Meet Interpro Cycling Academy and Sebastien Pilotte
In 2018, the Interpro Cycling Academy became a talking point for American cycling fans with the signing of World Tour pro Alexey Vermeulen, but their story goes further back than that. Interpro’s French Canadian team owner, Sebastien Pilotte, founded the team several years ago after moving to Japan. Although Japan is famous for its keirin velodrome races, Sebastien discovered a surprising lack of interest in road racing and formed Interpro Cycing to help grow the sport of cycling in Japan. Investing his own funds and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears, Sebastien Pilotte’s fledgling team would be issued their first Continental license from the UCI in 2017.
Following that freshman year as a pro cycling team with an international roster of Japanese and French riders, Sebastien stood at the threshold of deciding if he would continue to grow the team or call it quits. During a recent dinner with Sebastien in Kawasaki, Japan, Sebastien told me that the biggest challenge for the team at the end of their first year in the pro peloton was finding sponsors that believed in his cycling dream. “Japanese culture will sponsor sports teams,” he sighed, “but always at the tip of the mountain. They don’t understand sponsoring teams at lower categories and growing with them over time. But in Japan, there are no Pro Continental teams, Continental is as high as it goes. It can take a long time for Japanese companies to understand the value of pro cycling at the UCI Continental level.”
So, although closing the team looked like a real possibility at the time, a perfect storm of positivity and ingenuity meant that the team was able to return even stronger than before. The first piece of the puzzle came when Damien Garcia, an experienced pro cyclist who had raced for Interpro in 2017, moved into a team management role. Damien’s career had ground to a halt the previous season when a crash left him with a broken knee, but with Damien’s personality, experience, and industry connections, Sebastien knew that he still had a lot to give to the sport. Next, Florida-based Stradalli Cycle would enter the scene by stepping in as a bike and title sponsor for the team. CCN, a clothing company from Hong Kong, also jumped on board followed by a string of prominent brands like Thule, Subaru, NRC Eyewear, Control Tech Bicycle Components, and Spiuk helmets. With a smile, Sebastien told me, “We just kept solving problems as they came up. Worked our asses off and finally got everything prepared.”
With its future secure, Sebastien and Damien began recruiting riders, bringing in a diverse squad from around the world including the highly-respected English pro Daniel Whitehouse. Then Alexey Vermeulen came into the picture. Alexey had been one of America’s most promising riders as a junior after winning the National Junior Road Race Championship in 2011 and later spending three years on BMC’s Development Team. After a few years as a successful amateur, Alexey would get the big call up to the World Tour with LottoNL-Jumbo. Tragically, after two years racing in the World Tour and on the eve of the 2018 season, LottoNL-Jumbo informed Alexey that he had been cut from their roster. Seizing on this opportunity, Sebastien signed Alexey to Interpro-Stradalli’s roster. “It was huge,” Sebastien remembers, “The cycling news sites blew up immediately. And Stradalli was very happy, especially to have an American on the team.”
With a superb roster, Interpro Cycling was ready to make their mark on the cycling world and did so almost immediately. At the Tour of Indonesia, the team trampled over the more experienced Pro Continental teams to finish second and fifth in the overall general classification. This was followed by strong results in the Herald Sun Tour and the Tour of Thailand. Then, at the Tour of Morocco, Alexey Vermeulen won his first ever pro race and briefly wore the yellow jersey en route to finishing second overall against a stacked field.
The team’s greatest success came during the Tour de Beauce in Canada. Interpro’s riders would be going up against World Tour team Michelton-Scott and Pro Continental teams like Rally Cycling, Hagens Berman Axeon, and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling; teams whose budgets and infrastructure dwarfed anything that Interpro Cycling was able to provide. Sebastien told me, “We came to Tour de Beauce with a trailer and five riders. We should have had seven riders. One had a problem and got stuck in Norway and the other one had a last-minute visa problem and couldn’t come. And then our Director Sportif couldn’t make it to Canada either. We had to improvise. Luckily, I had some contacts in the area because I’m from Canada. Found a very good massage therapist for the team and a good mechanic from the area that I knew. I also bought a keg of beer every night to offer to other teams for them to let me bum a piece of this or that from them!”
Despite this adversity, with Alexey Vermeulen and Daniel Whitehouse leading the team, Sebastien liked Interpro’s chances against the big teams. “Daniel is a very strict, very offensive rider,” Sebastien told me. “He goes to the race to win, he’s willing to sacrifice everything to try to win. Alexey, on the other hand, is somewhat more conservative and strategic after racing in the World Tour. He races smart and doesn’t take too many risks so he can make sure that he’s there at the finish. If you mix a guy like Alex and Daniel together, it’s fantastic.”
“We raced conservatively the whole week, but we were still always in the top ten against some of the best teams in the world. By the last stage, Alexey was in sixth overall in the general classification and Daniel was a few places behind him. Going into the last stage, we knew that Daniel would want to go for a win. We had security for getting a good finish with Alexey and had our wild card with Daniel. Daniel took the right break and finished second on the last stage. In the end, we ended up second and sixth in the overall classification. We were the only team in the whole race with two riders in the top 10! We ended the season with our heads very high, very happy. That’s how we approached the whole season!”
Heading into the 2019 season, a lot has changed with Interpro Cycling, but the team continues to grow. The team’s Stradalli bikes have been replaced by the French Lapierre brand. Alexey Vermeulen left the team and switched his focus from the road to racing mountain bikes at events like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. And Daniel Whitehouse made a move to the Irish EvoPro Racing Continental team. Taking their place on the team are big-name riders like Aleksejs Saramotins who has spent the last decade racing in the World Tour. This expert knowledge will be complemented by rising American stars such as Texas Roadhouse alums Simon Jones and Evan Clouse.
Interpro cycling has already started the 2019 season with an extremely strong performance at the Tour du Rwanda culminating in Hernán Aguirre finishing fourth in the overall classification and Adrien Guillonnet taking third in the mountain classification. Come the end of the 2019 season, it’s hard to say what the team will have accomplished, but it’s sure to be something great!