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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 7

Episode description

 In this episode, co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, are joined by regular contributor Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of VeloUK.net, to talk through several of the issues raised in our in-depth investigation of elite British road racing, The Way Ahead. 

Tim, Phil and Larry listen to clips taken from parts one and two of episode six and offer their perspectives on plans to restructure elite domestic road racing in three tiers, British Cycling’s new Elite Development Team status, and the feasibility of introducing a minimum wage to elite domestic road racing. 

Phil offers a forensic analysis of the commercial landscape in which the sport must fight for survival. He shares valuable insights into Brother UK’s sponsorship goals, ranging from the power of association with the sporting values embodied by our teams to the advantages and limitations of television coverage in a new media age. 

Larry brings insights from his work at VeloUK, including a recent interview with Giles Pidcock, father of new British superstar Tom Pidcock. Larry shares his wealth of knowledge, gained from 21 years spent covering the domestic scene, including the most recent period in which it functioned with a dedicated category for domestic pros. 
 
Tim, formerly the editor of RoadCyclingUK.com and Rouleur.cc, asks why the domestic scene, with its proven fund of riding talent and compelling races like the Lincoln GP, CiCLE Classic and Beaumont Trophy, isn’t more respected. He asks if more could be done by British Cycling to advocate for its National Road Series among professional cycling’s power brokers.
 
 

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Episode 7: Debating The Issues 

 Episode contents

  • 00:02 – Episode introduction
  • 00:38 – Coming Up
  • 02:13 – Part One: Meet The Guests
  • 03:40 – Part Two: Live Events vs. Social Media
  • 05.28 – Part Three: A Tiered Structure
  • 16.05 – Part Four: Elite Development Teams
  • 28.09 – Part Five: The Purpose of the National Road Series
  • 43.35 – Part Six: Television
  • 54.05 – Part Seven: Optimism and Positivity

Episode 7: Debating The Issues 

Timothy John 

“If your passion lies in elite British road racing and you want an inside line on the teams, riders, organisers and sponsors that make this sport such a compelling spectacle, you’re in the right place.

“I’m Timothy John and joining me for every episode is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones.”

Phil Jones 

"Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be here. We’re going to use this platform to talk about all the key issues surrounding the sport. With special guests, deep dives into hot topics and plenty of chat, we’ll keep you informed about all things UK racing.”

 

Coming Up

Timothy John

“Coming up in this analysis of our two-part investigation into elite British domestic road racing. 

“We discuss the value of television coverage to the sponsors of cycling teams in the new, digital landscape.”

Phil Jones

“Media consumption has totally changed. Television isn’t always the answer. I get it, in terms of what BC is saying. It frankly isn’t worth the money. If I was responsible for that money, I would probably make a similar decision. 

“So the second part of that question is, ‘Well, if we’re not spending it there, where will we spend it?’ What I haven’t seen or heard yet is, ‘Well, the chunk of money that we were investing

there is now going to be invested over here instead,’ and I think this is probably why the teams were initially quite shocked by that announcement.”

Timothy John

“We consider the value of the domestic road scene in developing riders in a sport where the race for talent has accelerated dramatically.”

Larry Hickmott

“British sport, the National Road Series, is more a career in its own right for those riders who want to stay here, and those riders who are capable of riding in Europe at WorldTour level, like Harry, like Matt Holmes, they had the talent, and they need to take a different pathway. The whole scene, the whole thing is changing. Riders are being discovered at a younger age.”

Timothy John

“And we discuss ways in which the National Road Series might gain a higher international profile, befitting the quality of its races and the talent of its riders.”

Timothy John

“European teams, the heavyweights of the WorldTour, they must know by now that this country does not lack talent. We’ve also got fantastic races in the shape of the Lincoln GP, in the shape of the CiCLE Classic, in the shape of the Tour of the Reservoir. I mean, why isn’t this scene more highly regarded than it is?”

INTERLUDE

 

Meet The Guests

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this new episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast with me, Timothy John. Today, I’m joined by my co-host, Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, and by Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of VeloUK.net, to talk through some of the issues raised in our two-part investigation into elite British road racing, The Way Ahead.

“Now, if you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, then please check out episode six, parts one and two. You can find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or any of the leading podcast platforms.

"Our list of expert witnesses it’s fair to say is pretty impressive, ranging from Brother Cycling graduates to the WorldTour, like Harry Tanfield and Sophie Wright, to commercial experts such as Jonathan Durling, the partnerships director at SweetSpot Group, the organisers of the Tour of Britain, the Women’s Tour and the Tour Series. 

“Today, we’ll make a further analysis of some of the key topics covered in both parts of the previous episode and several others that we couldn’t fit in, including plans from Elite Road Racing Manager, Erick Rowsell, for a tiered structure and for Elite Development Teams."

Live Events vs. Social Media

Timothy John

“Phil, let’s begin with a pretty fundamental question. What is the difference, from a sponsor’s perspective at least, between the value of racing and the social media bubble that teams have had to rely on to generate return on investment in these times of pandemic?”

Phil Jones

“Well, the reality is that domestic racing at National Road Series level doesn’t really attract huge audiences in reality, Tim. I’ve been to a lot them myself, and when you look at the number of spectators at the side of the road, you probably might look at that, depending on which race you go to, of course. Go to the Lincoln GP, where almost the entire city turns out, it’s absolutely fantastic. But you can go to other races where you might get half-a-dozen villagers stood at the side of the road trying to understand what’s going on.

