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  5. Episode 6: The way ahead – Part two

Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 6 (part two)

Episode description

In this second instalment of our in-depth investigation of elite British domestic road racing, we turn our attention to the teams and riders: the managers, volunteers and athletes attempting to recover from a year without racing and fighting for survival after years of declining investment.

Our six expert witnesses speak with authority on the sporting, commercial, economic and administrative challenges of reviving a sport decimated by the coronavirus lockdown and struggling to regain the glory of an golden era still within recent memory.

Harry Tanfield has found a route back to the UCI WorldTour with Team Assos-Qhubeka, but reveals his disappointment at being told by Ag2r-La Mondiale in the weeks approaching his Grand Tour debut at the 2020 La Vuelta Espana that his services would not be required for 2021. A rider whose experience encompasses the Chorley Grand Prix and Ghent-Wevelgem, Harry offers his insights into the differences between domestic and WorldTour racing.

Like Harry, Sophie Wright graduated to the top-tier of professional cycling from a Brother UK-sponsored team in 2019. Like Harry, her first WorldTour employer (Cervélo-Bigla, later Équipe Paule Ka) folded. Unlike Harry, she had already signed a two-year deal with another suitor (ALE-BTC Ljubljana). Sophie shares her experience of the instability of a cycling career and her insights into the tactical gulf that separates domestic and professional racing.

Rebecca Durrell received no contract offers from UCI Women’s WorldTour teams when she succeeded Sophie as National Road Series champion, despite her formidable talent and further accolades, including the British Elite Circuit Race title. Becks reflects on the shifting requirements of top-tier teams, the value of domestic racing as a proving ground for a professional career, and impending motherhood.

British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manager, Erick Rowsell, competed in the biggest races at home and abroad during eight years as a professional rider. In this episode, Erick calls for fewer and better British-registered, UCI Continental teams and describes the intended benefits of British Cycling’s new Elite Development Team status.

Phil Jones MBE, Brother UK’s Managing Director and this podcast’s co-host, offers a forensic analysis of the wider economic factors affecting cycling teams and an invaluable guide to the business of winning sponsorship from corporate backers. Phil also considers the comparative value of brand exposure and cycling’s values proposition, describing how the sport offers another angle on Brother UK’s aim to help its people and partners achieve growth and success.

And Matt Hallam, the owner and manager of the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing team, shares the secrets of his impressive ability to attract new sponsors and further investment, even in a year with no racing, and lifts the lid on his ultimate ambition for a team founded to grant racing opportunities to riders in North West England but which now has more ambitious goals.

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Episode 7: The way ahead – Part two

Episode contents

  • 00:37 – Introduction
  • 07:24 – Part one: Job security for professional cyclists
  • 32:52 – Part two: Financial security for domestic teams
  • 63:13 – Part three: Social shoutout

Transcript

Timothy John

Coming up in the second part of our detailed examination of British domestic road racing:

Harry Tanfield explains why even some of the most prestigious UK races are an “irrelevance” to professional squads searching for exciting new talent.

Harry Tanfield

“If it’s not got a UCI status attached to it, it’s an amateur race – end of. It’s a blunt way of looking at it, but unfortunately that’s how it’s seen in Europe.”

Timothy John

Sophie Wright, another Brother Cycling graduate now racing as a paid professional, explains how life at the sport’s highest level is no haven of stability.

Sophie Wright

“Sponsors want to see themselves on TV, and so many races, so many women’s races, aren’t televised. When a sponsor sees themselves on TV, they can see the worth. When they can’t see themselves, they’re quite quick to pull out. You don’t get much sense of security, really.”

Timothy John

Becks Durrell, the British Elite Circuit Race Champion and overall winner of the 2019 National Road Series, reveals how domestic success is no passport to the sport’s top tier.

“I’ll be completely honest in that I did put the feelers out to WorldTour teams, and they’re wasn’t really any interest. I find myself in a strange predicament.”

Timothy John

Erick Rowsell, British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manger, argues that the UK domestic scene needs fewer and better British-registered UCI Continental teams and that less can sometimes be more.

Erick Rowsell

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

Timothy John

Phil Jones, Brother UK’s Managing Director and this podcast’s co-host, offers an invaluable guide to teams seeking sponsorship in a post-Covid economy.

Phil Jones MBE

“The trick that I’ve learned after 30 years in sales is really, really simple: the more personal you make it, the more researched it is, the higher the propensity that you will achieve success in what it is you’re trying to do when you’re trying to gain sponsorship.”

Timothy John

And Matt Hallam, owner and manager of the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing team, describes how engaging with content and marketing has left his team well placed to fulfil a long-term ambition.

Matt Hallam

“I always had a dream of taking a team to the Tour of Britain. It was a pipe dream back in 2017 when I first started the race team, but we’re getting close to being able to do this. What a story that would be for us to achieve that. We will be going into our fourth year of running the team next year in a five-year plan. Let’s throw it out there: why not go UCI Continental? Why not take a team to the Tour of Britain?”

Timothy John

Hello and welcome to part two of our in-depth examination of British domestic road racing.

In part one of this episode, we examined the scene from the perspective of race organisers and British Cycling, the domestic sport’s governing body, and considered the challenges of organising a race series and staging events. Now, it’s the turn of the teams and riders to take centre stage.

Harry Tanfield’s career embodies the instability faced by British riders whose path to the WorldTour is not illuminated by the glow of British Cycling’s Olympic Academy. His first ascension to the professional ranks came from a Brother UK-sponsored team, but ended a season later, when Katusha-Alpecin sold its licence. Granted a rare second opportunity by Ag2r-La Mondiale, Harry learned in the run-up to his Grand Tour debut at this year’s La Vuelta a Espana that the French squad would not seek to retain his services for 2021.

Shortly after recording the interview that appears in this episode, Harry was offered a route back to the WorldTour by Team Assos-Qhubeka, having already agreed terms with Team Ribble Weldtite, a British-registered UCI Continental squad, for 2021. Harry’s views on the demands and rewards of the British National Road Series, compared to UCI-certified events in mainland Europe, are worth hearing.

Matt Hallam is the young and ambitious manager of the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing team. With a rising budget, expanding team and exciting new sponsor for 2021, Matt has shown what can be achieved with a professional presentation and high-quality content, even in a year with no racing.

Sophie Wright, another former Brother Cycling rider now competing as a professional, describes her route to the top and the tricky business of staying there when teams collapse and Covid narrows your opportunities to race. Soon to begin a two-year contract with Women’s WorldTour outfit Ale BTC Lubjiana, Sophie describes the vital importance of receiving a salary to the business of being a full-time athlete - a benefit simply beyond the budgets of many teams, both men’s and women’s.

Erick Rowsell, British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manager, made arguably the most significant contributions to part one of this episode and returns for part two with the kudos of having delivered what he’d promised: a comprehensive programme of national-level road and circuit racing for 2021. In our latest interview, Erick addresses other issues and initiatives, notably British Cycling’s new Elite Development Team status.

