Team Zappi Punching Above their Weight
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Story posted May 21, 2010; Words by Adam Tranter
Lurking around the business end of the British Cycling national team rankings this season is a team that not many would have thought would be challenging some of the top teams. Cycling in the UK is now big business. 2010 is a season where some teams have increased budgets to take on more riders and challenge multiple races throughout the UK and abroad. So what is a team of six Under 23 riders and a retired former professional, with a tiny budget doing lying fifth in the national rankings?
East Midlands CiCLE Classic and Jack Kirk strings out the peloton
You’d have to ask Flavio Zappi that. Zappi is a local legend who finished 12th in Milan San Remo back in 1984. He took a 21-year break from the sport before regaining his love for cycling in 2007. Now 50, Zappi runs a coffee shop in Oxford, which has proved to be a haven for local cyclists looking for inspiration, advice and a friendly meeting place.
It was here that spurred on the idea for an inclusive cycle club and a racing team that could capitalise on the abundance of talented and keen young cyclists in the local Oxford area. “I started riding with the University guys and they thought it was funny that there was an old bloke on a battered bike keeping up with them,” recalls Zappi.
“When I got more and more into cycling again, I found some of them coming around the café looking for somewhere to hang out and talk cycling. They were also asking me for advice on racing and tactics. It was then I spotted the gap in the area,” he explains. “There are some talented people around Oxford but lots of them haven’t got a clue how to race.”
Zappi then spent the latter part of 2009, and the early part of 2010 formulating his plan for Team Zappi’s with local businessman Tony Mitchell; a more formal structure to help give a group of Under 23s an Oxford education in cycle racing. Team Zappi’s have a vision to fuel a cycling revolution by providing an aspirational goal for young cyclists. They do this by setting high standards and expectations of the racing team whilst providing an inclusive environment within the wider club and community.
With a modest budget of just a few thousand pounds for the whole year, Zappi’s has been reliant on the equipment sponsors that keep the team going every weekend. Sabbath Bicycles, the titanium bike company that has sponsored teams every year it has traded, have provided the team with Sabbath Monday’s Child race bikes and mechanic assistance.
Team Zappi’s now has more than 80 club members with over half of these holding a British racing licence, many of which are new to the sport of cycling and racing. But Team Zappi’s is far more than a team mustered together from a group of café-frequenters. The cycling café culture may be part of the Zappi’s team lifestyle, but most weekends it’s serious training or elite level races all over the country.
There are no wages and no win bonuses (except for a free Cappucino for a good performance). The riders and staff involved with Team Zappi’s do it because they want to see youngsters develop in the sport. One such youngster is Jack Kirk, a cyclist who has been racing all throughout his teens, but has never quite reached his potential.
Kirk, now 20, is the perfect cycling climber. He’s compact, lean, light and currently ranked 4th on the elite national rankings. It’s handy when your knowledgeable manager can keep up on the road, especially as earpieces have been removed from the UK peloton. Kirk’s recent win in the Glade CC & Hainault RC Spring Road Race, an E/1/2 category event was helped by Zappi’s tactical presence on the road.
“It was a fantastic team effort" the former professional (pictured above) explains. "We had 5 riders in the top 20. Jack [Kirk] really proved he was strong today. I raced just to help the boys with tactics and it worked perfectly; it was brilliant.” Kirk put away established elites such as Simon Gaywood to take that victory. But it didn’t stop there, Kirk went on to get an impressive 9th at the Chas Messenger race, one of the most established elite races in the country. In total, three Team Zappi’s riders placed in the Top 25.
“It’s such a completely new atmosphere to anything I’ve been involved in with cycling,” praises Kirk. “I’ve been on a bike for a long while but I never thought that this year I’d be performing to the level I am; I’ve surprised myself. It’s all about finding the right races that suit my ability and learning tactically from what Flavio [Zappi] has to offer.”
Currently, Team Zappi’s are ahead of Pendragon – Le Col – Colnago, Rapha – Condor – Sharp, Team Raleigh, Corley Cycles and Cycle Premier / Metaltek. “It’s not a bad showing for a team of our budget. We just like to do everything we do the best we can, whether that’s training, eating, relaxing or learning; cycling is a 24/7 thing. Most of all we enjoy doing what we do, day in, day out,” says Zappi.
For a team that’s been together less than six months, it’s not a bad start. In fact, if it keeps progressing at the current rate, it’ll be close to an inspirational story of the underdogs. Team Zappi’s have big ambitions for the future. There immediate aim is to cement their place in the front runners of the national rankings and targeting the key races on the national road calendar. Then in 2011, the team is looking to increase its Under 23 rider base, expand their European race calendar and gain selection for some Major Tours.
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