Our last nod to the last decade is to announce that Brad Tilby, team director of Team Skoda Fruzio, took out the title and claimed the Concept78 Unsung Hero Award for 2019.

Every year we get the pleasure of lifting the lid on some of the heroes of our sport and making a big deal about the people who go unnoticed.  Since our first edition of the Unsung Hero Award, which saw John Rippon take out the title, you the public have voted Jake Rowse and Richard Scott the 2017 winners for their work with the Calder Stewart Series, and in 2018 the award went the way of Danielle Ward from Concept78 Photography.

This year it’s Brad Tilby, the man who has been at the helm of Team Skoda Fruzio from its inception and the early days when it was known as The Rolling Revolution and then Nature Valley Avanti.  Runner-up was Darren Humpheson for his work with the Canterbury Time Trial Association, with Kerri-Anne Page in third place for her photography work in the New Zealand cycling scene.

Team Skoda Fruzio have become the most forefront name in rider development for New Zealanders.  Name any major race on our shores and a Team Skoda Fruzio rider past or present has usually won or at least been on the podium.  The list of riders who have gone on to Oceania and World Championship success is a long one, with the likes of Finn Fisher-Black being arguably the most prominent name of the 2019 season with his U19 individual pursuit world record breaking exploits combined with his signing for the Jumbo-Visma Academy team and his tenth place in the UCI World Road Championships junior men’s time trial

Finn Fisher-Black celebrates making it a double with road and TT gold for Team Skoda Fruzio at the 2019 Oceania Road Championships, photo Caitlin Johnston

Speaking of what it meant to him to receive the award this year, Brad told RoadCycling, “It’s great, it’s really unexpected, I didn’t expect to get the message that I’d won.  The people who’d nominated me kept pretty quiet around it as well!  The work I do is all behind the scenes, and recognition for me has been seeing the guys go on to achieve what they have the year and what our past riders are doing on the international scene. It’s great to see the likes of Laurence Pithie and Reuben Thompson take massive strides forward this year on the world scene, that’s what we are there to do and they have hit some massive targets. Within our past riders, I have caught up with Connor Brown and Robert Stannard over the recent months to hear how their seasons have gone, it’s great hear how they have continued to grow and the hunger and professionalism they have for the sport.”  

Brad Tilby, together with Scott Fairbairn, have been at the helm of Team Skoda Fruzio for a number of years.  Any individual success generally disguises the work of a passionate team around them, and in Tilby’s case having Scott alongside him in a differing but crucial role, has been freeing, supportive and a perfect compliment for one another.

“It’s an interesting relationship, and it’s really people with completely different backgrounds joining up and doing what we do best between us.  Scott handles the commercial side with sponsorships, the legal, the banking; he handles all that corporate side of things.  This allows me to do what I do best which is dealing with the riders, working on development pathways, working on racing programmes and working on the social media side of things as well.  We don’t have a lot of direct contact but have been doing it for so long that it all gels together, if we were both the same we probably wouldn’t get that kind of synergy and output that we do, I am thankful he is there to steady the ship,” Brad said.

Over the years there have been many lessons learned as the team have grown into what it is now.  One of which has been to stick within their circle of influence and not necessarily keep pursuing the bigger and bigger name or position in world cycling.  They have deliberately stayed away from becoming a UCI Continental Team, although they do race internationally on the Australian National Road Series and on the UCI Asia Tour if the right opportunity and invites arise.  We discussed this point in particular with Brad.

“It’s something we toyed with two or three years ago, ‘do we go Conti?’  We could go Conti tomorrow but our attitude was all around where we actually need to be, what’s the position we need to fill on the New Zealand cycle scene for our riders to go forward?  For me it’s still about working with riders – the very top level male riders at the moment – to try and get them from A to B.  At 21 years old, we think that’s almost past the point so starting at second year U17 up to first year U23 we find is our niche.  

“Being non-Conti means our riders can ride for anyone at any time of year.  If our riders want to jump into a race overseas that definitely works and being seen as this level of team, we get international teams and international agents looking at us, knowing that we’ve had a huge pathway of riders coming through and asking ‘who have you got next’ and it’s quite cool to be able to put the next guy on the radar.”

Other lessons that Brad and Team Skoda Fruzio have learned over the years have revolved around attitude and personality how important things like perspective can be for enduring success.

Brad Tilby has been at the helm for Team Skoda Fruzio from the very beginning, and has formed an effective working partnership with Scott Fairbairn, photo provided

“Probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned is to deal with the right personality of riders.  They can be good bike riders but they need the right attitude that can actually go on.  The other one is don’t look back on singular races, look back on a year or two years and look back to see what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come.  If I look back on the Team Championship round 4 then I can think we’ve done terribly, but if I look back on the year I see World titles, Oceania titles, five riders going to Conti and that’s a major success; probably our best year yet,” Brad told us.

As the 2020 year kicks off Brad Tilby is getting ready for a diversified roll that will incorporate work with Cycling New Zealand and the Road & Track Council; further testament to the value he adds to talent development in New Zealand. 

“In April I joined the Road Development Group, this is a collaborative approach to youth development with Cycling New Zealand.  It’s probably an area we’ve really lacked before as a nation.  The group’s run by Martin Barras, High Performance Director of Cycling New Zealand, we meet every two months to discuss development pathways, where we layer our campaigns, what they look like, selection camps, selection criteria etc.  All of this to accelerate our very best female and males riders to give them the right development and opportunities to be noticed by World Tour feeder teams or Conti teams in the future.

“It’s been really interesting and opened me up to the inner workings of Cycling New Zealand.  And they’ve been at their very best in terms of being collaborative, opening up those pathways, leveraging their knowledge to make sure we’re getting that super top end into World Tour in future years”

“I’m also a Co-op member on the Road and Track Council. My mandate on the council is Youth Development and how we’re moving the sport forward when it comes to teams racing.  I’m helping to build those platforms and encouraging us to be thinking of how we can grow in that space to keep relevant with the international scene.”

“There are a lot of good people doing awesome stuff that we should be co-opping with to grow those platforms through a private, corporate commercial partnership.”

To find out more about Team Skoda Fruzio check out their Facebook page.

Photo: Concept78 Photography

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