Becks Durrell is the reigning British Circuit Race and National Road Series champion. Her dominant campaign with Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm saw her retained when the team changed name and status to become the UCI-registered CAMS-Tifosi squad. Despite her proven ability and a work ethic that would shame even the most dedicated professional, Becks failed to receive contract offers from teams in the elite UCI Women’s WorldTour. She shares her theories on why she was overlooked, her appetite for the fresh challenge of racing as a new mum, and her experiences of national and international racing.

And Phil Jones MBE, my co-host and Brother UK’s Managing Director, offers a vital perspective as leader of the domestic sport’s major sponsor and a forensic analysis of the commercial context in which the sport must seek to rebuild from a year without racing and a sustained period of declining investment.

Just a final reminder before we begin that Brother UK’s strict adherence to government guidance on stemming the spread of Covid means that each of our expert witnesses was interviewed remotely.

Timothy John

Few riders are better qualified to comment on the rollercoaster existence of a professional cyclist than Harry Tanfield. Harry graduated to the WorldTour from a Brother-sponsored team in 2019, but when Team Katusha-Alpecin sold its licence in the same season, found himself seeking alternative employment.

Fast forward to the end of the Covid-disrupted 2020 campaign, and Harry found himself in a similar position. Ag2r-La Mondiale advised him that he would not be retained for 2021 in the weeks leading up to his Grand Tour debut at La Vuelta a Espana: poor timing from a squad reshaping itself in the image of Classics kingpin Greg Van Avermaet, for whom Tanfield might have been a valued lieutenant.

Harry Tanfield: Ag2r-La Mondiale did not renew contract

“I did think that too. Obviously, it was a bit of a shock when I heard at the end of the year. I did reach out to them in August, and they said they would think about it, but to tell me in September that they’re not going to renew and stuff... I just want the opportunity to race and to show myself. I’ve not done that this year to the level that I wanted because I haven’t had the racing opportunity.

“I guess it’s like they maybe don’t want to take the chance. They’ve got more money, so they can just go and buy someone. Why would they need to pay me minimum wage when they can go and buy someone for £150,000 who is maybe going to get top 10 in some Classics or who comes from a  better background or something? I don’t know. But yeah, it’s unfortunate. It’s outside of my control. I did plead my case and ask them to let me have the opportunity, but it’s not happened.”

Timothy John

Since our interview, Harry received an invitation to return to the WorldTour with Team Assos-Qhubeka, an outfit that itself only narrowly avoided exiting professional cycling’s top tier after announcing in September that its partnership with NTT, its previous title sponsor, would soon end. It will be interesting to mote next year how a team forced to compete on the peloton’s smallest budget fares against its more monied rivals but Harry and Doug Ryder’s squad deserve a place among the best.

Like Harry, Sophie Wright graduated to professional cycling’s highest echelon from a Brother sponsored team in 2019. Like Harry, her first team no longer exists: Cervélo Bigla became Equipe Paule Ka and then folded, despite a personal investment by team manager Thomas Campana of £300k. Unlike Harry, Sophie had already planned her next career move and next season will roll out of for a squad officially designated as a UCI Women’s WorldTour team. Despite this fresh opportunity, Sophie does not underestimate the instability of a career in professional cycling.

Sophie Wright: the demise of Cervélo-Bigla, signing with ALE-BTC Ljubljana

“I knew I wanted new opportunities, new challenges, new environment and to step up of course to the WorldTour level. I was delighted to sign a two-year deal with ALE back in September, I think it was.

“But, yeah, you don’t get much sense of security really. I mean, I am lucky enough to have just signed a two-year contract with my new WorldTour team. Fingers crossed, that all goes well, but a sponsor could easily crumble and that could literally be it for the whole team. The whole 20, 30, 40 staff and riders within the team could just lose their jobs. So, yeah, it’s not the most secure job to have or the most secure sport to be in. But, it’s the risk we take. I’m just passionate about cycling. I’m in it for the racing. I train to race. It’s pretty much my life. I just think it’s worth the risk of not having the security because it’s what I love.”

Timothy John

Despite the insecurity of a career even at the sport’s highest level, the allure of a place on a UCI WorldTour team remains undiminished. Rebecca Durrell certainly deserves a seat at cycling’s top table, but an opportunity to dine with the elite has not been forthcoming, despite recording overall victory at the 2019 National Road Series and being crowned British Elite Circuit Race champion.

Her tale has a happy ending, courtesy of impending motherhood and a contract with CAMS-Tifosi, the UCI team that last year competitor as Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm, but Rebecca’s case proves that winning the National Road Series - Becks succeeded Sophie Wright as the overall victor in British Cycling’s flagship competition - isn’t a guaranteed passport to the UCI WorldTour.

Rebecca Durrell: no UCI Women’s WorldTour contract offers, CAMS-Tifosi, motherhood

“I’ll be completely honest. I did put the feelers out for WorldTour teams and things like that, and there wasn’t really any interest. I find myself in a strange predicament sometimes, because I think, well, I’ve performed quite well this year. I would like to think I would be able to get a spot on a WorldTour team or whatever and be able to take that next step up to the races that I really want to succeed in and to learn from successful riders at that level. But, I’ll be honest in that I didn’t get any opportunities, really.

“So yeah, it was a bit of a strange one. I was obviously really thankful to stay with what is now CAMS-Tifosi, because in the end we ended up doing quite a bit of UCI racing. I’ve had a really good time and had some really great experiences, but, yeah, it was a bit of a funny one, really.”

“They’re not necessarily having to look for domestic riders from the UK who might have potential, unless they’re U23 or they can do well in an U23 competition, for example, within a race.

“Motherhood, I guess every mother out there who's been through it, it’s such an unknown. For me, as of March, I’m in completely new territory. I’m going to have this little human to look after, and I’ve not done it before, and you just don’t know what to expect.

“It’s such a transition in life that having continuity with a racing team where I know everyone, I knew all the girls on the team, I know how it all works. I can be comfortable in the thought that once I’m ready and able to come back to racing, I can just transition back in without the worry and stress of any pressure to get ‘x’ result or having to be back by a certain date because that’s what's in my contract.

“It definitely makes me feel a lot better. It makes me look forward to the process of having my baby and then getting back on track with the sport that I love.”

Timothy John

Rebecca’s plight offers a window on a wider issue. How valuable is the elite National Road Series to British riders seeking a professional career? We heard in our previous episode from British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manager Erick Rowsell that the purpose of the series is to develop riders. So how well does it fulfil this purpose when riders like Rebecca, or Canyon-dhb’s Rory Townsend, winner last year of three rounds of the men’s series, find themselves unable to progress to the professional ranks?

Harry Tanfield and Sophie Wright are well placed to comment. Both now hold coveted positions at the highest levels of the sport for men and women. Did the National Road Series provide a valuable education? Did their WorldTour employers follow their progress as domestic riders? Are races as cherished by British fans as the Lincoln Grand Prix valued by teams who seek riders for the Tour of Flanders or Strade Blanche?

