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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 8

Episode description

Episode Eight of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast examines management. Co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones lead an insightful discussion. The guests are the managers of our three sponsored teams. We examine the challenges of leadership in sport and business. And we consider the rewards, too: personal, professional and sporting.

Simon Howes is the experienced manager of Team Brother UK-OnForm. Ian Watson, aka Coach Watto, manages the Brother UK-LDN squad. Matt Hallam is rider-manager at Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing. The trio reflects on the demands of cycle team management. We hear how their challenges are magnified by systemic instability.

Phil describes the challenges cycling faces from the wider economy. He explains how the Covid lockdown will affect sponsorship budgets. And he again urges cycling to develop new revenue streams. Additionally, Phil offers parallels from his extensive study of leadership. His insights include Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “black swan” theory.

Ian describes why “communication, communication, communication” is his lockdown mantra. Matt explains why resilience is essential in cycling and business. Simon shares his efforts to overcome the post-Brexit “90-day rule”. He describes the travel restrictions now faced by British athletes. And he reveals how he and British Cycling can help. 

Tim questions the three managers on a range of topics. These include British Cycling’s plans for the National Road Series. He explores the potential benefits of app-based, on-demand

television coverage. He asks the managers to describe character traits for leadership. Further, he explores the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.

Listen now to enjoy an honest, insightful and revealing discussion. Discover the parallels between business leadership and cycle team management. Hear Phil and our managers describe their strategies for success. Discover techniques for managing top performers and essential support staff. And learn about Brother UK’s support for its sponsored teams.


 


 
The Brother UK Cycling Podcast

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Episode 8: Management Matters

Episode contents

  • 00.05 – Introduction
  • 00.38  – Coming Up
  • 02.26 – Part One: Meet The Guests
  • 04.32  – Part Two: Calendars and Covid
  • 15.50 – Part Three: Brexit and Cancellations
  • 21.52 – Part Four: The Human Factor
  • 32.40 – Part Five: Flexible Calendars and New Solutions 
  • 44.32 – Part Six: GCN and The Women's Tour
  • 51.00 – Part Seven: To Be Continued

Transcript

Introduction

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. Stay tuned!”
 

Coming Up

Timothy John

“Coming up in this extended conversation with the managers of Brother UK’s sponsored cycling teams. 

“We hear how the double whammy of Brexit and Covid is already affecting Britain’s biggest teams.”

Simon Howes

“The paperwork and the form filing and the PCR tests: not only is it a huge, huge headache, but we’ve got Coronavirus and Brexit at the same time, so it’s double trouble, really.”

Timothy John

“We learn how the competitive DNA of racers-turned-managers leaves them well placed to adapt to cycle sport’s shifting dynamic.”

Ian Watson

“As good road bike riders, we need to be adaptable. We need to change. We need to be ready to find new things, find new ways. I think that’s why as past cyclists and road riders, that’s what you give.”

Timothy John

“We discover why a positive outlook allows team managers to focus on new goals when racing is suspended by lockdown.”

Matt Hallam

“Even though there’s no racing on right now, there are still small wins to take along the way. That might be securing a sponsorship deal with a sponsor you’ve always wanted to be part of your team, or that might be signing a rider you’ve always wanted to sign. When you can do that, and pull off something like that, it motivates you massively.”

Timothy John

“And we hear how sophisticated studies of human motivation used by business leaders are equally applicable to cycle team management.”

Phil Jones

“In my day-to-day world, we have a clear distinction between people who are intrinsically motivated and people who are extrinsically motivated. Some people can, without any race programme, still get up, get out on the bike, whatever the weather. Their motivation comes from inside. But for others, of course, their motivation comes from working towards something, like a race programme or a particular race that they’re targeting.”

Meet The Guests

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, where the topic under discussion today is management. Now, managing a cycling team takes knowledge, experience, skill and perseverance. It demands tactical nous and commercial acumen, a strategic a view and the personal touch. The ability to identify talent and retain it. The skills required to lead a cycling team and a major business are very closely aligned. 

“In this eighth episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, we have a panel able to speak with authority on every aspect of a cycling team manager’s job, and, in the form of my co-host Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, we have the leader of a major business. We’ll cast an unblinking eye upon the demands and rewards of management, both in normal

conditions - whatever that might mean! - and in the ‘new normal’ of Covid19.

“Simon Howes manages Team Brother UK-OnForm, a development team for men and women, junior and senior, and he manages the CAMS-Tisofi UCI Women’s Team, a squad formerly known as Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm. 

“Ian Watson is the manager of Team Brother UK-LDN, an elite British women’s team, born from CC London, the club he co-founded to share the education that guided his own development through the sport in the North West scene of the 1980s.

“Matt Hallam manages Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing, a Brother UK-sponsored team for men and women. Based in Manchester and founded to provide opportunities to

riders in the North West, Matt’s squad has rapidly gained a propulsive momentum that even Covid can’t slow. 

“Simon, Ian, Matt, Phil - thank-you very much indeed for joining me.”

INTERLUDE
 
 

Calendars and Covid

Timothy John

“It’s already been a tumultuous start to the year. We’ve got events being cancelled left, right and centre. We’ve had a number of rider transfers over the winter. The European season seems to have got off to a flying start, so let’s have a brief round-up of the major developments in road racing since January, focusing naturally on Brother UK’s interest in the scene. 

