England cricketer Matt Prior has big aims for his new ONE Pro Cycling team which launches tonight. The squad is starting out on the lowest rung of the professional cycling ladder as a Continental team, but Prior says it's a "realistic target" for the team to ride the Tour de France within five years.
Prior's team launches at London's Millbank, coincidentally — or perhaps not — the venue for Team Sky's launch five years ago. There was scepticism back then about Dave Brailsford aim to win the Tour de France within five years, but after Sky's success Prior's plan of riding the Tour within five years seems quite achievable.
He's confident it can be done. Talking to The Telegraph's Tom Cary, Prior said: “I am hugely serious about this. I do think that five years is a realistic target. A year in sport is a long time. And actually you have to look to keep improving. There is no room for stagnating. The minute you become comfortable you get lazy.”
At just 32, Prior should be too young to switch from a successful cricket career to managing a cycling team, but a disastrous ankle injury — a torn Achilles tendon — has sidelined him for the moment, and perhaps permanently.
"I’m still committed to coming back and playing cricket, but I had a massive operation. I don’t think people appreciate quite how bad my injury was,” he said.
If he does manage to return to cricket, he believes he'll be able to combine playing with managing ONE Pro Cycling. His visibility as an England cricketer won't hurt the team's visibility either.
He said: "From the profile side of things, the better I do [in cricket] the better it would be for the team. But hopefully we get to a place where ONE Pro has a profile of its own. I would love it if people said, 'That is ONE Pro Cycling.’ Not, 'That is Matt Prior’s team.’ As I said before, this is not an ego trip.”
Perhaps someone's told Prior about the history of British cycling teams. Riders and the media have been seduced by under-prepared teams driven by ego and hopeless over-optimism, like ANC-Halfords and the Linda McCartney team.
Prior is determined to emphasise this is not the case with his squad.
"You have some guys who set up teams because they quite like the idea of riding with pro cyclists, taking them to their mate’s coffee shop or whatever," he said. "That is not what I am doing..
“What is my role exactly? Am I just a name to sell it or whatever? Not at all. I am the CEO of this company and like any CEO of any company, that is the amount of involvement I will have.
"I am involved in every decision, from clothing to equipment to staff. Believe me, I am hugely serious about this.”
Serious enough to be looking at that other team that launched in Millbank five years ago, planning to follow their path and earn a place in the public heart alongside them.
“Of course,” he says. “That is our ambition. We believe the market is there. But I definitely don’t want headlines saying, 'Matt Prior says ONE Pro can take Sky down’ because that is not what we are trying to do.
"What they’ve done is set a precedent, not just for other cycling teams but other sports teams.
"We know where we’re at. We’re not claiming to be anything we’re not. But with ambition comes dreams. We want to sign the top riders. We want to compete in the top races.
"Why wouldn’t you want to become as big as you can possibly be?”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.