An inside look at the new Giant Grassroots program, which was launched this year with Team Kern Pharma

Cyclists riding on the open road

British rider Tom Williams on the roads of Spain with the Team Finisher squad. Michiell Maas photo

It’s a dream for young bike racers all around the world: to race in the pro peloton. But realizing that dream is far from easy. Even for the most talented riders, the odds are stacked against them. Competition is fierce. It takes physical gifts, but that’s just the start.

Giant’s Grassroots program was created to help give a diverse group of young riders an inside view of how a professional team operates. At the same time, it’s giving the Giant-sponsored Spanish Team Kern Pharma a chance to scout new talent in a non-traditional way.

It started with a collaborative effort between Kern Pharma and Giant representatives around the world. They worked together to identify young talent from different countries, especially those outside the typical pipelines of established junior national programs.

After a list of potential riders was created, Kern Pharma coaches analyzed the data and helped select seven racers, ages 16-22, to participate in an initial team camp in Spain. The riders came from a variety of nations including Taiwan, China, Uganda, Denmark, the Netherlands and the U.K. Those riders attended the initial 14-day training camp. From there, three were chosen to continue with the program.

The second phase of the program gave those three riders—Daniel Lond (Denmark), Li Ting Wei (Taiwan) and Tom Williams (United Kingdom)—a chance to live, ride, train and race with the coaches and riders of Team Kern Pharma and its amateur development squad Team Finisher at the organization’s headquarters near Pamplona, Spain.

This two-week program was a full immersion into the life of a pro racer. From the daily training to massage, meals, technical service and meetings with team management, it was an eye-opening experience for the young riders. “Not many people have the insight as to what actually happens at the service course,” said Williams. “We also have access to the nutrition, the mechanics.”

Speakers at a welcoming seminar.

2017 Giro d'Italia champion Tom Dumoulin visited and spoke with the riders at training camp.

One of the highlights of the camp was a chance to ride with and learn about the pro life from retired stars Miguel Induráin and Tom Dumoulin. The two legends from different eras of the sport were able to speak directly with the riders about the opportunities and the challenges of making it in the pro peloton.

Toward the end of the Pamplona camp, Lond and Li joined the Finisher squad for two junior/U23 road races in Spain. (Williams had to miss the races due to a knee injury.) Both races saw a high rate of attrition, with less than half the field finishing the first race and just 74 out of 138 finishing the second race. Lond showed his potential, making a key breakaway in one of the races and earning finishing results in both. Li suffered an untimely tire puncture in the first race but finished the second.

Former professional cyclist Tom Dumoulin rides with Grassroots finalists.

Tom Dumoulin (right) rides with Lond and other Grassroots riders.

In the end, Kern Pharma coaches deemed the first year of the Grassroots program a success. “We can look at the project globally,” said team sport director Juanjo Oroz. “It is different from everything else we do. Our main objective is to be a good place where a rising star arrives and can develop. We are also motivated by the fact that we are a multicultural project. Talent knows no flags or countries.”

While coaches ultimately had to make the difficult decision not to officially sign any of this year’s participants to the team for 2024, both the riders and the team clearly benefitted from the experience. The riders will continue to chase their dreams back in their home countries, looking to gain more domestic experience as they build toward their goals of becoming pros. And the team will move forward with the Grassroots program, refining their approach for next year.

“Now we look at where we can improve the way cyclists are selected and the way we work,” Oroz said. “I believe that by trying and trying repeatedly, in the end it is one of the ways to success. That’s what we at Kern Pharma are doing day in and day out, and what we are going to do with the Giant Grassroots program.”