Feature Interview: Tim Elverson (Canyon DHB Sungod)

With his team about to kick off their 2021 racing campaign in Spain at the Classica Communitat Valencia (UCI 1.2), we speak to team boss Tim Elverson about the season ahead

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Feature Interview: Tim Elverson (Canyon DHB Sungod)

With his team about to kick off their 2021 racing campaign in Spain at the Classica Communitat Valencia (UCI 1.2), we speak to team boss Tim Elverson about the season ahead.

Whilst his DS Simon Holt takes care of team matters in Spain, having been out there since before Christmas, Tim is in England taking care of his own business Roadwheel ‘wearing about six different hats’ he says. Flying the flag for the team in the Classica Communitat Valencia (UCI 1.2) on Sunday will be three time Prem winner in 2019, Rory Townsend, along with Callum and Euan Macleod, Reece Wood, Damien Clayton and Max Stedman who early in 2020 celebrated a big UCI win in Turkey.

Tim is hopeful of a good performance from his riders explaining how between them they had probably only one gram of excess body fat as they set off to start work. Tim added they are heading to the race with the right attitude, are all ready to go and will be ready to look for their opportunities.

“The lads are all pumped to be racing” Tim says. “We have tried to blood a few of the new guys which is something I like to do early and see how they fit in, how they work and their form. It would be nice for Euan to get his nose wet when it doesn’t really matter for him and he can get that nervous energy out of the way.”

“I’m really excited to see how Reece and Damien get on. Reece is really impressing some people out there at the moment and I’m optimistic he is settling in well. I know Damien is strong as well and it’s a case of how he follows instruction and gets on. I have been talking to Damien for three years so while he is new to the team, he’s not new to Simon and me. We just need to keep him calm because he’s so enthusiastic.”

“It is going to be a tough 1.2” says Tim. “Because other races have been cancelled, you have all of the good ProConti teams doing it so it won’t be a normal 1.2 and more like a 1.1. There are also different blends of ProConti teams. There will be some who are going to want to go up ‘Col de Rates’ to remove the sprinters in the race and then you have the teams that have sprinters who will try and get it back together so it will be quite a dog fight over the top.”

Tim is also aware that riders will race it like it’s their last chance of a race as events are being cancelled or postponed a lot at the moment and this ‘last chance saloon style racing’ will create exciting and really cut throat racing. A bit like the first race back after lockdown in 2020 in Poland when a rider in that mix said it was cut throat racing with no-one giving an inch to anyone.

Talking about his team, Tim says “we have taken a blend in the team of a couple of guys who can finish (sprint), a couple who can climb and if it’s a climbing group that gets away and it gets aggressive at the back end, hopefully that will suit the likes of Damien or if it goes to the line in a sprint, then Rory and Reece will be taken care of. Reece is quite a grippy sprinter and can climb so I’m keen to see how he goes”.

Tim explained because of the Covid challenges from government restrictions and the costs that come with that, his riders, some of which have been based in Girona, will be staying out in Spain after the event whilst he and Simon look at what is happening with the other races in their race programme.

“A few of our February races have already been cancelled or put back so at the moment, our next race is the GP Samyn on March 2nd. It might well be that some of the guys stay there until then. The other guys will hopefully, if nothing is changed, be able to move through to Belgium and stay there assuming the block we have in March doesn’t get pushed back too much. By keeping the riders staying there, we can save on the costs of coming in and out of the country.”

“In the past we would pull riders in and out, in and out of mainland Europe but I think now I’ll do our racing there in blocks so the same group will do a series of races. That way it’s easier to maintain a bubble with the testing and then we’ll take a new bubble out with a new lot of testing”.

Ryan ripping it up at the Klondike GP in 2019

Of his team of 18 riders, there are two, Brenton Jones and Ryan Christensen, that will not be part of any bubble until it is safe to bring them from one side of the world to the other. Tim explained he will look at getting them over here in late April when hopefully he can see how things are panning out in Britain after a lot of the vaccination programme has been completed. One thing he doesn’t want to do is create a problem for them or anyone else.

