Following a renewed sponsorship deal between title sponsors, Rapha Condor and Sharp – the no.1 ranked British Continental team – will build on its most successful season since it's 2006 inception with an exciting new direction in 2012.
In 2011 Rapha Condor Sharp riders took major U.C.I wins in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as dominating the British domestic scene- where the team won over half of the 8 rounds on the way to a dominant overall win in the Halfords Tour Series, and a second National Criterium title.
These crowning achievements were the culmination of sustained investment over the last five years by team owners Rapha and Condor, as well as, over the last two years, major sponsorship from Sharp, combined with the astute management of John Herety. This ambitious merger of sponsors and management has seen the Rapha Condor Sharp team develop from a group of talented amateurs to become the UK's number one ranked Continental team over each of the last three years.
The 'men in black' certainly have nothing left to prove in UK racing. After such success the team's natural progression could have simply been a move into the UCI Pro continental ranks, however the management determined that a much more interesting and perhaps challenging new direction for the team should instead be created. A direction which reflects not only the sponsors evident ambition as well as their passionate belief in British racing, but which will also help to provide a platform for young British talent and support the burgeoning U.K. racing scene.
Simon Mottram, C.E.O of Rapha, is clearly enthused about the team's new direction "We firmly believe that the Rapha Condor Sharp team can make more of a contribution to UK racing by taking a different approach, with a different ambition".
"We all hope that a new generation of fans are being drawn to cycle racing and, among them will be hundreds if not thousands of young hopefuls, keen to try out racing and emulate their new heroes".
"And yet, these promising juniors and espoirs have very few opportunities or openings to get into the sport and move up through the ranks. For all the professional teams competing for TV airtime and UK professional race victories, few structured programs exist to develop and nurture British racing talent. The British cycling academy only has spaces for the best eight young riders each year. There are no programs in this country to rival the proven systems such as those run by Rabobank or AN-Post".
"Starting in 2012 Rapha Condor Sharp aims to fill that gap with its own development program and, ultimately, a cycle racing academy".
"We believe that the new 'development focus' of the Rapha Condor Sharp team and the creation of the Rapha Condor Academy is a natural next step for our companies and we are very excited about the journey ahead".
Rapha Condor Sharp will remain a top-flight professional racing team with a fierce passion for winning races however from 2012 onwards, the focus of the team will clearly change. Instead of grabbing the podium as many times as possible today, the team will invest in the talent that should be dominating the podium in the years to come.
While racing, and indeed cycling as a whole, has developed strongly in the U.K. in recent years and the high profile Sky team has exposed the crème of British talent at the highest level, domestically the sport has also continued to improve. Well-funded domestic teams have begun to emerge, and races such as the Tour Series and Tour of Britain are becoming firm fixtures on the racing calendar and nations TVs.
Rapha Condor Sharp have determined for the level of the sport to rise even further still a commitment is required to young riders racing at ‘grass roots' levels on British shores. These riders require the support that team structures such as Rapha Condor Sharp will be able to offer in 2012.
The team's number one ambition will be to develop and nurture talent so that the best young UK riders move up through the ranks to the best teams in the world. This will be achieved by providing race programs, as well as the best in coaching, equipment and management along with close working relationships with Professional Continental and World Tour teams.
As well as the obvious benefits for the individuals, Rapha Condor Sharp believes that the sport as a whole in the country will gain. The sport still needs to be able to attract high profile sponsors, such as Sharp, who come from outside of cycling, to help develop the sport.
Rapha Condor and Sharp believe that this project will be especially interesting to these types of sponsors, giving them a chance to be associated with the themes of personal development and grass roots support, as well as racing success.
The riders for 2012 have been carefully selected to make sure the new recruits will join right alongside some of the team's most prolific winners over recent years. The blend of proven race winners and raw talent will be an exciting and refreshing mixture that proves the teams departure from the squad that has managed to sustain a very similar line-up over the past three years. The team will also continue to take on a small contingent of international riders, until such a time that the wealth of British talent is enough that a team can be entirely made up of UK riders.
In 2012, London's all-important Olympic year, the team will retain Olympic team members Andrew Tennant and Ed Clancy MBE, Gold Medallist at the Beijing Games. The team will also continue to gain experience from former National Champion Kristian House, as well as the longest serving member of the team Dean Downing. James McCallum an integral link in the 2011 criterium squad also stays. All of these riders bring a wealth of influence and experience to the team, and will play an active role in mentoring the six domestic U23 riders who will be added to the team next season.
The first new signings to be announced are Richard Handley, Luke Mellor, Tim Kennaugh and Oliver Rossi (all UK) Richard Lang, Ben Grenda (both AUS), and Christopher Jennings (SA).