Personal references are one of the most important factors I consider in making my decision. Character is vitally important when picking riders. I want guys who will work together, ride selflessly and be easy to get along with. A good personal reference is also the best safeguard I have against potential dopers. Generally I won't even consider a rider without a strong referral. So if you are sending me a resume, make sure you list someone on there who is well known and well respected in the community. For instance, when someone like Gord Fraser tells me that I would be crazy not to hire a certain rider, I listen. And if you are moving through the ranks with the goal of some day becoming a pro, seek out a mentor early on who meets these requirements. It's a great investment in your future.
At the Continental level, the UCI requires that a majority of the riders on your team be less than 28 years old. That means that on an 8-rider team, only three riders can be 28 or older. Therefore, age is the very first thing I look at on every resume I receive. I understand the reasoning behind the UCI rule but for several reasons, I think it is a bad policy.
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Twenty-eight is very young in a cyclist's career, and many of these young riders do not yet have the physical or emotional maturity to handle the rigors of professional racing. It also discourages young riders from pursuing an education before striking out on their pro career. Because of these factors, my personal philosophy is that I look for riders who have completed a college degree and are as close to the 27 year old cut off as possible. A rider over the age of 27 has to be truly exceptional to earn one of those coveted few "over" slots.
In the first year that I ran this team I hired a lot of good, all around riders but did not focus enough on specific strengths and weaknesses. When Wonderful Pistachios came on board as a title sponsor they asked me to target races that had expo and sampling opportunities for them. This meant the spectator friendly downtown circuit races and criteriums. Therefore I hired riders who could do well in these races; big, powerful, aggressive sprinters. I wanted riders who could not only win these races but would also make the race exciting for the spectators along the route.
A side benefit of these larger riders (two of my guys are 6-foot-4 or taller) is that they make a better moving billboard than a 5-3, 130-pound climber!
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Rate of Development
This is perhaps the biggest factor in determining the potential of a given racer. Take for example my rider Victor Riquelme. He has some top 10 results at the NRC level which by themselves would not turn my head. However, when you consider the fact that it is only his second year riding, those results suddenly take on greater meaning.
One thing that I learned over a 20-year racing career is that all the training in the world doesn't replace natural talent. As a racer, I worked very hard for many years and was extremely disciplined but ultimately my natural ability was my limiting factor. When I see a rider who has done in two years what took me 20, it tells me that they have tremendous natural talent and that they are nowhere near the limit of what they are capable of. Because we don't have a huge pay roll like some of the bigger teams, it is important for me to snatch up these riders while they are on their way up.
Ultimately, I hire each rider based on their ability to sell Pistachios, bikes and whatever other sponsors' products I am responsible for. Their ability to help the team win races is part of this but it is far from the only factor. The unfortunate truth is that our sport at the domestic level has very little built-in press. Winning a race, even at the NRC level often does very little for my sponsors. Therefore it is important that each rider bring something to the table above and beyond their cycling ability.
I look for riders who are very active in social networking and have large Facebook or Twitter followings. I look for riders who write blogs for cycling news website or training articles for websites and magazines. Since event marketing is the focus of the season for Wonderful Pistachios it is also important that my riders have the ability to interact with fans at a personal level. Looks are also a factor as riders who are easy on the eyes and photograph well tend to make it into the magazines and catalogs.
So now you have the inside scoop on what it takes to turn the head of a pro team director. There are many more racers out there than there are teams so it is vitally important that you excel in as many of these areas as possible.
If you are a spectator, think about some of these factors as you follow the sport to get an added perspective on what truly makes a successful professional bike racer.
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