"A happy rider is a fast rider" How Cornish team Saint Piran is rewriting the script
The Cornish professional team has a focus on "person-centred success" rather than "win at all costs".
Poised marvellously on wheels
as on wings, I pass
Through the green and golden landscape
daffodils and green grass
White beneath me the road slips
a river with green banks
And glowing through my golden mind
Cornwall’s beauty races.
It’s the 5th of March 2022. Like in Lascelles Abercrombie’s poem, translated by Helen Pascoe from Cornish into English, daffodils are blooming, and the pastures are lush. It’s finally a sunny day after a rough and stormy winter.
And it’s not just another day. The 5th of March is Saint Piran’s Day in Cornwall, a celebration of the county’s patron saint that sees parades, pasty competitions and street performances across its towns and hamlets.Jenny Bolsom (left), the women’s team principal and responsible, riding through the beautiful and tough Cornish roads (Photo: Colin Bradbury)
A special event is also scheduled in Bissoe, a small village south of Truro. It’s the presentation of 0503, Saint Piran’s new feeder team, and a celebration of the women’s team, which was launched last year, and has expanded to 14 riders for the 2022 season.
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On top of that, the Cornish cycling team, which also runs a UCI Continental squad, has launched men’s and women’s development teams focused on raw local talents.
Together, after the Saint Piran Day morning ride and before the Q&A with media, sponsors and the community, they gathered to read the original Cornish poem.
The feeder team
Harrison Hunter, road captain of the new 0503 feeder team (Photo: Dave Dodge)
The 0503 project takes the date of St Piran’s Day as its name. It aims to bridge the gap between Saint Piran’s Conti and the development teams and provide continuity within its riders’ cycling pathway.
“The UCI team is constantly developing, and it’s attracting better calibre riders every year. However, the development isn’t quite good enough to bridge that gap,” explains Harrison Hunter, a former rower and now road captain for 0503. “So the 0503 project aims at taking riders from Cat 2 and bringing them to the next level. We work very closely with the Conti team so our riders can learn from the very best athletes.”
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Hunter, who also has a Master’s in Applied Physiology, acts as a go-between linking the young riders and the team. In a way, he’s the perfect example of how Saint Piran engages with its riders, aiming to provide a support network to help them thrive on and off the bike. It’s an approach that they’re applying to both the male and female teams.
Saint Piran's women's team at the presentation in Bissoe (Photo: Dave Dodge)
Saint Piran’s women’s team was launched last year by Jenny Bolsom, who's also the women’s team principal and responsible (and the driving force behind the women's development team as well). It now allows female riders the same opportunities as their male counterparts. This includes paid race entries and the same Lapierre and Castelli kit, plus, more crucially, an environment based on the same shared values.
“Family is our main value,” says Meghan Chard, Directeur Sportif and Assistant Manager. “Everyone’s got a different background. Everyone’s come from different teams. Everyone’s got good stories, bad stories, but we’ve come together and created this amazing environment. So all the girls are going to be able to excel.”Megan Chard, Directeur Sportif and Assistant Manager of Saint Piran's women's team (Photo: Dave Dodge)
This sense of belonging is helped by the fact the team doesn’t display a sponsor on its jerseys. Instead, they carry the team and its patron saint’s name on their chests. And they plan to keep it that way.
“Saint Piran means something to every one of us,” says Chard. “It’s all good having a team that’s based on sponsors. But our team, Saint Piran, that’s who we are. I think by having that, it brings you together and makes sure you have a collective which is something not many other teams have.”
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"A happy rider is a fast rider" is one of Saint Piran's mottos (Photo: Dave Dodge)
It’s not all numbers and performance at Saint Piran. Sure, to develop within the team, you need to be good at riding your bike. Still, the approach to unlocking a rider’s potential is very different from most other teams. It sounds corny, but it’s not. It’s Cornish. And you get it only when you travel, live, and ride here.
“A happy rider is a fast rider, and the riders’ welfare is the most important factor here,” says Hunter.
Saint Piran makes sure its riders are happy by providing a close and robust support network and a sense of belonging. But, at the same time, it’s also aware everyone is different, and people need further input.
“Different athletes require different things,” says Hunter. “Some of them need more support than others, some need more push, and some need a bit of space. It’s really important to have that awareness and not create one approach that fits all.”Saint Piran's UCI Continental team at the 2021 Tour of Britain (Photo: Colin Bradbury)
This becomes even more critical when young riders put in a lot of work and preparation, but things don’t go to plan.
“Dealing with that kind of pressure and managing that stress is really hard,” says Hunter. “So ultimately, it’s about helping athletes enjoy what they’re doing and empowering them to learn more about the whole process and not just any single element.”
Saint Piran’s approach isn’t new for 2022 but has developed steadily since its inception. Its method relies on three pillars: understanding where the riders are coming from, where they are now in their lives and career, and how it can help them move forward. Richard Pascoe, Saint Piran's founder and team principal (Photo: Dave Dodge)
“We certainly look at the training, the aspects of bike racing, but cycling is also a tool that helps people discover themselves,” says Richard Pasoe, Saint Piran's founder and team principal. “I always say to a rider when we’re interviewing them to see if they fit with us, that I want to see the white stuff, the smile. I want to see a smile on the rider’s face because bike riding and racing is hard.”
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The Cornish way
Mark Cavendish and the peloton at the 2021 Tour of Britain trying to understand what's going in Cornwall (Photo: Dave Dodge)
When the team decided not to host a sponsor on its jersey, it had to find support differently. That’s why Saint Piran focused on other aspects first, some of which allow it to craft its own narrative. These include fan engagement, strong core values, cultural identity, tradition, and a sense of belonging. And, of course, the Cornish art of figuring it out as they go.
“I don’t sleep,” half-jokes team founder Richard Pascoe. “But I would say my basic model is doing as much as possible with a limited budget. So we do ride with clients, and we occasionally do crowdfunding”.
Pascoe’s businesses have also been roped in to help, including the bike cafe in Bissoe where the teams were presented, plus his bike shop in Redruth.
“Every penny that my companies make has gone into the teams,” he explains. “So when you buy a coffee or cake, that helps support the team.”
Saint Piran does not display a sponsor on their jerseys, but only the team's name (Photo: Dave Dodge)
But Saint Piran has other supporters, too.
“We have amazing partners, and we’ve got sponsors that are growing all the time,” he says. “We’re not a flash in the pan, we’re six years in. Most teams come and go every two or three years. But we want some longevity, and they can see the worth in that.”
The next step for Saint Piran is to launch a five-year social impact plan to develop its progressive approach further. Key to this is ensuring it supports riders and staff in looking after their mental and physical wellbeing in a discipline where that goal is often forgotten.Photo: Dave Dodge.
“Real success is retaining somebody in an organisation, not winning a race,” says Pascoe. “So we’ve been looking after our riders from day one.”
This year the team will target a range of races, from the National Road and Tour Series to the Rás na mBan and other European events. Bringing the same approach wherever they ride, the team will keep looking to win benefits for its community and riders that extend beyond just its place in the rankings.