It’s a warm spring day in London as we sit down at the café, and ONE Pro Cycling has its season is well underway. It seems like a while since the team launch in January and the race calendar opener, the Perfs Pedal back in February – a race dominated by the team, with Yanto Barker winning and his teammates occupying the places next to him on the podium.
That race proved to be a showcase of what’s to come from the new squad set up by cricketer, Matt Prior; a demonstration of the depth of its firepower.
As we take our places around the table, Yanto is quick to introduce Steve Benton, the team’s Performance Coach, and point out what he means to have him in the team’s list of staff in one line. “Steve is a legend,” says Yanto.
Their relationship isn’t new; Nigel Mansell first introduced them when Yanto was the principle rider at Team UK Youth back in 2012. Their closeness is difficult to fathom. It’s like they’re part of a gang.
“When we were introduced back in 2012, I wasn’t particularly interested in having a coach. Nigel (Mansell) had said that Steve should coach everyone, bar me. He trusted me to get myself into shape,” says Barker.
Yanto has been a pro for 17 years, half his life, and his career has been peppered with performances that has seen him regularly punch above his weight. It’s testament to his ability as a rider.
“I was actually coaching Chris Opie back then, but then in 2014, Nigel asked me to take things up a level,” says Steve Benton. “When I first started working with Yanto it was on a casual basis, but Yanto is a smart guy, if you present him with proven data, he’ll listen.”
Steve Benton has had a long career in coaching. It’s a role that came after he’d taken his own cycling career as far as he felt he could.
“I was a fairly average track sprinter, but I got to my mid-20’s and decided that I wanted to go back to studying. I started lecturing and then a couple of offers came my way. One was through British Gymnastics and the other was through TV, “ says Steve.
He goes on to explain that he coached a couple of athletes in the ITV hit game show, Gladiators. It was the backdrop to Saturday evenings for seven years. Resisting the urge to discuss whether or not Wolf was as fierce in the flesh, the conversation turns back to cycling.
“I didn’t mean to get into coaching cyclists,” says Steve. “It was my sport, it was my thing and I had no motivation to work in it.”
It’s all changed when Magnus Backstedt contacted Steve a decade go when he was looking for a coach that was approaching the sport from a different angle. To get something different, he chose someone different, someone from a different sport.
“Back then I was working in motorsport; F1 and World Rally and Magnus was at Garmin. He’d heard about me as I was playing with power metres and strain gauges. I’d actually started using power back in 1998 when power metres were in their infancy,” tells Steve.
Nigel was as meticulous when running UK Youth, as he was when he was in his pomp behind the wheel of a F1 car. Yanto tells us that Nigel had hired a team of Russian data analysis to go to circuits prior to the race and report back on the surface or the track, the climate and any other findings that would give him an edge over his competitors. Having all the information, his team could make the right choices for equipment.
As performance coach, Steve doesn’t just write out the training plans (although he does spend a lot of time carefully planning these). He’s been imperative to all areas of ONE Pro Cycling including the choices the team has made concerning its equipment sponsors.
“When I agreed to come on board, everything happened quickly. Matt Prior gave me the full remit on the performance specifications. At the time we didn’t have a name or a backer and it was tricky. It was the same as recruiting riders. We knew who we wanted, but I couldn’t tell the riders anything other than that I was a part of it,’” explains Steve.
“With the kit, Becky Frewing [ONE Pro Cycling’s Race Team Manager], Matt Winston [Sports Director] and I drew up a shopping list of what we wanted, based on data as to which would suit us the best, in terms of our riders and the races we’d be doing”.
The sponsors, which include Cervelo and Enve wheels are proven on independent test that they more than stand up against their own frame and wheel rivals.
“With regards to our equipment, this started back with Nigel. He’s a data analysis. This relates to the riders, the kit we use and we decided to create a black and white question and answer, yes or no, to the riders, the kit, the bikes, and the wheels. The process was “does this make us go faster” if the answer was yes then we went with it, if it was no it was out. Is this optimum?” says Yanto, adding, “There’s only one optimum. Everything else is slower”
“There’s only one optimum. Everything else is slower.”
It’s a poignant statement coming from Yanto, who now 35-years-old doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“There are plenty of riders that have the ability and the motivation, Yanto is one of them. Cycling, even at Elite level, is a non-impact sport so to you can maintain your peak into your mid, and occasionally your late thirties. The thing with Yanto is, he’s open to new ideas. He was open to me. He was up for the suggestions I made to him,” says Steve referring with a smile to Yanto self-prescribed training regime.
