As ProTouch – South Africa’s Continental Team – finishes off its first quarter of 2019, having completed five UCI-points earning Tours, as well as National Team representation at the African Continental Championships, we catch up with one of the Team Principals Tony Harding and Rebecca Eliot, Business Development Officer, to get some insight into how they are building a winning team – unlocking athlete performance and, building value for brands that support their mission, of getting South Africa back to the number one cycling nation in Africa.
South Africa’s Continental Team [which registered at the beginning of 2019] already boasts 309.35 UCI points and is the 3rd placed Team, in the Africa Tour Team Rankings – behind the Algerian team Sovac (2nd) and, Rwandan Benediction Excel Energy team, who lead the 2019 rankings.
“Our vision is to build a WINNING TEAM – around a core of South African riders – and to be the best [South African] Continental Tour Team in Africa”. We are focused on our purpose of unlocking performance, by developing and enabling South African Talent to achieve success and, migrate onto the International Stage”, announced Tony Harding.
ProTouch has had a terrific start to its maiden year as a Continental Team, having won the Sprinters Jersey in two UCI 2.1 tours – Tropicale Amissa Bongo (Gabon) and, Tour du Rwanda – as well as four Top 10 finishes and, an 11th overall on GC in Gabon, alongside top teams Direct Energie and Arkea Samsic, 5th place on GC, at UCI 2.2 Tour of Good Hope and, a Top 10 stage (8th Place), at the extremely tough 10-day UCI 2.2 Le Tour du Maroc, Morocco last week.
These great results were also rounded off with further success at ProTouch’s first UCI 2.HC – Le Tour de Langkawi – finishing off in 13th place on GC and 12th Team out of 21 participating teams, ahead of top Continental Teams Vino-Astana Motors, Giant Cycling and Mitchelton Bike Exchange. “ProTouch always rides as a team and, we celebrate our victories as a TEAM”, added Tony. “I am extremely proud of the teams’ results – fourteen Top 20 stage positions, eleven of which were in the Top 15 and, six Top 10 places”, Tony added.
ProTouch has two riders in the Top 10 South African individual rankings – Jaydé Julius (5th with 160.17 points) and Clint Hendricks (7th with 81,5 points) – alongside World Tour riders such as Mitchelton-Scott’s Daryl Impey (1st), Dimension Data’s Ryan Gibbons (2nd), Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg(3rd), Stefan de Bod(4th), Louis Meintjes (6th) and Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (10th). [The other local Continental Team’s [TEG ProCycling] Gustav Basson is in 8th Place and U23 Marc Pritzen from the Office Guru U23 Team’s in 9th Place.
Eleven of ProTouch’s riders have represented the SA National Team in the past 12 months. South Africa is currently ranked as the leading nation in the Africa Tour Nation rankings with 2 576.45 points, ahead of Eritrea with 2 054.5 and Algeria with 1178.32.
So, what drives ProTouch to achieve its purpose? ProTouch is one of the most professionally managed South African teams – providing support, infrastructure and logistics behind the scenes – allowing their riders to focus on and, achieve their maximum potential.
“We believe that we have created a platform for South African riders to get international exposure and experience and, our intent is to be the preferred conduit for South African athletes into other internationally-based Continental and Pro Continental teams”, added Tony.
Having run ProTouch as a top SA-based ‘Club’ Team, for the past three years, the step up to Continental status has been a big jump – for both riders and management – registering as a Continental Team, means accessing invitations to UCI Points-earning events and exposing more SA riders to international-level racing and learning what it means to be professional riders.
“We are fully focussed of making our mark and contributing to getting South Africa back into the #1 Cycling Nation in Africa”. Why is this important? Being the number one nation in Africa, means we can access additional invitations to World Championships, Commonwealth and Olympic Games. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that ProTouch riders will access these, as our European-based riders are better equipped to race at these levels, we believe that in time our riders will go onto the international stage, and they too will have these opportunities in the future”.
But, ProTouch is not just a Team. “ProTouch Sports [established in 2016] is a sports management business, centred around the ownership of its Continental and U23/ Junior ‘franchise’ team – in partnership with The Wanderers Club”, comments Rebecca Eliot, ProTouch’s Business Development Officer.
The management [and riders] are actively involved in building the ProTouch brand, developing and driving partnerships and creating return on investment for its stakeholders. “Depending on sponsorships in this market is tough and, with limited media exposure of the sport, we must constantly evolve and, disrupt the traditional model of funding costs through sponsorships”, added Rebecca.
ProTouch has created its own marketing channels, the management [and riders] are actively involved in brand activations, distributing cycling-related products and services, developing new products, delivering value and reaching audiences – using cycling as the platform. “The ProTouch riders gain hands-on experience of running the business and undertake various functions beyond just riding their bikes”. Through partnerships that have been developed, corporate pro-am ‘type’ opportunities and experiential rides are also driven, as a mechanism to create awareness and garner further funding from brands and individuals.
ProTouch also spearheaded the development of the Support SA Talent Project, which launched in 2018, creating a platform to recognise local talent [tracking over 500 athletes in the Junior, U23 and Elite categories in the Road Cycling Series]. The project, now in its second year, is focussed on building upon this platform, initiating a number of innovative funding mechanisms to assist in enabling athletes – beyond ProTouch’s own riders. These include the Fund your Passion crowdfunding platform and soon-to-be launched affinity card, that provides cash back rewards from over 10 000 everyday household retailers (planned for launch in May/June 2019).
“With over 25 years’ experience in the rewards industry, including being part of the start-up team of the MySchool Card, we are looking to leverage the everyday household spend of South African’s [with an affinity to outdoor sports, such as cycling]. The funding created from this will be channelled into further funding for South African athletes”, announced Rebecca.
ProTouch’s passion, excitement and integrity to accomplish more than anyone expects on the road, as well as delivering more value than partners expect is what drives them. “Being part of a vision to unlock performance of South African athletes while, improving the sport as a whole [beyond our own team and athletes] gives us a tremendous sense of pride and purpose”.
Follow ProTouch on their journey, with two upcoming UCI Tours, over the next quarter including UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila in Arizona, United States of America and Le Tour de Limpopo, South Africa – followed by a short break in June/ July – ahead of a full programme of Asian and European Tours in the last quarter of 2019.