But one challenge he faces as a UCI Continental team is an ever changing calendar. Tim explains that he feels a lot of races (.2s) like those that rely on having spectators, may well cancel in March and run in October instead when they may be able to have spectators. “I think we may see some of that happen” says Tim, “whilst the races on TV which have the pro teams who can get the testing required, will still happen because TV is the key”.

When I mention the British part of the programme, Tim explains that with the state of the pandemic here, a lot of the planning is more guess work because the racing this year is out of his hands and no-one really knows when it will start. “I think the best we can hope for is the Lincoln GP in May based on time lines from the Govt. We may not get racing in May or June but hopefully once they have the 20 million vulnerable ones vaccinated, there may be a different approach to sport. It is all guess work though”.

As we have seen with so many riders going ProConti and WorldTour over the years, a British UCI Continental team can be an ideal vehicle for riders to move up the food chain if they manage to succeed in Europe. So what are Tim’s goals in 2021 with his team?

“It’s about winning for me and about helping them move on. I have no interest in holding them back so I actively talk to teams for them. Even after 2020, which everyone knows was a disastrous year, we had three riders go up and that is what I want. If my team doesn’t go up a level, then I want the riders to be able to go up and create gaps in the team so I can bring in new young riders. If we’re winning bike races with our riders, that will do the job of helping them move up”.

“We won the Holland Cup in 2019 and 2020, so I probably have to win that again or I have failed LoL! Just to be better than we were is my key goal as I don’t like to set a specific goal because if it goes wrong, it can do your head in”.

“All I am trying to do is help my riders. This is their job, and I am doing my best to help them do that job with safety measures (for Covid). If that means they can race and train and be seen by the WorldTour teams, at least they have a chance to show themselves and do their business”.

The Canyon DHB Sungod team have two main DS’s at races as Tim explained. “Historically, Simon does the European stage races and I do the one day races. That is how we split it previously. This year I expect he’ll do more racing as I have to keep a tight eye on my business. If restrictions start to lift and I have more staff in, then we’ll return to the way we did it before”.

“It is easier for him to do the races he’s done before and also easier for me to do the races I have done before. He’s doing more and more and doing a good job too. I enjoy the classics we have done though so I intend to be at Le Samyn and for some of that block but we’ll have to wait and see if circumstances allow that.”

Rory Townsend winning the Klondike in 2019. He’ll be in action this weekend in Spain

The Winter
As many of us know, it has been a freezing winter but then my view is based on where I live and up north (I’m in South Yorkshire), the weather has seen a lot of freezing temperatures and snow and ice.

Tim meanwhile is based in the South East. “I don’t understand why any of my lot stay up north because we haven’t had snow and the coldest it’s been here is four degrees” Tim explains, adding that the day we spoke, it was 12 degrees and sunny where Tim was in the south east. It was a lot colder in South Yorkshire LoL!

Tim says some of his riders have been based down in the south of England and some of them in Girona. “We did have a training camp planned in Mallorca and to do Challenge Mallorca but that got cancelled and so it was all change and we had to tweak our schedule.”

“I think the riders are fine and ready to race though. Some are little bit behind but we have good open dialogue and so those guys who are behind, I’m not scheduling them for the early stuff. Like Jim Brown had to have some shoulder surgery which has gone well so he’s a bit behind but I definitely have two thirds of the team bang on it now”.

“I’m excited to see how Ryan goes when he gets back out here after his top 10 in a New Zealand UCI stage race. On paper, he seems to have turned the corner whilst he’s been away. I think he was going to have a good 2020 but couldn’t race so I’m interested to see how he goes when he gets back.”

…. continued after the advert.

Covid Challenges
This week I have interviewed a group of ProConti/WorldTour pros all stuck in England whilst their teammates train in Spain with their teams and it appears other pros like Primoz Roglic are in the same boat in their country. Tim’s team planned ahead and have been there (Spain) a while, but getting into Europe is horrendous says Tim.

