Feature Interview: Tim Elverson (Canyon DHB)

Feature length chat with the boss of the Canyon DHB team which in 2019 swept all before it and had success in Europe as well and that looks to get better in 2020

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Feature Interview: Tim Elverson (Canyon DHB)

Photo: Canyon DHB

What a year the Canyon DHB UCI Continental pro cycling team has had. Running a dual programme, there have been many victories here in Britain and in Europe as well. In the prems, Rory Townsend won no less than three of them and Tom Stewart won a fourth for the team. There’s a fifth victory in the series if you count stage wins as well after the win by Ollie Wood on stage 1 of the Tour of Reservoir.

In the Elite Circuit Series, they won every round with Matt Bostock winning five (and the overall) and Ollie Wood winning the sixth round in Sheffield. In the Tour Series, an overall victory for the second year in a row made that series a great success for the team where they also had individual wins in four of the seven rounds.

The victories though were not limited to races in the UK. There were a couple of victories for Alex Richardson in 1.2 events and one for Dan Pearson too. On top of that, Tom Stewart had a second in a 1.1 and there were two podiums in 1.1s for Rory Townsend as well as another for Rory in a n.2 (CiCLE Classic) and Charles Page too in Van Conningsloo n.2.

To finish the season off, a jersey in the Tour of Britain rounded off the season of success for a team that has continued to grow since it burst onto the scene as Pedal Heaven way back in 2014 on the national scene.

So the first question for team boss Tim Elverson was to ask if 2019 was the best season yet for the team? “I’d say it is definitely the best season for the team in terms of results and definitely the best season in terms of laying out goals and achieving them” he replied.

“Every season so far, I have been pleased with the process and steps I wanted to make and every year, we have made a reasonably big step forward and that has now taken us to the point where we have been very successful.”

The opening introduction to this interview is packed with victories so picking highlights was difficult said Tim but he did have a few to mention. “For me, Rory (Townsend) winning at Klondike (opening Prem), was a major highlight for me because it was something we had spent a long time talking about and actually seeing it delivered exactly how we thought it would be, means it has to be a highlight.”

“The Tour Series; it was very good to win that back to back but a personal highlight will be one that no-one will have seen, Tro Bro Leon (French CiCLE Classic type race) where we got zero results but we rode the race really nicely.”

“We just got outrageously unlucky with one sector taking out three of our riders that were all in the front group. So we had some real bad luck. We didn’t have the tyres we needed because our supplier hadn’t produced the bigger tyre by that point. We have had it since but because it was early season, the tyre we needed didn’t exist so we knew we were rolling the dice because the sectors in TroBro are particularly rough.”

“Alex Paton was in the move that actually went to the line and there was a chase group that caught that move and we’d had two in that chase group as well. We’d also ridden on the front all day with the likes of FDJ, Total Direct, Arkea, Cofidis and Ag2r and we’d sat second team all day.”

“Even though we didn’t get a result in that race, the way they rode it for me, set the stall out for how they would ride the rest of the year and I was very proud of the team for that”.

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Strongest team ever for Tim?
“I think it has been our strongest team ever. Generally, my teams have been born out of watching my budget and being creative. This year wasn’t a lot different even though I was moving the bar higher and to do that, you would normally spend a lot of money on riders but I still didn’t have that luxury so I had to be creative”.

“If you look back at the signings I’d made compared to teams like Madison in particular, on paper they were stacked with riders that could have got the job done so it was by no means a given for me but I think we turned into the strongest team because everyone was pulling through.”

“I did make some big changes at the start of this season but there were no big money signings. For next season, I have got five new riders and strengthened where I thought we were weak and it’s looking good.”

Tom Stewart celebrates his second win at the prestigious Lincoln Grand Prix

Is managing a team of winners difficult?
“I thought it was going to be difficult because riders have expectations and if you don’t start matching those expectations, it is hard to stop them losing morale because they want more and you don’t get the best out of them. But, fortunately, because we have had a dual programme pretty much from March to the end of August, and because of that, the riders have had a lot of races.”

“I was able to sit down early and match riders aspirations with their ability and if they weren’t racing early on, they knew what I had planned for them later on and that all worked out quite nicely.”

“In actual fact, if I hadn’t of had as many strong riders as I have, I think I would have struggled. Because the programme was so large, there were points like when Alex Coleman had a broken cheekbone, Tennant with his broken hand and Paton with a broken elbow, I was struggling to field two full teams. It is a tough challenge when you have a split calendar, because I wanted to be competitive on both sides of that calendar (here and abroad) and it wasn’t about having one good team and one weak team. For me, the target was to win both races on a day where we had two teams in action.”