“I don’t think the audience is what [our sponsorship] is all about, but the content that comes from the race is actually the key thing: when people like Larry report on it and start posting

images and other photographers who attend. It generates its own social media, it generates its own volume, its own reach by virtue of the fact that the race is there.

“So, I think it’s a combination of these things. As a sponsor, you can’t look at it just as one thing. You have to say: ‘What do we want from placing a sponsorship investment in this particular sport?' For someone like Brother, we’ve discussed many times over the years that ultimately what we’re trying to do is take some of the characteristics of what the sport represents - technology, performance, team work, ambition, and all of these things - and use those as communication pillars in some of wider communication where our technology uses the same messaging. So, we use the sport really as a metaphor for many of the things that we represent as a business.”

A Tiered Structure

Timothy John

“Another big revelation which came out of our investigative podcast was Erick’s vision for a tiered approach. This a longer-term vision. He makes it clear, doesn’t he, that it’s not going to happen overnight, but ultimately he thinks this is where the National Road Series should head. Let’s hear a bit now from Erick on precisely that ambition.”

Erick Rowsell

“I think the future that we need to look at is a more tiered approach to this, where there are potentially three different series. There could be a top one, something in the middle and potentially much more of a development series that sits below it. That could provide more certainly to teams: ‘Ok, we know what we’re competing in. We’re aiming for that series. If we can win in that then we can potentially have some exposure in the next series.' 

“The Continental teams will have the exposure as well, because they can still do the top series, but they can drop down and do the bottom stuff. It gives a little bit of direction of where

the teams sit and what would be right for them, rather than, at the minute, one size suits everybody, which is not what we’ve got. 

“That’s almost the beauty of racing in the UK: you’ve got completely different circumstances. You’ve got someone who might work as a postman who’s racing one week and then someone who’s paid 40 grand racing in the same race next week. We’ve got to try and develop a calendar that suits everybody, which is very, very tricky. My idea is that we separate things out a little bit and have more of a tiered approach to it, rather than just relying on one thing for everybody.”

Timothy John

“A pretty ambitious vision there from Erick: this three-tiered structure. Larry, how do you read that? Are we going to get more appropriate racing, which I think is what Erick wants? At the moment, he makes the point, doesn’t he, you’ve got a rider who’s delivering the post six days a week and on the seventh day finds himself racing against a salaried rider from a UCI Continental team. 

“Equally, the UCI Continental teams, if they’re shackled to riding every level of the British calendar then they don’t get the time and opportunity to go and develop their skills overseas at races like the Tour de Normandie. Has Erick got this right? Are we going to get more appropriate racing? Or is this another layer of complexity for teams who are already stretched to breaking point?”

Larry Hickmott

“For me, I have no clue as to why Erick is going with this or where he’s going with it because, as you say, it’s just introducing another layer of complexity. If you took the postmen out - someone like Matt Bottrill, who was a postman for years and years and used to ride Prems and that sort of thing - if you took all the postmen out, how many riders would you be left with in a race? Not very many, even in a UCI team.”

Timothy John

“I think, in fairness, what he’s trying to do is to make sure the postman isn’t racing against UCI riders, rather than replacing them entirely. Are there enough races to go around? Are there enough riders for that level of segmentation?”

Larry Hickmott

“I don’t think there are enough riders. I think if the UCI system was introduced in this country in a better way i.e. introducing a minimum wage for UCI Conti teams as they have in France, and also making sure that they also have a Continental [race] programme, there wouldn’t be that many riders and that many teams.

“I think the system, as it is, is fine. There’s a thing called evolution rather than revolution. I certainly think there needs to be some evolution and some subtle changes to it, but the bottom line is that there isn’t enough National B racing or even National A racing, in the other categories, for riders per se.

“I would rather BC looked at that problem rather than trying to change something that, to me, already works. If you look at a Prem, where you have 100 to 150 riders, and, yeah, it’s made up of a lot of elite teams, but I remember trying to ride, and did ride, the Havant Grand Prix when it was part of the Premier Calendar.

“I was part of a very small team, and I rode it on my own, and I did find out that I was way out of my depth. But I came away from that one race with a lot of experience and a lot of learning about how hard those races are.”

Timothy John

“Phil, just zooming out to the structural aspect of that. You run a huge business on a day-to-day basis. What scale of challenge do you think Erick is going to face in getting people to buy in to the idea of doing things in a different way, and selling the idea, both internally and externally? That’s no easy task by itself, I wouldn’t have thought.”

Phil Jones

“Oh, it’s primed for one of the management buzz phrases, Tim, which is ‘stakeholder management.’”

Timothy John 

“I like it!”

Phil Jones

“When you’ve got large international businesses like Brother, and you have a European headquarters, all the offices in Europe, a global headquarters, you’ve got multiple stakeholders. BC have a huge number of stakeholders in their overall organisation, whether that be through funding, race organisation, internal and external. 

“When you’re trying to make changes, these things never happen quickly. They don’t, unfortunately. It might well be that radical ideas or things you want to get done don’t happen

quickly because there are lots of governance things that you’ve got to get done. There are lots of things at governance level that change needs to go through.

