Ed Beamon Interview: Why Champion System is folding and what happens next
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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ed Beamon Interview: Why Champion System is folding and what happens next

by Shane Stokes at 9:39 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Team’s general manager says he and the riders were left high and dry by late notice of team’s ending

Champion SystemThere have been whispers for several weeks that all may not be well with the Champion System team but it was not until Thursday that its general manager Ed Beamon confirmed that the Chinese squad would indeed stop at the end of the season.

Speaking to VeloNation about the matter, Beamon said that he had heard the same rumours, but only received official confirmation of the squad’s stopping just over a week ago.

He said that the team’s management and the riders had learned very late about the end of the project, and that the delayed notification made it very difficult to either find an alternative backer or to get riders and staff places on other teams.

The Champion System team ending is a disaster for the sport, not least because it comes at a time when several other teams are stopping. The market is saturated with riders seeking work, and the addition of over twenty more will further increase the problem.

“I found out just over a week ago,” Beamon told VeloNation by phone. “I don’t know where the earlier rumours were coming from. There may have been news circulating that I wasn’t aware of, but the fact that I hadn’t signed riders for 2014 had everyone concerned, including myself. I suspect that was probably the genesis of a lot of these rumours.”

Beamon said that he didn’t make any signings because he was still awaiting confirmation from the team’s owners what budget he would have in 2014. He didn’t realise how serious things were. “I thought it was possible that we might have to scale back, but the end of the team was something I didn’t expect,” he said.

In the interview below, Beamon speaks at length about the details of the disintegration and the effect it will have on the riders and staff concerned. He pledges to do his best to get the project back on track for 2015.

He also talks about what achievements he felt the team clocked up, and how he believes that there may have been a chance to find a replacement had the team been told sooner of the management’s decision.

“I think we could have done more if we had known earlier,” he confirmed. “I am honestly not really sure what motivated the final decision for Champion System, other than they felt that they needed to allocate those monies in other directions to help build their business.

“However it is obvious that if we knew earlier, we could prepare ourselves better as individuals and as a group.”

Read on for Beamon’s full account of the situation.


VeloNation: First off, what is the situation with the team?

Ed Beamon: There is a lot of information circulating out there…I don’t actually know where it is coming from. But we thought it would be good to make an official statement at this point. Basically, Champion System will not fund the team next year.

That is relatively new news. I found out just over a week ago. I don’t know where the earlier rumours were coming from. There may have been news circulating that I wasn’t aware of, but the fact that I hadn’t signed riders for 2014 had everyone concerned, including myself. I suspect that was probably the genesis of a lot of these rumours.

VN: What was your reason for not signing those riders?

EB: Well, it is always a concern and when time is going by and you hadn’t signed riders, but I hadn’t received a commitment. I wouldn’t sign anyone until I had certitude that we had a proper budget.

But I honestly never imagined that we wouldn't have a team. I thought it was possible that we might have to scale back, but the end of the team was something I didn’t expect.

VN: Did you get a reason why it will stop?

EB: Yeah, the Champion System guys feel that they want to look at a different marketing direction, I guess. They basically want to allocate those monies in other areas. I think we all know at this level it is an expensive proposition and even though we were one of the smaller budgeted division two teams, it is still a tremendous budget for a small cycling company.

I think we did a great job in terms of creating brand awareness and credibility. From my perspective, I think it was money well invested from a marketing standpoint. More important, from a team standpoint, I think we stayed true to the mission we set out to accomplish, and I think we had a great story.

I am most disappointed that we can’t finish the job, if you will. I am certainly motivated to find an opportunity to continue this story. It was a great project for me. I really loved the social side of building this team and creating the environment for a tremendously international programme, but especially the development of Asian cyclists and the Asian cycling community.

VN: Steven Wong tested positive last year. Did that have an effect on the decision as well?

EB: No, Steven Wong’s issues were very early in the programme. He is the guy who came out of BMX. You have a lot of guys coming into the sport without the education and the historical background that the more developed cycling countries have.

I think the Steven Wong situation was a case of a young guy not understanding some of the potential pitfalls of using over the counter substances. I think it was chamois cream in his case, that was the programme.

But in fact just the opposite has been true with the programme as it has evolved. We have made a very big point of educating these guys about how to pursue the sport from the ethical standpoint, and also how to protect themselves and not make a mistakes of ignorance about what products they may take.

Even things about the biological passport, this is all new and unchartered territory for these guys. Speaking in particular with the Asian guys, they didn’t come up with that history. We have come such a long way of helping them understand the importance of an ethical approach to the sport.

VN: So you don’t feel that the Steven Wong incident was a factor?

EB: No, that had absolutely no impact whatsoever on this latest decision. What we tried to build a programme that was based on the new age of cycling. I think the team has in certain circles got a reputation for being a vision of the future. It is not the old guard way mentality but rather a new approach.

Champion systemVN: Is there any possibility of getting a replacement sponsor for next year, or are you looking at 2015?

EB: Obviously my knee jerk reaction was to jump in and try to keep the programme together but it was the 22nd, 23rd of September when I got the news. I worked pretty hard to try to get something to come back together. Most of our current sponsors were still enthusiastic and supportive and were looking forward to increasing their involvement in the team next year.

So I had a good foundation but certainly not enough of a budget to actually run a whole team. I tried to pull on the resources that I had and to look out for new opportunities but honestly, it is too late.