Harry Tanfield: importance of UCI classification for races seeking credibility with professional teams

“If it’s not got a UCI status attached to it, it’s an amateur race, end of. That’s the only way of viewing it, in terms of the eyes of someone in Europe. That’s literally it. It’s a blunt way of looking at it, but unfortunately that’s how it’s seen in Europe. You can argue the toss all day long, but if that’s their vison of the race, then that’s their vision. You could tell them that you’ve won the Lincoln GP or a Nat B, and it wouldn’t change. If it’s non-UCI, it’s non-UCI; simple as that.”

Sophie Wright: the superior tactical demands of the UCI Women’s WorldTour

“I just don’t think it compares to WorldTour racing really. When you’re in a professional team, you properly work as a team. When I was on Torelli-Brother, I was riding as an individual, pretty much. When you step up to WorldTour, you have to learn to ride as a team. I know there are some UK teams that have proper team tactics but it’s not as organised and tactical as when you step up to WorldTour.

“And also with WorldTour, you’ve got the radio in your ear as well; you’ve got the team manager in the car behind, giving you your instructions, feeding back to the team manager. You’re talking to the other girls on the team, seeing how they feel. There’s pretty much always a strategy and the difference is, everyone else has got a strategy. Every other team has a strategy, they’ve spoken about it the night before in the team meeting.

“It is just that step up. It took a lot of getting used to, for me, because I was just used to racing as an individual, really.”

Timothy John

So if the purpose of the National Road Series is to develop British talent to a standard where they can forge careers as professional riders, do the races need to change, to become more technical and demanding, or is it simply a matter of prestige? Can the gap be narrowed by promoting the best domestic races among the sport’s most vital constituency: the senior management of the sport’s biggest teams?

Rebecca Durrell - twice a winner of the Lincoln GP and a participant in a host of Women’s WorldTour races, including the Tour of Flanders - has an opinion worth hearing. So too does Erick Rowsell, British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manager and a former rider who competed in some of the biggest races in the sport, as well as in the British scene’s best-loved events.

Rebecca Durrell: Lincoln Grand Prix vs. Tour of Flanders

“Lincoln, there’s no doubt about it, is a tough race; it really is. I just feel that the Tour of Flanders and some of the big Classics over on the Continent are just on a different level. I think a lot of it is the strength and depth of the field that you’re racing with and the pure skills that you need in the bunch, let alone being able to tackle the course itself. If you can’t get to the front of the bunch and stay there, you’re never going to win that race or you’re never going to achieve a top 20 result or anything like that.

“Whereas I think in British races, in some respects you can almost get away with just being a really strong rider, not necessarily having really fine-tuned bunch skills. I think that is one of the big differences, and moving between domestic races and big UCI races, that's one of the main skills that people have to crack.

“Riders have been picked up on WWT teams just from riding domestic races and not doing much abroad. It is possible, but because the dynamic of the racing abroad is quite different to what we have here in the UK, I think it can only benefit you to go and race abroad and to start testing yourself against the other teams. That’s essentially one of the biggest things: the strength in depth of the other teams and riders and how they use their tactics.”

Erick Rowsell: National Road Series vs. WorldTour races

“Whether it’s WorldTour or Pro Conti teams, that’s ultimately where you want these young British riders, or developing riders, to end up is riding on the world stage, definitely.

“WorldTour managers, WorldTour directors, the first thing they do if they’re looking at riders is they have this fantastic tool online now: Pro Cycling Stats. You go straight on there and look at what riders have done, what races they’ve competed in, and that won’t cover any races lower than  UCI .2 events, so. your Lincoln Grand Prix and those sort of races will never feature on there. In the eyes of a manager, they don’t really exist at that level If you’ve got a really good agent who knows what he’s talking about and pushes that, that’s a bit different.

“But Harry’s right: those races are often harder than a lot of UCI races, just because of the way they’re raced and the difference in the fields; it’s much more aggressive racing. But it’s about getting that recognition and the easiest way of doing that is to try and get those races, a select few of them, at UCI level, because then they will be on the radar, they will be on Pro Cycling Stats and those other websites that managers and teams use and people will start taking notice of them. I think that’s the thing for me: trying to get more UCI racing in the UK, which gives those teams that benefit.

“I think the other thing to note is that British-registered UCI teams, they should be going and racing abroad a lot. They should be competing in a lot of UCI races. I don’t think you set up a UCI team just to purely stay in the UK and race. The way I always looked at it when I was on Madison-Genesis is that I had my big targets - the Tour de Yorkshire RideLondon, when it wasn’t WorldTour, and the Tour of Britain - we then also had our races abroad: big races like the Tour de Normandie and then other races in Belgium, Holland and France.”

Timothy John

Erick and Rebecca make valid points. Rebecca’s observations on the greater technical demands of the Women’s WorldTour echo those of Sophie Wright, but she is optimistic about the future of domestic road racing as we’ll hear later in this episode. Meanwhile, Erick’s aim to encourage UCI status for more of the best British races will hearten many. He’s observation on the value of an informed agent to overcome reliance on Pro Cycling Stats is accurate too.

In fact, both Erick and Harry are right when they say that UCI status is everything for a professional team, but if so few British races have that status, should BC support its administrative efforts by bringing those they hope will grant opportunities to British riders to watch those races in which they learn their trade? And is there value in inviting lower-tier squads from mainland Europe to compete? Phil Jones believes so. Major businesses like Brother UK understand the value of personal experience to support wider communication initiatives.

Phil Jones MBE: the value of advocacy

“Well, of course. Advocacy is needed always; wherever you are and whatever you do. If you look back, perhaps, at what happened with the Tour de Yorkshire: at the time, Sir Gary Verity was very involved in advocacy for Yorkshire, wasn’t he? He was one of the people behind the scenes who’d done a lot of the cajoling to bring this high-quality, UCI race to Yorkshire and then to see it grow from there. So advocacy I think does play a part.

“I accept what Harry says. He’s absolutely right: unless it’s a 1.2, or has some sort of UCI ranking, then the WorldTour teams, a lot of the Pro Conti teams are not interested to come. The issue there is, well, actually, a lot of our domestic teams go over to Belgium to compete in races that aren’t UCI races. So it doesn’t always mean that a UCI badge is the only thing that’s going to mean teams from overseas - and I’m not just talking about WorldTour teams, I’m talking about all manner of teams - might see that  the domestic scene is a very good place for their riders on the Continent to come and experience a different style of racing, as domestic riders do when they go over to Belgium and race there.

“I don’t think it’s all about getting WorldTour teams here. We know that’s only going to happen when there is a UCI ranking, full stop, and when there’s a financial reason for them to come. If there isn’t, they aren’t coming; really simple. But beneath that I think there’s definitely an opportunity to see, is there a way where we could get greater levels of participation from teams overseas, on the Continent, just to come and experience British racing as part of the development of their own riders then I think there’s a great role for advocacy there.”