“On the rider front, of course, we’ll hear from our team managers about their new signings, but among Brother Cycling’s graduates to the UCI WorldTour, well, Simon’s protege, Anna

Henderson, has moved from Team DSM, what previously was Sunweb, to Jumbo-Visma’s new women’s squad. 

“Sophie Wright has signed with the Women’s WorldTour squad Alé BTC Ljubljana, in a deal agreed before the demise of Equipe Paule Ka, and Harry Tanfield will begin his third WorldTour campaign in three years with a third different team, having signed for Qhubeka-Assos.

“Simon, Anna’s move to Jumbo-Visma has kind of gone under the radar, presumably because she’s still a very young rider. The team’s already signed Marianne Vos and presumably the squad is going to enjoy a similar level of investment and standards of operation to the men’s team. It’s a pretty big move, isn’t it, for Anna?”

Simon Howes

“Yeah, it’s a great move for her. Like you said already, Marianne’s there. You’ve got to learn and take knowledge and experience from her. For Anna, it’s a good move  because there is a wide range of riders, but many of them are similar to Anna where they are new to the sport and less experienced, so it will be a good opportunity for her to increase her race programme."

Timothy John

“Turning our attention now to the domestic scene and, unfortunately, the story here, sadly, is one of races cancelled or postponed. The National Road Series is the focus of Brother UK Cycling’s interest: we provide the neutral service vehicles and we have three sponsored teams competing in that series. Well, that calendar, unfortunately, has already been decimated. 

“On the men’s side, the Klondike Grand Prix, the Tour of the Reservoir, the Stockton Grand Prix have already been cancelled, while the Lincoln Grand Prix has only been postponed, so

fingers crossed for that one. The men’s series doesn’t begin now until July with the Beaumont Trophy. 

“On the women’s side, it’s a similar picture but with the significant silver lining in the news that the Women’s CiCLE Classic will take place as scheduled on June 27, and that makes it the de facto opening round of the women’s National Road Series. 

“If we step away from the National Road Series for a moment then Britain’s handful of UCI races have suffered too. The men’s CiCLE Classic has been cancelled, the RideLondon

races for men and women are cancelled, and the Women’s Tour has been postponed from June to October. The Tour of Britain, which is scheduled for September, is so far unaffected. 

“That gives us a decent jumping off point, I reckon. One of the topics that I wanted to tackle was the challenge you guys face in putting together a race programme and choosing a calendar in normal circumstances, never mind with the challenges of Covid19 and lockdown. All of these cancellations of course are entirely understandable, but it cannot make your job any easier. 

“Ian, let’s start with you. What kind of headache does this raft of cancellations provide and how do you work around that?”

Ian Watson

“Yeah, it is difficult. It’s disappointing for the riders because, of course, they’re just desperate to get back racing again. I think it’s slightly different this year. Because we had a big disappointment last year, we’re finding it a bit easier to manage their expectations around potential cancellations in the sense that there is a sense of inevitability about it. We’ve missed pretty much a year of racing. We want more of an ease into the racing season. Klondike was a big disappointment, but it’s just a case of managing the riders’ expectations. 

“We just want to know when there’s going to be a season. If it’s going to be June, it’s going to be June. That’s fine, and we’ll have that. My job is just to keep the riders informed at all times. That’s where it falls down, if the riders don’t know what’s going on, or they’re second guessing or just waiting for it, but as long as we keep them informed and notify them of

everything that’s going on then it’s not quite as bad as last year.”

Timothy John

“Last year, you left no stone unturned in looking for European races that your team might compete in. Ultimately, you came right up against the Tour de l’Ardeche late in the season as your team’s season opener and decided that was sub-optimal to say the least. But have you got an eye on the European calendar already? Is that an option to fill gaps or does Brexit present a whole range of problems there?”

Ian Watson

“It’s exactly that, really. My plan for the girls now is to try and get to Belgium and some of the lesser UCI races. We have been accepted to a race in France, which would have been the same weekend as Klondike. However, we’ve got a logistical problem with that. Can we get there? And if we get there, can we get home again without quarantine? We’re in the race. We’ve just got to hope that travel restrictions are lifted by then. 

“And then the other thing that I want the girls to do more, on the basis that there isn’t any racing in the UK, is that we go and do more kermesses and things like that in Belgium so we can get that better race experience before the National Road Series starts. But again, we’ve got all the restrictions with Covid and then the Brexit thing, so we don’t know at the moment. I’m doing the same as I did last year: I’m leaving no stone unturned, and I’m keeping an eye on the news!”

Phil Jones

“A question I had, that I wanted to come back on to Ian: is everybody happy to travel if the opportunity comes up? I know in my own organisation that we’ve got a broad church of different thinking where some people are not keen to come back to the office, others are really keen to come back to the office, and I wondered if the same applied in cycling teams?

"Actually, even though you’re saying, ‘We’d like to race a kermesse or go to Belgium,' not everybody perhaps wants to go, either for their own health reasons or for the fact that in their day job, and many of the riders that we have in the UK are working full-time as well as riding and racing, and their employers indeed might say, ‘Well, we don’t want you to travel abroad,’ or, ‘We can’t afford to have you isolating.’ I just wondered how the practicalities of managing Covid turned up in squad members.”

