i-Team boss reveals race squad will adapt to survive

i-Team's 2016 junior race team, from left: Nick Kimish, Thamana Nel, Jack Noble, Victoria Lovett, Joe Clark, Kyle Henderson and Harvey McNaughton. Picture: Sarah Standing (151998-6275)
i-Team's 2016 junior race team, from left: Nick Kimish, Thamana Nel, Jack Noble, Victoria Lovett, Joe Clark, Kyle Henderson and Harvey McNaughton. Picture: Sarah Standing (151998-6275)
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Guy Watson can take pride in a job well done as he tucks into his Christmas pudding on Sunday.

He can raise a glass of mulled wine and toast a year in which he has successfully launched i-Team.cc’s first junior race team – a competitive branch of the existing Portsmouth club.

i-Team founder and junior race team boss Guy Watson. Picture: Sarah Standing (151998-390)

i-Team founder and junior race team boss Guy Watson. Picture: Sarah Standing (151998-390)

He can celebrate a national victory, courtesy of Victoria Lovett, and delight in a group of riders promoted a category in the British Cycling rankings.

But he won’t go partying long into Boxing Day morning.

Now he has got the team off the ground, Watson knows he faces his biggest challenge yet.

That is to make the model sustainable and respond to the changing demands of his riders.

Joe Clark, who led the squad as road captain this year, will become a first-year senior in 2017.

Meanwhile, Watson is expected to welcome youths Sam Clark and Caitlin Peters into the ranks for the new campaign – highlighting the talent pathway from the parent club.

That means the outfit, which was unveiled this time last year, will no longer be a pure junior team.

But the i-Team.cc founder knows it must adapt to survive.

Watson said: ‘It is easy to start something but very hard to keep it going.

‘There are a lot of phoenix teams which start with all that enthusiasm and then, after a couple of weeks, it is clear they have not thought it through. They haven’t looked past the first few races.

‘The test of any group is not how you manage success, it is those unforeseen situations and how you cope with them.

‘I have always said if something is going wrong, you have to change. There is a risk to doing nothing.

‘I could already see the model for the team this year, as a junior race team, would be difficult to sustain in two years’ time because we don’t have the number of juniors coming through.

‘So we have to change the model to suit the riders, rather than forget them and start looking for another lot of juniors.

‘Joe will carry on training with us, while Sam and Caitlin will step up.

‘They have another year as youths but let’s go and get a stripey shirt (national title) because they are good enough.

‘I don’t think I am overstating it. That is a reasonable goal for them based on how they are training now.

‘That’s the challenge and they will hit the ground running.

‘The momentum will hopefully build from here.

‘When they are juniors, we will have a good five-man senior squad.

‘Maybe the focus will then shift to an under-23 programme, with some juniors feeding in. That could be the right pitch for it.

‘We have a year’s gap either side of Caitlin and Sam.

‘So if we were to make this a purely junior squad, we might have a problem.

‘But if you say this is a bunch of riders who will train together as a team and then go off and do their races, at whatever level, it works.

‘You have to be flexible. You maybe can’t do the same volume of training with all of them but you can do the same intensity.

‘And the great thing is they stay together as a group.’

Clark and Lovett were joined in the maiden squad by Harvey McNaughton, Jack Noble, Thamana Nel, Kyle Henderson and Nick Kimish.

School work saw the seasons of Nel and Kimish suffer.

Meanwhile, Henderson quickly admitted the long hours in the saddle were not for him.

But Lovett, McNaughton, Noble and Clark made huge strides.

The former provided the highlight of the campaign when she confirmed her promise with victory in the OVB Women’s Road Race in Plungar, Leicestershire.

Watson added: ‘Victoria has to be the big highlight of the year. I can’t take that away from her.

‘She was a marked rider in that OVB road race.

‘There were national squad members there but a lot of people were looking at Victoria because of the results she had previously.

‘She got noticed in the North West Junior Girls Tour where she finished 14th out of 80 riders.

‘It was her first real test at that level, so straight away they were looking at her and then she won the Cricklade Kermesse the week before the OVB.

‘They were all marking her but she was really intelligent.

‘Rather than work out what break to go in, she let it establish, made the selection and then did enough to make the catch before winning the sprint.

‘It all just came together. It stands out because it was one of those occasions where she was the best rider, she should have won it and she did.

‘She was not the best rider physically – she didn’t have the biggest engine or the fastest sprint.

‘But as the complete package, she was the best rider. I was really, really proud.’

From highs to lows and while the Junior CiCLE Classic was not a dark day for the team, it provided a lesson to the young guns.

Watson said: ‘The riders were the first into the briefing at Melton – but then last out and down the spiral staircase to their bikes afterwards.

‘We quickly realised we had got that one wrong when they had to start at the back of the bunch.

‘To be fair to them, they chased and chased and chased.

‘They certainly gained great experience out of it and Joe finished 65th, which was a great effort.

‘It was a pity to lose Kyle early on. He just said he wasn’t feeling it.

‘He had massive potential. Still has. But he handled it really well and will always be welcome back.

‘Meanwhile, Jack had a big crash at Goodwood. That was a low.

‘I didn’t think he was going to walk away from it but he did and got straight back on the bike.’

Watson is now working hard on a support package for his riders in 2017.

That will dictate the squad size but the goal remains the same – to make their mark in national junior series races.

And to help them achieve it, Watson has welcomed Richard Pearman on board as team manager – allowing him to concentrate on coaching.

The founder said: ‘We will run a similar sort of programme.

‘It was touch and go whether we would get into any junior series races last year but we rode the CiCLE Classic in the end.

‘Now we have had three riders promoted to second cat, the aim is to get into three junior series races in 2017.

‘That would show really good progression.

‘We have learned a lot, it is just a case of putting it into practice now.’

Click here to read Guy Watson on i-Team heroes Jon Dibben, Joe Truman, Dani King and John Hayles.