Timothy John

The value of the domestic road scene as a breeding ground for talent able to compete in the professional ranks seems open to debate. Harry believes that some UK races are harder than UCI-certified equivalents in Europe, while both Sophie and Becks identify a significant gap between the tactical demands of WorldTour and domestic racing.

What isn’t open to debate however is that a place in the men’s UCI WorldTour comes with a guaranteed salary and in the Women’s WorldTour the majority are paid too. With this in mind, the ability of the National Road Series to develop riders for professional careers takes on an added significance. Nobody wants to race for free and, if they’re training and racing to a professional standard, nor should they. Let’s hear from Sophie on how a salary allows her to perform as an elite athlete and from Harry on the fundamental importance of a minimum wage.

Sophie Wright: the importance of salary

“I am fortunate enough to be paid. I am living the dream. I’m being paid to do my hobby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work, but I’m getting paid to do what I love. If I wasn’t getting paid, I’d have to get a part-time job. That probably wouldn’t pay that much with it being part-time. I’d have to keep living at home for longer. It would just be made very awkward. When it comes to booking your flights, booking your hotels and stuff, it really adds up; even fuel. On a part-time job, it’s very hard to do.

“Also, it would be very hard to get to the top and stay at the top if you’re not full-time, committed to your sport. Yes, you can wake up at 7am, do a two or three-hour training ride, then go to work. Yes, you’ve got that three-hour ride in, but you’re spending the rest of the day working when actually you could be optimally recovering at home, getting the correct nutrition, when instead you’re sat at a desk or on your feet, stacking shelves or whatever the job is, and not focussing on recovery. You can do all the training in the world, but if you don’t get the correct recovery that training is just useless, because you’re not adapting from it.”

Harry Tanfield: the value of a minimum wage

“It does bring a further aspect into it of stress and what you’re doing with your time and, ultimately, you do need money to live on. To go from a decent living income to nothing, it’s no longer a job, it becomes a hobby.”

Timothy John

Harry’s argument is surely valid. The minimum wage in the UCI WorldTour for men is €40,045. The sport’s world governing body introduced a minimum wage for the UCI Women’s WorldTour this year of €15k, riding to €20k next year and €27.5k in 2022. By 2023, the UCI wants minimum wage parity between the men’s and women’s professional pelotons.

So should the British domestic road scene have a minimum wage too? Few would object to such an admirable aspiration, but the reality of a sport funded almost entirely by private companies, who themselves are facing a significant economic downturn, means that such an ambition would be difficult to realise, as Phil Jones explains.

Phil Jones MBE: the economic challenges of introducing a minimum wage for domestic riders

“You can’t just say all of sudden, ‘For 2021, we’re going to insist that there’s a minimum wage involved in the sport,’ because probably half of the teams that are racing today aren’t going to exist because the sponsorship income that they’re earning is just enough for them to exist while they get to races, get their kit, cover the travel, hotels, the odd meal now and again, some sort of low-level expenses, race entry fees and that’s about it. There isn’t a lot left in the coffers at the end of the day.

“So you then say, ‘What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Ok, we need more income.’ And then we’re back to this problem again: how do we now get more income? Well, in order to get more income and to start paying people and to have salaries and a minimum wage and all this sort of stuff, the reality, even if you were looking at saying, ‘I want to be a full-time rider,’ and you’re looking at a payment of £20,000 or more a year. At minimum wage, to be paying somebody for ‘x’ many hours per week to ride their bike. So suddenly when you look at a squad and you put ten riders on it, or 12 riders, or 14 riders, you’re already at £300,000-ish a year. That’s before you do anything. That’s in terms of your salary bill.

“If you then look at the other stuff, and most teams who are not UCI teams are probably getting by on £30,000 or £40,000 a year potentially, just to cover their costs, so you’re looking at needing to raise £350,000 or more per year. The environment that we have in the UK is simply just not there to be writing sponsorship deals of that size for this sport.

“I would love to see everybody back to where things were, earning money, being a full-time bike rider, full-time mechanic, full-time team manager; my goodness, we’d see the sport really thrive. But the commercial realties and the economic realities of where we are, even at this particular moment in time, mean that it’s probably the right decision at the wrong time.”

Timothy John

The recent ere of six British-registered, UCI Continental teams, well-funded and well run, taking the fight to the heavyweights of the UCI WorldTour and winning, in races like the Tour of Britain, the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour de Normandie, already seems like a distant age.

So how does the British domestic scene regroup? If Phil’s’ analysis that the same economic conditions simply don’t exist is correct - and as the leader of a major business, it seems safe to assume that it is - then what is the answer? For Erick Rowsell, domestic road racing needs to face the new reality. The means and metrics by which the scene previously measured its health no apply.

Erick Rowsell: British domestic road racing needs fewer and better UCI Continental teams

“I think in the UK we need to get away from judging ourselves by how many Continental teams we have. I would prefer to have one Conti team in the UK, but for that one team do thins properly and correctly and provide the riders with a really good race programme and place really good support around them, rather than have eight UCI teams which aren’t, other than looking on the outside, from looking at the inside aren’t much different to a club team.

“I think we need to get away from judging it by, ‘Well, how many Conti teams do we have? If we’ve got more, then it’s brilliant.’ But actually, if we have fewer and they’re really well run, really well support, that for me is more important than just having loads and loads of teams.

“I think that’s where having the elite teams can come in. If riders can see value in riding for an elite team, that makes them more attractive, rather than everyone saying, ‘We’ve got to be a Conti team.’ Really, there’s not an awful lot of difference, other than that they get to ride the Tour of Britain, which is obviously a huge thing, but in my opinion, you shouldn’t set up a Conti team just to ride the Tour of Britain. You’re doing it for the wrong reasons if that’s why you’re doing it. Hopefully, that’s where the elite teams will come into their own. We can build on it and progress that and that will become more attractive.”

Timothy John

We’ll hear more about British Cycling’s Elite Development Team status later in this episode. For now, it’s fair to say that domestic teams of any level or standard and facing an unprecedented challenge after a year without racing.

Matt Hallam, owner and manager of the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing team, has delivered year-on-year growth for his team, despite such exceptional circumstances, but even he admits that times are tough.

Matt Hallam: domestic teams in “fight or flight” mode

“It’s ‘fight or flight’, really, for race teams right now. You either be dynamic and adapt to this new normal, find ways to provide return to your sponsors to make them back your vision going forwards into this next year, when, let’s face it, we still really don’t know the full extent of what might be on offer next year.

“You’ve got to look at it in two ways: you can either retract or become very negative and pessimistic. Fundamentally, that’s not how I am as a person. I’m a positive person. I keep a positive outlook on things, even when things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped. That’s the path I decided to take with this, and I’ve stuck to it since the outset.

“I’m pleased to say that we’ll be going into 2021 in an even stronger position. I want to go into 2021 in a stronger position that I was heading into this year, and I’ve achieved that.”

Timothy John

We’ll hear more from Matt in this episode on his proven ability to win sponsors and how his grasp of content and presentation has delivered year-on-year growth for his team.