Ian Watson

“It’s been a group decision to do that. It’s not just my decision to say, ‘Ok, we’ll go abroad and do that.’ One of the biggest things I’ve done over this lockdown, compared to the last one, is we have a meeting every other week, and I send out weekly updates to the riders by email. It’s communication, communication, communication all the time. We’ve had a few online ‘sit downs’ to decide how we can start the season and what we can do. That's partly their suggestion to do that. That’s what they want to do. It’s where they’re looking to progress. 

“Regarding the restrictions and quarantines, I’m not sure how it works with their employers. Most of the riders have flexibility with their work, and they’ve arranged that to have a good season. Well, they did last year, never mind this year. I don’t know how it works with quarantine, but, to be hones with yoy, we wouldn’t go away if we had to quarantine, because, as you rightly said, all of my riders are working - well, we have a couple of students, but the majority are all working - so that couldn’t happen.”

Phil Jones

“Matt, what’s your feeling? And then perhaps Simon we can hear from you straight after.”

Matt Hallam

“Well, there’s no hesitation on the riders’ part. They all want to race. They’re all craving pinning on a number and getting back to it. Everyone’s circumstances are slightly different. We’ve got guys who work full time. We’ve got guys who are full-time bike riders. Everyone’s circumstances are slightly different so the logistics of making that happen when we take squads abroad, for example, and then we have to quarantine on return: when you’re taking riders who are employed, that becomes difficult. That’s up to them to decide whether they want to use their holidays for that. 

“It all boils down to the fact that everyone wants to race. There is no one rider who doesn’t want to go and race. It’s harder when you cross the Channel into Europe. It gets tricky when you travel into Europe. There is so much to consider now, whereas in previous years it was a lot easier. It makes our jobs as team managers significantly harder; the work we have to put in. The amount of planning that takes place to even considering doing a race in Europe is significant now. 

“Everyone’s circumstances are slightly different, from a rider’s perspective. It does boil down to whether they can make it work with their situation that they find themselves in, whether in

employment or elsewhere.”

Simon Howes

“I completely echo Ian and Matt’s viewpoints: each rider is an individual, and it’s up to them to make that decision. They shouldn’t be forced into anything that they don’t want to do. As you’ve mentioned Tim, I have a foot in two camps with a UK-based team and a UCI team. Interestingly, we are off to Europe in two or three weeks time for a UCI race: the Healthy Ageing Tour. As has already been alluded to, the paperwork and form-filling and PCR tests: not only is it a huge, huge headache, but we’ve got Coronavirus and Brexit at the same time. It’s double-trouble, really. And there’s a great cost, in terms of your tests. You need special paperwork now even to take a bike across a border. 

“It’s challenging times. I was a 19, 20-year-old racing in Europe as a young lad. I jumped on a ferry, there was no train at the time, but I jumped on a ferry and off I went. You went with your bike and your bag and spent a year racing in whichever country you travelled to around Europe. But it’s difficult times for the youngsters. The [good work of] The Dave Rayner

Fund has been mentioned in numerous conversations. 

“One thing that I’m slightly closer to - we’ve mentioned quarantine and restrictions - British Cycling and the Cyclists Alliance are working closely together to look at getting elite status which you possibly heard about or read about on social media and seen. That can help and will help. Again, it’s not freely available and there are a lot of guidelines and restrictions about being able to receive that.”

Brexit and Cancellations

Timothy John

“I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six weeks speaking with Harry Tanfield, working on a feature article. He’s basically been turning himself inside out, trying to find a way around this 90-day scenario, which he did eventually, courtesy of a visit to Her Majesty’s Passport Office in Manchester. A couple of days later, Anna tweeted, saying: ‘Help! How on earth do I get around this 90-day restriction?’ Under the new Brexit rules, I think that United Kingdom citizens can only work for 90 days in Europe without a special permit. I referred her to Harry, so I hope she got that sorted. It’s good to hear now that BC are on the case. 

“Just to return to this: you know we started with a round up and talking about the decimation of the UK calendar. And Matt, I just wanted to ask you about that because Simon, as we say, has two teams: one of which is mainly focussed on Europe anyway. For Ian, a big part of the education for his riders is taking them across to Europe. But with Crimson, my understanding is that you had some pretty serious goals, particularly with the men’s team, on the National Road Series this year; that it was a forum in which you could have really made an impact. Just how disappointing is it to see all of these races cancelled so quickly, when it seemed that BC, with Erick [Roswell] had finally found a way forwards and put together a pretty impressive calendar.”

Matt Hallam

“Of course, it’d disappointing to see races being cancelled so early. You’ve got to remember that we have eight opportunities with the National Road Series and three are now gone, so we’re left with five. Five races? Yeah, it’s disappointing on a personal level, not to be able to showcase the team and the riders in all eight of those races. There were some great opportunities there for my riders, and we’d been tailoring the training accordingly to the specific demands of those certain races, so when they’re gone, it’s back to the drawing board again. 

“I mentioned this already in a previous chat that we had, Tim, but you can either look at it and be really negative around the whole situation, or you can do the opposite and be positive. That’s the way I take it. There are still opportunities. We have to take the ones that come. Let’s look at the positives here. We still have a Tour Series that’s been rescheduled. What a

massive opportunity that is this year. We’ve still got all the rounds of the National Circuit Series. As far as I'm aware, they’re all still going ahead. 