“The dual programme did go smoothly and I’m lucky Simon (Holt) has become a very good DS and good organiser and we have some other good DS’s like Blain and Anders so doing a dual programme didn’t haven’t any issues outside of the injuries and having to make the pounds go a long way!”

A highlight for Tim as Rory beats then British champion Connor Swift at the first Prem of the year, the Klondike GP

Rory Townsend
A rider in Tim’s team that continues to improve and gain more and more success is Rory Townsend, a rider Tim is really keen to move up into the ProConti/World Tour teams. “I have had Rory in my teams since he was a junior. I knew him when he was a first year junior and we started helping him and coaching him as a second year junior and then he came to us as a first year senior and we’ve been through the highs and lows with Rory.”

“We have had our moments but he’s a really nice lad and turned into a really good rider. I saw his potential and his weaknesses. Like when a race got really hard, he was a little weak mentally when he was young even though he was a strong rider.”

“He came through that and whilst this year looks like a breakthrough year, I actually think 2017 was the year that made him realise he was capable of this success and he would have had this year’s success last year if he hadn’t got injured breaking his wrist and then his collarbone which completely ruined his 2018 season”.

“Coming into the winter leading into 2019, we were hopeful but not sure he would get back to where he was in 2017 but during that winter, he worked really hard and our race programme has helped him, he has absorbed the big races well and where he had a slight weakness in climbing, that is gone because he is now used to a really grippy 200 km races so much so that the climbs we have in the British races are not that big a deal for him; he is a very good all round classic rider now”.

Bike racing is a team sport however so I asked Tim about his approach to using such a strong team to back riders like Rory. “In Klondike, we went in there with a set plan. Rory had great numbers in the weeks leading up to it so we put our cards on that play. I never roll with one plan though and there will always be a backup plan and if at a point in the race, plan A is not right, my road captain will call plan B. I will always have two options or as the lads will joke, there’s often a C and D as well…“.

“One of the problems I have had with my teams in the past is that they are so keen to work for each other and so willing to do a team job, it was hard to find someone to go ‘I feel great today, work for me’ because they want to help each other. It is a great thing to have but sometimes it makes it hard to win.”

“So it has been good this year. I have had riders at different times saying ‘I’m feeling mega today I’ll get it on’ and everyone else knows their time will come as there are so many races in the race programme. We look at races closely and have an idea of how a race is going to go. Simon and me spend a lot of time working out how we think a race will go and then pick two riders best suited to get a result and work backwards from that.”

So what jobs do the team riders do?
“It might be covering the first move to make sure we can ride in the right place in the peloton or it might be helping riders with position so you might have to put them in the wind a little bit to help their leader hold position because you’re not always allowed in the line.”

“So one rider may only do the first 100km because he’ll be in the wind the whole time. Bottle runs as well and if it is someone who can get to the sharp end, then they can be part of the softening up process at the end and this can often lead to a result for them”.

Ryan Christensen – Photo: Canyon DHB

“Ryan (Christensen), my Kiwi is very good at that part of the race. In fact this year he’s had some good results because he’s found himself softening them up and then getting caught by a small group to find himself in the main break. So working for the team can work in their favour sometimes.”

Back in the Pedal Heaven days, Tim quickly became known for having teams with a young overall age so I asked what his strategy was with young riders now? “The level of races we are doing now and will do next year, it is not easy for a youngster to survive. So you have to have the right balance in the team so when I am looking at youngsters, it’s about whether they can step up to doing 200 km at 45k average. In some cases, they can’t.”

“I’ll look at some youngsters I really like but I’ll let them go elsewhere and give them a season of doing Prems and n.2 races for example and let them find their feet before I look to put them into the deep end and try and sign them.”

“This year has proved difficult signing youngsters. A couple I liked ended up at GB and couple have gone to Trinity so I haven’t been able to bring into the team the youngsters I was keen on or I felt could cope but I have agreed with a first year to come in August next year so he has gained some experience first, but saying that, I have brought in five riders I am very pleased to have signed.”

Andy Tennant leading the team at Ryedale in 2018

Core Stability
One strategy teams will look to implement year on year is to keep a core group of riders and staff to limit change in a team, especially one that is successful. Asked about what he looks for in riders, Tim replies “I look at the character of them as they have to fit in with the way I do things and the other riders in the team”.

“So normally I will sign riders I know and if I don’t know them, there is normally someone in the team or some I know who does so they have a confirmed character – then I will start looking at them if they are the style of rider I feel we’re lacking or my specific goals for the next season are such I need to improve in a certain area.”

“I’ll sit down with them and if my gut says they want to race for me and my team in the way we race, they’ll get signed but if I feel they are here to get some money and do some bike racing, they won’t get signed.”