“I think Erick is doing the right thing, which is coming up with ideas. That’s one thing we do need right now. We need someone who is responsible for the programme. It’s great that Erick is now in post doing that. The second thing is to consult with those stakeholders and come back with ideas and actions that are implementable. And then your job is to start moving those ideas on: going through the various approval levels to get everything done.

“Back to Larry’s point there really, I can understand the goal image of that, but I’d just say that you need the right volume of participants. It could potentially work, if there were a lot more people, but, right now, race organisers need a certain volume of people on the line, paying race entry fees, in order that they’ve got the income they need to cover the overheads of

putting on the race in the first place.

“Now, I can’t see that there is the volume and maybe this is the longer term ambition that Erick has got here: to build that volume in order for that tiering system to make sense. For now it probably wouldn’t be so good to put on a race and ultimately only have a few teams participating because, ultimately, you’d end up racing the same people every week.”

Larry Hickmott

“If I could just come in on that. One of the things that happened this year was that there was a lot more club racing, certainly in time-trials anyway. And that taught me, coming from a club structure in Australia, where most racing is run by clubs, rather than ‘opens’…

“What I would say for the tiered structure is that if you look at the 1980s and 1990s, where the pros would race but they would only race with 30 or 40 riders. Could racing in the UK

sustain that? I don’t think so, as Phil has just pointed out.

“So the two tiers that need to be looked at are, firstly, club racing. I think that’s a very good idea, because I’ve come from club racing in Australia, and that’s what we have, week in, week out. I certainly think as a way of introducing people to the sport that would be a brilliant opportunity. 

“But in terms of changing what we have in the National Road Series, I think it works already in many ways. There may well be tweaks that Erick can see as a former rider that I can’t see, but I’d be quite happy to look at that when it’s in the public domain.”

Timothy John

“I think you both make some very interesting points, particularly Phil when you say, it’s good to have some ideas. Matt Hallam makes that point in the podcast, doesn’t he? After years of stagnation, suddenly we’ve got somebody leading some ideas at BC, coming up with new ideas to improve the scene, and that in itself is to be welcomed. Whether this tiered strategy is a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario - and in fairness to Erick, he says it’s a long-term ambition - well, let’s just see how that plays out.”

Phil Jones

“I was just going to add, let’s remind ourselves that BC have a new, incoming Chief Executive in Brian Facer, whose appointment has been officially announced, which is great. 

“What you’ll also find is that when a new CEO is appointed, the energy in an organisation of any kind changes with the new leadership: what they want. Brian’s arrival means he’ll want

to come in, he’ll look around, and he’ll start listening to people and start to think of how the entity can improve and all this kind of good stuff.

“So with Erick’s appointment and perhaps a new CEO too we might begin to see things move a bit and that might create a completely different environment within the federation. Clearly, there are lots of other things that exist, in terms of structure, articles of association, the way things get done. But, ultimately, with new energy and potentially with new ambition, it’s surprising what can be achieved.”

Elite Development Teams

Timothy John

“That would be great to see, and wouldn’t it be great to have Brian on a future episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast? Let’s watch that space. 

“Another idea we heard from Erick in our investigative episodes was this plan for an Elite Development Team status. Now Erick’s goal for that? Well, let’s hear from the man himself.”

Erick Rowsell

“The status of the proposal that we’re putting forward for Elite Development Teams is for senior teams, so those with U23, U27 riders, really. It’s trying to introduce a rebirth of the old National Team Status which came in 2014, 2015, I think, and has, in recent years, fizzled out a bit, so we’re trying to rebirth that but for men’s and women’s teams this time, rather than just for men’s teams. 

“It’s very much focussed on those teams that sit just below Continental status. They’re still technically registered as clubs with British Cycling, because they’re not UCI teams. They are more than clubs, they are teams, but there’s nothing that recognises them as teams. It’s trying to create something for them that gives them a status and a focus and helps to build their backing and their credibility. It’s saying: ‘These are the teams that are riding in the national series, providing a platform for their riders, getting international race entries. They’re not UCI

teams, but they are doing all the right things to provide their riders with a stepping stone to step up to a UCI team. 

“Cycling Sheffield is a fantastic example and what they did with Connor Swift. He developed really well as a rider there, moved onto Madison and has jumped up now to riding the Tour de France this year. That’s one, complete example of where that pathway worked. A rider can join an elite team, develop from that to a Conti team. There wasn’t any connection between Cycling Sheffield and Madison Genesis, but Cycling Sheffield certainly gave him a pathway to develop onto that team and upwards to become a Tour de France rider. That is the pathway that we see and which we’re trying to develop.

“In the UK, I think we need to get away from judging ourselves by how many Conti teams we have. I’d rather have one Conti team in the UK, but for that one team to do things properly and correctly and support their riders with a really good race programme and place really valuable support around them, rather than having eight UCI teams which aren’t much different to a club team. 

“That’s why we need to get away from judging the scene by how many Conti teams we have. If we have more, then is that brilliant? For me, if we have fewer but the riders are really

well supported, that’s more important than having loads and loads of teams. 

