Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Conversation With Phil Southerland About the Tour of California and Other Aspirations

-by Rebecca Reza

Publisher's note: We present the first of a two-part series that delves into Southerland's views on not being invited to America's premiere road race, the goals for the team going forward. The second part we spend more time talking about the achievements and goals for the team as they search for the ultimate – an invite to Le Tour de France.

PSThis year America has more professional cycling teams than ever before, from amateur to the ProTour, with a growing number of UCI races that are challenging the grand tours in attendance and rosters. The Amgen Tour of California continues to grow each year, while last August the Coors Classic route was revived to what could be America’s number one stage race – the US Pro Cycling Challenge.

One team in particular that has been wonderful to watch, is Team Type 1. The team is led by the passionately driven advocate for diabetes awareness, Phil Southerland, a Type 1 diabetic himself and former professional racer. The team started as a small project to race across America and has quickly grown into one of the most successful up and coming teams. They not only have a talented roster, but they bring an important message to diabetic sufferers around the globe. While they are racing, the team often does many appearances and projects in and around the communities, spreading the message that you can be healthy and athletic, despite having Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Often lives can be saved by exercising and they work along with their sponsor, Sanofi, to bring diabetic medical supplies to those in need.

This week, the AMGEN Tour of California (AToC) announced the teams that have received invitations for the race in May. In a statement from AToC Race Organizer, Kristin Bachochin published by last December, Bachochin stated, “It's extremely important that US talent from the up and coming ranks is here as this will help the sport grow. It's great that there are other races in the US, as well, as it showcases and demonstrates how much the sport is growing for everyone." further added, “She stressed the importance of showcasing up and coming talent as a priority both for the race and the health of cycling in the US.” Yet notably, main US cycling teams were completely snubbed from the race. Team Type 1, after participating for the past three years, was left out as were Jamis Sutter Home, Jelly Belly, and Kenda 5-Hour Energy. Soon after the announcement, the web exploded with shock and disappointment about the absence of these teams.

USCR caught up with Phil Southerland to ask about the decision, and to get the inside scoop of how the race operates in the States compared to those overseas. Politics play a big part unfortunately, in the US as there have long been whispers of a “cost to ride” practice, which is not quite illegal according to UCI rules, but is it ethical? Southerland explains the process and includes comments from UCI President Pat McQuaid.

The interview begins:

Phil Southerland (PS): Rebecca how are you!

Rebecca Reza (USCR): Thanks for taking the time out today, I understand you have a really busy day and you’re leaving for Italy, so thank you!

PS:: It’s my pleasure!

USCR: Before we get into California and the news about yesterday, I didn’t really get a chance to catch up with you about last season and the success for the team, You won in Turkey, had the invite to the Tour de Suisse, basically crisscrossed the globe racing. What lessons did you learn last season and from the move overseas?

PS: Last year, big hats off to Vassili Davidenko for getting our program up and running. Just getting started in Europe, breaking into some of those races, it’s big! It’s challenging but everything we did over there, by April time frame when we won Turkey, we weren’t looked at as the new kid on the block anymore. We were a team that was a contender in every race we went to. For our European riders who have been there before it was nothing new; but for some of our other guys it was a big learning experience, and it took some time but I’m just really proud of what the team did last year. To be able to come back this year and reinforce our roster with more depth so we can compete for victory in every race first, compete for the breakaway, compete for a top five spot, it's been a big confidence boost for the entire organization.

USCR: I read your book, “Not Dead Yet.” I wanted first to say congratulations on that; it was really inspiring, and we’ve talked before but I learned a lot about you that I never knew. (thank you!) Well, it’s no secret that the Giro has been a huge goal for Team Type 1 since the beginning. As you just said, at the beginning of the year you got those riders to create more depth to the squad, and hopefully, get an invite this year. What are your thoughts? You missed out on the invite, but then you got San Remo and the Criterium?

PS: Uh…yes that and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

USCR: Yes, but obviously it’s a disappointment that you didn’t get into the Giro, but you got into the other races. How do you feel about that?

PS: It’s definitely disappointing that we didn’t get into the Giro, but Michele Acquarone of the RCS, he called me at 4:30 in the morning Colorado time to let me know that “we’re about to announce this to the media, but we’re deeply sorry that we couldn’t get you the invite, but I wanted you to know before the media.” He said that’s what he was going to do, and he did it. So, I think we have a good relationship with the RCS now.

USCR: Yes, you stated in your book that you’ve had meetings for a couple of years now heading into this race, so that’s nice that they let you know before the media. Where do you go moving forward?

PS: We’ve got our big shot tomorrow, we’ll…excuse me not tomorrow but in San Remo {Saturday) sorry I’m lost in time. Lost in space…but we’re in San Remo, we’re in Liege –Bastogne-Liege, we’re one of seven pro-continental teams vying for a wild card in the Tour. So we’ve told our sponsors Sanofi, that we want to be in the World Tour so we can be sure the organization, the promoters want us at the races. They have told us that, they’ve seen us in the press. I mean, we’re in a huge general media article today just on our diabetic riders in Italy, so we’re changing the world with this team. We have to get to the next level, it’s our responsibility to do that, and we are going to do it. We’re entitled; it’s what you get as a World Tour team; so that’s what we’re striving for still. And now if we are able to win a race, whether it's Milan San Remo or Criterium Internationale or some of the other races that we’re doing the next month, then I think we’ve got a good shot at the Tour. We’re the fourth ranked team in the Europe UCI tour. We’re ahead of the other competitors that are going for the Tour spot, so no invite to the Giro? Okay, I think we still have a good shot at the Tour and/or the Vuelta, we really need to do a grand tour this year so we’re pushing hard on all options. The guys are racing their hearts out knowing that good results equal more invitations.

