• X-Speed United riders at the Tour of Belt and Road in Hong Kong (X-Speed)
Formed by the roadside of the Tour of Poyang Lake in late September, X-Speed United is built on international cooperation, a new funding model and the promise of the Asian racing scene, all in the aid of developing young riders from Australia, Hong Kong and Canada.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
17 Dec 2018 - 7:47 AM  UPDATED 18 Dec 2018 - 10:20 AM

Run by self-described 'team owner, manager and dogsbody' Amanda O'Connor the men's team is a new addition to the 2019 men's Continental teams roster with a women's regional team also set to run. O'Connor, based out of Perth, is an energetic and passionate coach who has run numerous programs for riders of all abilities, with much of her time focused on developing young talent on the track and the road.

Cycling Central caught up with O'Connor to talk about what the goals of the ambitious project are and how the idea came into being.  

"Where it all started," said O'Connor, "there's the Pacific Youth Track tournament back in 2016 over here in Perth. It's a biannual junior event that's been going about 15 years.

"We had to raise $70,000 to put it on and we got people from all over Asia coming. That's where I met Andrew Szeto from Hong Kong, he's the real mover and shaker from over there, he goes out to schools and brings new kids into the sport and does development all the way up to the High-Performance pathways.

"It started with a discussion of a couple of kids that he was looking to send over to Perth to go to school and train here. I went over to Hong Kong and took a look at his operation and we decided to join our cycling clubs together by name, we were X-Speed Australia and he was running X-Speed Hong Kong.

"I also had a conversation around that time with the Canadian National Cycling Centre in Hamilton, at the time I had some junior riders I was keen to develop outside WA. They agreed to take the two boys for their race season, then over to Belgium and do a bit of development there.

"I also helped set up a cultural exchange between the Canadians and Hong Kong and the discussion came around to if we could put this whole thing together and pool our resources in a three-way agreement. We were all singing from the same songbook with junior development in mind. Each of us will contribute staff, riders and finances to this initiative."

"It was a plan for 2020 and it was just at the Tour of Poyang Lake at the end of September that we thought we might bring it forward a year and have a crack. It was really that discussion about the ways that we could aid the development of particularly the Hong Kong riders that led us to move it forward a year earlier."

The rapid acceleration of the plan to get the team up and running hasn't been without strain, mostly to rush to get the necessary paperwork, bank guarantees and legal requirements out of the way before the UCI filing deadline, but it appears that all is set for X-Speed United to make their Continental debut. O'Connor is under no illusions about what success looks like in the team's first full season, with the team going into the competitive racing scenes of North America and Asia with a schedule that is heavy on races in the back half of 2019.

"We don't have big expectations for results in our first season," said O'Connor. "Truthfully, in the first season it's about making connections in China, it's a big opportunity for professional cycling in the next ten years."

Asian racing is particularly attractive for Continental and Pro-Continental teams, with organisers paying good prize money as well as assisting with travel expenses, meaning that racing an event in China is less expensive for most Australia teams than a National Road Series event. A prominent example is St George Continental, an Australian team that barely races locally, with the team much more keen to perform on the bigger stages over in East Asia.

O'Connor has paid attention to the growth of cycling events in China in recent years, with World Tour events like the Tour of Guangxi joining more established UCI events like the Tour of Qinghai Lake and the Tours of China I & II.

"I think that in the next ten years each province in China is going to have its own tour," said O'Connor. "When we were there for Poyang Lake there were two other major tours going on and we see it as a really major ground floor opportunity for us to get in before some of the other teams. We've registered as a Hong Kong team, which should give us a leg-up over teams getting invitations from other parts of the world."

"Just looking around the world in cycling at the moment; North America is a very expensive place to race and set up a team, in Australia the racing is mostly over on the eastern side, expensive and things look to be diminishing, Europe is where everyone goes and particularly for us in WA, Asia is the place to go. I really think it's the sleeping giant of world cycling."

Aside from the international cooperative effort that forms a somewhat unusual basis for the team, the financial organisation and backing of the team is something that O'Connor has said 'hasn't been seen in cycling before'. Though the endlessly energetic jack-of-all-trades was unwilling to do more than tease the potential of the arrangements rather than dive into specific detail.

"I'd have to shoot you if I told you that!" quipped O'Connor. "I was devil's advocate at the beginning because we didn't have a big sponsor and there were other issues with moving it 12 months earlier but some of the companies in WA that are keen to do business in Asia will be one of the ways we develop the funding of the team.

"I wasn't keen to go down the traditional sponsorship pathway because I think it's a dead duck in cycling. We've got a funding model that's a bit different... over the next 24-36 months there's a lot of potential to make the team self-funding."

While the men's team is the one applying for the Continental licence, there are plans for the women's team to race a good schedule in 2019 as well.

"We'll run the women's team as a regional team like we did the guys at Poyang Lake (in 2018). I've already had a look at some of the events that they have over there and I've secured some verbal invitations to take a women's team over and race next year, we don't need to spend any more money making it UCI-registered for 2019. If things go well, we might tap the UCI on the shoulder and see if we can get a discount for fielding both a male and female team."