“Hopefully, that’s where the Elite teams can come in. If people can see value in joining an Elite team, that makes them more attractive than saying: ‘We’ve got to be a Conti team, we’ve got to be a Conti team.’ In reality, there’s not a lot of difference, except they [Conti teams] get to ride the Tour of Britain. Obviously, that’s a huge thing but, in my opinion, you shouldn’t set up a Conti team just to ride the Tour of Britain. Your reasons for doing so are very wrong if that’s why you’re doing it. 

“Hopefully, that’s where the Elite Development Teams will come into their own, and we can build on them and progress that and that will become more attractive.”

Timothy John

“So, good to hear there from Erick. As we say, the Elite Development Team status is another of his new ideas. I think what he’s trying to do there basically is narrow the gap between club and Continental. He makes the point, doesn’t he, that the scene needs fewer and better UCI Continental teams.

“Is that an opinion that you share, Larry? Do we have too many Continental teams? It doesn’t seem so long ago that we had six of them, and they all ran really well. Obviously, we’re in

very different economic circumstances at the moment.

"Do they serve as a useful aspiration, or are they a step beyond what we can afford or even what we need at the moment in domestic cycling?"

Larry Hickmott

“It depends on what we’re all trying to achieve here. When I spoke to Giles Pidcock, he mentioned that in this country there are only around 20 riders who are capable of riding at WorldTour level. Do you want to change everything? Do you want to have a whole system of changes made just for 20 riders to make it to the WorldTour when there are things in place to help them do that? They just need to be aware of them and to strive to be part of them. 

“Are there too many UCI teams? I’m not sure. At the moment, it’s looking like it’s going to be four. There might be five. I don’t know, but I do think there needs to be a few changes, as

I’ve already mentioned, like bringing in a minimum wage.

“One of the problems that we find with UCI teams, as we found when Madison Genesis went, and even this year with Canyon, they lost a couple of riders like Alex Paton, I think by having a minimum wage, you can keep these riders in the sport. I think that is a key thing. To lose so many very talented and experienced riders is a big loss for the sport. 

“Do we have too many teams? I don’t know. But I certainly do think there needs to be changes and there would be a natural culling process, if you like, if those changes were brought in.

UCI teams would only exist if they could match those requirements i.e. a minimum wage to keep riders in the sport and also a Continental race programme to help develop riders.”

Timothy John

“It’s a very admirable aspiration, that riders should have a minimum wage. We hadn’t had a minimum wage before, but we’ve had salaried riders, back in the domestic sport’s very recent heyday: you know, JTL, UK Youth, NFTO, Endura Racing etc. But it isn’t easy, is it Phil? Give us a sense of the sort of economic requirements for putting in place a minimum wage.”

Phil Jones

“Yeah, it’s really tricky, isn’t it? The external environment isn’t great for raising the funds to pay salaries. The really interesting thing is that you can call yourself a professional cycling team without paying people, if you see what I mean."

LAUGHS

Timothy John

“Is that unhelpful?”

Phil Jones

“Well, I guess the image that you perhaps want to send when your vans turn up in the pits and the fans walk in and don’t really understand the economics that sit behind it and don’t really need to understand. I think maybe within that if you can prove that you’re paying people and everyone is earning a wage out of it perhaps then you can use the word ‘professional’ in your team title, for example. That might be one way to think about it. 

“But the reality is that the economics that sit behind the domestic sport are so fragile in terms of the teams that we do have, even the UCI Continental teams. There are certain things that you've got to pay. You need to pay your deposit to the UCI. Of course, that guarantee is refundable, but you still have to raise the cash to be able to pay that guarantee, and then

you have the rider licences and the staff licences and various other bits.

“To be UCI registered, you definitely need to be raising more money. The cost in itself of being UCI registered to go abroad and also to be able to race in big domestic races like the Tour of Britain is definitely a prize that many want, and ultimately what they want is the race programme. 

“So we definitely need UCI Conti teams. Whether or not the sport can support so many in this economic environment, that’s perhaps questionable, and maybe there is a slimmer structure in the future, but I guess time will tell.” 

Timothy John

“So is Erick on the right lines, do you think, with this Elite Development Team status to try and fill the gap? And just to summarise, his idea is that they will have more space on the British Cycling website and on the British Cycling social media channels. 

“They might have a logo on the jersey like the UCI EuropeTour. And when they’re trying to get entries to bigger races abroad and perhaps even in this country and, critically, when they’re trying to attract sponsors, they’ve got this badge of recognition that says: ‘Hey, we’re an Elite Development Team. We’re not a professional team, but we’re certainly at the sharp end of the development squads in this country.’

“Just with your sponsor’s hat on, Phil, would Brother be more inclined to sponsor an Elite Development Team than one that didn’t have that status, or is your research a bit deeper than

that anyway?”

Phil Jones

“The reality is that it depends on who you are and what you want from the sponsorship, Tim. Actually, what I’ve learned from knocking around the sport for hardly any time, really, relative to Larry, but for perhaps eight or nine years, where I’ve just learned a bit more about the sport. What I’ve learned is that there are lots of layers within it that you need to peel back. 

“You only get that from having participated in a sport over a period of time. You get to understand at a deeper level who the influencers are, who are the people who are critical, who are

the people behind the scenes who aren’t in front of the camera, and you get a better understanding of the fabric of the sport.