“You have to feed that positivity into the riders, because if you start showing this negative attitude towards that - the doom and gloom of Covid and Brexit, and everything that doesn’t seem to be going very well with domestic racing - the riders feed off that. They stop training. They’re not motivated. ‘What’s the point?’ That’s just not the way I do things with running my team. 

“It’s frustrating, of course. These opportunities are really limited anyway. We have eight races, which, let’s face it guys, is not many. We have one stage race, which is a two-day stage race. The UCI races are gone, or at least the ones we had in the pipeline anyway. But, like I said, we’ve got to look forward to what’s on offer this year in the UK. We’ve got to take all those opportunities that come our way. The big one for us now is targeting some serious results in the National Circuit Series and Tour Series now.”

Timothy John

"Coming back to the fact that there are just eight opportunities. There isn’t much racing. In the last episode, Larry [Hickmott], Phil and I talked about Erick’s ambition for a tiered structure. I just wanted to get your sense on that, Matt, and in fact from all three of the managers. The volume of racing, the quantity of racing, the number of opportunities that exist: how can that challenge be addressed and overcome? Is it, as Erick seems to be suggesting, with greater segmentation and a more tiered approach? Or is that approaching it from the wrong direction?”

Matt Hallam

“I think it boils down to the organisers. Let’s face it, we need more organisers wanting to put on these National A races. Without that type of person steering the ship, it’s never going to go anywhere. That takes a lot. You’ve got to remember that these race organisers do it for the love of the sport, and a lot comes with putting on a race: a lot of admin, a lot of potential headaches that come along the way. 

“British Cycling need to make it appealing to these race organisers to be proactive with putting on these big races because we need more of them. We need more people wanting to step up and organise big races that can cater for the country’s best riders.”

Timothy John

“Is that the case too, Ian, on the women’s side? Are there enough races to go around? We hear a lot that the National Road Series, when Covid conditions permit, is comprehensive: that was the view certainly from Becks Durrell when we spoke in the investigative edition. But we also hear that there just aren’t enough National B races. There aren’t enough below that top tier to keep things going. How does it look from the women’s side of the sport?”

Ian Watson

“A hundred per cent. We’d like as many National A races as there are for men. We have five and compared to eight for the men. But you’re definitely right, because there are no National B races [for women]. I think in 2019, there was an absolute handful of first cat road races going around. There are lots of 2,3,4 races to prop up the bottom of the sport, but there were hardly any first cat road races, and I’ve got a few first cat riders on the team. It would be nice to have more of a National B series for women, certainly as its getting bigger and more in-depth.”

 

The Human Factor

Timothy John

 “Phil, you were going to come in a moment ago.”

Phil Jones

“I thought it was such an interesting point when you did your opening today, Tim. You talked about the job of a team manager and, of course, there’s the operational side, but there’s also this human factor about how we motivate people, which I think we have in common; so I have that in common with the people on the call today in that we’ve somehow got to motivate people. 

“But I thought Matt's point was very interesting. Certainly, In my day-to-day world, we have a clear distinction between people who are intrinsically motivated and people who are extrinsically motivated. Some people can, without any race programme, still get up every morning, get out on the bike, whatever the weather. Their motivation comes from inside. But for others, of course, and these are just human factors, their motivation comes from working towards something, like a race programme or a particular race that they’re targeting.

“For people who are more intrinsically motivated, the disappointment of races disappearing or moving, they’re probably a bit more resilient to that. But for the people who are much more driven by, ‘I’m working towards that goal on that date and that’s what’s driving me,’ I realise from my own business, that we needed to continually create new goals to deal with some of those disappointments. We needed to say: ‘Well, look: we were thinking about ‘this’, but now that’s not going to happen.’ We would set specifically a new milestone of some

kind, particularly for our sales people, who are very extrinsically motivated, can still continue to feel that they still have something to work towards.

“The second point I wanted to make, which is looking back to one of the earlier points, is about positive pragmatism: that sometimes you can be overly optimistic, which can sometimes take your team to greater disappointment, or you can be overly pessimistic, and then all the heads go down. It’s about finding that positive pragmatism in among all of that to say, ‘There is bad news and it’s ‘this’. Let’s all just deal with that, but in among that, we’ve got to do ‘this’.' 

“Constantly keeping people reset and on some sort of journey with you is a bit of my life which corresponds quite well with what Ian, Matt and Simon are having to do with the teams of riders that they’re effectively trying to hold together.”

Timothy John

“That’s a very interesting point, and I think it’s one that all of you guys can comment on. It seems to me an essential characteristic of a manager, whether it be in business or in sport, to be optimistic. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a pessimistic leader. You’ve got to have that natural optimism. Simon, that’s come across loud and clear in our conversations over the years: you’re more than a glass-half-full person. You’re a glass overflowing person. But that can’t always be easy to maintain. How do you keep your spirits up when things aren’t going quite as you'd hoped they would?”

Simon Howes

“Well, I guess, short term and long term, it will improve. There will come a time when these conversations will be long in history. They’ll be revisited, but the future is the future and you have to look forward to the future. And also, for sports men and women, motivation and self-motivation is something that makes them different to people who don’t take sport seriously. 

