Madison-Genesis have come a long way since their formation ahead of the 2013 season.
Managed by former British pro and hardman of the Northern Classics, Roger Hammond, the team’s rise was confirmed as they claimed their first overall Tour Series victory this year after finishing as runners-up in 2013 and 2014.
The Milton Keynes-based team led from the front and overcame a late charge from new boys One Pro Cycling to seal series victory on the final day of racing.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the team’s season so far, which has already seen Erick Rowsell kick-start his return to the British domestic scene with Tour of Reservoir success and a top-ten overall at the Tour de Yorkshire, Tom Scully finish second at the Tour de Normandy and Mark McNally fly the team’s flag with a series of attacking rides in Yorkshire.
Hammond, understandably, is a happy man, and has signed off the first half of the 2015 season as a resounding success.
“I’m really pleased with how it’s going,” Hammond told RCUK. “The nationals are upon us and then that’s the first half of the year done.
It’s the whole mentality of cycling – it’s not an easy sport. Talent takes you so far and then character, grit and determination does the rest
“If we look at the goals we really went for – the Tour de Normandie, Tour de Yorkshire and Tour Series – then we can be really pleased. To be just three seconds off the overall win in Normandie was a really good start for us.
“We then managed to be pretty competitive at the Tour de Yorkshire, and to get a top ten on GC in its first year was a really impressive result for us.
“Even with bad luck in the final week of the Tour Series we’ve managed to hold on. We could have done without the bad luck but I’m really pleased to have won.”
A series of crashes in round seven in Croydon, which saw Matt Cronshaw, Mike Northey and Tom Scully all come to grief, and another tumble for Tom Stewart at Canary Wharf, when another rider’s crash took him out in the pits, made for a much tighter finale than had been anticipated.
But after holding their nerve in Bath during the final round, Hammond was pleased to see his riders display the grit and determination that can only be tested when the chips are down.
“It’s the whole mentality of cycling – it’s not an easy sport,” he explained. “Talent takes you so far and then character, grit and determination does the rest.
“You never see people’s true colours until you’re backed into a corner and we were backed into corners several times during the Tour Series.
“We were comfortably leading overall and winning rounds until some innocuous crashes, but we came back from them well.”
The progress this season suggests Madison-Genesis have shaken their ‘development team’ tag, which was the agenda when they were formed by the recently-retired Hammond with veteran sprinter Dean Downing initially offering valuable experience to the young riders on the road.
Downing has since departed, retiring with NFTO last year, but many of those young riders remain – the likes of Tobyn Horton, Stewart and Liam Holohan to name just three.
Add to the mix the experience of Tour of Britain King of the Mountains winner McNally and the talented Rowsell, and a couple more young riders such as Tristan Robbins and Joe Evans, who Hammond is set to unleash during the second half of the year, and a clear balance has been found.
But Hammond rejects the idea that the development process has been rejected in favour of results, pointing to the fact both McNally and Rowsell still have to plenty to learn and prove – just in a different way to the aforementioned teenage duo.
“There’s not been a pressure to step it up as such,” he said. “It’s just the way racing in the UK has stepped up since we formed the team.
“There was no Tour of Yorkshire then, the Tour of Britain was always a race you weren’t expected to be competitive in but its part and parcel with the way the sport in the UK has grown.
“We still have young riders coming through, you just haven’t seen them yet because they’re so young and as an ex-rider who was trying to juggle being a student and riding the bike, I’ve kept them out of high-profile competitions and had them chipping away at the smaller events where there’s no pressure or stress so they can focus on getting their A-Levels done.
“You’ll see those guys integrated into the team over the second half of the year, and that’s just reflective of our policy – letting them develop academically alongside as a rider. You will see how good they are at riding a bike now.
“As for why we took on Erick [Rowsell] and Mark [McNally], well we still want those guys to learn and they’re going to learn by riding the bigger races. You can’t put a bunch of 18-year-olds into the Tour de Yorkshire, for example.
“Mark is a big-name rider and so’s Erick, but they’re still learning. The development side of the team is still there, we’ve just decided to expand it.”
Hammond is particularly pleased with the way Rowsell has seized his opportunity this year, showcasing his talents at the Tour de Yorkshire to bounce back from a difficult time with his former team, NetApp-Endura.
“Erick is a rider developing all the time,” Hammond added. “He’s still young. As a bike rider he’s still in the development time of his career.
Erick Rowsell is a huge talent, who just needs time to develop
“I think he felt he hadn’t really developed on the Pro Conti level because you’re either good enough or you’re not there. If you’re not good enough there then they don’t waste time, they just move on rather than see him for what he is – a huge talent, who just needs time to develop. He’s proved that by finishing in the top ten at the Tour de Yorkshire.”
Success at the highest level breed success further down the ladder too, and Hammond believes seeing their team-mates thrive can only be a good thing for the squad’s younger riders.
He said: “The really pleasing thing for me is it’s not just one rider doing well, they’re really all coming on.
“Tristan Robbins and Joe Evans can see that as well. They’re training alongside those riders in Mallorca and then the next time they seem them they’re on the telly at the Tour de Yorkshire with the best riders in the world.
“It does make my job easier, not having to coax that ambition out of them. As long as your team is competitive it makes that progression very believable.”
Hammond also believes the progress in the domestic side of the sport in Britain has helped to buoy the motivation of riders and, more importantly, keep them on British shores.
There’s no reason for a British rider to have to go and live above a grotty little chip shop in Belgium in the hope of making it professionally
“There’s no reason why you have to go and live above a grotty little chip shop in Belgium in the hope of making it professionally anymore,” he said.
“The level of the support for the teams and the level of the races has massively improved.”
After a successful start to the year, and with the Tour Series title in the bag, what’s next for the British UCI Continental team and how do you motivate the riders to keep performing?
The latter, Hammond admits, is the easy part – with a calendar packed with big races, peaking with the Tour of Britain.
“The first half of the year, for me, was actually the smaller of the two in terms of goals,” he said. “The second half of the year is the one we really want to be ticking them off.
“We’ve got some big, high-profile races to ride. Obviously there’s the Tour of Britain, but first it all kicks off with RideLondon and then we’re going to two more international stage races in August. The guys are hugely motivated for them.
“RideLondon is one of the biggest one-day races in the world and the Tour of Britain has grown massively. It’s the bigger half of the year for us, but the easier one to motivate the riders.
“It’s just up to me to give them the tools to perform. From the nationals onwards we want to be building up to the Tour of Britain and be more competitive that we were 12 months ago.”
Madison-Genesis’ performances have been more than competitive so far this year and success, as they say, breeds success. Watch this space.