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General manager Ian Watson of Team Brother UK-LDN supporting cyclist after race

Team Brother UK-LDN: Racing is life

Team Brother UK-LDN is determined to make a lasting impression on elite domestic road racing if the delayed 2020 season finally begins. Its riders and management are ready.

General manager Ian Watson, aka Coach Watto, is a lifelong cyclist and beneficiary of a traditional club education received in an era of unprecedented strength for Merseyside cycling. Eight years on from his co-founding of parent club CC London, he is eager to put the team bearing the name of his adopted city on the map of British cycle sport.

“Race day is life itself,” he says, offering a concise but emphatic summary of the emotions shared by his squads. Weekday chain gangs in Regent’s Park and weekend outings north or south of the capital build camaraderie and fitness, but only a Sunday in season can supply the matchless thrill of competition.

“Race day is life itself. You’re either on cloud nine or in the doldrums, but racing is fantastic. The adrenaline we get from it is incredible.” Ian Watson, General Manager, Team Brother UK-LDN

While the women’s squad will carry Team Brother UK-LDN’s greatest hopes, assuming British Cycling lifts its lockdown-inspired suspension while a racing calendar in 2020 remains feasible, it is worth noting Watson’s strengthening of an expanded men’s team. If the flag finally falls at races this year in either branch of the federation’s flagship road series, Watson’s project will advance.

“Last year, we thought of races in the National Road Series as ‘super recces’. This year, we want to compete. We intend the women’s team to do very, very well. We’ll face stiff competition, but we want to be in the top three of the overall standings, if not win it,” he says.

“We’ve bolstered the men’s team by bringing in a few first cat riders. Last year, our purpose was only to experience racing at that level. This year, we’ll go with the self-belief that comes from knowing what we can do. The demise of some of the more established teams creates an opportunity for our lads.”

As of writing, competition overseas seems a more viable option for the women’s team at least. Watson is targeting the Tour de l’Ardeche, in September, a respected and demanding UCI 2.1-ranked stage race. An event won last year by Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), the greatest female rider of all time, would represent a superb showcase for the latest squad to carry Brother UK’s logo and strap line into battle.

General manager Ian Watson of Team Brother UK-LDN kneeling while giving team talk to cyclists in car park

A proper upbringing

Watson is a lifelong cyclist, inspired by his father to take up the sport. He joined St Helens CRC aged eight and VC Halton four years later. Last year, he marked 40 years as a club cyclist.

Watson grew up in an exceptionally strong era for cycling on Merseyside, racing in every discipline available to him, including road, track and ’cross. His competitors were often professionals (Joughin, Thomas, McLoughlin et al.) or those who would soon join their ranks, notably Chris Boardman.

“I was brought up properly in cycling terms: structured club runs, everyone’s welcome, you come out on whatever bike you have, you learn and progress. That’s the way cycling clubs should be, and that’s why I started CC London,” he says.

“We didn’t advertise CC London. I wanted people to join for the right reasons. I'd rather have 50 committed members than 200 who weren’t bothered.” Ian Watson, General Manager, Team Brother UK-LDN

Watson stopped racing in his early twenties, developing a career as a plumber and later as a mortgage broker. The latter brought him to north London. Long, stressful days left little time for cycling, and he had difficulty finding a club.

The club he eventually joined had a different ethos to those of his youth, so he started his own with friend Grant Ventner. CC London was born in 2012 with cycling's popularity at its post-Olympic zenith. Membership grew swiftly to nearly 200 members.

"We aim to be an all-encompassing club. People can come out on any bike, no matter what bike it is. You can ride in trainers; it doesn't matter. We'll get you doing longer rides and faster rides. When more people joined, we split them into different groups. Members could do different rides on different days with different people."

Today, CC London organises one ride a day, six days a week, including mid-week chain gangs in Regent's Park and longer rides at weekends into Essex and Hertfordshire. Existing members serve as ambassadors. Watson encourages a friendly attitude and welcoming spirit. Riders passed in the park by a CC London chain gang are invited to jump on a wheel and join the fun.

"We didn't advertise CC London. I wanted people to join for the right reasons. I'd rather have 50 committed members than 200 who weren't bothered. With that said, we still grew to nearly 200 members by word-of-mouth and by registering with British Cycling's 'club finder' page."

Side view of team manager Ian Watson holding the front of his flat cap

The accidental coach

The development of Team LDN from CC London (the entities remain separate but aligned) mirrors Watson's development from club founder to coach. He insists that both were accidental.

Watson had grown increasingly disaffected with mortgage broking even before the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 to 2010. He completed a course as a personal trainer and combined on-bike coaching sessions with part-time work in London bike shops.

