yet again, leaping in with both feet where angels fear to tread, i think it not too much of a travesty to state that racing at the top levels of road cycling is conditioned by the win at all costs mentality. while that may be somewhat of a contentious statement, and i mean not to imply that sportstmanship is derelict at the pro tour level, but there is undoubtedly a far greater pressure for return on investment than is perhaps the case at the so-called lower levels of the sport.
of course those of you who race at weekends wearing either club colours or a favourite jersey are no less intent on competing than the likes of bertie and andy, but failure on your part at worst means having to justify the entry fee and the petrol home. and possibly bragging rights at the water cooler on a monday morning.
seemingly of necessity, as the ladder is climbed, the financial input increases, and with that increase comes a greater level of expectation, not least from the sponsors. there is undoubtedly a considerable amount of research and development being carried out at such stratospheric levels, if only because this underlined desire or need to win, puts concomitant pressure upon clothing, bicycles and componentry. it must be an interesting, if often expensive experiment to see what lasts.
but the upper levels of the sport would be far thinner were it not for what is commonly referred to as grass roots racing, teams that exist predominantly to serve the home-market at least initially and for which success, both results wise and commercially, provides a stepping stone for performance at a higher level. subsequently there cannot have been a better time to be a racing cyclist in britain. not only do there appear to be more home-grown teams than at any other time, but their professionalism and organisation seems almost to mirror that of the pro tour chaps. no, there aren't any luxury coaches for the riders but many other aspects seem to be well taken care of, including that of specifically conceived clothing.
i would again venture into contentious territory by stating that britain seems to be at the forefront of clothing technology when it comes to offering well designed tried and tested apparel for the aspiring race cyclist. we all know the usual suspects, but one that has a history more tied to the world of knobbly tyres is now making a considerable impact in the world of skinny tyres and bendy bars.
jim mcfarlane started endura in 1992 as a result of being unable to find decent kit in the uk to continue his triathlon competition after having his own stuff stolen. finding little in the way of available expertise in the production of the necessary fabrics, endura started production of their own, manufacturing principally for the emerging sport of mountain biking. with their reputation all but consolidated in this arena, it then seems perhaps a strange move to adopt a roadie-like stance and form their own team rather than perhaps simply co-sponsor an existing setup. what brought mcfarlane to form endura equipe?
"Two reasons. We have supported plenty of charity and grass roots in the past but not been involved (outside of Scottish national team) with elite road cycling. My original interest in cycling was in road back in the mid '80s (following Hinaut/Lemond/Kelly/(Robert) Millar etc and, domestically, going to various Kellogg's city centre crit events and that's what got me into the business in the first place. So partly it is personal interest and partly it is that the Endura brand still has plenty of headway to make in higher end road product in the UK and the potential market is very large in our target export markets through Europe and elsewhere. Using the race team to develop and market it with the flexibility to focus on races in different target markets makes a compelling commercial case."
having the endura name seen regularly on not only the british road scene but increasingly further afield is quite understandable in terms of promoting their existence and indeed, the level of involvement and commitment to a side of cycle racing for which they had previously not been renowned. but presumably kitting out an entire team of cycle racers brings with it a high degree of research and development. is endura in this for the publicity or the r&d?
"Bit of both. We are genuinely working very closely with the team to use the riders to develop the range and feed in from the experience of other high-end clothing and obviously they are ambassadors for the Equipe range."
if you're going to do things properly, you need to do things properly. jim mcfarlane has undoubtedly the skills to run a successful company (they made the top 100 private entrepreneurs list last year) and to mastermind the direction that a successful cycle clothing company should adopt. but racing is a different kettle of fish, one that requires substantial experience to co-ordinate and manage. though the team is in the very capable hands of both julian winn and alex sans vega as race directors, former (twice) british road race champion brian smith, has been brought in as team manager. with a number of new faces in the green and black kit, along with a considerable wealth of talent retained from last year's team, is brian starting with a clean slate for 2011, or is he intent on building on past successes?
"Very much a case of building on pass successes. We have kept nine riders from the 2010 team (ten if you include Camano) and feel that the core of the team is very important to the integration of the new riders. If we have a close and happy family then it is much easier for new riders to feel at home. The quicker a team like this gels, the quicker results and morale will come."
if i may refer back to my article this past week regarding the mapei team and giorgio squinzi's dictat that museeuw be allowed to win in the '96 roubaix, is brian allowed a free hand in the management of the endura equipe team, or are decisions a matter of discussion with the sponsor?
