The NTT Continental Cycling Team is the u23 feeder team to our World Tour outfit. The team is based out of Lucca, Italy, but with COVID-19 bringing all cycling competition to a halt, their season has also been greatly affected. We caught up with team manager, Kevin Campbell, to get an update on the teams situation.
Going back to the beginning of the year, can you provide a general update of how the continental team’s season began?
The year started well for our team and the African riders in our squad. While competing for their respective national team our Eritrean and Ethiopian riders competed in the Tour of Gabon and Tour of Rwanda. Natnael Tesfazion won the Tour of Rwanda after finishing 2nd in the Tour of Gabon by only one second. Henok Mulueberhan, his Eritrean teammate, was right up in there in the results with him.
Connor Brown was beaten in a sprint and finished second in the U23 New Zealand national champs. Marc Pritzen worked well to support Ryan Gibbons in winning the SA Champions jersey.
Our European based riders joined our World Tour (WT) team in Spain on their early season training camp and the experience they had training alongside their WT colleagues will prove invaluable in their cycling careers.
The continental team consists of twelve u23 riders from 7 different countries, how has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your riders?
Most of our team members arrived in Italy in February and have been in Lucca since. Our EU team members were able to return to their respective homes and these riders spent the majority of the past 2 months at home with their families.
Unfortunately, as our two Eritreans and Ethiopian team members were only scheduled to arrive in Italy at the end of March, they had to remain in their home countries as the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent. We hope to have them join our team as soon as international air travel opens again.
How has the team remained active during the Covid-19 pandemic? (Any meetings, Zwift racing, monitoring rider progress, providing coaching & support to the riders etc.)
Modern technology has enabled us to communicate daily with most of our team members. All the riders, except for the three riders still in Africa, have been joining virtual team training rides. They have competed in many Zwift races and events, and they have trained together using Zwift too.
Our coach, Jens van Beylen, speaks to each rider just about every day and their training has been progressing well. He has had opportunities to identify and work with the riders to improve any apparent weaknesses and build their strengths. Normally our race program would be in full swing at this time and luckily, we have been able to use this time constructively.
We have also been able to join many team meetings alongside our WT team members where Douglas Ryder, Bjarne Riis and the support staff have discussed topics such as motivation, values and cycling in general. This interaction has also been invaluable.
Has the service course in Lucca still been operational, have the conti staff still been able to work?
Lockdown restriction meant that we were not able to work in our office and SC, but we made plans to ensure that the riders in Lucca were well supported during the lockdown period. The four riders staying in the team house in Lucca all managed to share the different tasks required such as shopping, cooking, and cleaning. The team support staff were able to work from home when required.
Unfortunately, there have not been any opportunities to plan for the rest of the year from a racing perspective yet, but as the race calendars are finalised and the COVID-19 situation improves we will be able to prepare for the events of our abbreviated season.
What have been some of the continental teams’ major concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic?
We have had no real concerns during this unplanned delay to our racing season. Team moral has been good, and our riders have embraced the different training method forced on them with good humour. They have all been active participants in all the team meetings and online race and training sessions.
Unfortunately, communicating with the three riders in Africa has been challenging and we could not work with these team members as thoroughly as we might have liked. All said though, our team is in good spirits and good health and we aim to be ready for the races when they finally start.
The conti team has always had some riders graduate to the pro ranks each season, is it even feasible to think the same is possible this season?
We do have some team members that are riding in their final U23 season and these riders were hoping to win races and graduate to the pro ranks. The current pandemic has made their challenge harder, but all their competitors for positions are facing the same challenges. We will try to prepare them physically and mentally to face these challenges and hopefully their abilities will become apparent in their results.
What will happen to the riders who are in their final year as u23’s this season, is there any sort of fear that they might all be “a lost generation”?
There has been talk about making some sort of special consideration for final year junior or U23 riders affected by the events of 2020, but as we know cycling is an unforgiving sport and cyclists always face numerous challenges on and off the road. This is another one of those challenges and those riders that can perform despite these issues will prove to be those that deserve to continue their careers as professionals.
Can you see the silver lining yet? Is there a UCI calendar of events in place for the u23 team for the remainder of 2020 and if so, when do you think the team will be back on the road?
The UCI race calendars are being finalized as we speak. It looks like we will have a short, intense 3-month racing season from August to October. If the planned calendar takes place uninterrupted there will be plenty of opportunity for our team members to race and develop.
So, what will the key events, goals and/or objectives of the continental team be this year?
At this level of racing all our races are important, more so now that the season has been condensed too. Bigger events like the U23 Giro d’Italia will always be considered more prestigious but as all U23 and elite events are so competitive, a good result in any of the races count and only the best riders win.
We have been based as a team in Italy for four years now and our sponsors and the support and guidance we receive by working with our WT team is fantastic. This will prove to be a very challenging season, but I am confident that we will continue to grow as a team.