Matt’s unswerving analysis of the position teams find themselves in - what he describes as “fight or flight” - speaks volumes for the effect of a year without racing.

But his determination to remain positive, and the commercial results that attitude has delivered, is of equal interest. For those prepared to embrace it, a more positive future lies ahead, Covid permitting.

Since our last episode, British Cycling has published the National Road Series and Elite Circuit Series calendars for 2021. As the leader of the domestic sport’s major commercial partner, does this provide Phil, in his role as Managing Director of Brother UK, with a sense of optimism?

Phil Jones MBE: publication of the 2021 National Road Series and Elite Circuit Series calendars gives hope

“Yes, indeed, it does, and I’m super happy that at least this has been published well before the season has started. What we’ve heard and seen published from British Cycling now is eight rounds of the National Road Series for men, eight rounds for the women’s National Road Series, and the Elite Circuit Series: five rounds for the men and three rounds for women.

“So that’s really good. At least we know now that there’s something to look forward to. There’s something for sponsors to feel comfort that there is a road series going to take place, it gives riders something to train for, and, of course, it now gives the teams and their respective owners and director sportive an ability to, if they are trying to land a sponsor in the final hours, at least they can throw this in front of somebody now and say, ‘This is a race series.’

“Assuming that the Covid crisis is clearing up, the vaccine success is working, crossing fingers, then we’ve got some racing to look forward to in 2021.”

Timothy John

This episode is moving quickly and taking us further from our starting point: the challenges faced by British riders in the domestic scene and the UCI WorldTour, and the suitability of the former as a training ground for the latter.

Before we move further into the territory of teams - their battle for sponsorship in a post-Covid economy, the value of content and marketing in a social media age, and more - let’s conclude this opening section from a rider’s perspective.

Still only 26, Harry Tanfield has accumulated experiences in race as diverse as the Chorley Grand Prix and La Vuelta Espana. How would he compare and contrast the domestic and WorldTour scenes?

Harry Tanfield: some domestic races are harder than UCI-certified events in mainland Europe

“I’ve raced in European 1.2s, and I’ve done the Tour of the Res, the Chorley GP with some strong UK Conti teams all fighting it out, and the level in the UK is significantly higher than in some of the 1.2s I’ve done in Holland or Belgium or stuff like that; harder races, I thought, personally, the ones in the UK, but unfortunately they don’t have a UCI statues, so on paper they don’t have the merit of the UCI race, but I found them harder!”

Timothy John

Having considered the plight of the riders, working hard to make a living from cycling in a domestic scene hit by Covid and declining investment, and instability even at its highest level, let’s turn our attention to teams.

In our last episode, Phil accurately described their total dependence on sponsorship as a ‘boom and bust’ model. With a new season fast approaching, has Phil noticed any evidence of a changed approach?

Phil Jones MBE: no change in 2020 to cycling’s ‘boom and bust’ dependence on sponsorship

“Businesses start and businesses fail, and in the sport of cycling, teams will start and teams will fail and end. This is just the natural rhythm of life. I think in the longer term, if I’m looking at the domestic sport right now and saying: ‘Right, are we seeing any systemic shift in the way that the business model works, either in the teams or in the governing body or anything around the model, such as events,’ then I would have to say, ‘No, I haven’t.’ I haven’t seen any stick shifts in 2020 which are going to change the fabric of the sport for  2021 and beyond. Unfortunately, the problem still exists at a structural level about how the sport works and whether or not that’s ever going to change itself, well, we’ll see.”

Timothy John

“The issue of road racing’s funding model is at once simple and complex. The simplicity lies in identifying the missing revenue. Put simply, race organisers can’t charge punters to watch from the roadside. Further, the handful who generate an income from selling televised coverage - vast conglomerates like Tour de France owners ASO - don’t share broadcast revenues with the teams.

“The complexity lies in identifying revenue streams to replace the gate receipts and television revenues of sports like football, rugby and cricket. The challenge is difficult, but not impossible. In episode five, Phil identified the game-changing revenues offered to teams by the new discipline of e-racing. With many of his insights validated by the subsequent hosting of cycling’s first e-sports world championships, it seems only sensible to ask Phil what further opportunities he can identify.”

Phil Jones MBE: new revenue streams for domestic teams

“It’s the question everyone wants answering, isn’t it? What is the silver bullet that’s going to turn around a team or the sport. I think what we’re looking at is: ‘Is there a better way, whereby a team with some certainty can know that it has incomes beyond the season that it is in?’ More than a one-year contract: two years, three years, four years, five years.

“If you look at other sports, the English Premier League, for example, where they have a responsibility to send some money down the pyramid; to send the elevator back down to some of the smaller teams, and you look at the money around the UCI WorldTour and say, is there a percentage that ought to be scooped off to support development pathways? So that’s one thing.

“If you look at riders and how they’re moving from the domestic scene into the WorldTour, there isn’t any, unlike some other professional sports, drag-and-tag payment, whereby they say: ‘Well, they started their career here, so if they become super successful then what we’re expecting is for some money to flow back to recognise where the development started,’ and that could be at the level of an individual rider.”

Timothy John

Funding from the UCI WorldTour, distributed by the governing body for teams lower down professional cycling’s pyramid sounds like a sensible solution. If Team INEOS, for example, isn’t minded to create a UCI Continental squad to serve as an incubator, a sliver of its £40m annual operating budget, shared from a collective pot by the UCI, would do much to resolve the annual funding crises of smaller squads.

Similarly, Phil’s suggestion of a transfer fee represents another mechanism by which the sport’s wealth could be redistributed. What other means might be available? Staying with football, the biggest clubs do an effective job of monetising the passion of their fans. And let’s not overlook the governing body: British Cycling generates substantial revenues in membership fees. Could some of this income be channelled to the support of grassroots teams? Phil believes so.

Phil Jones MBE: cycling teams should monetise fan support; British Cycling should contribute membership fees

“Still, in my view, I don’t think enough is done, by teams to bring their fans into the funding model: to say, ultimately, be part of the team, be part of our future, create a model whereby a fan can give directly to a team, knowing that as a fan of the sport, they are helping to fund that team for the longer team.

And then of course you’ve got the federation, British Cycling. The federation collects annual subscriptions from British Cycling members and from other funding sources. You could also look at that and say: ‘Does the federation have any role within this to try and have some money that they accrue in their annual incomes to flow back directly to development of the sport and the sustainability of the teams participating in the sport?’”

Timothy John

While teams come and go from every level of the sport with alarming regularity, some get it right, year-after-year. Increasingly, those able to stay the course do so with an engaging presentation able to generate return on investment for sponsors, almost regardless of results. In the men’s UCI WorldTour, Team EF Education First are a fine example. The women’s team with arguably the strongest identity in the Women’s WorldTour is Canyon-SRAM. While both are regular race winners, boasting rosters filled with formidable riding talent, neither is dominant.