“I think it’s really important to have a core group carried over at the end of a season and the reason we have continued to improve is because the core group we have tweaked as opposed to change means I know what I am going to get from that core group.”

“Andy Tenant has now become a big part of the core group and will be on year three with us next year. I do change the team. Six riders may not make it through to next year for different reasons and five may come in, so in reality more than 70 per cent of the team will be the same every year and the same with staff and that is really important. To have that base from which to improve on…”

Ollie Wood giving the team another victory in 2019, stage 1 at the Tour of Reservoir. Ollie also won the Sheffield GP

Does Tim look for only winners or domestiques as well?
“A bit of both. I have signed two guys who I hope will be winners for us in a particular type of race, and two guys who like Ryan can be there at the key point at the back end of a race and whilst I haven’t signed them as winners, I think they will find themselves getting in quite good moves and getting top 10 results in .1s because of the way those races are played out. They may end up becoming winners themselves.”

And speaking of riders who could end up winning races at a higher level, one name mentioned was Matt Bostock who had a stunning season, dominating the Elite Circuit Series in a manner never seen before in the series.

Asked for his assessment on Matt, Tim replied “he rode a really good season. Matt has been every inch of what I had hoped I’d signed. His sprint has improved this year to the point that he is now one of the quickest in the country”.

“We timed his race calendar to hit form in that period but he still surpassed my expectations the way he delivered all the wins he did. He will for sure be one of my roadman sprinters next season and he’ll go into the winter with that mind.”

2013 and Matt Bostock was rider of the month on his native Isle of Man (pictured with organiser Dot Tilbury) and the Youth league. This year he blew the Elite Circuit  Series out of the water with an unheard of winning streak.

“He’ll still deliver in the crits which will still be a target as they have so much TV time but we are trying to get him into being more of a roadman sprinter because there are races in Europe where I think things have gone slightly wrong for us and we haven’t delivered him well or not had the right legs in the right place to help and he has been left with to much to do at a finish.”

“The big difference in Europe is if you don’t help deliver your sprinter, surfing the wheels when you’re not a world tour rider is really hard because they won’t let you in so we’ve got to improve on that. Hopefully we won’t be missing key riders from injury next year but I have also signed riders to help improve that. We also have a better understanding of it each time we go back. With every race we do, the WorldTour teams give us a bit more space and I think we will see a similar leap in his road finishing that we saw in his crit finishing this year but not because he has got a whole lot better, but because everything will have improved around him as well”.

One race that has a profound impact on the sport in this country is the Tour of Britain with its qualification system. It is a race that has teams doing what they can to be a UCI team just so they can get the chance of riding it. A reason perhaps why the country has had so many UCI teams in the years gone past.

Rory Townsend and a jersey in the Tour of Britain

Tim’s team was the first to qualify for the race in 2019. Was it a success I asked? “Yes” was the answer because goals set were goals achieved. “We raced that race to be on the podium each day. I knew one of the riders I was looking at for GC previously to race, Tom Stewart, was injured two weeks before so I knew I didn’t have a rider to go for GC that really suited the parcour”

“I was confident the race was going to go the way it did and knew if you were able to stay at the sharp end of the race, you had to be able to sprint as well. For example, Matt Holmes rode a really good race but ultimately was 15th overall and I wasn’t going to go there to finish 15th, even though being first Brit is a great result, it wasn’t a team target at this point in the season, So I picked five to match the team goals”.

“It’s a good race and I love doing it. It’s a great week to be in that bubble even though it is quite an expensive process to qualify for. It is a race though that has served us very well the last three years. I was pleased to see Rory win the jersey as we went into the race with that as a target.”

“I was hoping Tom Stewart might come round at the back end for some stage results but when he crashed on stage 4 and re-injured the old injury that was the end of that. He tried hard but thats racing. Matt sprinted well on stage one but I was short on lead-out guys to deliver him for the rest of the race with them all having injuries. I rolled the dice on Tennant and it nearly paid off.”

Tim added that winning that jersey was not easy with WorldTour teams getting involved in the battle for the points/seconds. “It was hard fought for and a key moment was on stage 4, when the lads led it out for the bonus sprint, going round Jumbo Visma and Rory pipping Trentin on the line. That was where he won it and he should be proud of that and so should the lads. To do that on a hard stage was phenomenal.”

Tim is keeping 70% of his 2019 team for 2020 and bringing in five riders all capable of winning … watch out world! The team should be releasing the names of the team in December…

Next Season
With five teams having gone from the sport in two seasons, there are a lot of people shouting about how bad things are but Tim says “the scene is relatively healthy with many good riders, but the structure makes it difficult. I think there are plans in place to tweak the British scene and that should help. There are plenty of sponsors that want to get involved but it’s hard to find one that will give you a big amount of money to help a team be capable of trying to do what we are trying to do. It’s not easy in any sport finding sponsors and it’s a constant battle that we are working hard to try and win”.

