A lesson to learn: Silber’s approaching cycling the right way

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A group of young men chat amongst each other as the morning sun rises high in the sky, warming the vast landscape of southern Utah. Skin-tight orange and black kits illustrate not merely their pristine fitness, but immaculate attention to health. The lycra wrapping their legs, perfectly placed on the three-quarter thigh tan line, sits above toned muscle only gained after spending kilometre after kilometre in the saddle. Something is off, though. Their youthfulness shines through and bib numbers run in the 150 range – the last team on the start list.

Later that afternoon, a woman in a black and orange jacket holds her breath before letting out a scream of jubilation, as a streak of orange and black coasts by her with his right-hand reaching towards the sun. While winning for a veteran may sometimes be commonplace, the raw emotion shown by the young is numbing.

Silber Pro Cycling is making their first appearance at the Tour of Utah, their first 2.HC race in the team’s three-year existence. It netted the opening stage, as well as the leader’s yellow jersey with Kristofer Dahl, after having Matteo Dal-Cin in the breakaway all day. A storybook 2016 season which has included tears of success and tears of the hardest of heartbreak has written another chapter.

The team’s rapid rise to the top – they are number one in the teams ranking on the UCI America Tour – seems here to stay, with a methodical approach being taken by management. Team owner Scott McFarlane is driven to establish a firm business infrastructure with long-term sponsorship commitment and sponsors also driven by upward movement.

“We’ve got our title sponsor and all of our financial sponsors committed for the next three years,” McFarlane told CyclingTips. “We are going to use the next two years to develop our business operations and our marketing before we consider in the third year going Pro Conti. We want to make sure the program’s completely solidified and we are able to get riders to the next level over the next two years first. Then we’ll consider moving up, once all of the business infrastructure is in place.”

After storming through the opening part of the season and capturing podiums are nearly every UCI race they toed the line at, team owner Scott McFarlane published an article titled, “4 Legacies of Sports Management.” He wrote of Silber Pro Cycling moving to the Pro Continental level. While that is still the case, it is a little ways down the road with 2019 the year Silber hopes to make the jump.

Silber is in no hurry and is thinking long-term, creating stability in a sport that usually sees drastic turnover, in a negative way, year after year. Teams are not only consistently changing sponsors in a desperate move to stay alive but also moving upward to fill spots as other teams disappear altogether.

In 2013, the Swiss-based IAM Cycling was launched at the Pro Continental level and quickly moved to the WorldTour in 2015. It was announced in May that the team was disbanding and the team’s riders were left scrambling to find contracts to continue their careers. With Oleg Tinkov also pulling his Tinkoff team out of the sport at the end of the 2016 season, the revolving door of teams continues at the top of the sport.

Silber has been able to create a firm foundation and create a luxury for their riders, long-term stability. McFarlane has worked to find sponsors that are not only committed to the team, but committed for the future. This again is a rarity in cycling, especially at the continental level where the sponsorship situation is usually ever more much less stable than at the top of the sport.

A three-year plan may prove to be a few years too long for the current crop of riders on the team. Silber Pro Cycling is selling themselves as a development team and while they are not exclusively Canadian, the team has a considerable maple leaf flair. “Sort of U26,” McFarlane said of their targeted riders.

While as an owner, McFarlane is taking a mindset not often seen in cycling, team director sportif Gord Fraser seemed to hope the move-up would happen sooner. He hoped he would be able to continue to develop the current crop of talent he has at his hands.

“We’re definitely under siege by bigger teams right now, which is a shame,” Fraser said. “It’s the law of cycling. The bigger teams are looking at the smaller teams to recruit and just like how we look at amateur teams and small club teams to recruit into our team. It’s just the nature of the sport and it’s just unfortunate we haven’t been able to secure some kind of sponsorship in the business community in Canada to take this team to the next level and keep this ensemble together. We are hoping to find a new partner to try to keep our talent and grow the program as these guys get better.”

McFarlane, however, flashed a proud smile when asked about losing riders due to his team’s wealth of success this year. “Ironically, it’s in part our goal,” McFarlane said. “We want to lose our guys up to Pro Conti and WorldTour.

“It’s our mission and I think it should be the mission of any professional continental team, personally.” If guys move laterally that’s a loss. We’re trying to be a U26 team, so if guys are 25, 26 and they decide to move because they’re at that position in their careers then that makes sense. We just don’t want to loose young guys. That’s always the danger when you are succeeding, you could be a victim of your own success.”

Silber Pro Cycling is taking its time to create a firm foundation for the latest crop of Canadian talent to develop, while also planning for the future group of talent to come. Young riders will be able to come to a team they know will be around for years and thus focus on one thing – bike racing.

McFarlane’s plan isn’t too far off to the Axel Merckx led development program, Axeon Hagens Berman. While Merckx’s team has seen sponsor changes, its team has been stable. Furthermore, Silber’s commitment to building a solid cycling program in Canada comes as Canada’s biggest star of late and sole Grand Tour winner, Ryder Hesjedal, is retiring at the end of the season.

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