“I’m amazed by the motivation that riders still have: how they can get up every morning, 9am they’re out the door, rain, cold, wind: all these reasons [not to ride]. The managers on these

screens have all been riders or are riders still. I think it comes from participating in sport and being around sports people. Yeah, as I say, they’re motivation is just immense.

"Communication is the key, key message that someone has already mentioned. Keep the lines open. Share information. Share what you know. Don’t hold stuff back because everyone understands and we’re all in this together. That’s the bottom line, really.”

Timothy John

“Matt, you’re another guy who’s positive by nature. In other conversations we’ve had, you’ve described it almost as a choice, and, again, it’s an attitude that doesn’t only affect your team, it affects your business, too. Day-to-day, you’re a bike fitter, a very well respected bike fitter, and last year, initially, you faced all kinds of problems with the first lockdown when suddenly a business that seemed to rely entirely on face-to-face contact was taken away from you. It didn’t take you long to adapt and get a new system in place, but I think your underlying ability to do that, to make that adaptation, was that you’d made a conscious choice almost to face that situation positively.”

Matt Hallam

“Some of this will echo what Simon has just said. I still classify myself as an athlete. I train a lot. I still race at a high level and the resilience that comes with leading a lifestyle like that has done me a world of good in may career as well. There are problems that you face in your career where you reflect on what you’ve done as a rider and how you overcame obstacles. There’s quite a good synergy between both. You kind of roll with the punches as they come. We do that in bike racing as well. More often than not, races don’t go as well as you hope, but you bounce back and come back stronger. 

“I think from my bike fitting, I had to completely pivot how my business operates, as I was no longer able to offer the services from which I make my livelihood. I have to do things virtually now, and it took quite a lot of preparation to be able to do that and still offer a really good service, in the first lockdown. I didn’t think I’d be going to back to doing that, if I’m honest with you, but here we are again. We’re almost two months down the line with this third lockdown, and I’m very fortunate to still be able to do that and having quite good success with people coming through virtual channels. 

“I feed on that positivity as well. It’s small wins at the moment. You’ve just got to give yourself a pat on the back when things are going quite well. From a manager’s perspective, that’s really important. Even though there’s no racing on right now, there are still small wins to take along the way. That might be securing a sponsorship deal with a sponsor you’ve always wanted to be part of your team, or that might be signing a rider that you’ve always wanted to sign. When you can do that, and pull off something like that, it motivates you massively and

makes you a lot more positive.”

Phil Jones

“Can I ask a quick question, then?  One of the things when you are leading teams, and you guys are leading teams, you’re often having to give a lot to other people all the time. There’s an awful lot of emotion you’re putting out all the time to make sure everyone else is ok. Who’s looking after you? Who is that you rely on to keep going in order that you can support everyone else? Simon, do you want to answer that first, and then we’ll come to Ian and maybe Matt?”

Simon Howes

“We have our family, our friends and those within the team, as well. We all support each other. Everyone has good days, everyone has bad days. We have our Zoom calls, our weekly catch up. You might not know, but we have a team psychologist within our support room. I guess we take it almost to the next level by having a psychologist in our support group, but it’s important and really, really important during current challenging times.”

Phil Jones

"What about you, Ian?"

Ian Watson

“I think if I talk for myself, personally, my support comes from…I think the motivation to do this…As you say, it can be difficult at times. The manager’s role isn’t a paid job, and, yes, it has its challenges. But if you pick the right team and have a good team around you, and you have expectations of those riders, that lifts you. It gives you the motivation and positivity to carry on forwards. 

"Just helping people and seeing the change in people: that’s all the support I need to keep me going and make me realise that this is a good thing to do. We also have a team psychologist and a few good people in the background: staff who support me and help me very well. But I would say a lot of it comes from the riders. You get lifted.”

Phil Jones

“Great. Matt, what about you?”

Matt Hallam

“What Simon and Ian have mentioned resonates a lot. Again, echoing what Ian mentioned with regard to the group of riders that you have. You almost feel committed to them. I’m so fortunate. I still have the core group of riders that I had when I started the team back in 2018. They’re a good group of friends now. They’ve been on the journey with me too, and, yeah, things like that lift you, and friends and family.

“It’s a tough job, managing a race team. There’s no doubt about that. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. You have to be intrinsically motivated to do it. It’s almost like the carrot and the stick. You can see things growing year-on-year.”

Phil Jones

“One of the striking comparisons I think Simon made earlier is that you’ve all raced yourself. You’ve all been competitive bike racers yourself. When you look at your shared DNA, you’ve probably got a discipline and a mindset, a DNA somewhere in you all which is probably quite common and that perhaps gives you more resilience because you can deal with the disappointment of not getting the results from a race that you wanted, bouncing back.

“Resilience has been a really big word over the last year or so: how individual resilience has been really tested. Perhaps people who are racing and managing race teams have a stronger resilience perhaps than those who don’t compete in competitive sport.”

Ian Watson

“You mention resilience, and we all have to [be resilient] because we’re all road riders. You have to have that resilience to race. But the other thing you have to be as a bike racer is adaptable. You have to be adaptable to change, because anything can happen in a race, and anything does happen in a race. The strongest person might win a time-trial, but the strongest person doesn’t necessarily win a road race. You have to be adaptable to changing circumstances. 