“As a sponsor, if your intent is to be accepted by a sport, as part of that fabric, then you need to work at all levels within it. You can’t just write cheques to the best teams and expect to have earned your permission to play. The sport itself will want to judge you by the entire amount of actions that you take, whether that be fans, teams, organisers or volunteers who begin to recognise your brand. 

“So, for me, I think it just depends on what you want from your sponsorship. It could well be that if you’re a local engineering company and you want to back a team, it’s more about what you’re putting into the community and the opportunities that local riders are receiving, etc. That could be a big tick in the box. 

“But if the ambition of the Elite teams is to become UCI Continental teams then it’s probably quite an important thing to have some sort of demarcation that says: ‘We are a little bit different, and we are the stepping stone that gets you there.’ I guess it’s the creation of a stepping stone within a team structure or within a rider’s potential pathway: ‘I start here. Then I

go there. Then I go here, and then I go there.’

“So that’s maybe behind some of the thinking, which is good. If I think about some of the things we do within the day job at my place, then things like tiering structures, differentiation between different partners and that kind of stuff, is always meaningful to somebody. 

“If it means that an Elite Development Team feels that the deck they might give to a potential sponsor is strengthened, and they feel that they can use that to strength their case, then it

can’t be a bad thing.”

Timothy John

“Yeah, I think it will be interesting to see how this plays out. At least two of the teams in our portfolio…Well, let’s face it, all three of them. 

“Simon does a wonderful job at OnForm. Matt, it would seem, pretty much leads the pack in the way he presents Crimson Performance. As we heard in the earlier episode and as

we’ll discuss later, he’s reaping the rewards of that. Ian at Brother UK-LDN…

“These are teams that you would hope would easily qualify for Elite Development Team status. In the articles, I quite often use this phrase, ‘An amateur team with professional standards,’ and that applies to all three of them, and I guess that’s what Erick is trying to recognise here." 

The Purpose of the National Road Series

Timothy John

“Just before we leave this topic, Larry, you sort of raised the $64,000 question: what are we running the series for? Erick says, and I tend to agree with him, to develop riders to a standard where they can enjoy professional careers. 

“Clearly, that isn’t going to help all of them. As you say, Giles Pidcock’s estimate is that only 20 perhaps have the talent to forge professional careers. But shouldn’t that be the

aspiration? I guess it comes down to that dividing line, doesn’t it? Are we looking for performance or are we looking for participation? Which side of the line do you fall?”

Larry Hickmott

“Again, going back to the interview I did with Giles, he mentioned that the end result for a lot of riders with talent, such as his two boys, is to race in Europe, and the pathway there is very different now to what it used to be and also very different in terms of comparing that to participation in a National Road Series, which is something different altogether. 

“Riding in the National Road Series isn’t going to get you into the WorldTour. The managers and teams don’t look at the results from races here. It becomes a figurehead for the sport

domestically. It needs to be run professionally, it needs to look professional, and it needs to be ridden professionally. But it is its own entity. It is its own pinnacle.”

Timothy John

“Yeah, that’s a critical point. Phil, you were going to come in on that.”

Phil Jones

“Yeah, well I thought that when we heard Harry speak that point was hammered right home! Harry’s been on the inside of a WorldTour team, and he, very bluntly, said the bottom line is that, unless it’s a UCI race, the teams don’t really look at it. The managers don’t look at it. The results don’t really count so much. Your palmares really has to demonstrate that you’ve been competing in UCI races. Perhaps it was that stage win that Harry secured in the Tour de Yorkshire that put him on the stage and gave him a springboard to where he is now. 

“The national sport really needs something for people to go through but, ultimately, the real bridge to the WorldTour is about how you can be spotted on the WorldTour stage. Unlike

football, let’s say…Believe it or not, at Brother UK, we have somebody who works in our logistics department is a regional scout for a Premier League football club.”

Timothy John

“Wow! Living a double life!”

Phil Jones

“Living a double life. On his evenings and weekends, he is going all over the North West looking at players, and at young players particularly, who might be able to come into an academy, and spot them early doors. In cycling, such a thing doesn’t exist, as far as I’m aware: WorldTour teams sending out scouts to look for talent at National Road Series races.

"If that is the case, you’ve got to force yourself onto that stage and force yourself under that spotlight. It’s good that at least the Elite Development Team programme is going to develop their skills, but it must be about a stepping stone to get onto the UCI level of racing.

"The other very interesting thing that has emerged in the 2020 season at WorldTour level is how many new, really young riders in their early twenties have emerged.”

Timothy John

“Yeah, it’s felt like a changing of the guard.”

Phil Jones

“Like a changing of the guard. Suddenly, you’ve got riders in their early twenties, who you would normally expect…The convention of the WorldTour would be you need to do many years doing this and many years doing that, years serving your craft, perhaps as a domestique or on a Pro Conti team, or something like that before you make that step. 

“Whereas there are names that have appeared this year that many people have never heard of before, in their early twenties. For me, that means that even WorldTour teams might change how they get their young riders; where they look at where they get them from. For me, the importance of domestic riders having exposure at UCI riders becomes really

important.”

Larry Hickmott

“Just to pick up on what Phil was saying there about Premier League football. 

“Premier League football, as with the Italian league, the German league, the Spanish league are part of a world hierarchy within that sport. That’s why you have scouts who can take people all over the world from here. Whereas the British sport, the NRS, is more a career in its own right for those riders who want to stay here. 

