Ed Beamon Interview Part II: Pro Continental licence confirmed for Champion System
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Ed Beamon Interview Part II: Pro Continental licence confirmed for Champion System

by Shane Stokes at 6:43 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Team manager speaks about riders, race programme, budget and more

For part I of this interview, click here:

Ed BeamonToday was an extremely significant day for both the Champion System team and also for cycling in general. The squad was confirmed as one of seven additional teams given Pro Continental licences, joining fifteen others who were previously announced as being part of the UCI’s second division.

It’s a major achievement for the team, given that it is the first time that an Asian squad has ever reached this level. That feat follows on from the hosting of the first-ever UCI WorldTour event in Asia last October, namely the Tour of Beijing. The two factors together prove that globalisation is a very real occurrence.

Evolving out of a 2011 squad with a similar name and having some of the same riders, the 2012 Champion System is a new setup and the goals are considerably bigger.

The team wants to perform strongly in international events this coming season, proving its worth while working towards a longer team goal of securing a ProTeam licence and Tour de France participation in year four of the project.

General manger Ed Beamon said beforehand that he believed the signs were good, but also admits to a feeling of relief to get the final decision. “Of course it’s great news,” he told VeloNation after the licence announcement. “I’ve always been confident that approval was imminent, but it is of course a lot of work and the UCI is very thorough in their examination, so it’s a relief to have it be official.”

Craig LewisIn part I of this interview, some of the main signings were detailed. These include former ProTeam riders Craig Lewis (HTC Highroad, left), Chris Butler (BMC Racing Team), Will Clarke (Leopard Trek), Aaron Kemps (formerly with Astana, more recently Fly V Racing) and past RadioShack stagiaire Clinton Avery.

Also on board is the former Ag2r La Mondiale and Crédit Agricole pro Jaan Kirsipuu, a four-time Tour de France winner, plus several big Asian signings including former Tour de Langkawi points jersey victor Anuar Manan and seven time continental BMX champion Steven Wong.

Beamon gives his thoughts on some of these riders in this second part of that chat, as well as revealing details of some of the races the team will tackle in 2012. He comments on the likely goals for the squad and the approach it will take in races, talks about the budget for year one and beyond, and discusses how being a Chinese team could impact on how it is perceived and treated by race organisers.

As today’s news showed, the team is moving things to a new level for Asian cycling. The days of it being a separate system with occasional European and North American team participation are over; from this point on, there will be more and more cross-participation, be it ‘foreign’ riders in the Tour of Beijing or this Chinese team competing in major international events.

It’s a new direction for cycling. If done correctly, it could also be one which is very beneficial for the sport.

What is your reaction to the news that the team is officially Pro Continental?

Ed Beamon: Well of course it’s great news. I’ve always been confident that approval was imminent, but it is of course a lot of work and the UCI is very thorough in their examination, so it’s a relief to have it be official. I’ve had tremendous support from both the New York and Hong Kong offices of Champion System and that has really made it possible to get all the necessary requirements fulfilled. I cannot thank them enough for their support and commitment.

VN: What race invites have you secured thus far?

EB: We will start the season in Qatar followed by Oman and Langkawi, and we’ll have a squad at the OCBC in Singapore. For an Asian team it is great to be starting the season with such significant Asian-based races. The ASO events in particular are really cherished invitations and we are really appreciative of their vote of confidence. It is going to be a great opportunity for the team and especially for the Chinese riders to be challenged at such prestigious events.

VN: In talking about wildcards, Giro d’Italia race director Michele Acquarone recently told Bici Sport magazine that the race would consider giving invitations to new teams, and specifically mentioned a Chinese squad as one idea. Have you spoken to the Giro d’Italia about possibly taking part?

EB: I think it is common knowledge that the Giro organizers have a big interest in globalization. Suffice it to say that we need to be cautious about taking one step at a time. I’m not ruling out any possibilities, but our first priority continues to be the development of Asian riders and growth of the sport there, so we are trying to make all of our decisions based on the ability to fulfil those goals.

VN: Sixteen riders have been announced – when will the remaining two be named, and can you say anything about them?

EB: I think we will likely announce the final couple of riders in the next week along with some of our key industry sponsors. If you do the math, I think you can guess that we have yet to announce the eighth Asian rider and the other is an experienced European pro.

VN: Of the guys that you have already named, are there ones in particular that excite you?

EB: Yeah. Craig Lewis and Chris Butler are exciting for me, as an American. I think they are both very talented younger guys who have a high level of experience. They will be put into a position where they have a little more opportunity to succeed for themselves and not be just cast in a worker role. So I think that’s an exciting possibility.

Jaan KirsipuuThe importance of Jaan Kirsipuu's experience and leadership on this team can not be understated. Although he may not be the dominant force he was ten years ago, I believe his direction will prove invaluable for the developing riders and I expect he'll climb the podium more than occasionally himself.

The whole Asian element is really exciting for me. Steven Wong is a BMX stand out. I think he is an all-Asian BMX champion seven years in a row. He is really exciting to meet…his focus, his determination, his attitude, the colour of his personality. He’s got a lot of star quality to him and, as you know, the BMX background provides a great opportunity for sprinters.

He is a great bike handler, he’s got wicked speed. He doesn’t come from an endurance background, so the trick will be to build that endurance base for him and see if he can translate that and maintain his speed. But the ingredient that is always hard to inject in an athlete is that determination and that motivation, and he’s got it, you know.

Steven WongHe’s got real star quality and I really think that in time - and I don’t know if it’s going to be a few months or a few years - that he’s going to go straight to the top of the sport. He is maybe the best opportunity to get an Asian rider at the world class level in a short period of time.