Matt Hallam, owner and manager of the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing squad might have been taking notes. A young manager in a hurry, next year his team will begin its fourth season by again increasing its budget and expanding its squad. It’s no coincidence that Matt’s team does a fine job with content, providing sponsors like Brother UK with a regular supply of high-quality films and images in which logo placement is prominent. The same strategy has attracted a new sponsor for 2021: one of a scale and kudos that Matt believes will change the game for his team.

Matt Hallam: the value of content

“In my opinion, the biggest thing that has allowed the team to grow at the rate it has done is the image that it’s achieved. I can confidently say, going into 2021, we’ll be turning heads next year with what we’re going to be doing. We’ve got an absolutely massive deal in place. It’s a culmination of this three-year project I put in place, and I’m absolutely just amazed that I’ve been able to pull this off. I can’t believe it.

“A brand like the sponsor I’ve signed a deal with, would never, ever have approached someone like us if they didn’t think we were on-image. All the work we’ve done through the social media, through outreach opportunities, through news channels on line, sponsors - Brother UK providing us with a lot of outreach opportunities - and utilising every one of those and producing really good content that’s professional and makes us look like a Continental team. That’s what’s got us to this position now.

“I can show sponsors my portfolio of content, and I can guarantee you that’s on par with a Continental team, if not better. I can provide them with an opportunity to come into this for not a lot of money. I can get these deals signed quickly because people want to be involved with our project. We look cool. We look good on bikes. I’ve got a great group of riders who are approachable. We provide sponsors with continuous content and that’s what really set us onto the trajectory that we’re on at the moment.”

Timothy John

Satisfying sponsors with high-quality content that celebrates the partnership of team and corporate backer is clearly a critical consideration, and especially in a year with no racing. With no events to report, no victories to celebrate or results to analyse, the ability to fill social media channels and corporate brochures with images of a honed athletes living the values of sporting excellence takes on an added importance.

The values piece is significant. For Becks Durrell, a personable and intelligent ambassador for her team and its sponsors, as well as a formidable riding talent, a sponsor’s association with the values of sport is almost as important as brand exposure. Logo placement is only one benefit, she argues, with which cycling can repay its backers. She argues for embedding values inside an event, much as Belgium’s kermesse races typically form the centre piece of town festivals that represent a wider celebration of community and civic pride.

Rebecca Durrell: sporting values are important to sponsors

“I guess one way to look at is to look at how other nations have made a success of their domestic calendars. I know over on the Continent a lot of races are based around families and having fayres and getting everyone involved in the race. It’s not necessarily only about the bike race. It’s about everything else that goes with it.

“I think this can translate over to the whole point of sponsorship for teams as well. When you’ve got a sporting team, especially on a domestic level, it isn’t necessarily all about getting a sponsor's logo out there. That is very, very important, but I think a lot of it is about the ethos of the team and what people gain from the team; what supporters gain from the team. With that, it’s all of the values of sport. It’s why we do it. It’s teamwork, it’s dedication, it’s discipline. You try and change yourself for the better and that gives other people enthusiasm to do the same for themselves.”

“I don’t know how it’s possible but if that come somehow be strengthened and bolstered within our sport at the domestic level, and if that becomes one of the key aims of the races - to try and boost those feelings and those values by having it as part of a bigger event - then I think it will only go from strength to strength.”

Timothy John

So how important are the values of sport to a corporate backer? Few are better qualified to answer than my co-host Phil Jones, Brother UK’s Managing Director.

A major business in the United Kingdom, and part of a global technology brand of vast scale, values are a critical consideration, both internally and externally, for Brother and for Phil.

Sponsorship investments send a signal to the outside world, but offer an internal message of equal importance: a sign, in the case of cycling, that physical health, mental wellbeing, active travel and dedication to personal growth are shared values.

It comes as little surprise, then, that Phil - an authoritative voice on leadership and corporate cultures, - is keenly aware of cycle sport’s values proposition and shares Rebecca’s belief in its importance to securing long-term sustainability for teams and events.

Phil Jones MBE: sporting values mirror Brother UK’s commitment to growth for its partners and people

“I totally get that and Becks is making a really, really important point. When we’re thinking about where we’re going to put our overall investment, ultimately what it really is about is creating the platforms for people to improve their potential. It allows somebody, whether we’re sponsoring a team or a race or providing the neutral service to train for something, aspire to something and to be something that they previously might not have been.

“We very much see that and why we’ve done a lot of our grassroots investigating is the sheer joy that we get seeing people who are improving and growing themselves. Part of our strapline behind the scenes is to grow ourselves through growing others. That, from a professional perspective, means we want to grow our channel partners and our business partners to become better businesses and to grow through our partnership or the products that they sell. But if we take that and we lift it up and put that into, ‘Well, why are we into domestic cycling?’ we can also say we’re trying to do exactly the same thing in order to amplify that ultimate position and statement.”

Timothy John

Phil’s strong grasp of sponsorship in its many forms is literally part of the job for the leader of a major business. Increasingly, however, it is a major concern for teams and riders.

Anyone competing at any level of a sport dependent on brand exposure for income needs to understand and appreciate the mechanics of content and marketing, and almost every member of the Brother Cycling family seems to do so.

For Sophie Wright, forging her way in a branch of the sport desperate for exposure, and Matt Hallam, seeking to satisfy sponsors with a blend of positive association and reach, television remains an important part of the jigsaw.

What ‘television’ means as we approach the third decade of the second millennia, however, is open to debate. British Cycling caused consternation among teams earlier this year when it announced it would no longer fund coverage on Eurosport, but Erick Rowsell maintains that the federation is committed to exploring other avenues.

Let’s hear from each of them, starting with Sophie.

Sophie Wright: the value to sponsors of television coverage

“Sponsors want to see themselves on TV. They want to be getting themselves out there, and so many women’s races aren’t televised. That’s the thing. When a sponsor sees themselves on television, they can see the worth. They can see that their money and support is actually worth it. It’s when they can’t see themselves on TV, and when the sponsors’ logos aren’t being shown, they’re quite quick to pull out. because they have much bigger priorities to think about than sponsoring a women’s team. But, yeah, you don’t get much sense of security really.”

Matt Hallam: the value to sponsors of television coverage

“From a sponsor’s perspective, putting in money to a race team and [gaining] visibility is a key return that they’re looking for, and television outreach provides that. When that’s taken away, it’s difficult to really fill that gap. You’ve got to try and find other ways to fill that huge hole that’s been left in your sponsorship proposal that you delivered at the start of when conversations appear for sponsorship heading into the next year.”

Erick Rowsell: British Cycling, Eurosport coverage, and value for money

“It wasn’t value for money at all, having it on Eurosport at 11pm, two weeks after it happened and anyone who said there was massive value in that, I would seriously question it, but is there value in a live stream? Again, we did that for the Elite Circuit Series last year. There wasn’t a huge following on that, I wouldn’t’ have said. It was ok. But again, for the money it cost to do a live stream, was there the return? I don’t know. I’m not in that area of expertise to know if there was or not. It’s certainly not something which has been put to bed and forgotten about. it’s still ongoing, with different ways to do it, with organisers as individuals and us as a governing body.”