“This attention to detail that the team has adopted, with the help of Steve will help me to stay at the top for longer,” says Yanto, “but more than that it helps me to get the best out of myself. There are no accidents. There’s no wastage. There’s no “I didn’t see that coming” in terms of a rider’s form. You know exactly why you’re there, what you’re doing and what is and what isn’t in the realms of possibility. What’s in my control, what’s out of my control,” says Yanto.
“At first I was fairly old school about my training,” shooting Steve a look of recognition as to his previous comments about his basic training plans. “I’d look at the clock in the morning and do four hours. It could be more, it could be less. Now Steve analyses everything to the finest degree, from percentages in each zone and the intensity of the session. Every pedal stroke is specifically designed to do something. There are no accidents anymore.”
What is it that makes these sessions so successful? Yanto continues, “When we get back from a ride we download the data straight away and send it to Steve. He makes sure we’re ticking the boxes and we give him our feedback. This is where we get to say what we think, like whether or not we’re on top of it or if it’s stressing us out. Quite often it’s comments like “it’s too hard!””
Steve nods in agreement and then tells us matter of factly that, “Any idiot can come up with a hard session, what I have to do is come up with the right session at the right time.”
“Any idiot can come up with a hard session, what I have to do is come up with the right session at the right time.”
“Some of these intervals are hard and when you’re not hitting the numbers you want to stop. In my mind I’m cursing him, I’m sure Steve knows this.” There’s that wordless exchange between the two again.
“I remember the first time this happened to me I felt like a failure and I went to Steve and said that I needed help with this. I was so close to throwing my bike in a hedge. He said, I know what it feels like, but you have to complete the process. If it’s two minutes, it doesn’t mean 1 minute 58, because it’s the process.”
As Steve said, he was early to adopt the usage of power meters for training and the first thing he did when he joined ranks at UK Youth was put every rider on SRM cranks.
“I’m known as a numbers guy, but you know what the most important thing is? It’s athlete in front of me. What I’m seeing. What they’re telling me. It’s a digital age, but we’re not digital, we’re very organic. You can come up with machine names and different monikers, but that’s ultimately what they are,” says Steve.
The understanding of what makes elite athletes tick is why Steve is so highly regarded at ONE Pro Cycling and throughout the industry and by his peers. His training methods are doing the trick, but he isn’t cloak and dagger about what plans he sets for his flock. Instead he’s open to chat about the kind of training they’re doing.
“At ONE Pro Cycling, we’ve got 12 riders and the team has certain agendas. Within the team we have 12 individual athletes, which I helped to select so they compliment each other. You can’t have 11 centre forwards,” says Steve.
“Within the team we have 12 individual athletes, which I helped to select to compliment each other. You can’t have 11 centre forwards.”
“From a coaching perspective, each one of those riders is going to have particular aims and objectives given where they are in that season. Every rider needs their own approach.”
It’s obvious that the methodology to training is taken seriously. Team riders are asked a lot about their training from other pros, but they’re not doing anything too far removed from what everyone else is doing, they just appear to be doing it better, as Steve explains.
“Everyone knows what the ingredients are, it’s how you blend them that counts.”
“Everyone knows what the ingredients are, it’s how you blend them that counts. It’s when you know there isn’t enough of something and too much of something else. It’s all the same ingredients, it’s just how you blend them.”
It’s a perfect metaphor for not just training, but for balancing your life. When Steve first came on board, it was at the time Yanto’s cycling apparel company was beginning to take huge leaps forward and he likens the forecasting Steve was doing to a rider’s form to the forecasting he was doing for Le Col, also the team’s kit supplier.
“At the time Le Col was getting bigger and this analysis is what I was doing with the company. I was doing forecasts and was projecting sales and how much money I was going to need, how long it was going to take. For me, this was the same thing. I was forecasting my form in the same way I was forecasting for Le Col,” says Yanto.
Our coffee cups are empty and it doesn’t feel like a moment has past since we first sat down. The sun is still out.
The depth in talent at ONE Pro Cycling extends further than the 12 guys that push on the pedals. Great things can be expected of them, because great things are planned for them.
Like Steve says about blending the ingredients of training, the same could be said for the blending the team. From riders through to the people behind the scenes. They really are all ONE.