Xu Gang is a former Chinese National Champion and Lampre stagiaire. He has experience and a great attitude and I think he will adjust well. Jiao Pengda has been one of China’s best performers in Asian races and like any aspiring pro has been dreaming of the chance to race in Europe’s biggest events.

Kun Jiang is supper aggressive and I think he’s going to hit the European roads and come out swinging. He’s been through the UCI training facility and made his mark in the 1st road stage at Tour of Beijing. He’s got courage, confidence, and a bit of panache, and you can’t teach that stuff, you either have it or you don’t.

Baio Liu is a highlander from Xining. He’s a bit more of an unknown quantity for me but he’s really good at altitude and goes well on the big climbs, so I’m hoping we can get him into some real climbing battles.

VN: Do you have the initial programme in place?

EB: Yeah, I mean we’ve mapped out the race calendar. So much is dependent on invites and it’s a little bit early to get too much clarity around that. Certainly the Asian races are pretty much all given, we’ve got some official invites and we’ve got some promised invites from almost all of the big Asian races. Things like Langkawi, and Tour of Korea and Tour of Taiwan, and then later on Qinghai Lake and Hainan and the Tour of China. All those events will be on the calendar and will be important races for us.

I think we’ll target those races as event we’ll want to put a good show in. In Europe, we are concentrating a little more on Northern Europe, so Belgium, Holland, hopefully a little bit in Germany and also France. Although we may try to do a few things in Spain or Italy, I don’t think we’ll spend a lot of time there, because I don’t think the team is build around those races as much as it is around more Classic style events or the North American style stage races.

VN: So, you mean it’s made up more of sprinters and strong guys then climbers?

EB: Certainly Craig Lewis is a great all around guy and our Swiss guy Joris Biollat and Jiao Pengda are a good medium range climbers. Butler is a pure climber, as is Liu, but I think in terms of tours, I’d like to concentrate a little more on what’s happening in America where the roads are bigger and a little more straight forward. I think as a tour team, we will be more suited towards playing for stages and events like that as opposed to overall. So, we’ll certainly try to get invitations to the bigger races here in the States.

We all know the Tour of California, Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge are pretty exclusive invites. But we’ve opened discussions with the organisation of the three big tours here. And then you know, races like that Tour of Beauce and Philadelphia and Elk Grove, and all the other UCI races in the States…we’ll certainly try to have a good representation in those events.

We’ll also try to use the NCC, which is the National Crit Calendar here - UCI division one and division two teams are allowed to do those. We’ll try to use some of those events for some value here in the States, but also as a development platform for some of the guys to polish their bike handling skills and build a little bit of quickness and speed. A lot of Asian guys have tremendous volume but not a lot of racing in their legs.

Xu GangVN: Given that the team has such strong Chinese links, do you think that will be a factor in the race organisers’ decision when it comes to handing out invites? To be more specific, what I mean is in terms of having the widest possible representation from the spread of teams, but also in terms of the Asian market and perhaps those organisers’ chasing of sponsorship for their races from companies with links to Asia…

In other worlds, could being an Asian team be a beneficial factor for the team in seeking invites?

EB: Absolutely. That is part of the plan. Right from the beginning, I had a question in my mind: will this be well received or will people just think it can’t be done? The answer turned out to be that everyone that we spoke to, in the cycling industry, in the business community, on the organisational level, races and governing bodies, everyone without question got very excited because I think everyone realises the potential in Asia and in China in particular.

So, I do think that for race organisers it’s going to be attractive to have a Chinese team, for some of the reasons you mentioned and just because of the uniqueness of it. I think in terms of our goals, one of those is to create a team that can get to the World Tour level and to develop athletes. But along the way, by creating a team that has identity and visibility in China, we are hoping that we can use that as a launching pad to help get the sport better-organised and better-structured in that part of the world.

That means there would be more opportunity for grass roots development, and for competitive recreational cyclists to get into the sport. In that way, over time, it would really develop the growth of the sport in a country that has 1.3/1.4 billion people.

If we are successful, through our own actions or through the activities of the greater cycling community over there, it’s going to open up a market place that is going to be brilliant for the bicycle industry. It is also going to create all kind of opportunity for health and wellness, and also for any business entity that has any identity whatsoever with sports market.

VN: You mentioned that there will be a European base…where are you likely to be?

EB: Most likely in Holland.

VN: Is that is still being finalised?

EB: It is. We have a location selected and basically we are just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, but it’s 90 percent.

VN: Will eighteen riders be enough for you to race on all continents?

EB: Yeah, I am looking at it like this: most of teams in Europe will be doing a dual programme with 18 to 20 riders. Our dual programme is a platform in Europe and then, rather than do some races in Belgium, while another team is doing some races in Italy or Spain, we’ll be having a team race in Asia or a team race in the States and another team racing in Europe.

If everyone stays healthy, I think that we’ll manage with eighteen guys. If guys start getting banged up or sick, obviously it’s going to be difficult. However, once we get things going and some of the Olympic fever settles down, certainly we’ve already identified some key Asian guys that we want to bring on as stagiaires in August. But even mid season, we may come to the point where we add a few guys to the roster in season.

Basically, we want to be careful that we don’t overextend ourselves, early in the game. We want to get a handle on managing the budget. The last thing I want is guys sitting on the bench, so I don’t want to have too big a team either.

VN: Is it accurate to surmise that the budget is pretty healthy, given that you will be flying back and forth and having an ambitious race programme?

EB: I feel comfortable with it. It’s not a whole lot different in terms of the racing, it’s not a whole lot different than what we did in the later years with Navigators. I know the kind of numbers we worked with then and I know what we are going to work with now, so I’m pretty comfortable that we’ve got a good platform to do what we want to do…

Also see part I of this interview, where Beamon explains much of the detail behind the project, the short and longer-term plans, how Asia could become a major force in world cycling and more...


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