Inevitably, some of CC London's new riders displayed the talent for racing. Watson had a ready cohort to form a team with co-founder Drew Morris. His work as a coach for the London chapter of the Rapha Cycling Club provided another talent pool. Additionally, riders were referred to him from the community around Sigma Sports in Kingston.

“I didn’t set out to be a coach. It’s something that found me. I wanted ours to be the type of club where you could do anything.” Ian Watson, General Manager, Team Brother UK-LDN

"Team LDN is separate from CC London but born from it because I'm still involved with both. Lots of talent was coming through the London scene and racing locally at places like Hog Hill, Cyclopark and Velopark, but they needed a forum to showcase their talents on a bigger stage. I thought Team LDN could be a platform for learning in the London area," he says.

Previously, his most gifted riders graduated to teams competing nationally, including two sponsored by Brother UK: Team Brother UK-OnForm and the now-defunct Team Brother UK-FusionRT. The development of Team LDN into a force able to compete in the National Road Series mirrors Watson's development as a coach and his broadened ambitions for the team.

"I didn't set out to be a coach. It's something that found me. I started teaching people from CC London. I wanted ours to be the type of club where you could do anything: you could enjoy club runs, but if you got faster and more competitive, you could start racing too. I wanted to make sure there were steps in place that allow you to go wherever you want to go," he says.

"I had people who wanted to race. My idea was to teach them how. I taught them to follow a wheel, ride through-and-off, stay close to each other in a bunch and develop a tactical sense. Everyone started as fourth cats, and some just rattled through the ranks. We discovered some useful talent."

Cyclist Molly Patch smiling with greenery in the background

Familiar faces, new challenges

"Wiped out" by a crash in Australia at the start of the year, "totally floored" by pneumonia on her return to the UK in February and almost "cracked" by lockdown the following month, Molly Patch might be justified in considering 2020 a year to forget before its halfway mark is reached.

Intelligent, sanguine and blessed with the fighting spirit familiar to all elite cyclists, however, she is already looking ahead to September and a hoped-for appearance for Team Brother UK-LDN at the Tour de l'Ardèche.

“Now, I can focus on three months of hard training, which is great. When lockdown began, I had no idea why I was training. I found it quite hard simply to go out and enjoy riding.” Molly Patch, Rider, Team Brother UK-LDN

"If I'm not riding hard or my numbers aren't quite as good as usual, I can become quite frustrated with myself, even though it's unrealistic to expect to be pinging all year round," she says. "Now, I can focus on three months of hard training, which is great. Before, I had no idea why I was training. I found it quite hard simply to go out and enjoy riding."

Patch is already well-known to followers of Brother Cycling. A charismatic and talented presence at Brother UK-FusionRT, she and her team-mates helped Terry Williamson close his managerial career in style last year by supporting Claire Steels in her ride to overall victory at the Rás na mBan, the team's final race.

Her return to Team Brother UK-LDN in 2020, the squad with which she started racing, offers Patch a familiar environment and new challenges. She has fought personal battles to remain motivated in the face of illness, injury and the tedium of turbo training. Zwift racing holds only a transitory appeal for Patch.

"Initially, I was stressed by lockdown. People would say: 'You have to be ready to start racing again. It could be next month.' Part of me thought: 'I really need to be in racing condition,' but I knew that I wasn't there, physically. I found that very stressful and cracked a little bit."

Her parents encouraged her to revaluate. She has focussed since on strength and mobility, using time on the bike only to rediscover the pleasure of cycling. Bike packing is on her agenda for October.

Rested and engaged once more by thoughts of racing, Patch is eager to prepare for what she hopes will be a return to competition at the highest level. September, should it bring the Tour de l'Ardèche, won’t come quickly enough.

Volunteer VIcky Creer with her arm around team member while kneeling on grass in front of bike which is leaning against fence

Volunteer spirit

Vicky Creer embodies the volunteer spirit on which the British road scene depends. Variously Team Brother UK-LDN’s photographer, water carrier, cheerleader, and “mum” to its female riders, her support for Watson and his athletes is vital.

Race day preparation begins hundreds of miles from the course, she says. Creer fosters a camaraderie on journeys to races that proves invaluable when the flag falls several hours later.

“My greatest satisfaction lies in the riders’ appreciation. It gives me a real sense of purpose. My support begins by driving them to the race, providing a space in my car where they can chat and come together as a team. I realised that if they weren’t together from the start, their racing fell apart. Bonded by a sense of camaraderie, they work so well together. That showed in many of the performances last year.”

“Bonded by a sense of camaraderie, the riders work so well together. That showed in many of the performances last year.” Vicky Creer, Volunteer, Team Brother UK-LDN

Creer is a keen cyclist who rode through the Himalayas in support of the Prince’s Trust to celebrate turning forty. Her confidence was later dented in the most obvious sense when a driver opened a car door into her path on her London commute. The impact sent her to hospital with three cracked teeth, two crushed vertebrae and a damaged hip. Membership of CC London helped her to regain her self-belief.

