them.  If you are going to do something special as a sportsman you have to embrace that time because it’s not for ever.’ What I am hoping is that my personal experience in sport can help them take that on board.  That is the bit I am most enjoying”

Prior has no hesitation whatsoever in nominating the Aviva Tour of Britain as his season’s highlight, a week which involved both enjoyment and winning.

“The sportsman in me loved seeing the development of the team from the Tour of Yorkshire in May, to four months later at the Tour of Britain. And I don’t believe that had a huge amount to do with just being fitter, it was everything else.  I could sense a big change in the mentality and belief of being able to perform alongside some of the biggest names in cycling.

“To be competing and then winning two jerseys was very exciting. Pete Williams was brilliant throughout the week but it wasn’t just about Pete, the whole team got together to allow him to have that moment. If one of our guys gets over the line with a jersey we all win.

“It all made for a great final day and party in London although I like to think that even if we hadn’t got those jerseys it would have gone with a swing. The whole idea was simply to cement that bond with fans and enthusiasts, to bring them inside our world for an afternoon, to chew the cud about cycling and enjoy a few beers with the lads after they had finished racing. It felt just right and we will certainly be looking to stage similar events next season.”