“Simon Holt has been out in Spain since before Christmas as we were pre-empting the issues now so we’ve been out there for a while now. We are carrying out the PCR Testing you need to do before travelling to Europe and then we are carrying out a ‘flow test’ for everyone in our bubble so they are constantly tested so we know they are not picking anything up.”

“We are sending the flow test results into the UCI so we are alright from a race point of view. The expense is phenomenal though. I had budgeted the team this year in a way that there was a possibility that for the first time, I would not need to put any of my own money into the team but with the additional cost of Covid testing, I’m going to end up putting money back into the team for sure if I want to do the same amount of races because every race has just gained around £600 additional cost for no performance gain”.

“Because of the tests and the additional legislation you have to go through, you get these additional costs and we need to go through it as I don’t want my lads to get sick, and if one of them does get sick, I don’t want the rest of them to because of it because they are staying in the same bubble. We are running the flow tests which we have on board the vans and Simon is monitoring them and then uploading to the UCI. It is a little bit like running a blood passport, it does save on some other issues if you run it correctly.”

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the UK in terms of Covid being controlled and there being some sort of race season, albeit, one that will be shuffled back. If Europe hasn’t caught up though, we may have issues coming back into the UK all the time so we will either have to stay abroad in blocks which is kind of what we are doing now and before we come back, have the appropriate tests. I think that may go on all year as I don’t see the rest of Europe catching up with us all year when it comes to vaccination.”

The now retired Alex Paton, a Sprints jersey winner in the Tour of Britain

Tour of Britain qualification
The final topic is about what many feel is the key race of the season for any of the UCI teams in the UK; the Tour of Britain. In chats with teams early in the year, there was talk that there would not be a qualification system like we’ve had which has caused many a headache for a British UCI conti team. The organisation however have yet to confirm either way how they will select from the five British UCI conti teams.

So I asked Tim what his thoughts were on this? “It is difficult for them and they have to have a system. I believe they changed the system for 2020 and I thought that was the system that was going to roll forward to this year.”

“So I have no idea what it will be but right now, let’s hope there is a Tour of Britain. We want to be doing it and I feel on merit, that we deserve to be doing it on the basis we have won the Sprints jersey the last two years. It’s not the Tour of Britain’s fault and is more because there are so many Conti teams in the UK again and that creates its own problems”.

If the organisers of the Tour of Britain did go back to the criteria that they last used in 2019, where teams were under pressure to pick their best squads for the British Prems which were qualifying events, that will cause many an issue for the conti teams. For example, it meant riders for a lot of teams were not going to get a shot at European races as the team was focused on events in Britain to qualify for their national tour.

Tim though is not phased by that saying “if I picked my worst seven riders for a race when doing a double programme, I still have seven very good riders! I am pleased with the strength of the young riders we have brought in and we have a real good mix. Apart of Eaun, who doesn’t have any pressure because he’s a first year senior, I don’t think I have anyone who could not handle having the pressure of delivering for the team.”

Tim then added “last year, there wasn’t going to be qualification system and it was going to be the same as European races where they choose teams on merit; who the team is, what the team brings to the race etc. That is what 2020 was going to be as I understand it”.

“Whether 2021 has a qualifying system or not, I don’t know but I think it should be based on history of the team, who the riders are, how they have raced in Europe and are they equipped to race the Tour of Britain.”

“I also think there should be an agreement between a team and the event for a few years too. The whole problem in finding money for the team is no-one knows whether you are riding the Tour of Britain or not so if you are assured to be in it in 2022, you can sit down with a sponsor in 2021 and tell them you have a ride in that race.”

“The problem now though is all we can say to a potential sponsor is that we may be in it in a world where finding money is becoming increasingly hard for everyone. We also do need to know early though if we’re in the event. We need to know in March or April because if you are not doing it, there are other races on at the same time you can do. But if you don’t find out you’re not doing the Tour of Britain until August, you’re whole season has been flipped on its head and I don’t think that’s fair for anyone.”

My thanks to Tim for yet another insightful chat and we wish his team all the best in 2021.

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