CC London became Creer’s cycling club in 2015 and she has accompanied his Team LDN racing project since its inception. She praises his calm management. When CC London held long-distance trials, she marshalled and provided much-needed supplies to its exhausted participants. The experience provided an early taste of the satisfaction to come from helping at races.

An office manager and mother to two grown-up daughters, Creer is not obliged to give up her weekends. She makes clear, however, that the benefits of supporting the team outweigh any sacrifice. If household chores are pushed into the working week, she regards this as a small price to pay.

A photographer, Creer aims to capture the entire story of a race, rather than its most dramatic moments. Lockdown may have deprived her of the excitement and camaraderie of racing but has afforded time at her easel. Work on a series of cycling paintings is helping her to pass the time while British Cycling’s lockdown-inspired suspension of racing holds sway.

Cyclist Fran Cutts leaning into a bend with another cyclist close behind as they pass two spectators in the background

A versatile talent

Fran Cutts has transformed her riding from a daily commute to a first category racing licence in just five years.

Victory in her first road race uncovered a competitive instinct previously confined to academic assignments. She hasn’t looked back. Cutts has made continual progress since taking up racing after completing the John O’Groats to Land’s End event in 2016.

Riding from Seven Sisters to Islington each day as a student seems far removed from top ten finishes in National Road Series races. She has been a constant factor, however, in CC London’s expansion from club to competitive force. Understandably, Cutts is disappointed that lockdown has delayed a season which might have been Team LDN’s best to date.

“We were an unknown quantity last year. This year, we’ve accumulated a lot of incredibly strong women from London. I think it would have been a fantastic year for us.” Fran Cutts, Rider, Team Brother UK-LDN

“We were an unknown quantity last year. This year, we’ve accumulated a lot of incredibly strong women from London. I think it would have been a fantastic year for us. It’s so unfortunate that we’ve been unable to showcase this group. We have such a variety of riders now that we were well-placed for almost any race,” she says.

A glance at the results sheet from last year’s inaugural Bourne CiCLE Classic confirms her analysis. Cutts finished fourth in the opening day’s road race, the first of four Team LDN riders to flood the top ten. The following day, she helped its four-strong team time-trial squad to the runners-up position. Crit race victories and a finish in the top ten overall at the Women’s Tour of Sussex confirms a versatile talent.

“I raced in National Road Series races as part of a fully supported team for the first time last year. The Lincoln Grand Prix, the CiCLE Classic, and the Ryedale Grand Prix were my better races. I was excited to target them this year,” she explains.

“Everything is daunting the first time you do it, but last year I finished seventh at the British crit championships and was hoping to maintain or get a better position this year. I earned my first cat licence last season, so I was looking forward to stepping up this year.”

British Cycling’s recent commitment to a rolling suspension has dimmed hopes of even a curtailed campaign in 2020, but Cutts, one can be certain, will be ready if the flag finally falls.

Side view of Cyclist Danni Shrosbree riding along a road with a stone brick wall and window in the background

Runner, Rower, Triathlete... Cyclist

The cobbled climb of Michaelgate, the key feature of the Lincoln Grand Prix, might be the most celebrated in British cycle sport, but the ramp immortalised in the Hovis advert of the 1970s has provided Danni Shrosbree with a suitable substitute.

A former resident of North Dorset, now living with her family in Poole after being furloughed from her job in London, she sought out Gold Hill in Shaftesbury to ease the disappointment of an opportunity lost to lockdown.

“I was training on the weekend when the Lincoln Grand Prix would have been held and thought: ‘I have to ride a cobbled climb somewhere!’” Dani Shrosbree, Rider, Team LDN-Brother UK

“I was training on the weekend when the Lincoln Grand Prix would have been held and thought: ‘I have to ride a cobbled climb somewhere!’ I’m quite enjoying being back in Poole. Dorset is so beautiful, and riding laps of Regent’s Park at 5am can be demoralising,” Shrosbree says.

A former runner, swimmer, triathlete and rower, she took up cycling in a break from competition. Membership of CC London and inevitable recruitment to Team LDN followed. Her National Road Series debut came at the 2018 Lincoln Grand Prix. She finished in the top half of the peloton having survived a baptism of fire on Michaelgate.

A recurrence last year of a hip injury sustained while rowing inspired an active recovery. Shrosbree completed a demanding 48km swim-run challenge across Sweden and a half-Ironman triathlon, finishing second in her age group and sixth overall to qualify for the World Championships.

A return to bike racing at the inaugural Bourne CiCLE Classic road race included 40km in the breakaway and a ninth-place finish that completed a strong showing from Team LDN. She helped the team to second overall in the team time-trial too, despite their riding 25km on open roads in an earlier, aborted attempt (“the commissaire car took the wrong exit at a roundabout”).

