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Madison Kelly: A Sponsor's Dream

Updated: Aug 21, 2018


Madison Kelly in tight formation - Photo by Brandon Baker

If I ever realize the dream of owning a cycling team, I want to do it like Papa John’s Racing p/b Trek. It’s a team that’s been built around a core group of riders, gradually growing in talent and ability over the last three years. And during that competitive growth, the team has also created a highly professional business platform that attracts new sponsors – like Papa John’s Pizza – that haven’t traditionally invested in the sport. The team has been a winner from the beginning and continues to be on a trajectory that points to even greater days ahead.


One of the riders that have been key to the program’s success is Madison Kelly. Thanks to strong mentors, Madison has grown into one of the most polished riders in the peloton; she’s a sponsor’s dream on and off the bike. We sat down with Madison to talk about her successful season and learn a little more about what makes her tick.


Nathan (N): Hi Madison, what are your thoughts on your season so far? You’ve had wins with your trade team, Papa John’s Racing p/b Trek, and your collegiate team, Marian University, as well as numerous other top-5 finishes.


Madison Kelly (MK): The season has been great. Each season I’ve been learning more and more, getting better at each race, and trying to make new mistakes each time – instead of the same ones again and again. It’s a huge learning process, but the season has been going really well. The whole team starts to get even better towards the end of the season too; just as the other teams are starting to get tired, we like to rise to the occasion.


N: Your team has a pretty interesting story about how it got started. When you started racing bikes a few years ago, you began winning very quickly and jumped up the ranks to become a Category 1 rider. At that point, you started trying to figure out a team to ride for, but then your family started to organically form a team of its own. Can you tell me a little bit about that?


MK: I raced for a year and “cat-ed up” quickly to become a Category 1 rider, but I still didn’t know a lot about racing tactics. Even though racing by myself was a lot of fun, it’s a whole new ballgame when you’re racing with a team. We happened to be friends with the owner of Papa John’s Pizza, John Schnatter, and the owner of Stradalli Cycle, Tom Steinbacher. Papa John lived in the town my parents live in and he would sometimes come on group rides. Papa John and Tom heard about our cycling adventures and decided that we should just create our own team. After all, the sport could always use another women’s team! It kind of blossomed from there and, over the last three seasons, the team has almost tripled in size and we’ve had other partners, like Trek Bicycles, join us during that time.


N: It’s pretty impressive to have such a new team securing big sponsors like Papa John’s, Trek, and Safetti. Those aren’t necessarily the sponsors you'd expect when it comes to a new domestic team in the United States. The team's marketing platform must be producing a lot of success.


MK: We try to give our sponsors a lot of exposure through riding at the front of the field, meeting with fans, and through social media. My mom, Tish Kelly, and I try to make a point of giving back; putting money, time, and effort into the sport; and representing our sponsors the best way that we can. It’s definitely a win for everyone when we can support our sponsors. It’s a great platform to show how cool the sport is which brings in more fans and it grows from there.

Papa John's p/b Trek's flashy team van is just the beginning of their promotional efforts - Photo by Brandon Baker

N: I’d love to hear about your time at Marian University. Even though I live in Minneapolis now, I grew up in Indiana and almost went to Marian for my undergrad. It’s one of the classic cycling schools.


MK: It sure is! Through their coach and my coach, they recruited me when I was looking for a school to start working on my masters. They had a great program for me academically and they’re the top-ranked collegiate cycling program in the nation; it was a no brainer. I had a lot of fun the two years that I raced for them [Ed. Madison graduated Spring 2018]. The girls on the collegiate team were a lot of fun and very inviting. It was a really great experience. The whole program is very streamlined, they’re very established in their operations. I was just along for the ride, all I had to do was prepare to race. And even though the collegiate field is smaller than the Pro/1/2 fields that I race in on the Papa John’s team, it’s still very competitive, especially at Nationals.


N: And, of course, going to Marian University, you had the opportunity to live in Indianapolis. That’s my favorite city in the world. And, with Indy being the Racing Capital of the World, I’m a big motorsports fan in addition to my passion for cycling. I always thought that Marian University was the perfect mix of cycling and auto racing with its cycling program and the fabulous Major Taylor Velodrome, but also being built around the three mansions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s co-founders.


Madison Kelly at the 2017 Collegiate Track Nationals - Photo by Joe Vondersaar, courtesy of Marian University

[Photo: Madison riding the Individual Pursuit at Collegiate Track Nationals in September 2017 - Photo by Joe Vondersaar]


N: When I lived in Indiana, I always loved seeing the Marian cyclists riding through the gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.


MK: Oh yeah! That’s a great shortcut so you don’t have to go on the major roads to get back home. I also really like track cycling so it was really nice to have the Major Taylor Velodrome right on campus. And, we also liked to go down south and go towards Brown County and Bloomington, especially in the Fall. It’s perfect, you can go forever. It was a great place to go to school.


N: Where is the Papa John’s team going and what is your personal development trajectory? Is it always going to be a big criterium (crit) squad or will it be moving towards road racing and big stage races?


MK: We’re definitely a crit squad. Crit racing is pretty unique. Even though there are crit races held all around the world, everyone seems to come to America for crit racing. We have a lot of Australians, Kiwis, and Europeans over here tearing it up. Crits are really fast paced and spectator friendly so they’re easier for us to give our sponsors exposure. And it’s kind of an all-American sport, the NASCAR of bike racing. Europe has the Tour de France and America has crit racing. I don’t think that bike racing in America needs to copy Europe’s stage racing format. We need to create our own thing that everyone likes to watch. Americans like to go fast and they like watching crashes too, so I think crit racing would be more entertaining for the average American.

Hinting at her Florida roots, Madison Kelly's cycling kit is covered in flamingos - Photo by Brandon Baker

N: There are certainly some nasty crashes in crit racing…


MK: That’s a risk that you take when you race. It can happen in any style of bike racing. Luckily, in crit racing, there aren’t usually long descents and you can usually get up and get back in the race with the worst damage being a broken derailleur hanger. But crashes do seem to be more frequent in this style of racing. Maybe they’ll start making crit racing equipment for our hips and knees! (laughs)


N: You know, I recently saw that 2XU, Santini, and POC have come out some sort of reinforced bib shorts that are supposed to prevent road rash during crashes. You need to get your friends at Safetti to make some shorts like that.


MK: Wow! I wouldn’t mind some extra protection on my hip.


N: Where will we see you racing for the rest of the season?


MK: After Intelligentsia Cup, you’ll see us in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the River Gorge Omnium (August 24-26), plus we’re going to St. Louis; our finale is Gateway Cup (August 31-September 3).


N: Excellent! Hopefully you can add another win this next month! We’ll be watching!

© 2018 A Cyclist In A Strange Land