Stefan Wyman Interview: “We didn’t want to be the pot hunting team”
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Stefan Wyman Interview: “We didn’t want to be the pot hunting team”

by Ben Atkins at 2:06 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Matrix Fitness-Prendas manager talks about building up his team and looks forward to two of his riders at the Olympics

stefan wymanStefan Wyman has been involved with women’s cycling for as long as many people can remember. As the husband of - and driving force behind - British cyclocross champion Helen Wyman, he is a well-known figure around the off-road winter circuit, but it is arguably through his management of women’s teams like Matrix Fitness-Prendas that Wyman has had the greatest impact on the sport.

Matrix Fitness-Prendas is arguably the biggest women’s team in the UK, and includes a number of the big emerging names of the women’s sport. Through Great Britain Olympians like Dani King and Joanna Rowsell, the team has dominated many of the UK’s big race series, particularly the critérium races that accompanied the men’s tour series, which was sponsored again by Matrix’ parent company Johnson Health Tech.

“One of the things for our team is that we’ve done well this year, so it’s difficult to say that the success is really building, but backing up the success each year is really, really important,” Wyman explained to VeloNation. “I think each year the races in Britain get a little bit tougher, and there’s a few more of them, and the other teams get more structured, and strong. So it is harder each year to achieve the same level of success.

“But I think we’ve done well this year; the Tour series was a particular goal, and under-23 nationals. It’s the first year we’ve ever had a completely under-23 team, so that turned into a proper focus for us, and to get two medals there was really good.”

Despite the consistent, year on year success of the team however, there is no room for Wyman to rest on his laurels, since the performance of the best riders consistently inspires the rest into improving their own performance.

“Definitely,” he said. “It’s something that, when we set the team up at the beginning of 2010, raising the standard of the sport in general was absolutely a primary motive of what we were doing. We didn’t want to be the pot-hunting team, going around and having a load of success because, ultimately, people know it’s cheap success, and nobody’s going to invest in that, and take us forward.

“To get the bigger sponsors to show a greater commercial return we need to be a bit smarter than that, and going out and winning a small race - and racing about it - doesn’t actually mean very much. Making a race stronger, encouraging more teams, being very, very careful with how we pick and select our riders to not be destructive in any way to other teams, to ensure that races are as strong as possible and give out the best image, does add value to the results that we get.”

Losing riders to the big teams as the talented move forward

matrix fintnessAnother of the things that could be said to be holding Wyman’s teams back, is also his apparent talent for spotting the best up and coming riders, and then losing them the next season to some of the biggest teams in the sport. Many of the biggest British riders have been through Wyman’s teams over the years, including Emma Pooley - to whom Wyman gave the first opportunity to race in Europe - and Lizzie Armitstead.

“If we can get riders to go onto professional teams, then we’re really happy, to be honest,” he said. “We’re the biggest team in the UK, and that is a wonderful thing, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t actually mean that much. We want to put ourselves up there, in World terms, because we know that’s how we’re going to get a better commercial return for our partners; albeit in the UK or abroad.

“So, I think that having riders go on to other professional teams, or taking part in things like the Olympics with Great Britain - and effectively having riders out of our programme for a year - is something we’re very happy about. It’s not a negative to us; it is a positive.”

Pooley, for instance, spent 2006 with what was then called Team FBUK, before heading to Switzerland and the Specialized Designs for Women team, while Armitstead rode for Wyman’s Global Racing Team, before being snapped up by the new Halford’s BikeHut team.

While he would undoubtedly love to held on to these, and countless other riders, the fact that they have gone on to such great things can only be regarded as positive.

“I don’t think that people are getting taken away to other teams because there’s better structures, or anything else; there are better racing opportunities given to them, that suit their needs at that point, and we can only applaud them for their efforts that got them into that place, and hope that we can keep building commercial partners that allow us to do that, rather than riders needing to progress to Belgian or Dutch teams.

“I have to admit that it’s a frustration…” he continued “I look at the riders that are out there and riding at the very top level, and think what could have been if I could have kept everybody together, with the right backing. But I also know that each of those riders that are at the very top of the sport, have had a little bit of a helping hand from the structures that we’ve put in place over the years.

“If I could have retained the services of people like Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley on the team, then yeah, we’d have a wonderful team, but we’d probably be that pot-picking team in the UK that we mentioned before…”

Matrix Fitness-Prendas riders on the biggest stage of all

While Pooley and Armitstead are two of his former riders to be lining up in Sunday’s Olympic riders, two of his current roster - in King and Rowsell - will be racing on the track the following week. As World champions in the Team Pursuit - along with Laura Trott and Wendy Houvenaghel in the squad of four - Great Britian will be the team to beat in the 3000 metre race that makes it’s Olympic debut.

