EHF Racing Team has such a presence, such an entrenched ethic and unity that I find it hard to believe that they have yet to celebrate their first birthday!
By the close of this year’s cross-country season, the team had achieved nearly fifty podiums; Chris Harley’s belief in “Dream big and big things will happen” seemed to be working!
Chris, along with Ash Kirk (a bromance commonly referred to as ‘Crash’) dreamed up the concept of creating their own team in January 2013 when things weren’t as they had hoped and expected at their previous club. And from this little seed of discontent grew one of the biggest and most well-renowned cross-country mountain bike race teams in the East of England.
Originally this embryonic team was going to be sponsored by UKDN, the company that Chris works for. However, after UKDN pulled out the duo approached Everybody Health and Fitness, a gym local to Chris, with the proposal of starting a cross-country mountain bike team who could use the gym as part of the riders’ training and development, and who could in turn promote the gym throughout the Eastern Region. EHF were very keen, and a dynamic and passionate partnership was born. For Ash this was a really key moment, “Prior to this we had some issues with sponsorship which put our future in jeopardy. With their support we have been able to create what you see today”.
With a title sponsor in place, next on the agenda was deciding who was going to be in this team. Indeed, whether riders would want to be in this team. They had dreamt up a team, but could it become a living thing, a reality? Chris and Ash were not so much looking for performance, but for personality. From conception onwards, this team has aimed to be approachable, friendly, to welcome inexperience and foster growth in performance and inclusivity. Chris and Ash were keen to build a team “with similar mindsets to our own”, says Ash. Chris told me, “I wanted the team to be liked”. He doesn’t mean in an egotistical manner, he means that he wants his riders to be happy, kind, polite and social. It is indeed hard not to like EHF riders. It is an ideal well accomplished. Whilst character was the emphasis, performing well and encouraging a professional nature in training and racing was, and has continued to be, important. However, despite strict criteria and ideas of professionalism, EHF Racing acquired most of their members by a series of faintly ridiculous accidents!
A stalwart of the team (if such a title can be accrued after only a year), Chris Hunter, got chatting to Chris at the Boudicca Sportive back in 2011. Both Chris and Chris are habitual chatters, and, by bizarre coincidence, both seemed to think they knew the other. As it transpired, they had never actually met before, but were now good friends! “I took him on because he was just such a nice bloke!”, say Chris. In another masterful moment of management, Chris and Ash had clocked newbie mountain biker, Mel Paddington, as a potential talent and totally top gal! They approached Mel and asked whether she would be interested in joining their team. Mel said she’d love to, on condition that best friend and cycling buddy, Jason Nunn, could join too. At the next race Jason passed the personality test and had a storming ride to boot. Next thing he knew he was signed up along with Mel.
You would not believe that such a cohesive and even vaguely organised team could be constructed out of such a plethora comedy sketches. It is testament to Chris and Ash as individuals. They have combined a vision and a drive into a wonderful team, and they have done it in such a unique and well-humoured manner that they have naturally produced the finished article that they were hoping for.
So with a title sponsor, some riders chased, some in place, and an unexpected interest from numerous others, it was really happening. The boys were not about to sit stale though, and the pursuit of more sponsorship continued. There are dreams, and there are realities. Chris explained that going to companies and expecting sponsorship on the back of nothing was somewhat pushing the boundaries of reality. However, dreams need pursuit, and by replacing a track record with abundant passion, determination and vision, Chris and Ash were not turned down by anyone. Accelerade were – and remain – a major spsonsor. The growth and success of EHF Racing has led to continued co-operation with the company and an increasingly beneficial mutual relationship.
Part of the deal with these sponsors was that their logo would be on the team jersey. So, next on the to-do list was the kit. The team kit is obviously a big thing for Chris and Ash; in many ways it made their dream a reality. Chris described the look of the kit, and thus the team, as “massively important”, and went on to say that “A LOT of kit was designed!”. The founders wanted something that everyone would want to wear, to feel and look good in.
Ash’s artistic skills were utilised and after innumerable designs and re-designs, the kit was submitted and the waiting began. Chris says, “I remember when the kit turned up, I stood there in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, and thought, this is amazing, it’s actually happening!”.
It really was happening. And not only did the team get started, they have kept going. I asked both Chris and Ash what their proudest achievement had been. There was a long silence, legs crossed and uncrossed, hands came to their chins, they hummed. “It’s really hard to pick one, there have been so many”, said Chris eventually. “If I had to say, it would be the last round of the MSG series at Hadleigh Farm. We had an overall podium in nearly every category. The consistency is impressive”. He added, “and there has been green EHF hoodies everywhere!”. Ash settled upon a point which demonstrates that the EHF Racing’s founding principles are still strong. He told me, “There are a few, but if I am pushed to name one it is receiving compliments from another team. It was truely humbling to be told from an outsider’s perspective that our intentions were becoming a reality. That was such a confidence boost for us, as until that point you are only gauging things with your own perception”.
Having discussed the highlights of the last year – the first year – we looked ahead to 2014 and the future of the team. Chris is quite clear. “I would like to be the top team in East Anglia, the team that everyone thinks of first”. “Every rider we have taken on has grown with us. We’re not likely to take an elite rider, but we’d love to produce one. That’s more special”.
EHF Racing is unashamedly ambitious, and in the healthiest possible way. Chris and Ash don’t have an end goal, a finishing point, it is about improving, moving forward, not stagnating. “We firstly want to make sure our riders are happy; happy riders are good riders! We hope to continue our regional success and build on our national successes seen this past year. Hopefully we will continue adding to our Expert licence holders (Tom Wright and soon Mel Paddington). We want to maintain a professional etiquette but a fun side is key to us as well”, says Ash.
So much of what has made EHF Racing so successful is the character and partnership of its founders. ‘Crash’ have an extraordinary ability to be both utterly bonkers and deadly serious, fun and focussed, inexperienced yet adept.
“I’m never realistic, I’m a dreamer. Ash is the realistic one”.
There are dreams, and there are realities, but they are not necessarily entities that can not be married. EHF Racing have proven this very handsomely.