I was really excited to meet him. Since I hadn't heard a lot about the project, but I knew there were many really big names behind it, I knew it would be big. We took a coffee and sat down, I thought it would be an hour, but I guess it took more than two and a half hours at the end. I guess when you have two cycling freaks talking about cycling, you shouldn't assume such things.
The 27 names behind the project are:
Juho Suikkari, Kimmo Kananen, Kjell Carlström, Jari Vanninen, Peter Selin, Patrick Wackström, Sixten Wackström, Marko Vauhkonen, Mika Hämäläinen, Kimmo Karhu, Oscar Stenström, Tauno Hietala, Peter Klimscheffskij, Vesa Rauttu, Pertti Linna, Jouni Hakala, Joona Laukka, Jussi Veikkanen, Harri Hedgren, Veikko Sinisalo, Juha Poutiainen, Kari Myllymäki, Vesa Mattila, Jukka Heinikainen, Christian Selin, Charley Wegelius and Jyrki Tujunen.
Many of you recognize some or most of of these names for sure. So after a "short" introduction of presenting myself to Marko and vice versa, I was eager to know how and why this project got started? It was easy for Marko to answer this question.
“For years we've seen many of our young talented riders struggle to get to the top, and there has been none or little support for these talented young riders. Last autumn I got a phone call from Juho Suikkari and together we decided that this trend can’t continue, we need to do something in order to bring cycling to a level where it deserves to be in this country. And with the current resources and investments, we knew it would be next to impossible to do so. So we decided to act, and more or less, that was the start for this project. Of course it took us a couple of days to send out invitations to a first ever meeting, but we were efficient and in just a few months we had started a project, made clear plans and started our work.”
It struck me how fast everything was built up. This of course is just a sign of how passionate these guys are about cycling and about their will to really do something important and big for cycling. At this point I was eager to know more and tried to take in all information possible.
Q: What are the main goals for the project?
“We want to look at this, not just as a single thing that will take our youth quickly to the top, but as a complete learning experience for our young riders. We have a clear mission to build sustainable, competitive and healthy youth. Money should not be an obstacle for anyone and our mission is to help, support and advice young riders how to be independent and help them gain international experience, which is such a crucial component in being successful.
Cycling races were won by individual efforts back in the 1930’s, but today you win and lose as a team.
All of us involved, we have a strong knowledge in the world of cycling all the way from the early -80’s, and we want to share that experience with our youngsters. We really want to emphasize the fact that cycling is a team sport more than anything else. We want our riders to really feel and internalize that what you give to the team, you’ll have back doubled. A team is as strong as its weakest link. Cycling races were won by individual efforts back in the 1930’s, but today you win and lose as a team.
And it’s not just about cycling, we of course want to prepare the youngsters for a life at the top, but also prepare them for a life after cycling, because we all know there is one. At some point the youngsters will grow older and hopefully they will be role models for the next generation of cyclists. It’s a complete package. Besides this we of course want to encourage everyone to ride their bikes and raise awareness about the sport itself. What also needs to be said, we are not competing with any national cycling clubs or the national cycling association in Finland (Suomen Pyöräilyunioni), we are here to support the youth together with the other clubs and the national association.”
All of that makes sense, right? Think about being a young rider and having a team like that behind you, supporting, sharing thoughts and advice with you. Being together with your role models and having them support you must be a “dream come true” for any athlete.
Q: What can you tell us about the support and visibility of the campaign so far?
“We’ve had a great start visibility-wise. Both Facebook and Twitter have attracted many followers without any big marketing so far. For social media we also have many great things to come when the season starts. We will also have some “visibility” in TV, and some stories will be shared along the cycling broadcasts for instance on Finnish Eurosport. We also have some great sponsors already with us, for instance Solvalla training centre (Solvalla idrottsinstitut - Solvallan urheiluopisto) where we also had our first training camp.”
So at this point, having the backgrounds I really wanted to know more about the cyclists, the team the first training camp, well everything. I tried to hold myself together.
Q: About the team, can you tell us more about the age group, what type of riders you have selected and how is the selection done?
“So a project life-cycle is 4 years and the target age group is 15-18 year old riders. We want to keep the “doors open” for everyone. For this year’s team we've been looking at last year’s results and gathered the cyclists who had the best results in their respective age groups. We will be competing with a 6 “man” strong team in each competition and we have 3 in reserve for each race. We do not classify or categorize our riders, we select them to each race separately and have a rotation on the lineups. We go into every race with a mentality that we can win that race, we give 110 % each time we are competing, as a team and on an individual level. If we see that there are other talented guys outside of our group who are improving and racing well, we keep our doors open for them of course. At that age there are huge differences in how the boys develop, some might develop at an early age, some might show their talent years later. That's why I say we keep our doors open, and that's the only way to go. “
Q: In social media we saw a couple of weeks ago pictures and some stories from your first training camp. How was it, what was the agenda and how would you sum up the training camp?
“Honestly, I’d say it was as good as a training camp can be. No, actually it was even better. It was one of the best training camps I've seen and experienced content-wise in my life. Probably it was so rich in content that the youngsters weren't able to assimilate everything, but if they were able to memorize 30 % of what was said, they already took a great leap forward as cyclists. Besides great lectures and support by Kimmo Kananen, Kjell Carlström and Charly Wegelius, we had an individual bike fit for the guys, surprisingly all had to make some adjustments in their positioning on the bike.