Former England Cricket Player of Year Starts Cycling Team

As an England cricket player, Matt Prior was a wicketkeeper who also excelled at batting. Now recovering from injury, he’s added cycling too.

While his England teammates travel to New Zealand for the Cricket World Cup, the South African-born player is starting a professional cycling team backed by U.K. retailer Tesco Plc. Prior eventually wants to enter One Pro Cycling in the Tour de France.

Six months after surgery to repair a three-inch, centimeter-wide tear on his left Achilles tendon, the 32-year-old was working on his recovery up to four hours a day and had time to think.

“Fate has played quite a big part in all of this,” Prior said in an interview. “I don’t think I would have been able to start a cycling team purely because of time constraints.”

Still, Prior isn’t ready to quit cricket yet.

“It’s very slow progress,” he said. “The injury was very bad, it was a big operation. The dream and the challenge I’ve set myself” is to play for England again.

In 2007, Prior became the first debutant England wicketkeeper to hit a century. Prior has played 79 tests for England and was named England player of the year in 2013.

“One day it feels like I can run a marathon and the next day I can’t walk,” he said. “I don’t want to rush it back. Because it’s a bad enough injury that it could affect me doing things after cricket, however long I play for.”

An earlier injury led Prior to cycling a few years ago, when he swapped running for cycling as his main form of fitness and rehabilitation.

Sports Overlap

Through their joint sponsor, Jaguar, Prior met some people on Team Sky and eventually joined the winners of the 2012 and 2013 Tour de France on a training camp on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

Although Prior said he won’t be telling his 12 riders how to win a bike race, there is overlap between both sports.

“I know about the pressures and stresses and strains that come with professional sport,” he said. “And having stayed at an elite level for such a long time, I hope that I can add that bit of experience of what’s needed to get the most out of your potential.”

That includes creating a backroom staff that “takes care of everything, allowing these guys to focus solely on racing their bikes,” said Prior, who started the team with Chairman Simon Chappell.

Continental Tour

One Pro Cycling will compete on the UCI Continental tour this season, two levels below the World Tour that includes cycling’s most important and grueling race, the Tour de France. The team has signed Steve Benton as a performance coach and Matt Winston as sports director. Benton has worked in Formula One and in world rally racing, while Winston was the development coach on the British Olympic cycling team.

Only three months in, Prior and Chappell landed a sponsorship deal with Tesco, the U.K.’s largest supermarket company. Tesco’s clothing brand, F&F, will be the lead partner of One Pro Cycling and supply its bike training kit and clothing.

Although Prior declined to disclose financial details of both the sponsorship and the budget of his team, he said the three-year deal with F&F “offers us great stability.” He wants to turn One Pro Cycling into a brand with events, membership scheme and merchandising.

Prior said he wasn’t put off by cycling’s stained reputation following a series of high-profile doping scandals. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was given a life ban and stripped of all his titles after he admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs in a 2013 television interview.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy toward doping,” Prior said. “All the riders know, they’ve all been spoken to. If anyone of them go down that route, it won’t be tolerated. You will be out, and you will not be supported by this team in any which way.”

As for the England cricket team, Prior expects them to bounce back against New Zealand on Friday after losing to Australia in their opening match by 111 runs.

“It’s a tough start, and the guys will be disappointed with that performance,” he said. “The talent in the England dressing room is there in abundance, they just need to make sure that they play with freedom and get that talent out.”

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