“As good road bike riders, we need to be adaptable. We need to change. We need to be ready to find new things, find new ways. I; think that’s why as past cyclists and road riders, that’s what you give.”

Flexible Calendars and New Solutions

Timothy John

“Is it getting easier in this latest lockdown? Matt, you used the phrase, ‘Here we are again,’ and Ian talks about adaptability. The adaptations that all of made last year, Phil, from a business perspective and the managers from a sporting perspective, how many of those are still relevant? Is it easier this time around? Have you got strategies in place that you developed last year? Matt, let’s start with you on that one.”

Matt Hallam

“Yeah, definitely. I found a bit of a formula which worked well last year, even though we had no racing on offer. We were still able to provide return on investment to our sponsors and keep the team really visible, which was our biggest goal. We’re going to use some of that structure this year and mix that in with some racing. Fingers crossed, we’ll be back on the race grid again and competing at a high level. 

“I think we’re going to have a nice blend of what worked well for last year and what we can do differently this year. We’ve got a content strategy in place already for this year, and we’ve got some really good ideas that are going to help to keep the team really visible on social and digital platforms. We’re certainly on the right path with the strategy we have in place.”

Phil Jones

“Well, here’s a question: do you reckon there’s going to be a load of crashes, guys, when racing resumes because no one’s used to riding in a bunch anymore; they’ve been on Zwift too long and have forgotten how to ride in a bunch? What do you reckon?”

Simon Howes

“There’s going to be a lot of eager cyclists out there, that’s for sure. It shouldn’t take long [to reacclimatise to bunch racing}]. And the level that many of our riders have reached means that they’re very experienced riders. They don’t want to crash anymore than the person next to them. That’s the main thing.”

Phil Jones

“Do you think a few matches are going to get burned early season? We’ve seen from some of the WorldTour races how much a rider has been riding through the winter or on Zwift and all of that kind of good stuff, and we’ve seen very different performances from people in the early season. I think the first couple of UK road races, when they get going, are going to be quite interesting, really. I guess people are going to want to show their form, but equally there could be a few dark horses who might have been quietly burning away the Zwift miles in the garage.”

Simon Howes

“I think that’s brilliant. I watch WorldTour racing, and towards the end of last year, with the late race programme, and certainly towards the start of this year, the racing has been absolutely brilliant, and I’ve been watching bike racing for a very, very long time. It’s exciting and you do hope that new riders come through that you’ve never seen or heard of before, because that’s what we all strive to achieve, isn’t it: to find new riders that are the next star and the sport’s future. Let’s hope so.”

Timothy John

“Maybe that was the ultimate adaptation that the sport made last year. I remember when it was first announced the season would run from August to November, at WorldTour level, it seemed insane and yet it was wonderful. We had brilliant racing, week after week; you barely had time to catch your breath before the next race. And with races likes Liege-Bastogne-Liege, for example, following the Tour, we got a very different race, didn’t we? We had all the Grand Tour contenders there, and, of course, that incredible finish where Roglic buried the disappointment of the Tour de France emphatically by sweeping underneath Alaphilippe’s outstretched arms on the finish line. 

“This idea that the calendar…There is some flexibility built in, almost by definition. Does that give you heart? An example from within your world, of course, is that the Tour Series has been rescheduled from May to August. The Women’s Tour we think is going to happen in October rather than June. It doesn’t seem so fanciful this year, does it? We’ve seen that events can be put back and still be run successfully. What sort of encouragement do you take from that? What about you, Simon? Your UCI team, CAMS-Tifosi, will hope to ride in the Women’s Tour, of course.”

Simon Howes

“Yeah, you take massive heart from that. That’s what keeps us motivated and keeps us training every morning, 9am, out of the door. It’s massively important. Seeing new dates for events is really, really key. You mentioned the Tour Series. They’ve announced the potential for the winners to go and race in America in the USA Crit Series. The messages that appeared in group chats as soon as that was published were endless. There are always key drivers, as we’ve mentioned already. There will always be a driver of some description that makes you train hard and stay motivated.”

Phil Jones

“There’s another important concept, Tim, I just wanted to throw in there, because it’s related to resilience and related to this chat. There’s a very good book called The Black Swan, written by a chap called Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor. He was talking about ‘black swan events’, which are huge events that almost come out of the blue that we don’t think exist, like Covid, for example. 

“He made a distinction between resilience, which is maybe if you stretch an elastic band and let it go, the band goes back to its previous form, right? It’s an elastic band again. And then what he calls ‘anti-fragility’: that the elastic band would completely change its form in relation to being stretched. It’s not about just going back to how things were. What anti-fragility is

about is how the system improves through the shock. 

“I wonder whether we all think cycling will improve as a result of this shock? We’re seeing, perhaps on the Tour Series, that they’re considering integrating Zwift alongside real-world racing. It’s almost like you have the best of both. It’s not just one form of crit racing but a couple of things bolted together, which might become the future of that series, for example. 

“So do you think that’s a good thing that might come out of this, that we might get a different type of cycle sport, or do you think that it’s better that we go back to how things were, and hopefully we'll be going back to the same old race programme with the same organisers and all that kind of stuff? I’m just interested.”