USCR: It seems that the European races and the organizers are really noticing the caliber of the US teams now compared to here in the US. Do you see more? From what you’re telling me, better reception at these races – to race at more of these European races and be more of a presence at these races?

PS: Well, it goes back to the way we are operating. If you look we are capable of running two programs in Europe at one time, and we have won overall. So when we show up at a race there is no difference between us and the pro-tour teams. We run our business like we are a pro-tour team. When we show up to the races, we’re in the breakaways, we’re going for the King of the Mountains and we’re competing for victories in the race. I mean if you look at Tour de Haut Var (France) for example, we had our young Austrian rider Georg Priedler, who won the King of the Mountains and then Julian al Fares, who they say is the future of French cycling. Julian was second place on the toughest day, an aggressor in the race, and second overall. Our team is performing, we were fifth place at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, third last weekend in Belgium, or the Netherlands. We scored two second places or three second places in Italy. So we’re competing against the best, we’re vying for the spot so the promoters see that we’re an aggressive team, that we always attack the race to win, and we have riders capable of victory. Then you look on top of that, and the message that we bring and the lives we change by doing so; promoters can put on a bike race, put on a great show for fans, and save lives by having our team there. So it’s not bad, it can bring a warm fuzzy feeling to the people who are doing their job.

USCR: Sure. Now for the news from Wednesday. In February, well actually let’s go back a little bit before that because this year the Tour of California had a change – Andrew Messick stepped down to go to Triathlon and Kristin Bachochin stepped in, and she had stated in the press – I think it was in February – she stated that they “wanted to stress the importance of showcasing up and coming talent as a priority for the health of US cycling.” She kept stressing that this was extremely important to showcase US cycling, yet the race this year has left out some of the longest standing US teams like Jelly Belly, Jamis Sutter Home and Team Type 1, they’re all going to be missing this year in the race. Do you think that personnel change had any impact? I understand the race is bigger than any one person as far as the administration is concerned, but talk a little bit about that…because it wasn’t just your team, it was other teams, big US teams here that have shown and been present in the standings in California.

PS: I mean California was instrumental for us getting to the next level. They got us basically for the first time when we were continental, before we were pro-continental, and made us known around the world. And we had good results in California. We’ve had a good showing, great media reception, and the fans of California have really stepped behind us which has just been, when faced with yesterday’s news, like I said, shocking. I do see it somewhat ironic that they say they’re going to showcase American cycling and show off American talent, and then Colombia and IT4i, who do not have a single American rider, are invited. So, it's I understand, United Healthcare; what were the other pro-continental teams, do you recall?

USCR: Let’s see, it’s the Dutch, the 1T4i, the Columbia team. I mean, United Healthcare was the only US Pro-continent team that’s in there. Spidertech is there, but United Healthcare is the only American one that’s in there.

PS: I mean there’s four American teams at the top echelon of the sport - there’s Garmin, there’s BMC, there’s Team Type 1, and United Healthcare. She said she wanted to promote American cycling, so all four of those teams should be there. I don’t know what they’re thinking; I know that we were offered a spot for $100,000 on January 29th but when we tried…

USCR: Yes! I was going to ask you about that because a lot of people don’t talk about that, and I don’t think the fans realize that there is a cost to ride in these races, especially for the pro-continental teams and the continental teams, and that some teams either they can’t pay or they refuse to pay but it just doesn’t add up, and it seems that it’s gotten too political – what are your thoughts?

PS: Well my thoughts are this: when we go to the major races in Europe and around the world we get paid to go to the races, we get start money so that our travel is covered, our hotels are covered. There’s essentially zero expense for teams to go do a race like the Tour of Poland or the Tour of Turkey, or Criterium International.

USCR: Even like the Tour de Suisse?

PS: Even the Tour de Suisse!

USCR: Wow, okay

PS: And so for us to get our team to California, we’ve never gotten money from the organizers. I mean they pay for our hotels but not the airfare, not the travel, none of the cars. So for them to come and ask for an entry fee is baffling, and they asked us for this money, not because you can be active in the race, so you can buy VIP tickets, and you can buy a sponsorship package which I think you know it's okay if you’re a continental team and you want to get into the race and your sponsors are willing to do this. It is a great way to activate the sponsorship of cycling by bringing customers to the event by entering TV advertisements, it's just a small incremental investment, but our sponsor wants us in the community. They gave us a budget that we have to run our team, but also our other amateur program. So what I told AEG when they offered us this “package” was that I have $100,000 that I’ve budgeted to spend with people with Type 1 Diabetes, to send to diabetes camps this summer, to deliver hope and inspiration to these kids, and to get more kids with diabetes on bikes, which hopefully might save their life. So with holding the team’s mission, and with holding our sponsors relationship with us, I can’t invest money into an entry fee when we should be getting an invite anyway. We should have been invited to the race and I….

USCR: Okay, so technically that wasn’t an invite when they asked for that money? Or was that an option?

PS: Well, I mean if you activate that as well, you’ll be in the race, if you don’t activate it you won’t be in the race.

USCR: Okay

PS: Those were the verbatim words from our phone call with AEG.

Please stop by tomorrow to get Part2 of our interview with Phil Southerland --- Thanks Phil!

Current News

More inGeneral TOC News  News  Latest  News  Tech Stop  


SME Twitter Sidebar