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Communicating the ultimate team sport: Matthew’s EF journey

Communicating the ultimate team sport: Matthew’s EF journey

For Matthew, Communications Director for EF Education First Drapac p/b Cannondale, EF Education First‘s pro cycling team, speed and teamwork are just as important off the racing course as on. He’s got cyclists to tend, press to wrangle, and stories to tell. Everything must happen efficiently and fast.

Based in Colorado, Matthew joined EF soon after the team was acquired in the fall of 2017. On the cusp of heading to his seventh Tour de France, Matthew spoke with us about team cycling basics, the excitement of joining EF, and finding balance while criss-crossing time zones.

For people who might not be familiar with the sport, give us a little background. What are the basics someone would need to understand in order to fully appreciate professional cycling?
Cycling is often portrayed as an individual pursuit, but in truth, it’s one of the ultimate team sports. It takes the sacrifices of 25 riders and an entire collection of staff.

In races, you’ll have rosters of seven or eight riders, two directors, five soigneurs, four mechanics, two communications contacts at the race and one at home, a bus driver, an operations person, and a chef.

For the guys on the bikes, they ride, but they also bring our leader water bottles, a jacket if it’s cold, they bring him food, they protect him from the wind. They basically put him in the best position to succeed. Cycling is such a game of margins. If we waste energy in the wrong spot, we won’t win the bike race. It’s effectively a whole team’s job to shepherd a rider around all day.

A lot of people have to work together to make this work. Racing is a really polished traveling circus.

In what ways has joining EF Education First changed your role? The team?
Traditionally, the model for a team like ours is that the team is the management company and they have sponsors who fund the team’s exploits. That’s changed in this situation. While EF is looked at as a sponsor, we’re all EF now. We’re part of the larger EF universe, which is cool.

Being with EF has offered the team and the individuals associated with the team a lot more stability, group problem-solving, and different ways of thinking outside the traditional cycling bubble.

We’re seeing there’s room to shake cycling up a little bit. Our team has always been forward-thinking and just a little different. We’re a good fit for a company like EF that is so global, versatile, and culturally open.

How did you get into the cycling world?
I personally ride when I can, primarily mountain biking, but my connection to cycling has been everything in my life. When I was a kid, my dad was a racer and he always had copies of cycling magazines around. I would read those and let them seep in.

This is my third season with the team, all in the same role. Prior, I was a newspaper editor for six years, covered road cycling at VeloNews for three years, and then moved onto a marketing role at Rapha Racing, where, among other things, I oversaw photoshoots of their cycling clothing and accessories. I needed to find a model to fill a spot in an Alaskan shoot about a women’s winter line, and the person I met in a coffee shop later turned out to be my wife.

Through contacts at VeloNews, I joined this racing team. So, cycling has played a huge role in my life and I’ve needed skills from each of those professional roles to do what I do now.

What are race days like for you?
A lot of the racing workplace is wildly unpredictable. One day I’m driving a car full of bikes to the start. Another day I’m the last extra body we have to drive a [caravan] car up one of the Italian passes. Another, I’m handing out bottles to riders then hurrying back to the finish to do my other jobs like taking pictures, seeing if there’s any press around, and meeting their needs. Every day is variable and I have to be adaptable, but that’s what makes it so great. This job is never boring.

What’s your travel schedule? Do you travel to all the races?
Usually, I’ll go to the big races, because I’ve got press conferences and the most amount of media. That’s always going to be the Tour de France, start to finish, because it’s the big show. The classic races in Northern France and Belgium are big ones for us because we’ve got a good classics team. Giro d’Italia, I always try to go, because it’s gorgeous. Sometimes we’ll think a race is cool and even if we don’t get a good result, we’ll send somebody because we want to collect media assets.

Tell us some of your travel habits and what you always pack.
In the past three months alone, I’ve traveled to Hong Kong, Northern France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Boston for work. Knowing what to pack is essential.

For the Tour de France, as an example, it’s one month on the road, but I only do a carry-on. I have to pack up every morning and go to a different hotel, so minimizing the chances that I can lose something important is good.

Running gear. I’ve got to keep my head screwed on somehow.

My own small kettle, because not all hotels have kettles, and a pound of coffee from Stumptown. I’ll have my wife send a resupply halfway through. Having some comforts of home while traveling is huge.

A book. I’m staring at my computer screen all day, so it’s nice to look at something that’s not looking back at me.

A Moleskin notebook journal. Since I’m away from my loved one, I write a letter every morning with the date on it and the town I’m in. Then, I take a picture and send it to her. It’s become a more meaningful, instant way of communicating. And I get to keep the notebook as a journal when it’s all over.

Follow Matthew’s team travels on Instagram at @matthewcbeaudin.