"I have been given a totally free hand on the running of the team. It is very pleasing to me that we have a great management team and sponsor to move the race team forward. Julian (Winn) has a wealth of experience and has been joined by Alex Sans Vega. Both of them will work in harmony towards our split UK/Euro program. Brendan and Ben are full time and again are showing great potential to take on total responsibility in their areas. Let’s not forget Rob Hayles, the 'Daddy' figure of the team with loads of experience in everything cycling. That's including green chains and gold gear cables! I truly believe we have the team to succeed. I have changed the structure recently and everyone is now happy and clear on their roles. Jim has a passion for cycling and Endura; i proposed a goal to help both. I'm also passionate about cycling and been a fan of Endura for many years. I think we have the right combination to make an impact in world cycling."
the team has already continued in a similar vein to 2010, making its presence felt in pretty much every event of which it has been a part this season so far. aside from being a competitive unit, their demeanour and intent continues to be the ideal representation for the scottish clothing firm. but while i reiterate my contention that this is perhaps one of the finest eras in which to be an aspiring british professional cyclist, even taking the european scene as a whole, the number of teams vying for the finish line at almost all levels, it may be that some of those professionals are spoilt for choice to enhance their career opportunities. as ever, money may be the deciding criteria, so has brian assembled the equipe with specific goals in mind, or has rider choice been a case of matching availability with financial constraints?
"The budget for the riders was good. We decided that we wanted a professional team and have paid all the riders accordingly. This means a very professional team with riders happy to do what is best for the team. Too many times I have heard continental riders not happy riding for a jersey and a bike. The Endura Equipe range of clothing is the source of the team's budget; paying the riders as professional athletes means they are more than happy to go the extra mile to promote the team's sponsors. I believe this is very important to the success of the team."
while brian's confidence in the current line-up must be taken as read, given his invaluable experience and uncanny ability to see the big picture as well as the minute details, the team has now been in existence for three years, and that's three years' worth of spending on behalf of the title sponsor. does the end justify the means, and does jim mcfarlane feel that it has paid its way by whatever criteria he judges such matters? "Not yet. The results will never be exactly measurable due to various external factors which are inextricably linked with success or failure of the Equipe range, so we can't extract the direct benefit the team provides. But various anecdotal feedback suggests to us that it is working and we have therefore funded it more fully again this year. We do know that it doesn't pay for itself yet and it was never expected that it would at this stage, but as a long-term strategic investment it appears to be on track with our plans."
i'd be slightly surprised if jim's answer had been any different, for gauging the success of running a race team as a marketing and development exercise is unlikely to ever become an exact science. but allowing for a degree of obfuscation in the equation, how does jim gauge the team's success? "On product development, on UK exposure, on anecdotal feedback on team and range, on sales and reviews of Equipe products, on brand recognition of both team and Endura/equipe brands into new target markets outside of the UK."
does brian smith, as team manager, judge the team purely on results or are other criteria involved? "After being involved with building the original Cervelo Test Team I have brought the same ethos to Endura Racing. I am looking at three key areas. 1: Professional riders that can conduct themselves well with media, sponsors and fans. 2: A willingness to try new products and give feedback on them 3: The ability to achieve quality performances. All three areas are applicable to the 2011 team. Winning is looked upon as a pleasurable bonus, but something I'm positive will happen, given the riders' commitment to the success of the team."
the man with the cheque book and the man deciding how it should be spent. but neither of those two are the chaps fighting to have their wheel cross the line first at any given race. that's what the cheques have been spent on. having been in the team since mid-way through 2009, evan oliphant is one of only two riders in the road squad to hail from endura's home country of scotland. does that engender an extra pride in his position in the endura peloton? "Yes it's always special to be part of the Endura racing team knowing that the main sponsor is from Scotland. It makes it feel like we're getting results for Scotland when the team is achieving results; even when i don't personally win, it feels good that the team is."
and with oliphant having been there for more than just one season, would it be fair to assume that it's a comfortable place to be? "I've now been with Endura since the middle of 2009 and each year it continues to grow and improve in strength and depth. That includes everyone and everything involved within the team, from equipment to riders and staff, so it's great to be part of that and to help it grow."
in order to assist that growth, it is often necessary to recruit new blood to the ranks, particularly if the recruited strength has shown a distinct affinity for not being afraid to launch himself into the fray at the earliest opportunity. dave clarke rode for yanto barker's le col/pendragon colnago team in 2010; what attracted him to the green and black? "i moved to endura as i like the ethos of the team. they have a real sense direction and their passion for cycling was something i wanted to be a part of. i relish the opportunity to ride bigger races and i feel it will give me a chance to be part of a close-knit team, where i can play my part as well as take my own achievments to a higher level. le col/colnago was a great team and everyone worked hard to get the results we achieved, but endura equipe offered a new and exciting opportunity to progress."
"it's also great to be wearing clothing that's at the cutting edge of technology. the equipe range is superb, and i'm looking forward to being involved with its development"
as the saying goes, there is no 'i' in team, so surely compromises have to be made between the aspirations of individual riders and the ideals and strategies of those that pay their wages. clarke's numerous victories and results in 2010 gave the impression of his being a lone-wolf. in the light of this, does dave figure that being a part of the equipe team will encourage him to adopt more of a group mentality, and is this likely to match with his own hopes? "i have always seen myself as a real team player, but with a small team there aren't as many cards to play. last year it was always a victory for the team rather than just for me, and they put a lot of work in behind the scenes to get the team on the road. my team-mates always gave 110% to help."
this year i am part of a very strong team and it presents many more options. i'm happy to play any role required of me. it has never mattered who wins; it's always a team win. there are so many here who put a great deal of work into the team; they're always willing to help and have my best interests at heart. i'm looking forward to having a good season and to give something back to all those who have had faith in me. it really is an honour to be working with julian and alex, and i'm very thankful to jim and brian for this opportunity."
and what of evan oliphant? does he feel that his own career aspirations will merge with those of the team? "Yes we all get plenty of opportunities to meet our own aspirations as well as helping the team and other riders achieve theirs."
let's not forget, however, that the title sponsor is a clothing designer and manufacturer, a more than justifiable reason for being involved in racing in the first place. but most of us who comprise endura's more regular customer base are unlikely ever to subject their products to anything like the stresses and strains of professional racing. we may ride in the same kit on both days of the weekend, with perhaps the occasional midweek foray, but rarely do we do so for six hours at a time or six days at a stretch in wind, rain, sun, with our clothing subjected to endless washings and treated as merely another of the trappings of the modern day professional. it has to fit well, it has to be comfortable for lengthy periods of time and survive a merry-go-round of rear pocket juggling with munchy bars, gels and course routes. we might all accomplish much of the above in our heads during a one hour ride on sunday morning, but professionals do it for real.
if the endura equipe range is to continue to inhabit the cutting edge of the cycling apparel world, it needs to be thrashed mercilessly within a few microns of its polyester and lycra existence, something only the professionals can achieve without going too far out of their way. are the riders asked specifically to participate in this development? evan oliphant; "As part of the job we do provide lots of feedback on the Equipe clothing for Endura and it's good to know we're helping develop the kit to make it the best it can be. We also give feedback to the other sponsors; Look bikes, SRAM etc. Everything is listened to and taken on board."
dave clarke expressed the opinion that he found the equipe range to be a revelation. " it's something very special and technologically advanced, the devlopment of which the team plays an active role. it's something in which i take great interest, having a passion for aerodynamics, and my girlfriend lisa is a fashion designer. she's given me a better understanding of how clothing is put together and i really appreciate how good the endura clothing is."
but let's not, yet again, forget parochialism, something of a watchword in these pixels. endura are based in livingston, just outside scotland's capital city, and founded by a scotsman with a fine scottish name (my great grandaprents were mcfarlanes if it's of any interest). however, the demands of international cycle racing these days often requires that team rosters of necessity, include nationalities outside the host nation, so to speak. does it concern jim mcfarlane that only two riders in the road team are scottish?
"It would be nice to have an all Scottish roster, but speaking in practical terms the decision of on rider roster to be a meritocracy across nationalities is an easy one. We had an almost all Scottish rider line-up in 2009 and we didn't get very far; Scotland is a small country and there is a limited pool of available talent that can compete at an international level. That's a prerequisite for the team in 2011 and beyond. So we can either put the shutters up and fail on the international stage, or we can focus on delivering results and look outside of Scotland, still keeping as much Scottish involvement as possible. That's what we have decided to do.
"Our aim is to remain a Scottish company, but to have an internationally competitive race team with as many Scottish riders on it that can make the grade. From a patriotic perspective I am completely comfortable with what Endura is doing; we have two Scottish riders on the team who get great race exposure that they would most definitely struggle to get elsewhere (including Callum Wilkinson who we are developing from a young, unproven rider) and we have been a long-standing sponsor of the Scottish National Team.
"Additionally, for 2011 we have set up the Endura Pedal Power Development Team, providing a five figure cash sum, a car, £5k of team clothing, bikes to race on (via our partners at Fisher) and the backup of the main team providing a direct path to one of the UK's top continental race teams for anyone that proves themselves worthy of a place.
"In other words we're supporting the development of Scottish talent from scouting, providing race experience and back-up right through to offering - for those that make the grade - the chance to ride in UCI 2.1s and 1.1 international races. I'm not aware of any commercial concern doing more to support Scottish talent in the road cycling arena. I'm very comfortable that in doing our bit to develop raw talent from an early age through the development team, with a view to placing them in the main squad is the way forward."
despite the consummate professionalism of today's riders, it is often necessary for the team management to put more emphasis on certain principles, establishing a coherent hierarchy to which the riders can constantly refer as the season progresses. though the mighty dave t has described cyclists as 'basically a bunch of loners', a conundrum if ever there was one, it is, as has been pointed out by riders and management alike, necessary for them to adopt a semblance of cohesiveness and ride as a team. in order to enforce these strictures, are any of the riders allowed to go past brian smith on training runs?
"All the riders are free to go past me on a training ride and I would encourage that. But only the General Manager is allowed to hang on to the following team car to discuss strategies with the Directeur Sportif. Of course only at appropriate moments, many of which tend to coincide with the road going up hill."
my sincere thanks to jim mcfarlane, brian smith, dave clarke and evan oliphant for their contributions to this article. rider photos by joolze dymond
posted saturday 12th march 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................