News: Mountivation Cycling Development Academy

A new cycling development academy has been set up in the north of England by Phil Leigh and Gary Sadler.

Leigh brings his experiences and knowledge as a former team director of the hugely successful Life Repair and Recycling Teams from 2002-2005; and up to the end of this year as High Performance Director of Cycling Ireland; while Sadler is an ex-Pro and 15 times national track and road champion. Together they are honing their skills and experiences to lead and direct a six rider cycling academy.

Leigh explained the ethos behind the academy. “It has become apparent over the last decade how the UK cycling landscape has grown, and while it is very pleasing to see Team Sky fly the flag plus the creation of six well established UCI Continental Teams racing in the UK, there has to be the supply of riders with the ability to compete and perform at that level. From what we have observed in both the UK and Ireland, there are some good young riders with potential, but we need to ensure the numbers with promise at the bottom of the performance pyramid continue to grow.

The Mountivation development academy riders with staff and sponsors prior to their first outing on the road in Lancashire (December 2011)

Leigh and Sadler have observed that once a rider is selected to be on the UK academy they get a boost and a dedicated programme to improve them. However Leigh continued, “It can be very hard for the group of riders sitting just underneath who may get a bike but little or no real coaching or direction. The academy plans to help plug this gap and increase the numbers at the bottom of the pyramid. We are not surprised John Herety has gone down the route of focusing more on Under 23 riders. John and I have had a few conversations about the standard in the UK below the top riders and we both realise it needs additional support”.

In both 2002 and 2003 the Life Repair team provided the junior National Champion. Something Leigh is proud of and shows his commitment to the next generation. “I started the Life Repair team with Tim Schools at the end of 2001, coming straight out of the foot and mouth epidemic which decimated the UK racing scene. In that first year we had (John) Tanner, (Mark) Lovatt and (Kevin) Dawson who were terrific and couldn’t stop winning; but by May I had added three juniors as I swiftly realised while the top lads could deliver there would be no real or lasting legacy of the work Schools and I were trying to build. At the end of June 2002, Stefan Wilson inspired by the opportunity to ride with some of the UK’s top elite riders won the National junior title”.

The following year Matt Brammeier joined Life Repair and piped Mark Cavendish to the title. A trend was set and Ben Greenwood who joined as a junior in 2002 progressed steadily from medallist to be a triple national champion in 2005 at Under 23 level; while Graham Briggs (2003) also delivered National titles in the U23 category. Both Brammeier (2004) and Greenwood (2006) progressed to the UK academy of the day as a result. Leigh has also been instrumental in driving forward development activities in Ireland over the last 3 years.

Felix English, one of Herety’s new U23 riders for 2012 is a result of two years development in Ireland’s national junior and U23 road and track programme. Five riders from the north of England and the IOM have been selected for the 2012 intake with one more name to be added to the roster.

The riders are; James King (Richmond), Matt Flynn (Kendal), Tom Armstrong (Preston), Jack Sadler (Ulverston) and Josh Knight (Isle of Man) and they will be racing the Junior National Road Series among other races. Making up the management team is the academy director (Phil Leigh) and academy manager (Gary Sadler).

Recently, Leigh and Sadler assembled the riders, their parents, backroom staff and a number of sponsors at Lancaster House Hotel for the Mountivation Development Academy Introduction Day. Ironically it was in the same hotel and the same room used for the launch of the Life Repair Group Team in 2003. Almost a decade later with a new and younger set of riders they are setting off on a new but not too dissimilar journey that we hope will underpin the ODP and Talent Pathway work carried out in the UK and Ireland respectively.

Gary Sadler, track and road star of the 1980’s was equally enthusiastic about the project, “We (Phil and I) are on the same page when it comes to wanting to see young potential realised.” Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”.  Sadler continued, “I am grateful to Phil for approaching me and giving me a chance to join him on this project. Phil’s passion and drive and undoubted organisational skill are second to none and together we will make a dynamic management team”.

Gary has attempted, in the last few years to sell the ethos of developing younger riders who have either fallen through the British cycling cracks or were not as physically developed as their peers to no avail. “This opportunity for the riders is huge. The Mountivation academy will give them skills and a pathway to take them on to Under 23 and with luck to UCI Pro level, not just on the bike but off it too, life skills, media skill, organisational planning, team work – they will receive more than just a bike! The riders will have a huge experience bank to draw to into with Phil And I and at the helm”.

The young team assembled has already shown they have a terrific bond between them. Sadler continued; “they have huge potential, a champion team as opposed to a team of champions. It’s all about the work ethic, 10,000 hours! We will have six riders who are there to learn – learn to lose before they can truly learn to win. We will guide them through the whole process and work alongside their parents and individual coaches”.

The team have a full programme of National series races and National championships, UK and Ireland are both a priority. The lads will also take part in the National criterium series support races and both Phil and Gary are very keen they all ride the track – to hone and develop their bike handling skills. In the next few months there are a number of Academy boot camps and a warm weather camp to gel the team before the first outing at the Clayton Velo classic in late February.

It is a decade ago that Schools and Leigh linked up to form a cycling team and this time they hope to be equally as successful. The development academy is very fortunate in securing the backing from Tim Schools and his passion with cycling through Mountivation, his support is unwavering. Sadler and Leigh are delighted to be working alongside Craig Middleton at Onix Bikes and Ken Jones at Bioracer who has been a driving force in securing the lads the very best equipment. His experience, enthusiasm and contacts are invaluable. The team will be kitted out in Bioracer clothing for 2012.

Additionally Carrera will supply helmets and glasses with additional sponsors to be confirmed early in the New Year.

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