Simon Howes

“Development is important among teams, riders, sponsors and events, isn’t it? And, actually, on a personal level, you mentioned the Tour Series integrating an e-racing event. I forwarded that information onto the OnForm girls and since then our group chat hasn’t stopped buzzing. We’ve even spotted that some riders are spending more time e-racing than they did before that announcement was made. 

“Again, we’ve mentioned small gains that create motivation, and that has been exactly that. It’s not even a small gain, in truth. It’s created a huge amount of excitement within the team: the chance to race the Tour Series, which many of them haven’t done before. It’s massive.”

Phil Jones

“I’ve definitely seen a lot more riders from across the various teams on Zwift. Your lot, Matt, and Ian, some of yours too, when you look at what their Stravas are doing, and occasionally you’re on Zwift and you see somebody that you're following from one of the teams that you follow and you say: ‘Oh, they’re racing again.’ You will have seen much more e-racing from all members in your team than perhaps in any period before.”

Timothy John

“It was a big win for you, Matt, last year, I seem to remember. You had wins with Alistair Thomas, with Leon Mazzone. You spoke earlier about generating return on investment. How big a deal is e-racing in that context?

Matt Hallam

“Yeah, it’s a real asset for us as a team now, and it was last year. I think before we go into this we’ve got to tip our hats to SweetSpot. What they’re doing at the moment is amazing. They’re creating a lot of positivity around racing, and I think British Cycling could learn a lot from that. 

“Heading back to your point, Tim, we did a lot of these British Cycling Zwift races. It was kind of like a mini series that they had. They had races every week. We participated in them. We had some great results. We won an awful lot of those races. Quite a few of my riders really stood out in those races and performed really well. They kept that going and have just started jumping back into the racing on

Zwift. 

“It’s a real asset. As I mentioned, it’s a great platform to get involved with. I’m really excited by the prospect of the Tour Series perhaps putting on a virtual event, and again, as I’ve mentioned, I think British Cycling could learn a lot about this. I think they’re completely being left in the dust by what SweetSpot are doing. Why didn’t British Cycling do a live stream event to get some eyes on the sport when there were very few on it? 

“It’s just, again, frustration from my perspective as a team manager. I’m looking to our federation for some hope and optimism, but external parties like SweetSpot are absolutely blasting them out of the water at the moment. I’m hopeful that things might change there and we might get some kickback from British Cycling.”

Timothy John

“Well, we spoke in our last podcast, didn’t we Phil, about the impact of a new CEO. Brian Facer has come in. He has a very impressive track record in rugby. He’s a cyclist by instinct, by nature, it seems; he's a guy who enjoys spending time on the bike. 

“You can give us a pretty clear insight into the impact that a new CEO can have on a major organisation. Give us a sense of that. Do you think he could be the catalyst? Erick Rowsell’s doing some good work, but, of course, he is just one figure in a major business. It’s the person leading the organisation that can make the biggest change. If Brian is minded that way, could he set BC on a similarly influential path to SweetSpot?”

Phil Jones

“I'm sure. As I explained in that last podcast, Tim, any new CEO who comes in normally spends about 100 days doing what we call ‘strategic sensing’. They do an awful lot of listening and then come up with their own plan. But the big difference with organisations like British Cycling is that with their articles of association, there’s quite a limit on what you can and can’t do. It’s not like you're an entrepreneur running a business and you want to come in and change everything. There’s a massive governance structure that exists in a federation which is written in tablets of stone, and if you want to change it, it's a big process to change it. 

“I think what he will do is…If it were me, you’d come straight in and very quickly identify what you can change and what you can’t change. You get in the key people who are responsible for the key areas. You listen to them and say, if you were me what would you do, and then you bring that all back and create your own strategic plan. So I would say, we probably need to give him a little bit more breathing room to do his listening and to bring his own idea to the fore. That will ultimately wind itself through some sort of board process where someone will sign off a new strategic plan and off they go from there. 

“I think for the 2021 season, we’re not going to see very much that will give us a brand new image of how things are going to be, but I think we’ve got to hold our breath and, hopefully, come 2022, there will be a couple of operating plans. One will hopefully be, ‘Hey everyone, it’s back to how things were. We’re all vaccinated. Have as many events as you like.’ And the

second one is that the environment remains similar, so what do we now do to up our game and not have a season where we’re just the victim of events.

“What you’ve got to do is put yourself into that theatre and say, ‘If there’s another year like this, what do we now need to do?’ Well, it might be that we’ve got to launch the e-racing league. We’ve got to assume that all the races may well be cancelled so what’s our plan B? What are we going to do about making ‘that’ event like ‘this’ if that happens?

“So there’s probably going to be a bit more contingency planning needed, because if you’re going to learn anything from the last year or so, it’s ever so important to have contingency plans when you’re hit by unexpected events and maybe the Covid pandemic was probably very close to what we call a ‘black swan’ event, but now we would definitely see that as part of our every day risk that we would manage as a business.”

GCN and The Women's Tour

Timothy John

“Before we finish singing the praises of Sweetspot, Simon, I wanted to get your insight into a development that will affect your UCI team particularly, and that’s that the Women’s Tour is going to be on this new GCN Race Pass, and that was widely celebrated by SweetSpot and GCN as a bit of a game changer. 