“Those riders who are capable of riding at WorldTour level, like Harry, like Matt Holmes, like Tao Geoghan Hart etc. They had the talent, and they needed to take a different pathway. What Giles Pidcock was saying to me, and what you’ve just pointed out, Phil, is that the whole scene is changing, and riders are becoming discovered at a younger age, which is why Giles Pidcock has this junior team and is taking them to UCI races to try and get them into Continental development teams at a young age so that they can go WorldTour. The scene is

changing vey much.”

Timothy John

“Isn’t all of this drastically underselling the National Road Series? I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve had a whole generation of talent, from those first Academy entrants who recently featured Laz on your social media channels: looking at a very young Mark Cavendish, barely recognisable; looking at a very young Geraint Thomas.

“I mean, European teams, the heavyweights of the WorldTour, they must know by now that this country does not lack talent. We’ve also got fantastic races in the shape of the Lincoln Grand Prix, in the shape of the CiCLE Classic, in the shape of the Tour of the Reservoir. I mean, why isn’t his scene more highly regarded than it is?

“Matt Holmes, won a stage, won the Queen stage, of the Tour Down Under. Connor Swift was Nairo Quintana’s right-hand man on all the flat stages of the recent Tour de France. Hugh Carthy was a genuine contender, until the penultimate stage, for overall victory at La Vuelta Espana. This guy began his career, really, in earnest, with John Herety at Condor. It can’t be

surely, that because these races don’t have a UCI sticker on them [they are not considered a proving ground for professional careers]?”

Larry Hickmott

“The scene here is just so different. Hugh Carthy rode here. He never really made a big name for himself domestically, but at WorldTour level: a podium at a Grand Tour? That’s just awesome. It’s a different world.”

Timothy John

“But is it? Look at Matt Holmes. He was in the break at the Giro, he won the Queen stage of the Tour Down Under. This time last year he was riding the Ryedale Grand Prix, or whatever it might have been. Clearly, this scene is capable of developing talent suitable for the WorldTour.”

Larry Hickmott

“The talent is there. Take Matt Holmes. Matt Holmes didn’t really get discovered until he was fourth or fifth or whatever it was in the Tokyo Olympics test race. That’s what helped him in to where he is now. And yet before that, Matt had ridden in the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain and performed well, but that still wasn’t enough - and those are big races - to get him a WorldTour contract.”

Timothy John

“Is the question then… Even Sophie in the podcast, and Becks Durrell, they say racing at the WorldTour level is so much more tactical. Basic skills like bunch positioning are very, very different, and then you add radios and all that kind of stuff. They argue that the National Road Series isn’t really an appropriate training ground for a career as a professional. 

“The flip side is Matt Holmes, Conor Swift; riders who have learned their trade year after year, and in the case of Matt, particularly, in domestic races and have just made a very smooth

transition, an instant impact, in the WorldTour. 

“Is this a case for advocacy? Phil, we talked about this in the podcast. If the National Road Series isn’t on Pro Cycling Stats because a lot of these races don’t have a UCI badge - and British Cycling puts an awful lot of money and investment into getting a very small, handpicked group of riders into the WorldTour from its Academy - shouldn’t it be investing in getting Charlie Wegelius, for example, from EF Pro Cycling and saying: ‘Look Charlie, all expenses paid, come and join us in the car at the Lincoln Grand Prix, and have a look for yourself.’

“Charlie, of course, would know the Lincoln Grand Prix, he’s a poor example, but getting a DS, getting a senior manger from a WorldTour team and giving them an enjoyable experience at one our bigger races and saying: ‘Look, these races aren’t on Pro Cycling Stats, but have a look for yourself and see the level of talent that exists.’ Wouldn’t be that a sensible step forwards?”

Phil Jones

“Logically, you would say yes, but then the rubber hits the road in the way the world works. If you think right now, in terms of supply and demand, there are a huge number of riders who are hugely capable who are knocking on the door of the WorldTour today, and there’s probably an oversupply of riders, relevant to the number of seats available on teams. 

“So if you’re the man leading a team then you probably don’t need to look very far for that talent because the very best has already risen to the top and is already at your doorstep begging to come in. You probably don’t perceive that you need to spend much time travelling all over Europe or the UK, trying to find more hidden talent, if you like. There is an

oversupply of talent already.

“But having said that, do I believe there’s a job for advocacy in any sport, then my answer is ‘yes’. Naturally, somebody needs to be speaking up for how good the scene is and making the case for teams to come here and come to some of our races and experience what racing in the UK is like, perhaps as part of the development process for lower level teams from abroad. 

“But I think, fundamentally, much of this is only going to be resolved if one or two other races in the UK can get UCI status. If you can get that happening then some of these teams will have more of an incentive to come over. Then, as a result, of course, some of the Elite Development Teams will end up in some of those races and exposed to those influential people within teams who might say all of a sudden: ‘Who is that lad in the breakaway? We’ve never heard of him, but he’s three miles up the road, and our team is chasing him down. We want

to know who he is.’

“For me, if I was trying to solve this from a business perspective, I would be asking how is it that we get one or two more races in the UK registered with the UCI so we can begin to turn the flywheel around the talent and the riders and the visibility of the domestic scene.”