Timothy John

Talk of television leads us back to the vital nature of sponsorship. A cycling team with aspirations for national success simply can’t survive without it.

Matt Hallam is not the only manager in the Brother Cycling family with an enviable record for retaining sponsors - Team Brother UK-Onfform’s Simon Howes can make a similar boast - but the speed with which Matt has grown his team and its commercial support is impressive. 

He doesn’t offer his success as a template, and maintains that each team must find its own way, but there must be aspects of his approach from which others can learn.

Matt Hallam: attracting sponsors and forming lasting relationships

“I’ve been very fortunate in the sense that I’ve kept a lot of my founding sponsors from when we started the team back in 2018. I’ve kept over 90 per cent of my sponsors that put financial investment into the team. I’ve already got three years of developing relationships with each of those, so it then becomes a lot easier for them to buy into the vision of what you’re trying to achieve with the team. They can see the progression year-on-year. They can see how the team is progressing as well; how it looks on social media, how it looks in marketing campaigns. That does equate to a lot as well.

“It’s going to be different for everyone who has a team.  and is lucky enough to be in a position to pursue running a race time but that’s the way I did it, so I can’t really speak for anyone else. I was fortunate in that sense that I had contacts in place through my job as being a bike fitter. I was meeting lots of different people. I was able to utilise those contacts to get enough sponsorship to get a team off the ground. I’ve built on that year-on-year. I’ve been lucky enough to bring in additional resource: new sponsors that have seen what wave’ been able to do. It still equates to a lot of money for the businesses who back us, but it’s not significant amounts of money. We can provide a lot of return for that now.”

Timothy John

Matt’s final sentence is the most revealing: he is focussed on what his team can provide for its sponsors, and not the other way around. The distinction is critical, according to Phil Jones, and he of all people should know.

As well as planning Brother UK’s strategic development and managing a plethora of day-to-day issues, Phil plays a vital role in managing the company’s sponsorship portfolio: a comprehensive series of investments in organisations as diverse as the Halle Orchestra and the Tour of Britain.

Armed with a 30 years of experience in sales, including as Brother UK’s Sales Director, before becoming leader of the business, it’s fair to say that Phil knows more than a little about writing an effective proposal.

Phil Jones MBE: how to write an effective sponsorship proposal

“Tim, I could write a book on this one, because I receive so many sponsorship proposals, and I don’t just mean from cycling teams. It’s been very busy in the last few weeks, to be fair, with people knocking on the door, but I mean from all sports, cultural organisations, events; all sorts of things. We are constantly approached and asked for financial support of one kind or another.

“I was discussing this with someone the other day who’d asked my advice. I’d recently done a talk on this issue. I guess if I was to take the last 100 proposals that I’ve seen and say, well, which one worked and got some air time, and why did the 99 others not get air time, it’s primary because the 99 others were poorly researched, very vanilla and they didn’t think about how Brother might benefit from the partnership.”

Timothy John

Teams who focus proposals on themselves rather than the sponsor reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship. Worse, they shine a spotlight on the generic nature of their offer.

Think about it: almost every team that approaches Brother UK competes in the same races and has a broadly similar list of benefits: logo placement on the jersey, logo placement on the car, and a social media following of greater or lesser significance. The net effect is the ‘vanilla’ sensation that Phil describes.

His advice is simple: do your research, identify how sponsoring your team will help their business, and, above all, make it personal. Those who don’t must prepare to pay the ‘we fee’.

Phil Jones MBE: the ‘we fee’

“The trick that I’ve learned after 30 years in sales is really, really simple: the more personal you make it, the more researched it is the higher the propensity that you will achieve success in what it is your trying to do when you’re trying to gain sponsorship or asking for some sort of paid partnership. It really comes down to that. The people who are most successful and the people where we’ve thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting’ have tended to be highly personalised approaches where something comes in and you say: ‘Now that is not a blanket proposal. That is something that has been prepared for us and we can see the value in it.’”

“I have a little one-liner that I say, which effectively means: ‘You will pay the we-fee’. So the price you’re going to pay, if all you talk about is you:  ‘We, we, we, we, we, we, we.’ The fee you’re going to pay is that we are not going to listen to you.  So you will pay the ‘we fee’ if you don’t personalise your proposals. And, if you use the word ‘we’ far too much in your in-bound communication. ‘We’re this, we’re that, we’re the other.’ Rather than, ‘you’. Have a look at what you’re preparing, have a look at the process you’re undertaking and make it all about the person that you’re approaching.”

Timothy John

It’s natural that private businesses ask what value lies for them in a sponsorship agreement. As the uncompromising realities of a post-Covid and post-Brexit economy grow, their search for value is likely to grow ever more intense.

So how can British Cycling support teams in their bid for survival? It’s in the federation’s interest, of course, to have actors in the drama of their National Road Series.

Erick Rowsell, British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manager, believes the federation’s new Elite Development Team status will add validity to domestic teams operating to the highest standards.

BC’s offering - space for Elite Development Teams on its website and social channels, and perhaps even a logo for their jerseys - will make them more attractive to sponsors and race organisers, he believes.

Erick Rowsell on Elite Development Team status

“It’s very much giving them that status that they can then use and say to sponsors: ‘Look, we are an Elite Development Team. We are highly regarded by British Cycling.’ We want to create a page on the British Cycling website which is dedicated to these teams, so that when they’re talking to sponsors or even to race organisers they have somewhere to direct them. They can go onto the governing body’s website that has just a small plug for the team, some links to the team’s social channels and website, or a feature on the team. We’ll then do some regular digital stuff thought-out the season with the team, so we’ll keep on top with that sort of thing.

“Some teams are really good at that already. Some teams are fantastic with their social and digital side. Some teams might need a little bit more support. For some teams, it’ll be a huge benefit for them. I spoke to some managers who say that when they try to get invitations to UCI races and they’re not a UCI team, so they approach them, effectively, as a club team. But if they can go to them and say: ‘Look, we’re recognised by British Cycling as one of these Elite Development Teams’, it just holds a little bit more status for them. It may work, it may not, but it’s certainly not going to do any harm for any team to have that status from us and that recognition to go out to sponsors and say: ‘We’re recognised on the website as one of the better teams,

“We’re also trying to create some assets for teams to use, so get some logos designed; a bit like they use for the UCI Europe Tour, where all the teams have the little logo on their jersey. We’re not going to say all the teams have to have it on the jersey, but just to give them some assets and digital assets that they can use when they’re approaching people, putting sponsor packs together and things like that. It’s all about trying to recognise these teams that are doing things in the right way, supporting the riders, providing them with that platform, and then us as a governing body trying to support them in doing that and offer them that backing from us as well to do what they’re doing.”

Timothy John

The Elite Development Team status and Erick’s longer-term ambition to introduce a tiered structure to national domestic road racing represent real change after years of decline.

He  believes that teams like Cycling Sheffield represent a vital stepping stone between clubs and UCI Continental teams, and cites Conor Swift’s progression to the UCI WorldTour, via Madison-Genesis, as evidence for what Elite Development Teams might achieve.