Standing 175cm tall, Shrosbree’s “long levers” and rower’s “engine” present several development pathways. She lost muscle mass in her transition to cyclist and has become leaner still since running through rehab. She no longer fears climbs and even enjoys them.

The lockdown-enforced delay to the 2020 campaign has already cost Shrosbree and her team-mates an appearance in the UCI-sanctioned Healthy Ageing Tour. She remains convinced however of the team’s strength and of her own potential to make an impact against Britain’s top female riders.

Closeup of Amy Marks smiling to someone out of shot while wearing sunglasses and a helmet with other cyclists in the background

An exhilarating debut

Cycling’s most iconic landscapes and authentic cultures have left an indelible impression on Amy Marks.

Inspired by television broadcasts of Tour de France mountain stages and, more recently, by a weekend of racing in Belgium and Holland, Marks has found motivation in the sport’s greatest race and its spiritual homelands.

Experience on British roads has fuelled her desire for continued development too. A National Road Series debut in last year’s Stockton GP left her exhilarated and hungry for more.

“Road races in Britain are very well supported, but in town centre races in Belgium particularly, there’s a party atmosphere.” Amy Marks, Rider, Team Brother UK-LDN

“Riding in a National Road Series race is quite an experience. Racing under motorcycle escort and being able to use all of the road was new for me. Even in the first couple of miles at Stockton, I thought: ‘This is amazing. I want to do more of this,’” she says.

“The peloton in a national race is much larger than in a crit or a regional event. Concentration levels rise, as well as physical demands. Each team is trying to implement its tactics, and experienced riders know how to read a race. I learned a lot at Stockton and really enjoyed the experience. I can’t wait to do more.”

Marks began cycling seriously by completing the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2016. A trip to the Alps followed. There she discovered a love for climbing and CC London, the latter via recommendation.

Racing and training with Watson’s club led to a place on Team LDN and memorable experiences at home and abroad. She speaks with real enthusiasm about a weekend’s racing last year in Belgium and Holland.

“The atmosphere was very different from races in the UK. Road races in Britain are very well supported, but in town centre races in Belgium particularly, there’s a party atmosphere. Everyone was super friendly, and we felt as if the race organisers wanted us to be there,” she says.

Marks is rested and ready to resume racing. When we speak, she is filling the void of lockdown by riding out from her parents’ home in Suffolk but plans to return to Surbiton when normality resumes. There, she will train with team-mate Ione Johnson, who lives nearby. Eager and motivated, Marks is keen to begin the new campaign, whenever British Cycling lifts its Covid-inspired moratorium.

General manager Ian Watson of Team Brother UK-LDN giving a high five to a cyclist as she passes between the side of a building and railings

Welcome to the family

In a worrying period of contraction for British cycle sport, begun even before lockdown, Brother UK has maintained its commitment to sponsorship of four teams. Team LDN has assumed a position occupied last year by Team Brother UK-FusionRT, which sadly reached a natural conclusion with the retirement of team manager Terry Williamson.

The purpose of Brother UK-Team LDN in the technology giant's sponsorship portfolio is, ostensibly, to maintain a gender balance. It's worth noting however that men from Watson's team (and from Team Brother UK-OnForm) will carry the company's logo into battle, alongside Vitus Pro Cycling Team p/b Brother UK and Crimson Performance, should racing resume this year.

“Being part of the Brother Cycling family adds kudos. I'm very proud to be in the Brother UK camp, and the riders are proud too.” Ian Watson, General Manager, Team Brother UK-LDN

“Being part of the Brother Cycling family adds kudos. I'm very proud to be in the Brother UK camp, and the riders are proud too. When I told them that Brother UK was our new sponsor, it went down very, very well. Brother UK is a well-known name in the sport now and for all the right reasons,” Watson says.

Kudos is an advantage, but financial support, rather than value in kind, is of the greatest importance. “Cash is king," Watson admits. The reality of elite cycling and the necessity to compete nationally and overseas involves travel and accommodation costs, food and fuel bills. Nothing can be purchased with free equipment, however generous the donation.

“We have to have money,” Watson says, resignedly. “With the women's team, we go abroad more than with the men's team, and every part of the trip must be paid for. I try to keep the cost to the riders at a minimum because I truly believe that those we've selected have earned our support. That's why I'm very careful to choose riders with a good attitude.”

Team LDN is the new kid on Brother UK's block and eager to match the impact of its stablemates. Its club ethos, continued growth and focus on rider development make it a fitting party to advance the ambitions of Managing Director Phil Jones MBE to place UK cycle sport on a sustainable footing. A women's team ready to compete for national honours and a fast-developing men's squad seem worthy candidates to have Brother UK at their side.

Images by Victoria Creer


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