Larry Hickmott

“In terms of UCI races, there are UCI races and then there are UCI races. There are the 1.2s, which is what the CiCLE Classic is, and that has a big number of foreign teams that want to get into it and love the race as we do. However, does the general manager of Lotto-Soudal or INEOS or any of the other WorldTour teams take notice of the CICLE Classic? Probably not. It needs to be a high-level race. It needs to be a RideLondon type race.”

Timothy John

“Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the federation to make sure that it is on their radar? Erick’s stated goal is that the National Road Series becomes a platform to develop talent for professional careers, and British Cycling isn’t shy about developing riders for professional careers via its Olympic Academy. The first aim, of course, is to win a gold medal, but we’ve seen with the house in Italy, all that kind of stuff, that there was a very definite emphasis on developing road careers for these riders, too. 

“Given that the federation doesn’t invest to anything like the same degree in the National Road Series, isn’t the very least it can do is to advocate for the National Road Series, to advocate and give a chance to all those riders who aren’t on this gilded path to the WorldTour, but who have talent and have dedication and who, in the case of Matt Holmes, make a very smooth transition to the WorldTour? The same can be said on the women’s side for Anna Henderson and Leah Dixon to choose only two from the Brother Cycling family. 

“Isn’t it the federation’s responsibility to ensure that its own National Road Series is on the radar of the biggest teams in the sport if its goal is to help riders within it to have professional careers?”

Larry Hickmott

“From my point of view, if the UCI teams had a minimum wage then the riders who aren’t good enough to ride at WorldTour level but are riding the National Road Series can have a career here, because they are being paid and are professional riders.

“I just think that the sport is structured on a world level. The National Road Series is its own entity. People look upon it as a stepping stone to the WorldTour. That isn’t the way the world works. The way the world works is that you need to take riders into Europe because we don’t have the races here for them to show themselves in order to move onto bigger and better things. 
 
“I think the National Road Series, just as it was when it was the Professional Series back in the seventies and eighties, it is its own entity. It is its own career. There are riders who don’t want to race in Europe. They’re quite happy sitting at home and racing here as a career.”

Television

Timothy John

“Ok, I think we’ve given that topic a useful airing and there were some very useful points made on either side. Let’s change the topic - it’s aligned, but separate - and that’s television. That ties into what we’ve discussed already about this UCI Continental status. I think it’s fair to say that most men’s UCI Continental teams in this country want that status to ride the Tour of Britain, which gives them seven or eight days of guaranteed national television coverage, and that by itself perhaps justifies the sponsorship investment. 

“Erick says in the podcast, you shouldn’t be running a UCI Continental team solely to qualify for the Tour of Britain and get that exposure; it’s a broader education that that and should certainly include racing abroad. Television is a vexed issue by itself. Earlier this year, BC announced it would no longer fund Eurosport coverage of the National Road Series, arguing that there were better ways to spend the money, frankly, and that they would investigate other methods of gaining publicity for the National Road Series and other methods of televising it, if that’s the right word, via streaming and things like that, and we hear from Erick on that topic in the podcast.”

Erick Rowsell

“It wasn’t value for money at all, having it on Eurosport at 11pm, two weeks after the race has happened, and anyone who said there was massive value in that, I would seriously question that. But is there value in the live stream? We did do that for the Elite Circuit Series last year. There wasn’t a huge following, I would say.  I think it was ok. But, again, for the money it cost to do a live stream, was there the return for it? I don’t know. I’m not in that area of expertise to know or not. 

“It’s certainly something that hasn’t been put to bed and forgotten about. It’s still ongoing: looking at different ways to do it, both individuals, organisers and us as a governing body. It’s one of those things where you look at the amount of money that was spent on it, and this was pre-Covid, and you think: ‘Where could that money be better spent?’ There are so many

other things that you could do with that money that would be better than it being on Eurosport, two weeks after the event has happened. 

“To me, from a bike rider point of view, I never watched Eurosport. I know I was at most of the races doing it, but I would never tell anyone to watch it either, because the result was already published and everyone knew the result. It wasn’t that valuable, I don’t think. I’m sure that everyone has their own opinion on it, but I think that something needs to change and look at different ways of doing things.”

Timothy John

“Interesting, isn’t it, to talk about just how valid television is. On the one hand, you’ve got British Cycling saying: ‘Actually, showing the race two weeks after the event to three men and a dog at 11pm on Eurosport frankly isn’t worth the investment.’

“And then you’ve got Sophie Wright in the Women’s WorldTour, and the women’s sport is fast developing, and what all of those teams are absolutely crying out for is television coverage. To them, it matters intensely, and we hear from Sophie about that in the podcast, don’t we? Let’s hear from Sophie now.”

Sophie Wright

“Sponsors want to see themselves on TV. They want to be getting their names out there, and so many women’s races aren’t televised. When a sponsor sees themselves on TV, they can see the worth. They can see that their investment and support is worth it, whereas when they can’t see themselves on TV and the sponsors logos aren’t being shown, they’re quite quick to pull out. You don’t get much sense of security, really.”

Timothy John

“We’re hearing very different views. On the one hand, BC saying television coverage isn’t the be-all and end-all, and, actually, it’s a very expensive way of gaining publicity, and then you have Sophie in the Women’s WorldTour, and the women’s sport is absolutely crying out for television coverage. So how do we read that? Laz, what are your thoughts on that?” 