“I think they’re favourites, and I think that’s something we can say,” said Wyman. “There’s obviously a massive amount of pressure on them, and they’re being challenged by the other teams, more and more, in every competition. I think that’s one of the great things about what British Cycling are doing. They are also raising the standards of the sport, because other nations are having to chase them; but they keep stepping up their game and taking things forward.

matrix fitness“Dani and Jo have been on the team for a number of years, and they’ve been really key to getting us to the place that we’re in at the minute, and I think that the Olympics is actually a very big showcase for women’s cycling in general.”

Cycling in the UK is big news at the moment, following Mark Cavendish’s World championship and, especially, Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory but, while Wyman sees this attracting more investment into the sport, it may not be so good for all levels.

“The Tour de France - which has just finished - is obviously amazing for cycling in Britain, with Brad [Wiggins] and Chris [Froome] and [Mark] Cavendish, and everybody doing their part in Team Sky as a whole; but the fear is that it raises the profile of cycling, but it’s a bit more narrow, in that it raises the profile of men’s cycling, and men’s road cycling,” he explained. “What we might have is an influx of sponsors, dreaming of taking a team to the Tour de France and challenging Team Sky, when there’s really some great places that people can come in, with reasonable investment, and actually make an impact and get a great commercial return.

“I think that the Olympics is the chance for women’s cycling to put itself on the map, with riders like Lizzie in the road race, and Dani, and Jo and Laura in the Team Pursuit, and Victoria Pendleton, who’s got a really high profile. There’s potential that the women will outshine the men at the Games, and that’s all forms of it really, you know, track, BMX, mountainbiking with Annie Last. I think that women’s cycling has got a little chance to put itself firmly on the map here, on the back of Brad’s success in France last week.”

Keeping, or losing, the momentum of Olympic success

Beijing in 2008 was an incredibly successful Games for Great Britain’s women cyclists, with Nicole Cooke, Pendleton and Rebecca Romero coming home with gold medals, and Pooley and Houvenaghel taking silver, but - for a number of reasons - the momentum was not kept up.

“I think that there’s very much two parts to that,” Wyman said, “and one is the way that British Cycling took their support for road cycling forward, which is a kind of separate issue, but in terms of a missed opportunity in 2009, on the back of 2008’s Olympic success for the women, any other Olympic year could have been absolutely amazing, but it was exactly then that the financial downturn really started to bite. A lot of people were pulling out of the sport, so to actually encourage new people for 2009 was very, very difficult.

“So, for women’s cycling it was absolutely a case of bad timing,” he continued. “Women’s cycling - particularly then - was far more of a minority sport, and far less mainstream; there was far less TV coverage, and commercial returns for people, and it took quite a clued up investor to see the potential, and the way to get a return from women’s cycling, and I think that the financial downturn was just extremely bad timing. It made it hard for everybody.”

Despite things still being difficult however, there is cause for some optimism, Wyman thinks.

“I think that we’re still in the middle of that, but people have innovated, with the way that they’re using their budgets, in terms of companies and the way that they’re using their marketing budget,” he explained. “I think that women’s cycling does provide the uniquely high return for people, and it’s so much more affordable than, both men’s cycling, but also the mainstream sports like rugby, football and cricket.”

Wyman will be back at his and wife Helen’s base in Belgium by the time the Olympics starts but, as a supporter of women’s cycling - and one with a vested interest - he will be watching them closely.

“Obviously, I’ll be watching the road race, and I’ll be watching the track as much as I can,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Dani ride, and Jo. They’ve put in so much, and there’s been roller coasters for them over the time that they’ve been in there, and I think it’s easy to forget how hard it was for those four riders that are in there to get in, because there were some really top quality riders trying to force their way in, and some completely new names coming to the sport with - in theory - potential abilities to do it.

“But these four have beaten off all of the competition, and to get to that point - to be honest - I’m glad I’m not in their shoes.”

With everybody in the sport having their favourites for the road race on Sunday - which is widely expected to finish in a sprint - Wyman obviously has his own opinion of who will take the gold medal.

“My tip - I’ve back this rider for the last few months; I’ve been laughed at, very much, until Thüringen - I think [Germany’s] Ina Teutenberg’s going to win,” he said. “That’s my backing for it. Over the last few years in particular, she’s been incredibly good at getting over the hills; Box Hill either is, or isn’t a significant hill, depending on how you look at it, but I think that - with it being the last year for many people - there’s a big incentive of going out on a high and I just think that it could be a really good finish for her.”


In part two of the interview Wyman discusses his views on the future of the sport, including the increasing role of men’s teams

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