The idea behind my project was to create a website dedicated to the profiling of promising young road cyclists from around the world. The specific category of cyclists that I wanted to focus on is under-23 level, a pool of cyclists between the ages 18-22 who are one level away from turning professional. Each profile would either be published as an interview, or it would take the form of an article, with a contribution from the rider himself. The project will only profile male cyclists because there is no under-23 equivalent in women’s cycling. An alternative focus on young female cyclists would make an interesting, ambitious undertaking, but it would have to be a separate project.
What’s appealing about running a website focusing on under-23 riders is that, while anything outside the professional sphere doesn’t get much exposure, there’s often considerable interest amongst cycling fans as to who the ‘next big thing’ is in the sport. There are a handful of websites doing something similar, but there’s no English language website doing exactly what I wanted to do.
Since I have aspirations to establish myself as a sports writer, I can use this project as a platform, especially since cycling is the sport I’m most knowledgable about. Previously, on an annual basis, I’ve successfully picked out young riders starting their careers who have great potential. This convinced me that I have the ability to recognise and judge talent, and that going a step further with this particular interest of mine would be worthwhile.
Having deliberated over possible domain names, I settled with U23peloton.com and chose a simple, minimalist theme. I set myself a target of publishing 20 profiles and receiving at least 1,000 site hits, with the awareness that I would only find out in time whether such targets were feasible. This was, after all, a venture into unknown territory. I was also keen on reaching a global readership – which could be judged through WordPress’ analytics – and would be working with several translators.
The next task was to start contacting riders I was targeting, riders who I believed had exceptional potential. This would involve obtaining email addresses through personal websites, press officers, or even across Twitter. I would also be using Twitter as a tool for promoting U23 Peloton.
First off, I contacted a Norwegian rider named Odd Christian Eiking, whose email address was unusually displayed on his personal website. I wasn’t sure whether to expect a response, but Odd emailed me back within a few days, answering all of my questions.
I was successful with my next target, too: the British cyclist Scott Davies, who I could also contact via his website, gave me a friendly, rapid response with full, interesting answers. This profile was far more successful in terms of site views than Odd’s had been, largely because I’d had my publicising tweet retweeted by Scott, and in turn this had been retweeted a few more times.
I was discovering that, although each completed profile was satisfying in its own way, success was variable. Odd, not being comfortable with English – though I had given him the option of answering in Norwegian – had given short responses that didn’t offer as much as I’d hoped. Neither had he linked to the profile on social media, so it was disappointing that all the work I put in to research didn’t yield many views. On the other hand, the success of Scott’s profile made the effort I’d put in feel worthwhile. I accepted that much of what made a successful profile was out of my hands.
A setback arrived when I used Twitter for the first time to contact a cyclist. I’d only had positive responses to date, but this particular rider insinuated in a direct message that I’d shared his email address with other people [artifacts], which was a completely unfounded accusation. This, combined with his aggressive manner, knocked my confidence and entirely put me off using Twitter as a means of contacting my targets.
This development, which dated back to late January, came at a bad time. I had been suffering from depression through autumn and the winter months, which had already set back my project. I made a measured response to his claim, but I never heard back from him again, and I found the whole experience unsettling.
This was the lowest point of the project, but there were other frustrations. Many riders and teams that I contacted never got back to me, and so research and lists of questions that I’d prepared were wasted. After several failed communications I learnt that it would be best to make contact first before starting on detailed research, but in some cases I would have a positive response followed by silence upon my contacting them again. Again, such disappointments were out of my hands.
I realised that the schedule I’d drawn up – whereby I would post a new article every ten days or so – was unworkable. I also accepted that publishing twenty profiles was an unrealistic goal.
Nonetheless, perseverance with some of my targeted riders yielded results. I successfully received responses from a couple of riders, Rayane Bouhanni and Loïc Vliegen, via their respective teams’ press officers. This was my first experience liaising with press officers, and I found that though clearly busy, they tended to be friendly and helpful. I also was able to contact a couple of Italian riders, Davide Martinelli and Edoardo Affini, through their team’s media officer. This was a difficult, complicated and protracted process, however, as all communication had to be translated by my Italian translator. Nevertheless, I wanted diversity from my profiles, and I was happy with the end result.
Trip to Belgium
In April, I was fortunate to go to Ghent, Belgium, for a long weekend. From Ghent I took the train to the town of Oudenaarde to watch a prestigious under-23 race, de Ronde van Vlaanderen Beloften. There I was able to interview an Australian rider, Alex Edmondson, before the start of the race. I would have liked to have interviewed more than one rider, but I was nervous and time was limited, as documented in my journal.
I typed up the interview and published it while the race was still in its early stages, and, to my delight, it was Alex himself who took a breakthrough win a few hours later. I was also able to take photos that I could use for my website, and distributed some business cards that I had designed.
Ultimately, I fell well short of my unrealistic target of twenty profiles. My two most recent profiles of Danish rider Magnus Bak Klaris and American Alexey Vermeulen have taken my profile count up to nine.
There were cases, such as Edoardo Affini’s profile, where I only received his answers over three months after originally contacting him. Overall, the time spent on wasted research took its toll, but having sought feedback from readers of my website, I learnt that the Affini profile was the most popular. Therefore, although communicating with non-English-speaking riders has meant I’ve had to settle with publishing fewer profiles, the extensive work I did in researching the more ‘exotic’ riders – which involved trawling through pages of foreign websites for scraps of information – seemed to have paid off.
On the positive side, my current view count of 1,134 is more than my conservative target. 653 of these views count as unique visitors and my website has been viewed in 35 different countries, satisfying my aim of a reaching a global demographic. I’ve only received a handful of blog followers, but this includes a well-known rider agent with strong links across the cycling world.
I’m also being followed on Twitter by three of the riders I profiled: Scott Davies, Magnus Bak Klaris and Alexey Vermeulen, which might seem trivial if it weren’t for the expectation I have that these riders may emerge in a few years as stars of the sport. For a potential sports journalist, building contacts is invaluable.
Despite some difficulties experienced on Twitter, using the platform has generally been positive and even though I haven’t tweeted much in the last few months other than to publicise my blog, my follower count has risen from 86 at the beginning of July to 106 in little over a month. I intend to build on this and use Twitter much more in the future.
Though I encountered setbacks along the way, the project has ultimately been successful and rewarding, and it has been a valuable learning experience. One of my goals was to further my name as a prospective journalist, and although this is a work in progress, I am on the right track. Communicating with riders and press officers has also been useful experience for me. This is especially the case since I have Asperger Syndrome, which means that writing an email – let alone doing a face-to-face interview – doesn’t come intuitively to me, and can often be stressful.
Moving forward, my feedback provided some suggestions as to how the project might be expanded, which includes writing profiles of under-23 races as well as the riders themselves. Feedback, including from ‘my’ riders, has been positive. This has encouraged me to continue to use the website in the future, and I look forward to seeing some of the riders I’ve profiled go on to great things.