“Next season for sure it will look different but a big chunk of the riders will be the same. There have been a few riders who have gone up to race in Europe so that will change the face of the racing a little bit but hopefully that just gives an opportunity to those who were finishing 9th and 10th this season to move up.”

“Hopefully the racing the will be the same with us winning a lot!”

“It will look different visually as there are not so many conti teams but actually it may give a few of the good elite teams an opportunity to do something. They run good teams and next season may give them more confidence with fewer conti teams. I don’t think it will change the racing that much and it will still be bloody hard.”

Ryan Christensen ripping it up at Klondike early on to soften the race up for his team leader

Tim will also continue racing abroad, something that helps him attract the best riders as they know doing that could help them land a contract abroad like some from the team did in 2019. But as Tim says, doing the races he does, is not as simple as it looks.

“You just can’t go to a UCI 1.1, you have to be invited, so you have to work your way into that bubble. But, when you get the invites, particularly for us being southern based team in the UK, racing in France, Belgium and Netherlands, 99 per cent of the time it’s cheaper than doing any of the Prems.”

“When we go to a race, we go with seven or eight riders, a swanny, mechanic and DS and you have all of them in a hotel for at least one night with meals as well. That’s the same whether the race is in Europe or Britain. But doing the races in Europe, for sure, it is not any more expensive. The UK ones are often more expensive because there is no entry fee for UCI n.1s, they’ll have better prize money and there could be start money too. So if you compare the races here and there, at the moment the cost in Europe is cheaper.”

“However the budget for our Europe racing is higher because of the many more race days. I did over 50 days of racing in Europe.”

With a new sponsor for next season joining his existing sponsors, and the extra fire power he has signed to replace some of the star riders he has lost, the team’s success in Europe may well grow even further in 2020 and with three UCI teams in Britain expected to be battling it out in the Prems and other races, his team’s strength is sure to have them as favourites before a pedal has been turned.

My thanks to Tim for his time and hope he didn’t have to consume too much coffee as we chatted LoL – stay tuned for some exciting signings by his team.

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2019 The Stats

Klondike GP: Rory Townsend, winner
Lincoln GP: Tom Stewart, winner (Andy Tennant 3rd)
Lancaster GP: 4th Max Stedman
Circuit of the Mendips: Rory Townsend, winner

Tour of the Reservoir
Overall: 4th Max Stedman
Stage 1: Ollie Wood, winner
Stage 2: 6th Max Stedman

Beaumont Trophy: Rory Townsend, winner
Stockton GP: 2nd, Matt Bostock
South Coast Classic: 5th Dan Pearson

Cycle 360 Manx International Stage Race
Overall: 5th Dan Pearson
Stage 1: 2nd Matt Bostock
Stage 2: 5th Dan Pearson
Stage 3: 8th Matt Bostock
Stage 4: 7th Max Stedman

Ryedale Grasscrete Grand Prix: 4th Ryan Christensen

Otley Cycle Races: Matt Bostock, winner
Wales Open Criterium: Matt Bostock, winner
Newcastle City Centre GP: Matt Bostock, winner
Colne Grand Prix: Matt Bostock, winner
Barnsley Town Centre Races: Matt Bostock, winner
Sheffield Grand Prix: Ollie Wood, winner

Redditch: 5th Andy Tennant
Motherwell: Jacob Hennessy, Winner (Alex Paton 3rd) – Team winner
Aberdeen: Alex Paton, Winner (Charlie Tanfield 3rd) – Team winner
Durham: 12th, Jacob Hennessy
Birkenhead: Matt Bostock, winner (Rob McCarthy 2nd, Ollie Wood 3rd) – Team winner
Salisbury: 3rd, Jacob Hennessy
Brooklands: Rory Townsend, Winner (Jacob Hennessy 3rd) – Team winner

Overall (team)
1. Canyon DHB

Slag om Norg (1.1): 2nd, Tom Stewart
Heylen Vastgoed Heistse Pijl (1.1): 3rd Rory Townsend
Memorial Philippe Van Coningsloo (1.2): 3rd Charles Page
Rutland – Melton Cicle Classic (1.2): 3rd Rory Townsend
Arno Wallaard Memorial (1.2): Alex Richardson, Winner
Classic Loire Atlantique (1.1): 3rd Rory Townsend
Tour de la Mirabelle (2.2): Stage 3 Alex Richardson, winner
Tour de la Mirabelle (2.2): Stage 2 Dan Pearson, winner
Tour of Britain (2.HC): Sprints jersey Rory Townsend
Stage 1: 9th Matt Bostock


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