We had a couple of nibbles that I thought might save the programme at a smaller level, but we just couldn’t get it closed.

For sure, we look forward to 2015. Myself, I really believe in the direction that the programme was going and I really enjoyed it. I just feel terrible that these Asian guys are kind of lost. The one big opportunity that they had was to learn and go forward.

I want to do it again. I want to pick up where we left off, but it has not been an easy year for cycling, so my hands are tied.

VN: You still have some races left – you have Beijing, you have Hainan as well and you have the Japan Cup. Now that this news is going to be out there, do you see those races as being a shop window for sponsors? Do you harbour any hopes that next year will be possible?

EB: No, you never give up hope. We have got an infrastructure and we have got thirty people who are going be most likely unemployed next year, or at least a big percentage of them. So if there is any chance of keeping the programme together, we will.

I am not so much approaching the races from a sales standpoint, as much as getting out there and trying to finish this thing as strongly, as competitively and with as much character as possible.

It might be our last opportunity for a long time to show what these Asian guys are capable of. It is the perfect environment to do that.

Champion SystemIt is obviously a big distraction and everyone is a little bit disappointed and down, but also they are really motivated to prove themselves and to tackle these races with enthusiasm.

And if I can make some connections that can help them in 2014, that is better yet. Maybe it is an opportunity to start working on something for 2015.

VN: There was a press release that went out yesterday and talked about the Taiwanese champion Kai Feng and the issues preventing him from racing in Beijing…

EB: It was a mistake on my part, actually, because it was not actually the Taiwan cycling federation that blocked the movement there, but rather the Taiwan national sports centre. As I understand it, they kind of oversee the individual sport federation.

They had a commitment from Kai to doing some Asian Game competition with the national programme with the South Asian Games. When we received the invitation to Beijing, it was really important to have him there.

So we approached the cycling federation and asked for permission for him to come. Initially I think there was an agreement, but apparently they hadn’t really cleared it with all the right people, and they locked him down at the last moment.

Without getting into a pissing contest, it is frustrating for us not to be able to have a pan Chinese national champion in a Chinese event. That will be a big disappointment, but that is the way it works. Sometimes you have to take care of take care of your national responsibilities.

VN: What for you were highlights in terms of performances?

EB: Well, I think the development of the riders, particularly the development of the Asian guys. Guys like Xu Gang, Jiao Pengda, Kai Feng and, more recently, the Korean kid Jang Chan Jae and the Japanese guy Ryota Nishizono. Watching their development over the past year and in two years in the case of some of the Chinese guys really has really been encouraging.

I remember the first time I rode with some of these guys, I thought ‘these guys are really strong, but they have such a long way to go in terms of piloting their bikes and just learning how to move in the peloton.

Two years later you see how comfortable they are and confident they are. They have still got a long way to go, but they have really made such tremendous progress.

For me that is maybe the biggest reward.

But also Matt Brammeier and Zach Bell capturing national titles this year and Kai recently capturing his national title. Those things mean a lot.

I think as a programme, I am proud that we set off on a mission and we had a programme that we wanted to build and stay true to, and I think we did that.

Competitively, I am not sure that we always performed at a level I was always happy with. We had some good days and some bad days.

But it also takes time to get a programme together, especially one as diverse as this. I feel like we had a lot of momentum…certainly the second half of the season was pretty successful with some kind of results in North America and some of the late season races in Europe.

I also feel that the story was really gaining momentum. It takes a couple of years to get a project moving, then you start to reap the benefits. I think they are pulling the plug a little bit soon on this one, but I guess they need that money.

The flip side of this is Champion System got this programme started. They were incredibly supportive. Without their support, we never would have got this far.

VN: Do you have anything that you personally can draw on, a plan B? Or is all about 2015 and trying to get things up and running again?

EB: Ah, crap Shane, it is pretty late for me too…!

There are certainly some other programmes that I would love to be part of because I like the direction that their teams are going.

But honestly, I think it is too late for me, just like it is a real stretch for the riders and the rest of the staff. It is so late that most programmes have filled out their positions.

VN: Are you angry about that, being told so late instead of being told two months ago?

EB: Yes it is. I think we could have done more if we had known earlier. I am honestly not really sure what motivated the final decision for Champion System, other than they felt that they needed to allocate those monies in other directions to help build their business.

It is obvious that if we knew earlier, we could prepare ourselves better as individuals and as a group.

VN: Was Matt Brammeier likely to stay? I understand a few weeks ago he said that he had something worked out with an unnamed team, but apparently now has been left short. I’m not sure if that expected agreement was with Champion System or another setup…

Ed BeamonEB: I was very careful not to make any promises to any of the guys. I have been in the sport a long time and I know how things go. One of the most disrespectful things you can do to a rider is give them a sense of security when there is none there.

For the last month or so before I got this news, I was trying to be cautious with the guys and let them know ‘listen, I am not sure what the budget is going to be…we may have to downsize.’

I told them to go out there and fight hard to protect themselves within our organisation, but also to make sure that they have other options.

Matt has had some really good performances for the team this year, but honestly I wouldn’t even project what the roster would look like going forward if we did have a team, as it wouldn’t be fair to anybody.

The tough part is that we still have what I feel are three really important races ahead of us. We have the Tour of Beijing, the Tour of Hainan and the Japan Cup. It is hard to maintain your focus, keep your energy up, also worry about your future and also take care of your guys. And make sure we go to our races properly.

But we will all survive.

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