Interview with Mark Ernsting

May 28, 2014  – Mark Ernsting is creating quite a stir in the cycling world with his plan to create a UCI WorldTour road racing team in Canada by 2018-20. A confident Ernsting – the man behind BC Superweek, Team Director of the H&R Block Elite U23 development team, and the owner of M1 Pro Cycling and M1 Sports Management – has now assembled an impressive group of advisors with that very specific aim. (Read the original announcement about the project here.) He hopes to resurrect the dream that many people thought may have died when SpiderTech p/b C10 dissolved. Pedal reached him at his Vancouver office to find out what the specifics are and why Ernsting is so sure of himself.

Tell us a bit about Mark Ernsting – your age, where you grew up and your cycling background? And what were your major racing accolades during your cycling career…?
Mark Ernsting: I grew up in North Vancouver and began racing at 21. I won a cycling scholarship to go to the USA and raced from 1993-2004. I was a Canadian national track champion five times. I have also won five USA Division I Collegiate National Championships on road and track. I raced with the Canadian national track team in endurance, points, and scratch competitions, finishing 15th at a world cup event 2003 and 5th at the PanAm Games.

I’m 41 years old and have a successful track record [in business]. I am the manager behind the BC Superweek and Team Director of the H&R Block Elite U23 development team. I am also the owner of two companies: M1 Pro Cycling and M1 Sports Management.

What is the history of your involvement with H&R Block?
ME: Four years ago I saw an opportunity. This team had a solid foundation. It is one of Canada’s elite U23 teams and has produced riders like Sebastian Salas, Rob Britton, and Garrett McLeod. It is a stepping stone for those with a junior national background.

And we hear you’re a UCI-certified rider agent?
ME: Yes, I was certified in Switzerland; I believe that I’m still the only UCI rider agent in Canada and only one of about five in North America. Over the years, I have represented Svein Tuft among other riders. Svein is on his own now. I was helping riders achieve goals, to find stepping stone blocks into continental teams.

And what is your new plan and venture exactly…?
ME: Step one will be the creation of a UCI Continental team on Canada’s West Coast with hopes that this will be in place by 2015. Step two, the WorldTour team should follow around 2018-20. The cost of running a Continental team is about $1.5 to $3 million [annually]. Both men and women will be in program.
A WorldTour (WT) team will cost about $20 million. We don’t intend the Continental team to morph into a WorldTour team; we need a feeder system for a WT in the future. Australian-registered ORICA-GreenEDGE could be an example of how the future Canadian WT team will function. The team would have to be based in Europe, close to where the action is. [currently at GreenEDGE 17 of the 30 team riders are Australian. Canada’s Svein Tuft rides for this team]

But what percentage of the Continental team riders will be Canadian?
ME: The exact percentage of Canadian riders is difficult to say; it will depend on the particulars of our potential contracts. We definitely have the quality and depth of Canadian talent among both men and women, but we will also have to have some foreign riders to be competitive.

And do you have a management team supporting you in this venture?
ME: Yes, we also have good management talent in Canada. My advisors include: Paul Blanchette (ARC’TERYX); Gary Clarke (Stikeman Elliott LLP); Ron Hayman (JAKROO.ca; Hayman Sport); Carl Jacobson (Synergy Business Lawyers); Jacques Landry (Cycling Canada); Todd McCallum (H&R Block Canada); Stefano Rover (Canadian Tire franchise owner); Alex Stieda (Long View Systems); John Tolkamp (Cycling Canada); and Richard Wooles (Cycling BC). You can expect other names to be announced soon as I continue to have conversations with key individuals.

Have you spoken to the co-owner of the former SpiderTech team, Steve Bauer?
ME: Yes, I did reach out to Steve. He was very receptive and thankful for the opportunity. But currently he’s very involved with track in Milton and will stay focused on that. We want to support track cycling; some of those cyclists will transfer to the road program. [Bauer was recently given the job of leading the Milton Cycling Academy for the new velodrome being built there].

SpiderTech failed because it ran out of money and as you mentioned it will cost millions to operate these two teams. How will you do it? Are there potential sponsors?
ME: It is a very viable, positive opportunity; we are looking at it from a business perspective, at the return on investment (ROI).We are reaching out to major corporations to accomplish our goal of a Continental team for 2015. We are looking at how to get word out to individuals; we have tight timelines. You can expect some preliminary announcements that should be made by the Canadian Road Nationals. [the Road Nationals will take place June 26-29].

Tell us why you believe the timing is right to resurrect this venture…
ME: The sport of cycling has matured significantly over the past 10-years in Canada. With the growth in high performance road events such as the Grand Prix World Tour, the Tour of Alberta, Tour de Beauce and BC Superweek series, as well as upcoming international events such as the 2015 Pan-Am/Parapan-Am Games, all have elevated the profile of the sport here.

Additional to this is the long-term investment with the new Milton Mattamy Velodrome where the youth of our sport will be able to develop their cycling skills that will provide the foundation for our future road stars.

Over the past few years we have also seen many more Canadian athletes successfully competing at the international stage, women’s team pursuit team winning medals at Olympics, stage wins and overall victory at the Giro d’Italia, and KOM accomplishments at the Tour of California all show that we are ready to have competitive men’s and women’s team at the Continental level.

The goal is to continue to work with Cycling Canada and the Provincial Associations over the next 4-5 years to develop the riders before we launch a World Tour program.

Look at the growth in the sport, including Gran fondo participation and TV coverage in Canada. All of this is growing exponentially, increasing notoriety and visibility as we create the program. We also want to talk about sustainable environment practices for these future teams.

How do you respond to naysayers?
Me: There may be individuals that say we are currently not ready as a country to have a World Tour Team, I would not argue with them as I would have to agree. But we are not proposing a World Tour team in 2015. What we are proposing is putting together one of Canada’s most competitive Continental programs so that we can continue to nurture Canada’s most talented U23 riders to develop them into World Tour riders by 2020 and beyond.

What we need is Canada to rally around this opportunity and if this happens in the private and corporate sectors then we will accomplish having more competitive riders at the world stage within the next five years.

What vision do you have of how these teams will operate?
ME: I also want to see the public taking part in behind-the-scenes activity. This could be an added engagement factor where fans could see mechanical bays or join team dinners. The success will trickle down to a provincial level…

Do you still do competitive riding?
ME: No, I don’t compete anymore [in cycling]. I took time off before getting back into it again. Now I just do casual rides for fun on weekends with friends

A recent Twitter photo of you suggests that cycling magazines are good bedtime reading for babies…
ME: [Chuckling] Yes, that’s me reading to my daughter, Stella.

Thanks, Mark. And best of luck with this venture…

See this interview at Pedal Magazine