'Cycling needs to embrace change' - Former England wicket keeper Matt Prior

Yahoo Sport UK

“I always laugh when people say ‘oh you’re retired’. I’m not retired, I’m just not playing cricket anymore.”

Since stepping away from the cricketing world, former England wicketkeeper and batsman Matt Prior has continued to play an active sporting role – albeit in a very different discipline to where he made his name.

With a recurring achilles injury signalling the end of his cricket career, Prior decided to follow his passion for cycling and launched the ONE Pro Cycling team with friend and businessman Simon Chappell in 2015.

Despite the team folding last year, Prior has been determined to keep the brand going strong by setting up ONE Pro Nutrition.

“It’s been amazing over the last four years building the One Pro brand,” Prior told Yahoo Sport UK. “Obviously I had the pro-cycling team, and now opened One Pro nutrition and a number of other things are coming over the next few months.

“I’ve been pretty busy.”

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Initially launching with energy gels, Prior aims to release protein and vegan powders, hydration products, bars and much more under the banner.

The 37-year old was at The London Bike Show to promote his latest business venture where he spoke to Yahoo Sport UK about navigating the transition to another sport.

“One thing I hadn’t realised until I had my injury and finished playing was that as a professional sportsman you spend so much time out of your comfort zone, you actually feel more uncomfortable in a comfort zone,” he admitted.

“I lived in the bubble of cricket, quite literally, since I was eight! I wanted to go and see the big, wide world.

“I wanted to get involved in the business side of sport as well and I’ve learned a huge amount.”

The ONE Pro team initially began at UCI Continental level in 2015 before obtaining a UCI Professional licence a year later.

However, lack of funding partly contributed to the team dropping back to Continental status in 2017 before eventually disbanding in 2018.

“We put a lot of work into the team,” Prior said. “I think we had the right idea about the direction we wanted to go and what we were trying to do within cycling and professional cycling.”

“But the reality is there were a couple of things out of our control that really made life difficult. Particularly finding sponsorship and raising enough money to run a team on a budget that we wanted.”

Prior was confronted with the difficulties of trying to fight his way into a sport that isn’t always the most inclusive, and warned that cycling needs to be able to adapt or risk getting left behind.

“The sports are so different,” he acknowledged. “It has taken a lot of learning. I have a huge amount of respect for the cycling world. I love the sport, that’s why I got into it.

“But there are significant challenges, and coming from another sport, I think they are more obvious because I haven’t been in cycling for 20 years.

“I look at things and think ‘just because it’s been done like this for so long doesn’t mean it is right now’.

“The reality is that changes probably need to happen if it’s ever going to be a stable and healthy sport or profession.”

Prior believes cycling is suffering as a spectator sport and needs to do more to both draw in and retain fans.

He added: “If you look around, cycling is a huge growth area. The bridge between amateur and professional cycling is not there. It’s completely broken.”

“You drive past a park and see guys kicking a football around. 99-100 percent of them will follow a professional football team, whereas in cycling you see hundreds of thousands of people riding bikes but how many of them do you think actually follow professional cycling? Maybe 5 percent, if that.

“So trying to build that bridge between your amateur cyclist who loves the sport and professional cycling is the next step. We try to do that on a very small level.

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Matt Prior speaking before the cricket season commences
Matt Prior speaking before the cricket season commences

“But the realisation that the funding needed to make a positive impact on the sport is huge.”

Prior saw the resistance to make changes first hand and believes attitudes within the sport need to change in order to grow.

“I think people as a rule hate change. In cricket we went through a very similar thing with T20. You’d have your MCC members thinking ‘hold on a minute, it’s all very noisy and loud and colourful – we don’t like it.’

“But T20 has changed the game. Whether from a financial or commercial perspective it engaged with a completely different fan. And cycling is going exactly the same way. It’s up to the community to embrace it, rather than fight it.”

Prior also reveals the grand ambitions he had and admitted he still hopes to revive the team at some stage further down the line.

“It was never about running a small UK team, it was always about being ambitious, getting to the Tour de France and I was only ever going to stop the team when it looked like that journey was ending or wasn’t possible.

“That’s not to say we wouldn’t relaunch again in the future but I think the right decision is to focus on other things right now.”

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