Larry Hickmott

“Well, I’ve actually got a question for Phil on this, because, at the end of the day, television coverage is going to go to two different demographics: one is the cycling fan, and, two, is the public at large. Which of those demographics is more important to Brother UK and sponsors of that ilk?”

Phil Jones

“When we’re doing television, what we’re looking at there is ‘broad consideration’ - people who are not actively looking for a product today but at some point in the future they may come to make a purchase. As people, we tend to shortlist in our heads. We’ve already made a mental shortlist of what we call the ’top three box’ of brands we might consider for that purchase. From the shortlisting stage, we then go onto the final purchase, taking into account other things like features or price or availability; things like that. 

“So at the very start of that process, what you’re looking to do is have a familiarity with people; make people familiar with your brand, so at least then you make the shortlisting part of the user journey. That isn’t necessarily always doing a job to try and gain the approval of cycling fans. It’s trying to reach a broad audience who might see our logo and then a few days later end up in PC World or Argos and see a product on the shelf or a catalogue and say, ‘Oh, yes,’ and make the association of those two things. 

“If you’re looking to go specifically to the cycling market, then we’re a lot more sophisticated in that execution. Then you will see things like the neutral service provision, sponsorship of specific teams. Wherever you go in domestic racing, you will generally see two out of three assets from Brother at any race. You’ll either see a team, a neutral service car or a board or

hoarding at the side of the road or behind a podium. 

“By doing that, we have a strategy that not only includes us in the fabric of the sport, as I mentioned earlier, but more broadly, when the Tour of Britain is being shown, somebody can see our logo behind the podium and associate Brother with the race, without necessary having a team participating in it, if you see what I mean. 

“But I think the issue nowadays is that media consumption has totally changed, hasn’t it? Television isn’t always the answer, We’ve really got to answer that question. I get it, in terms of what BC are saying, that it’s frankly not worth the money, in terms of the eyeballs coming on it, relative to what it is costing. If I was responsible for that money, I would probably make

a similar decision. 

“The second part of that question is, if we’re not spending that money there, where will we spend it? What I haven’t seen or heard yet is that the chunk of money that we were investing there, is now going to be invested over here instead, and I think this is probably why the teams were initially quite shocked by that announcement.

“Television coverage formed an important part of their sponsorship proposals, regardless of the reach. No one was really asking. Teams were saying: ‘We can get you on TV.’ That was

enough for sponsors to say, ‘Well, alright then. That’s great. I’ll give you a little bit of money.’

“But as the stakes increase, and when sponsors start looking at big sums of money, then you’re looking at very, very granular detail. We’ve done broadcast campaigns in the past where we’ve spent millions. Therefore, we execute through media planners and get all sorts of granular information about our audience and where we’re going to reach them and all this kind of good stuff. 

“Where we are now, the environment is really simple: ‘How can you as a team help me reach an audience like this?’ It’s not necessarily down to just telly. It’s down to all the other things that a team might be able to do for you to help you achieve your stated ambition.”

Larry Hickmott

“So it’s a mix of TV and social media?”

Phil Jones

“Yeah, for sure. For us, the TV side is probably really just the Women’s Tour, the Tour of Britain, and the Tour Series, in our portfolio. We look at that and say from a broad eyeballs-per-million, cost-per-million, that’s a very inexpensive way, broadly, to buy eyeballs, as compared to, let’s just say, if we bought billboards at the side of the road near to our office or we bought sideboards at a rugby match. Everything has a cost.

“In the cycling market, the demographic is very close to that which we seek anyhow, and the cost for eyeballs is very effective, so it kind of works. If it didn’t work, then we probably wouldn’t do it.”

Timothy John

“Larry, how have you seen coverage of the sport change? You’re celebrating 21 years of covering the sport this year and ten years of VeloUK. I guess social media represents a huge change in how you go about your job. What others have you seen?”

Larry Hickmott

“When I was at British Cycling, social media started to come in, and I’d already had my first Twitter account, and I’d already created another Twitter account for BC which was, at that time, not being used. But over the last ten years, social media has expanded and become a much more valuable part of the whole package. 

“In terms of TV, we had Eurosport, for sure, but it wasn’t live, and it wasn’t even on the same day. By the time people got to see the race, it was on late at night, or it was on a week later or two weeks later, so Eurosport coverage didn’t really have a great deal of value compared to what it could have if it was better targeted and better produced. I don’t think the live coverage is as important as a highlights package after the event, on the day, hopefully, or at least the next day.”

Optimism and Positivity

Timothy John

“We’ve covered a great deal of ground there, on the one hand. On the other, we’ve barely scratched the surface.

"Thank you very much indeed, Larry. Thank you very much indeed, Phil. We’re at the end of the year, at the end of a tumultuous year, it’s fair to say, but It think we can look forwards, hopefully, with some optimism and some positivity into 2021, all of which is, of course, Covid permitting. 

“Phil, Larry, thank you very much again. Thank you very much indeed for listening, and please check out episode six, parts one and two, where you’ll hear a detailed investigation of the British domestic road scene with some really qualified expert witnesses. 

“Thanks for listening and stay safe.”

INTERLUDE

Phil Jones

“If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe.”

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