“We’ve talked a lot, Phil and I, in various episodes about the impact of television, whether it still means as much in the new digital landscape, and in the failure, readily admitted by British Cycling, of the Eurosport coverage of the National Road Series. 

“We talked then, Phil and I, about, would the GCN Race Pass change the game for the National Road Series and made it accessible on demand, rather than waiting until half-past-eleven on a Wednesday night, two weeks after the race had been held!

“So let’s just get your thoughts on the Women’s Tour being on the Race Pass, as the manager of a women’s team that will  take part in that event. How important is that

to you?”

Simon Howes

“I see it as massive. I know that there are different views and different opinions about whether TV coverage still has the same value, but to market yourself on TV still comes with a huge price tag. By sponsoring a cycling team, you’re still getting, as Phil has said many times, good coverage for your buck.

"GCN and Eurosport are channels that many cyclists, and non-cyclists, follow or subscribe to, so it’s a great way to create a bigger audience, maybe those who haven’t seen cycling before. GCN, particularly, without advertising them, for want of a better description, there is a huge following on GCN of non-racing cyclists.

"Probably their biggest audience are sportive riders: riders who ride with their friends, and that’s the audience we want to get to. CAMS, one of our sponsors, that’s their audience. For me, and for our partners, it’s huge. I think it’s added great value. It certainly isn’t a negative, that’s for sure.”

Timothy John

“If we could get - I say ‘we’ , as a sport - get the National Road Series on the GCN app, would that make a difference. How about you, Matt? What are your thoughts on that?”

Matt Hallam

“Yes, in a word. I think that would be a massive positive. Also, from a team perspective, it would add a real attraction to your sponsorship proposal if you were looking for prospective sponsors for the following year. Having TV time, as Simon has mentioned, it’s significant amounts of money to put a brand in front of a camera and get it onto TV. It’s an opportunity for sponsors, if they have a team that’s racing on a televised platform.

"I think it would be a massive opportunity and bring a lot of eyes to the national series here in the UK. We have some of the best riders in the country competing in some of these rounds. You’ve only got to look at the likes of Matt Holmes stepping up to the WorldTour and winning WorldTour races. He’s come from that breeding ground. He’s the direct result of that type of racing.

“I think it would really motivate the riders as well, knowing that they have a shot of being on TV. What an opportunity for riders. I’m sure that would help animate the races a bit. Knowing that they are televised and knowing that there’s a growing audience following it, I think it would animate the races a lot and bring a bit more excitement to the series, too.”

Phil Jones

“Ian, we were talking the other week, just over a text message, if I recall, or over an email. You’d just got yourself another sponsor, which is great: a business local to where you were previously in the North West, which I think is brilliant.

"It sort of links to this point: if you’re talking to a potential sponsor, and you’ve either got this GCN coverage or you haven’t got this GCN coverage, surely it must make a difference to you, when you’re having that conversation, because without it, you're having a very different conversation. It’s a real amplifier, isn’t it, or a bigger hook, for you to land a new name into your financial sponsorship mix?”

Ian Watson

“A hundred per cent it is, yeah. For sponsors, it’s to get the exposure and get their names out there and reap the advertising benefits of doing that. But, of course, it’s to get the kick out of seeing that company out there as well, so yeah, it’s massive thing.

"If you can give sponsors that reassurance that they’re going to be seen and they’re going to be on TV, it’s massive. It’s half the battle because, at the moment, we’re just saying, ‘We’re going to give you social media presence,’ which is still good...but, yeah, [TV] is really big and helps a lot.”

Phil Jones

“I think it’s quite a smart move, myself. I’ve subscribed. They’re doing a subscription option now: £19.99, I think it was. I thought: ‘Well, why not?’ I already have Eurosport at home. We’re living in a world now of ‘on-demand’, but we’re also living in a world of ‘on-device’. So it’s ‘on-demand’ and ‘on-device’, which gives you both. 

“I think this new partnership probably gives far more ability to market to that audience than you would get through conventional broad TV. Now, instead of becoming billboard, you’re becoming much more of a specialist magazine, if you see what I mean, going to your exact target audience, where the things that you do have much greater resonance because you’re

speaking to an audience that already has a desire to be involved in the scene or your product or your team.

“I think that in the mid-term that’s probably going to be quite a smart move by SweetSpot to get that collaboration going. I think Simon’s point is a really, really good one: how do you get more people who are involved perhaps just for their own leisure purposes interested in UK domestic racing?

"And if that platform now can be such that we can get domestic racing shown more, and you can widen the audience who want to be interested in that, that can only be good for the mid to long-term of the sport, good for the teams and for the organisers, because, ultimately, at the end of the day, there might be more money around.”

To Be Continued...

Timothy John

“Well, we’re knocking on the door here of an hour’s recording, and it feels like we’re just getting started. There are plenty more topics to cover, so let’s call a temporary halt here and publish the rest of this conversation in a second episode.

"Phil, Matt, Simon, Ian - thank you very much for joining me. Thank you to everyone else out there for listening. You can check back soon on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify for the second half of this conversation and to enjoy all of our published episodes.

"We’ll call a halt here, temporarily. We’ll be back with the second half of this episode as soon as we can, so please keep your eyes peeled for that on the platforms I’ve just mentioned. In the meantime, of course, in these very strange times, please stay safe.”

INTERLUDE

Phil Jones

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