So what value might it hold for a team like Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing, a squad that already excels in its presentation and with ambitions beyond elite status.

Matt Hallam says he needs more details, but gains confidence from Erick’s experience in domestic road racing and remains cautiously optimistic.

Matt Hallam: Elite Development Team status

“I can see the theory and the principles behind why they’re pursuing a tiered approach and introducing this Elite Development Team status. It’s nice to see ideas implemented; it’s great to see that, after years of being in a stagnant position where ideas would be introduced but nothing would ever happen. It’s great to see things being actioned.

“Change is, in my opinion, a good thing. It needs change. We’re getting that change, and we’ve got someone who’s driving it who has been involved in domestic cycling in the UK for a long time. They know how things should work. I can only see that as being a positive. I need to understand things a bit better after speaking to Erick, but from what I can see right now, I think it’s a big step forwards for us.”

Timothy John

Matt is not alone in extending a cautious welcome to Erick’s initiatives. We heard from race organiser Peter Harrison in part one of this episode how Erick had won the hearts and minds of the National Organisers Group.

The subsequent publication of Erick’s National Road Series and Elite Circuit Series calendar for men and women in 2021 have been well received and not least by Phil Jones, who cites the confidence sponsors gain from seeing such tangible milestones drawn on the road map to activation.

But what does Phil make of the Elite Development Status? Will it reveal the underlying ambition of a team: whether it is focussed on encouraging participation or growing into a more performance-focussed outfit?

And, critically, can it be regarded as a substitute for UCI Continental status, coveted by domestic teams as the minimum entry requirement for the Tour of Britain and its guaranteed seven days of national television exposure? Here’s Phil.

Phil Jones MBE: Elite Development Team status

“Another tricky issue Tim, for sure. What we’re actually saying is, there’s quite an expensive ticket price to pay to get yourself on the list of people who might get one of those qualification places into the Tour of Britain. But the ticket price you’ve got to pay even to be on that list is your UCI registration which costs money.

“I think what you’ve got to ask yourself is: ‘What is your aspiration? Where are you trying to sit in the hierarchy of the sport?’ Because, ultimately, if you’re quite happy to be an Elite Development Team and you’re in this because what you actually want is to see riders do well, develop, begin to race, fill the sport up with a lot of active participants then, actually, this will be unimportant to you, to have UCI status.

“If you’ve got loftier ambitions to head up the ranks and ultimately become a WorldTour team one day, or if you’ve got a much higher overhead cost, rider salary bill, part of the model simply is, ‘We want to be a team with £300k, £400k, £500k. We have to be in the Tour of Britain. We have to race this seasons like we’ve got to qualify: every race is all about qualification. We’ve hung our hat with sponsors on that ambition.’

“So it’s quite a high-risk strategy. It’s Monte Carlo or bust, really Tim, isn’t it? We’re looking to achieve this, but there isn’t a guarantee you’re going to achieve it. The Tour of Britain is a qualification process but it could well be that as we end this year and begin into 2021 that might be all automatic qualification because of the number of UCI Continental teams that we have in the UK.

“So I think to some degree, Erick’s got a point here. Is it about having loads and loads of teams who are living from hand-to-mouth, all trying to squeeze into this Tour of Britain qualification? That might not be the model which will make the sport sustainable for the long term.”

Timothy John

Is the domestic road scene reaching a turning point?

Erick Roswell’s priorities as Elite Road Racing Manager and drastically changed economic conditions from a monied heyday in which the sport bathed in the reflected glow of Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory and home Olympic success, seem to be shifting the scene’s emphasis from the achievements of a privately-funded few to raised standards among a broader constituency.

Whether this more accurately reflects the proper purpose of a domestic scene, or the wider economic realities of a sport that leaves riders even as talented as Harry Tanfield falling in and out of the UCI WorldTour, is an interesting topic for debate.

If applying the gloss of professional marketing to the National Road Series would give it a sheen to match the Olympic Academy’s golden achievements, would riders like Rebecca Durrell be struggling to convince WorldTour teams of her talent? Or should the federation’s first priority for its national series always be to provide a first opportunity?

The fact remains that within recent memory the scene supported six, British-registered, UCI Continental teams in which full-time and salaried staff and riders, and that, in 2012, one of them won the Tour of Britain. However tarnished the individual result, Endura Racing’s team performance that week cannot be questioned.

Are participation and performance necessarily exclusive? One team to have risen rapidly from nothing is Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing: a team founded to grant opportunities to riders in the North West, but which has proved that professional presentation is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Team owner and manager Matt Hallam has demonstrated the keenest understanding of the undeniable value of content and marketing from day one and has reaped the benefits each year in the shape of increased budgets and expanded squads.

While rivals retrench their positions or conclude their operations entirely, Matt’s men and women prepare to don a new iteration of a sleek crimson kit replete with the names of sponsors, like Brother UK, who have backed the team since inception and several new names besides: one of them, arguably, the biggest in the sport. Let’s leave the final word, then, to Matt.

Matt Hallam: embracing UCI Continental status and entry to the Tour of Britain

“I always had a dream of taking a team to the Tour of Britain. It was a pipe dream back in 2017 when I first started the race team but we’re getting close to being able to do this. That’s really pushing me on. I need this next year to go as well as it possibly can do for us to have a fighting chance to do it.

“What a story that would be for us to achieve that. We will be going into our fourth year of running the team next year. As you mentioned, a five-year plan. Let’s throw it out there: why not go UCI Continental, why not take a team to the Tour of Britain because we’re on the right path. We’re doing everything right. All we need now is to try and find that sponsor who can put in the resource to get us there.

“I do believe that we can provide that value, we can show them that, yes, we are worth inviting in. Sometimes you have to be bold and you to be brave, and I’ve never failed so far in running this team, so yeah, let’s set that goal and let’s see if we can do it.”

Timothy John

We’ll conclude this episode in our normal manner with a social shout out. If you’d like to follow any of our expert witnesses on social media, you can do at the following addresses. 

Phil Jones posts about cycling from @roadphil on Twitter and Instagram. You can follow Phil’s tweets on business and leadership @philjones40.

You can find Harry Tanfield on Facebook and Instagram at @harrytanfield.94 and on Twitter at @HarryTanfield94. Note the absence of a full-stop between Tanfield and 94 in the Twitter handle.

Rebecca Durrell is on Twitter @BecksDurrell and on Instagram @becks_durrell.

Erick Rowsell is on Twitter and Instagram @erickrowsell.

You can follow Sophie Wright on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @sophiekwright8.

You can follow Matt Hallam on Twitter @matt_hallam and on Instagram @bikefitmcr.

You can follow the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing team on Facebook @wearecrimsonperformance, on Twitter @crimsoncycling, and on Instagram @crimsonperformance.

And we sincerely hope you’ll follow Brother Cycling. We’re @BrotherCycling on all three channels.

Thanks very much indeed for listening and stay safe.

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