At the start of the New Zealand road season there was a sense of excitement about Spoken Cycles. The team had secured some much sought after sponsorship that had enabled them to tackle the spring-summer campaign with three teams, recruit some of the finest talents in New Zealand cycling and gain access to some of New Zealand’s biggest events including the first edition of the New Zealand Cycle Classic in the Waipa region.
Now that we are in the aftermath of that season Blair Taylor and the GD Pringle p/b Spoken Cycles team are able to look back on a few months that for all intents and purposes has exceeded all possible expectations. No sooner had the team enjoyed their launch party than it seemed that the wins began to pour in with no signs of slowing up.
“Right at the start of the season it was coming thick and fast and it was hard keeping up with it all! Especially around the Waikato we’ve got a really good calibre of riders, the fields are really strong, but the boys were also really trying to race as a team. We don’t want to go into that mindset of just having the most amount of guys but not being able to race, they were all getting their own opportunities at different points.”
“It started off even with little races like the TA Club Champs, and then it went to the TA Open where Alex [Heaney] beat Hamish Bond; and it sort of kept rolling in from there. We got some good momentum and that helped with getting invites to events later on in the season which was really important to us and to our sponsors.”
The calendar culminated in what was a week to remember on their home turf at the New Zealand Cycle Classic. The UCI 2.2 stage race drew a throng of the nation’s best to race against an international field of riders from Switzerland, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands and France. There, the local boys more than made their mark on the race, taking out the best young rider classification courtesy of Theo Gilbertson, finishing 7th overall courtesy of Michael Torckler and coming third in the team standings. It was more than just the results that left their mark on BT though.
“Honestly it was really special. We had customers who were out there everyday, who took the week off work and just came out to help, watch, there were people baking; there were just little things like that,” Blair told us. “When we went to Maungakawa on the Saturday, just having the amount of people who were yelling out ‘Spoken!’ It was mind-blowing. I was riding on the climb three weeks later and I could still see Spoken written on the road. We had our main sponsor in the car – George from GD Pringle – in the car that day, and he actually went to the Rugby Sevens on the Sunday. He rung me on the Monday and said ‘the Rugby Sevens was boring, that was amazing being in the car on the Saturday!’ I just wish we could have more people in the car . . . I really need a team bus!”
Success was not confined to the cat. 1 team over the course of the season. The Grassroots Trust Team Championship presented by Dynamo Events was a huge coup for the team, who fielded three outfits across categories 1, 2 and 3. Alex Heaney won category 1 at a canter, while James Harvey’s win in the final race in Tamahere secured the category 2 series, and the category 3 team took race wins throughout the series.
What strikes us as most impressive is that a common thread runs through the team’s categories that has kept things really simple and prevented things from getting over-complicated between the categories. Regardless of ability, speed or palmares, the sheer joy of bike-riding has made for a fantastic team culture that has naturally bred success from it.
“It was pretty exciting really, all three teams train a lot together, they spend a lot of time together, they’re all good buggers, and the one thing we all have in common is that we all just love riding bikes. It doesn’t matter where, how far or how far we have to travel; we just love to ride our bikes. And I think it shows, especially as I was obviously involved in the cat. 2 team, but across the board whoever was having a good day everyone else would just lay it on the line; and that was reflected throughout. When the cat. 1 team finished they’d be waiting to cheer the cat 2. team, and vice versa when the cat. 3 team finished they’d be waiting for when the cat. 1 team came in.”
The difference of sponsorship
2018-2019’s breakthrough for Spoken Cycles came in a large part because of the influx of sponsorship that opened doors for the team to be able to expand their influence to a greater range of races in New Zealand that culminated in UCI ranking events. The outfit did not become a professional cycling team by any stretch of the imagination, but their journey last season was testament to a combination of the talent in the team that paired with committed and passionate sponsors; some of whom didn’t even know cycling.
“I’m a big believer in not over-promising what we can deliver. What we did for our sponsors this season, if people knew what our budget was . . . it was pretty small and we came away with some massive results for the budget we were on. It essentially meant for us that the shift was on getting some buy in from local sponsors, but the way we’ve performed has meant that they’ve come back to us and said, ‘look, what you’ve done has been great, the value that we’ve got from sponsoring a cycling team has been way more than what we could have ever imagined.’ It showed us straight away that the model works.”
“It’s not easy, it’s not easy writing race reports for sponsors afterwards and trying to keep in touch with them. But we had one of our sponsors in the car at Cycle Classic for each stage, and I think that was really the icing on the cake. That was the big goal, to get a start and prove our worth with local riders and local sponsors at a local event, and it worked out way beyond what I could have imagined; winning the U23 jersey and 3rd in the teams was pretty incredible. The community got behind us and it became their team, and from there you start having phone calls from sponsors about what we’re doing next year. It’s a snowball effect which is fantastic.”
“A lot of them probably didn’t know what they were getting themselves in for. One of our sponsors [from Hunting and Fishing Rotorua] rides in one of our teams, but George at GD Pringle, St. Kilder Cafe, Waipa Plumbing & Gas all got some benefit out of it without knowing a lot about the sport. The turning point was once they got in the car at Cycle Classic and they could see what it was about and they could see how many people were interested in cycling. We worked it out and I think we were in the local papers 15 or 16 times and they kept on saying ‘I can’t pay for that coverage, I couldn’t afford to pay for that coverage for what I put into the team’, talking on Radio Sport and little bits like that, they start to see it as really cheap advertising but they’re involved in a really community-based event, sport and team; and they’ve got their name plastered everywhere.”
Taylor and Spoken Cycles are already in preparation for the next season, which for them starts with the Team Championship, and that means communicating with sponsors current and prospective sponsors future.
“We’re starting to talk to sponsors again, we want local sponsors, that’s what we are about. We’ll go back to our current sponsors and give them an opportunity to get on board again, and all of them are really excited and really keen which is really positive. We have got a couple of new sponsors coming on board which is exciting,” Blair said.
Investing in youth the future for Spoken
The success that GD Pringle p/b Spoken Cycles enjoyed this year has been unparalleled in their history as a racing outfit. From their success at the Team Championship to the Cycle Classic, a clean sweep at the K2 Elite Race to a clean sweep at the Taumarunui Cycle Classic, adding to the local and regional success across the summer; it certainly gives one pause to think about what comes next for the team.
For Blair, though, rather than simply consolidate the success that the team have enjoyed throughout the categories it’s more about taking a visionary approach, promoting the next generation of young riders; and utilising the team’s three-pronged category attack to achieve success for the future cyclists stepping forward.
“I can see this as a vehicle to move forward and teach younger riders. We’ve got two U17 riders starting in one of the teams here, and the beauty of having three teams is that there’s a stepping stone for them. They’re not being thrown in the deep end, they can be competitive in cat. 3 and then maybe they can move up to cat. 2 where they’ll get opportunities for themselves but they’ll have to work and they’ll have a role in the team; then hopefully for first year U19 they’re cracking into the cat. 1 team and giving those guys a run for their money. I think that’s really exciting for me, from a coaching side of things there’s an opportunity with these kids now for them to eventually make it into the Cycle Classic team! You’ve just got to prove yourself, we’ve got good riders with Michael Torckler, Alex Heaney, Josh Kuysten, Sam Cook, Xander White and the guys. But it’s exciting times!”
“Where we see value moving forward is the younger guys racing with some of the adults who have some race experience now. But not just ‘here’s a jersey, race for us’ but teaching them what teams racing is about, and I think that’s a massive point that’s getting missed in some of the younger teams. For some it’s just a jersey and it’s just a number. But we’re really having an impact on a race as a team, and getting good comments on how we race. That side of it is really exciting for us.”