This is a part of a collection of articles that didn’t get published within the past few seasons but I think still hold plenty of interest for the dedicated cycling fan!
The remarkable story of the birth of EvoPro Racing and the ‘rebirth’ of its founder and sports director Morgan Fox, who found a new lease of life after a cycling accident during his own career saw him rapidly go deaf.
It’s a story in two parts that make an unlikely whole, a team running out of cash, and an accident involving a rider where the resulting surgery goes horribly wrong. Both incidents occur at the Tour of Qinghai Lake – the unofficial Grand Tour of Asia – but 10 years apart.
Morgan Fox was a quality rider back in his day, an Irish national champion who could also boast of rolling Robbie McEwen in a sprint – not that that the softly spoken EvoPro man would do so.
“I got to a really good level and was able to ride all the Spring classics like Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold and all those,” said Fox. “I was unlucky, I got glandular fever. At the time it was almost like, a cliché. A rider in Europe with glandular fever was almost finished.
“I got cut… mercilessly. It took me a while to get back from that. I took up with Conti teams, as much getting involved to get these teams off the ground and having fun as well.”
Fox’s career ended on Stage 4 of the 2008 Tour of Qinghai Lake from Bird Island to Xihaizhen, a victim of circumstance in the particularly vulnerable sport of cycling.
“In 2008, I had this really big crash in China,” said Fox. “I avoided a big pile-up and stopped by the side of the road and there was a rider getting back on after a flat. He had his head down, didn’t see the crash and hit me like a missile.
“I broke nine ribs, punctured my lung and with the resulting treatment in the hospital, I was overdosed with antibiotics and got something called autotoxicity. Over the space of a couple of years it wiped out my hearing and I became completely deaf.
“At that stage I was combining work, college and riding a bike. I was doing everything and really enjoying what I was doing. I was starting to become successful off the bike, running a couple of businesses.
“Over the space of a few years, where you can’t hear, it’s kind of difficult… especially when it’s so sudden. It was terrifying. My wife became pregnant with our first child and I was wondering how I was going to manage kids right now.”
Going from a place to where he was happy with life to the obstacles of disability and having your perception of the world change around you, Fox found something that has never deserted him throughout his career, bloody-minded perseverance.
“It was a lifestyle change for me,” said Fox. “When you become suddenly deaf, the world doesn’t stop, it keeps going. You’ve got bills to pay and stuff to do, so you can’t just lie and wait to figure it out. You find that there’s not much sympathy out there. I went through a tough time.”
“I had a lot of help with the Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, we went for a while and I was able to keep a decent level of hearing with super powerful hearing aids before it just dropped out entirely.
“I was left with no option but to go with a Cochlear implant. It’s an incredible device. What it does; it isolates your ears – you don’t use them at all – and it wires directly into your brain, so to speak.”
“I kind of felt a bit reborn. When they switch on the Cochlear implant, you’re supposed to have three to six months of squeaks, bangs, squeals and Darth Vader-style conversations. That did happen for a while, but I worked so hard at the rehab that I almost burnt myself out and they had to tell me to slow down. The progress was really fast and it gave me that new lease on life, I could hear the race radio, chat to the guys on the bikes. In this DS role, it’s almost 100 per cent a communication role and here I am – I’m still classed as being profoundly deaf.”
Seeing Morgan Fox, the sports director of EvoPro Racing, in action at the Herald Sun Tour, everything is perfectly normal, if a bit more quiet than normal in the team car.
The process of EvoPro Racing coming into being was a remarkably similar process to Fox’s own medical issues, a case of bad-luck serendipity as 10 years later Fox found himself in charge of the Holdsworth Pro Racing outfit during the 2018 edition of the Tour of Qinghai Lake when news came through that there was no funding for the rest of the season and the team had to shut up shop.
“We were in China and got a call to say the team was stopping and there wouldn’t be any more races,” said Fox. “The team came to me and said ‘what are we going to do, Morgan? This is it, we’re not in the shop window and we can’t show ourselves’.”
“It’s almost like somebody cutting your legs off and saying ‘go do a marathon’. It’s not possible to be seen by the other teams if you’re not racing. It was that moment where I thought I can do better and help a few guys out here. We’ve taken three of those guys into the team this year.”
Again, Fox’s determined nature kicked in. The adversity of the situation gave him something to strive for, a chance to right the wrongs of a situation this time that other people had been placed in. Bringing a UCI-registered team together with only a few months left in the year is a tough ask, particularly when Fox shouldered so much of the responsibility himself.
“There’s a huge amount that has gone into it,” said Fox. “I think that if I rewind it back, I was a little gung ho about the thing. We (Fox and business partner PJ Nolan) didn’t start putting together until September and we did it from scratch from there. Equipment suppliers, cash sponsors, race invites, dealing with the UCI for registration… everyone was saying ‘you’re crazy, you won’t get it done in time’. But, three or four months of 16-hour days gets a lot done.”
“Before, I knew it, riders kept contacting me and I ended up with the team we have now of 17 riders. We have World champions, World Tour riders, Tour de France riders, Olympic medalists… it’s pretty good for a first year Continental team. We don’t consider ourselves a third-division team and that’s a big plus for now.”
The team has become a home for those that have incredible talent, but didn’t find a home in the cutthroat environment of the WorldTour, riders like Aaron Gate and Shane Archbold really stood out as that upper-tier of rider. (Editor- Archbold would get the chance to jump back into the WorldTour with former team BORA-hansgrohe midseason 2019, and has since followed Sam Bennett to Deceuninck-Quickstep as his leadout man).
It’s been a ton of hard work, but for Fox, it is a remarkable job that gives back to him as much as he provides for the athletes.
“I want to do something that I love doing that I’m passionate about,” said Fox. “The old cliché: if you enjoy doing it, it’s not work. I don’t care about doing long hours on this or having to do a lot of it on my own, it doesn’t feel like work pressure.
“These guys are helping me as much as I’m helping them, and I don’t even want to say it like I’m helping them too much. They’re doing the job, they’re continuing their careers, I’m just putting something in where they can continue to do that. It’s either about getting them back up where they belong or bringing them with me. I’ll be happy as Larry if I see Aaron Gate going to a WorldTour team or Shane Archbold going back to BORA.”
EvoPro Racing is the phoenix rising from the ashes of professional cycling, just as Fox has had to resurrect himself in the past. If Fox’s personal story is anything to go by, it should be a very successful endeavor.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger