1. Home Brother
  2. Cycling
  3. Brother Cycling | Blog
  4. Cycling
  5. 2020
  6. Brother UK and Team OnForm’s renewed partnership
Side profile of Phil Jones MBE, stood next to Simon Howes on a city street with vehicles and tall buildings in the background

Brother UK and Team OnForm’s renewed partnership

The most successful relationships are built on trust. The blueprint for future success is often found in past achievements, and the bigger picture is sometimes revealed by the shared pursuit of a wider goal.

So it is that Brother UK will return to the side of Cycle Team OnForm in 2020, having first partnered with Simon Howes’ development squad in 2018. The relationship continued in 2019 with sponsorship of Brother UK-Tifosi, Howes’ all-conquering elite women’s team. Hands were shaken on a contract extension. This year, however, that same squad will race as CAMS-Tifosi. Why?

“I was happy to make room for a business making a serious commitment. By equipping a British team to compete at the highest level, the budget will benefit women’s cycling in the UK.” Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director, Brother UK

“It’s unheard of in cycling for a title sponsor to step back to allow a new backer into the sport. I’d met Phil Jones MBE, the Managing Director of Brother UK, at the end of last season. We’d shaken hands on a deal to continue the sponsorship into 2020 and raise the team to UCI level,” Howes explains.

“Even at that meeting, Phil had said: ‘If a bigger opportunity arises, let’s discuss it.’ When CAMS approached us, Phil and I had that conversation. We decided that the best thing to do for the team and for British cycle sport was for Brother UK to step back from the UCI team.”

Brother UK is built on sustainability. Jones has long called for British cycle sport to adopt this philosophy. His management of the transfer from Brother UK-Tifosi to CAMS-Tifosi is evidence for this belief.

“The best thing a sponsor can do is commit to a team as soon as possible. The team can then commit to riders and race programmes. Simon and I shook hands on a deal to continue our sponsorship of Brother UK-Tifosi, which then allowed him to tell the riders that the team would be moving up to UCI level for a better programme,” he recalls.

“Then Simon called to tell me, in effect, ‘Someone has arrived with a bigger cheque book than you.’ I remember thinking, ‘This is the best thing.’ I was happy to make room for a business making a serious commitment. By equipping a British team to compete at the highest level, their budget will benefit women’s cycling in the UK.”

Such openness, transparency and desire to serve the wider sport has given birth, indirectly, to the squad that will continue the relationship between Howes and Brother UK in 2020: Team Brother UK-OnForm.

Simon Howes and Phil Jones MBE smiling and talking to people who are partially out of shot with a building under construction in the background

A question of commitment

“Commitment is a word I use frequently,” Simon Howes confides, his broad grin confirming that this is no great secret. “If you’re going to do something, do it right. If not, don't bother.”

His philosophy is writ large in the set-up enjoyed by his riders. From the services of a psychologist to a paddock presence that wouldn’t disgrace a UCI WorldTour squad, Brother UK-Team OnForm is the embodiment of an amateur team with professional standards.

“Commitment is a word I use frequently. If you’re going to do something, do it right. If not, don’t bother.” Simon Howes, General Manager, Team Brother UK-OnForm

Howes’ earlier career as a rider supplies his motivation to provide the best for his team. His rise to prominence coincided with the first stirrings in the chrysalis of British Cycling, an organisation newly-warmed by the rays of Lottery funding and about to metamorphose into a cycling superpower.

“I was racing just as British Cycling’s World Class Performance Plan was coming to fruition under Peter Keen, Chris Boardman’s coach. I’d taken myself off to race in Europe as a 17-year-old. In France, Belgium and Italy, I’d often be the only British rider on the start list,” he recalls.

“I went down to Chichester University, where Peter was based, for testing. It was a time when sports scientists first measured power to weight ratios. I think mine was something like 5.4w/kg. That single test got me onto the national squad.”

Howes marvels at British cycle sport's progression, in the sophistication of its testing and the proliferation of its teams and athletes. When he travels to Europe now, his riders are far from the only Brits on the start list.

“I'm quite an extreme person. I occupy both ends of the scale, from passion to aggression. As a rider, I was very motivated. As young riders, at 19 or 20-years-old, we’re all fairly aggressive,” he says, grinning. “I’m still passionate about doing things correctly. That was my approach as a rider and it’s how we run our team.”

Intriguingly, Howes’ ambition and determination are counterbalanced by equally powerful beliefs in support, pleasure and empowerment. To paraphrase his earlier statement, if racing isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing either. Team Brother UK-OnForm is focussed on success, but not at the expense of enjoyment. Howes’ logic is simple: a happy rider is a successful rider.

Simon Howes gesturing while talking to someone who is out of shot while sat on a corner sofa with empty wine glasses in the foreground

Happiness equals success

Team Brother UK-OnForm is home to around 40 riders: male and female, junior and senior. It is a domestic team on a grand scale; grander by far than Howes had first conceived.

Four years ago, inspired by a round of The Tour Series, he decided to assemble a women’s team. This should have been a task of sufficient scale to occupy him. Sourcing riders, inspiring sponsors, cajoling equipment suppliers and recruiting volunteer staff is not easy. Matters progressed rapidly, however.

“I always say that a happy rider is a successful rider. The more support we can offer them the better. We try to deliver above and beyond the riders’ expectations.” Simon Howes, General Manager, Team Brother UK-OnForm

“The initial goal was to set up a women’s team. It spiralled - I won’t say it spiralled out of control - but it spiralled very, very quickly from being a six to eight-rider women’s team to include a men’s team and a junior team too: girls and boys. It grew from being a six-rider team to being a 40-rider team in year one. It became a mammoth task involving a huge number of riders.”

Such rapid growth mirrors Howes’ ambition. The success his teams have enjoyed validates his instinct to think big. Howes, rarely lost for words, can talk the talk. Overall victory last year for Brother UK-Tifosi in The Tour Series and the HSBC National Road Series, as well as British U23 road and time-trial titles for his protégé Anna Henderson, proves his ability to walk the walk.

Team Brother UK-OnForm’s paddock presence is a further expression both of Howes’ ambition and instinct to do right by his riders. Gleaming team vehicles and sophisticated carbon bicycles make a statement. A camper van is both practical and professional. Even the gazebo counts.

“We started with a gazebo. Now lots of teams have one. Four years ago, we were probably at the forefront of gazebos. Now it’s a competition to see who has the biggest. In year one, we had a psychologist and still do now. We take rider care seriously,” he says.

“I always say that a happy rider is a successful rider. The more we can offer them - mechanical support, soigneur support, psychological support, and then, of course, organisation - many teams aren’t as organised as perhaps they could be – the better. We try to deliver above and beyond the riders’ expectations.”

Members of Team OnForm in between two vehicles attending to a folding banner while a physiotherapist is treating a riders leg with a blue container in the background

The manager's manager

Michelle Jenner is accustomed to sharing her home with large deliveries of bikes, clothing and equipment, and even with visiting riders. Nothing can disrupt her stride…or casserole.

Jenner is Simon Howes’ partner. Some might describe her as his personal manager too. Without the countless tasks she completes behind the scenes, neither Team Brother UK-OnForm or CAMS-Tifosi would function as well as they do.

Howes remains fed and focussed thanks to her efforts. His family, business and sporting diaries remain in balance. Jenner is a calming influence, even when forced to share her kitchen with a delivery of cycle clothing sufficient for an entire team.

“Simon told me, ‘I’m just going to do the team kit’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to do a casserole.’ I was stood among piles of clothing, chopping carrots and trying to get the dinner in the oven.” Michelle Jenner, Team OnForm

“The CAMS-Tifosi kit landed at our front door. I’d worked from home to take delivery, as time was tight before the pre-season training camp. After it arrived, I went to work and later came home to find it all over my kitchen floor,” she recalls.

“Simon told me, ‘I’m just going to do the team kit’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to do a casserole.’ I was stood among piles of clothing, chopping carrots and trying to get the dinner in the oven. An hour-and-a-half later, we’d eaten, and bagged up the clothing ready for the training camp.”

Jenner says she knew what she was signing up for when joining forces with Howes. She comes from a cycling family and had known him most of her life. Now, their holidays frequently coincide with team camps. Weekends away are often race weekends.

On race day, she steps back from the action. Most of her work by then is done. She may be called upon to perform some final practical task, such as sourcing extra water on a hot day, but her principal duty once the flag has fallen is to pass Howes his ‘must-have’ can of Coca-Cola.

Jenner embodies the small army of volunteers who help the UK race scene to function. In recent years, Howes’ elite female riders have been a dominant force. A straight line can be drawn between back-to-back British circuit race titles for Anna Henderson and Rebecca Durrell and Jenner’s calm support.

Cyclist Rebecca Richardson with a determined look on her face while riding through the countryside with a tree and hills in the background

High climber

Rebecca Richardson’s road racing career might accurately be said to have been saved by Phil Jones MBE, Brother UK’s Managing Director.

Last year, Richardson raced for Brother UK-FusionRT, Britain’s second-ranked elite women’s team. Terry Williamson, its highly-respected and long-serving manager, retired at the end of the season.

Jones recognised the void created by the conclusion of a team that had enjoyed its most successful campaign. Unable to persuade Williamson to continue, he contacted the riders.

“Phil reached out to individual riders, myself included, and said: ‘How can we keep you in the sport?’ He recognised that I was on the cusp of experiencing the scene as one that might no longer work for me.” Rebecca Richardson, Team Brother UK-OnForm

“Part of realising the role that women’s cycling plays in maintaining diversity in British cycle sport is recognising that women need to work, as well as conducting themselves professionally in racing,” Richardson explains.

“Phil reached out to individual riders, myself included, and said: ‘How can we keep you in the sport?’ He recognised that I was on the cusp of experiencing the scene as one that might no longer work for me. He put me in touch with Simon, and it all came together.”

Richardson speaks of Williamson and her former colleagues in glowing terms. She acknowledges, however, the attractiveness of Team Brother UK-OnForm and its pathway to the professional ranks with CAMS-Tifosi.

Last season was her first with an elite team. Her goal was to learn. This year, she will serve Howes” squad as a climber and target the more gruelling races of the HSBC National Road Series for her own success.

Richardson describes climbing as a “nuanced activity”. She explains how her strength on long hills with shallow gradients complemented the “punch” shown on shorter, steeper ramps by former team-mate Claire Steels, winner of the Ryedale GP.

Richardson is modest. She is the Welsh hill climb champion and the reigning champion at Monsal Head. Talk of her hill climb success offers another window on the vital role of volunteers and family members.

A business owner and single parent, Richardson relied heavily last autumn on the childcare provided by her parents during a relentless two-month campaign in which she won 18 consecutive hill climbs and set numerous course records.

The care provided by Richardson’s parents for Arthur, her six-year-old son, mirrors the support team manager Simon Howes enjoys from his partner Michelle Jenner. The outward professionalism of elite cycling is underpinned by the finest traditions of amateur sport.

Cyclist Corey Bale standing and leaning forward while riding along a tree lined country road

Team player

Corey Bale is Team Brother UK-OnForm’s longest-serving rider. He joined at the start, responding to an email from manager Simon Howes. Having established a women’s team, Howes was keen to broaden OnForm's remit. Neve Upton, Bale’s friend and a former rider, recommended him. Four years later and still only 19, he continues to build a career in the team’s distinctive harlequin colours.

Last year’s final round of The Tour Series at Brooklands was a double celebration for Howes and his teams. Before Anna Henderson sealed overall triumph for the Brother UK-Tifosi elite women’s squad, Bale won the support race. He considers it a modest accomplishment. He was pleased, however, to succeed in such historic surroundings, and on a circuit that played to his strengths.

“The Tour Series support race was a category 2/3/4, but it was one where I’d wanted to do well. Brooklands is an iconic venue.” Corey Bale, Team Brother-UK-OnForm

“The support race was only a category 2/3/4, but it was one where I’d wanted to do well. Brooklands is an iconic venue, and the circuit we used was similar to the go-kart track where I’d learned to race. We stayed after the support races to cheer on Anna and the Brother UK-Tifosi team, and joined Simon for their celebrations. It was a great day.”

Bale began racing two years before joining Team OnForm, competing regularly as a first-year U16 with Devon club CS Dynamo. He won more than ten races in his final season before joining Howes’ set-up. Only the coincidence of a family holiday with the last race of the series denied him overall victory. As a youth, he won most races from bunch sprints. Now he considers himself a rouleur.

The 2020 season is unlike any other. The government lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus has decimated the calendar. Bale has served two key worker roles - bike mechanic and food chain worker - and continued to ride off-road and on gravel while chasing Strava KOMs to add much-needed motivation to structured road training.

He is both ambitious and realistic. This year, Bale hopes to gain his first-category licence. His ultimate dream is to turn professional, but he has not imposed a rigid timeframe on his development. Howes holds the keys to numerous development pathways, Bale reasons, including with British elite and UCI Continental teams. Continuing to impress the current boss cannot fail to support his wider goals.

Chartered psychologist Peter Hudson advising the CAMS-Tifosi team who are straddling their bikes in front of a support vehicle

A psychological support

The number of amateur cycling teams who enjoy the support of a chartered psychologist might be counted on the fingers of one hand. Team Brother UK-OnForm is among them. Peter Hudson has been a practising psychologist for 25 years. A competitive cyclist, he began his Cyclotherapy business in 2011 to unite his sporting and professional interests.

Team Brother UK-OnForm is a new client. Hudson began working with the CAMS-Tifosi women’s professional team at the beginning of 2020 and held one-to-one sessions with riders in February, at their warm-weather training camp in Spain. Howes asked him in April if he would extend his remit to his development team amid a coronavirus-inspired lockdown.

“The impact of a psychological intervention might be harder to identify than physical training, but I hope to ensure that Simon’s riders arrive on the start line in the best frame of mind.” Peter Hudson, Chartered Psychologist

Advising on the importance of structure, routine and variety to the management of enforced isolation is only one aspect of Hudson's professional support, however. Race-day strategies intended to overcome negative thoughts are also part of the package.

“The impact of a psychological intervention in an athlete's preparation might be harder to identify than physical training, but I hope to ensure that Simon's riders arrive on the start line in the best frame of mind,” Hudson explains.

“When they’re racing, I hope my work helps them to maintain focus and concentration, and to keep at bay any negative mental processes, allowing them to use their physical prowess and tactical skills to the best of their abilities.”

The psychological coaching of cyclists remains a comparatively niche field, despite the lauded interventions of Dr Steve Peters in his work with British Cycling's all-conquering Olympic squads of 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Even referring to Peters’ achievements does not adequately describe the potential of Hudson's work with Team Brother UK-OnForm, however. Howes' development team is comprised of amateur riders forced to balance work or study with training and racing, rather than funded athletes seeking a marginal gain.

Hudson has already worked with a team of British riders with organ transplants and will seek to apply the standards demanded by these most inspiring athletes to Team Brother UK-OnForm. For now, he says, he and Howes' riders are “finding their way together”, building trust through confidentiality in pursuit of a competitive advantage their rivals are unlikely to enjoy.

Mechanic Paul Clarke holding the handlebars of a bike in front of a support vehicle in a car park

Joining the car park club

Paul Clarke describes the small group of mechanics who serve the women’s peloton, whether in the UK or Women’s WorldTour, as a “car park club”. Long after the star performers in elite cycling’s travelling show have retired to bed, it is the mechanics, typically, who remain outside, fettling bikes in a bid to eliminate mechanical failure from the following day’s race.

Clarke has seen the amateur and professional worlds from the inside. He has worked with Team OnForm since its earliest days and last year completed a season with Bigla-Katusha, the Swiss-registered team that is home to Sophie Wright, another Brother UK 'graduate’. He notes the difference in budgets between teams competing as amateurs or professionals, and the impact funding makes on the amount of equipment placed at the riders’ disposal.

“The level of equipment support in domestic racing is nothing like the Women’s WorldTour. Like all professional sport, the top tier of women’s cycling is budget-driven.” Paul Clarke, Mechanic, Team Brother UK-OnForm

“In lower tiers of the sport, riders bring their own bikes to races. My task as mechanic is to check them on race day, and ideally before. In amateur cycling, the biggest challenge is planning. I encourage riders to communicate. If a rider has a problem with gears or noise from the bottom bracket, for example, you need them to tell you before arriving at the race,” Clarke explains.

“On the domestic scene, women’s races typically start at 9am on a Sunday. We'll usually meet on a Saturday to recce the course. This is the only time available to check over the bikes. I’m very reliant on riders to communicate so I can bring spare parts. The level of equipment support in domestic racing is nothing like the Women’s WorldTour. Like all professional sports, the top tier of women’s cycling is budget-driven and sponsor-driven.”

In 2015, Clarke completed a race mechanics’ course at USA Cycling’s Olympic headquarters in Colorado. The 2020 campaign will reunite him with Howes’ squads. He will focus the majority of his efforts on the CAMS-Tifosi team. A Royal Naval engineer for 25 years, Clarke is used to planning and has taken the lead on preparing race-weekend rosters for mechanical support.

Success is only a small part of a team’s shared journey, Clarke maintains. Rider development and the shared acceptance of setbacks hold the same importance as national titles. For him, Anna Henderson’s meteoric rise from guileless novice to paid professional encapsulates the team’s purpose.

Soigneur Phil Holloway helping a cyclist warm up while they are lying on a treatment table under a Bianchi branded gazebo

The one per cent

Soigneur Phil Holloway has only two signed pictures on his wall. The first is from Julie Erskine: an autographed image of her victory at the 2017 Curlew Cup, Team OnForm’s first victory in a national race. The second is from Anna Henderson, who last year won the British U23 road and time-trial championships.

Holloway, a former club rider with Southend Wheelers and London taxi driver retrained as a soft tissue therapist, is adamant that riders must claim sole credit for victories. If his massage makes a difference of “one per cent” to their performance, driving from Amersham to Newcastle (for Erskine’s Curlew Cup victory) or to Aberystwyth (for Henderson’s debut Tour Series win) is worth the effort.

“My work in cycling began by giving massages in a field at the North Bucks RC road race. I’ve since worked with the New Zealand track team at the World Championships.” Phil Holloway, Sogineur, Team Brother UK-OnForm

He is happy to praise the impact that Howes’ squads have made on his second career, however. Holloway has worked at some of the biggest races on the women’s road calendar and at the UCI World Track Championships since joining forces with his former racing competitor (“Simon spent most of our races at the front of the bunch, while I was nearer the back”) in Team OnForm’s earliest days.

“Working with Team OnForm has been amazing for me. My work in cycling began by giving massages in a field at the North Bucks RC road race. I’ve since worked with the New Zealand track team at the 2018 World Championships in Apeldoorn and met the UCI Vice President,” he says.

Victories are only one reward for Brother UK-Team OnForm’s tireless volunteers. Holloway says he had never laughed so much as during the 250-mile drive from Newcastle to London, following Erskine’s Curlew Cup win. After 150 miles, he banned all talk of cycling, but the banter continued. Howes’ insistence on mixing travelling groups in cars and hotels supports team bonding, Holloway says.

He cites last year’s Tour of the Reservoir as evidence for the selfless riding Howes has inspired: no small task in an amateur team where competition for promotion to the professional ranks is fierce. Rebecca Durrell set the tone by winning stage one, freeing Leah Dixon to pursue stage and overall victory the following day. Dixon’s success from a breakaway owed much to Durrell’s refusal to chase, Holloway maintains, despite her riding in the yellow jersey.

Simon Howes sat on the bonnet of a OnForm support vehicle in a car park with other vehicles in the background

Extracurricular activities

Team Brother UK-OnForm is a squad founded on long-term relationships. Its relationship with Writtle University College began in the team's earliest days. Mark Walker, manager of WUC's Cycling Performance course, has helped to place a number of students inside the squad, both as riders and observers of roles they might wish to pursue at graduation.

Students have joined Team Brother UK-OnForm in locations as diverse as the London Olympic Velodrome (for The Revolution Series) and town centres (for The Tour Series). Howes and his staff repay the compliment with visits to the university for classroom lectures, sharing their experience of life in the top tier of domestic racing.

“Team Brother UK-OnForm provides an environment where learnings from different modules can be applied: coaching, physiology, exercise and nutrition.” Mark Walker, Course Manager, Writtle University College

“The degree is rooted in the concept of applied learning. A quarter of the curriculum is based in real-world environments. Students take theory learned in the classroom and put it into practice. Later, they take their observations of the real world back into the classroom to discuss and debate,” Walker explains.

“Team Brother UK-OnForm provides an environment where learnings from a range of different modules can be applied, including coaching, physiology, exercise and nutrition. Students might use their experience with the team to build knowledge on the use and validity of power meters, for example, or the validity and reliability of physiological tests.”

WUC founded the course in response to a perceived need, says Walker, a coach of long-standing. Successful junior riders typically face a big decision when leaving school or college: should they follow the dream of turning professional or start to build a more conventional career? WUC's Cycling Performance course allows them to pursue both options.

Team Brother UK-OnForm invites students to join their staff and experience a host of roles, from physiotherapist to mechanic. They can also observe the demands and rewards of team management at close quarters, shadowing Howes and his sports directors on race days in the liveliest of live environments.

Side shot of Phil Jones MBE and Simon Howes as they are talking while stood in front of a blue van

Targeting achievement

Having developed a winning formula over a long managerial career (before the former's coronavirus-enforced cancellation, Howes was set to become the first manager to direct a team in the Women's Tour and the Tour of Britain) he is confident of its continued effect. Central to his method is a refusal to 'pigeon-hole' riders and confine their expectations to targets.

In peak season, a rider can race as many as three times a week, he reasons. Their opportunities therefore will far exceed a narrow list of pre-season targets. Any outing offers the chance for a result that might define an entire campaign. Disregarding a race for a plan conceived in the closed season can be hugely counterproductive, he argues. Then there is the pleasure principle.

“Team Brother UK-OnForm might be our development team, but we still want them to become the number one team in the UK and to win the races we’ve won in the past.” Simon Howes, General Manager, Team Brother UK-OnForm

“Sport is about results and achievement, but I'm far more focussed on achievement than results. We've said already that a happy rider is a successful rider. If every rider finishes the season with a smile on their face, it will probably mean that they've achieved the results they wanted to achieve and so met their targets. As a team, it means we will have achieved a heck of a lot,” Howes maintains.

Team Brother UK-OnForm will start the delayed 2020 season inspired by the success last year of former colleagues in their now-sister squad, CAMS-Tifosi. The transition has been handled adroitly by Howes and by Phil Jones MBE, from the seamless transfer of financial backing to the recruitment of riders like Rebecca Richardson.

Howes does not intend lightly to relinquish the crowns worn by Brother UK-Tifosi. The habit of winning, as sports personalities from Pep Guardiola to Lewis Hamilton will attest, is easier to maintain than to acquire.

“The calendar for CAMS-Tifosi has evolved and is based now as much in Europe as in the UK. Team Brother UK-OnForm might be our development team, but that doesn't mean we don't want them to become the number one team in the UK and to win races that we've won in the past,” Howes says.

Howes is an eternal optimist and a fierce advocate for positivity. Even a calendar ravaged by the Covid19-inspired lockdown cannot depress him. When racing begins, Team Brother UK-OnForm will be determined to continue where Brother UK-Tifosi left off.

Images by Tony Wood, Ashley Ayres, Bob MacGregor and Sean Hardy


By submitting your details and clicking the subscribe button, you are consenting to receive information related to Brother services, products, marketing and other business related matters.

You can withdraw your consent at any time. The personal information you provide will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy which are available here.

More from Cycling

Related posts

Back to top