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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 14

Episode Description

This episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast offers an in-depth preview of the 2021 Tour of Britain. Its documentary-style investigation features an impressive cast of expert witnesses. Riders, sponsors, route planners, neutral service providers and journalists combine to provide a thought-provoking prelude to the latest edition of Britain’s biggest bike race. 

Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK and the podcast’s co-host, describes the detailed planning required of the Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews to step up from top-tier domestic racing to supporting the world’s best riders. He offers insights into the race’s commercial impact, too. 

Route Director Andy Hawes describes the vast logistical challenge of creating a 1310-kilometre route with 19,000 metres of climbing. He offers insights too on the intense demands of his in-race role as Moto Regulator, riding pillion on the penultimate motorbike ahead of the peloton as its last line of defence. 

Harry Tanfield rides for UCI WorldTour squad Team Qhubeka-NextHash. The 26-year-old has ridden the Tour of Britain twice: making his debut in 2017 for a Brother UK-sponsored domestic team and returning in 2019 as a fully-fledged professional. His insights on the differing agendas of top-tier and third-tier teams are fascinating. 

Larry Hickmott is the founder and editor of VeloUK.net and has covered every edition of the Tour of Britain since it relaunched in 2004. Larry shares insights from discussions about the route of this year’s race with riders and managers and offers his hopes for the selection of Britain’s brightest talents. 

Co-host Timothy John has been the editor of RoadCyclingUK.com and Rouleur.cc and is now a consultant. A journalist by training, he interviews each of the guests and presents and produces the episode. As a writer covering professional cycling since 2012, he has witnessed several editions of the Tour of Britain. 

 

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Episode 14: Tour Of Britain Preview

Episode contents

  • 00:02 – Episode introduction
  • 02:13 – Hello And Welcome
  • 04:15 – Part One: Neutral Service p/b Brother UK
  • 08:43 – Part Two: Planning The Route
  • 15.02 – Part Three: Raising The Standard
  • 18.30 – Part Four: Brand Positioning
  • 24.27 – Part Five: The Continental Divide
  • 29.40 – Part Six: We Transfer
  • 33.21 – Part Seven: The Regulator
  • 35.42 – Part Eight: The Commercial Imperative
  • 39:17 – Part Nine: On The Map
  • 43:33 – Part Ten: Getting Round
  • 47:20 – Part Eleven: The Final Word
  • 49:42 – Social Shout-Out

Transcript

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!”

Timothy John 

“Coming up in this detailed investigation of the 2021 Tour of Britain. 

“Managing Director Phil Jones lifts the lid on the detailed planning required to place Neutral Service p/b Brother UK at the side of Britain’s most prestigious bike race.” 

Phil Jones

“We’ve had to do a lot of work behind the scenes just to make sure that of the 18 teams that we have racing in the Tour of Britain, we can cover all the bases if it comes to service in a hurry.”

Timothy John 
 
“Andy Hawes, Route Director of The Tour of Britain, explains why every stage of this year’s epic parcours offers something new and challenging.”
 
Andy Hawes

“They’re all amazing stages. They all have something about them that’s unique about that stage. If you look at stage one, that first 30km up through St Just, dropping down into St Ives, Carbis Bay - just stunning.”

Timothy John 

“Harry Tanfield of Team Qhubeka-NextHash offers advice for young British debutants preparing to test their legs against the world’s best.”

Harry Tanfield

“They’ve got to go full gas everyday. I think that the route will wear people down. It’s not like you’re doing 1500m of climbing [on a stage], or 2000m, and then you have a sprint day thrown in here and there. Every day is hard.”

Timothy John

“And Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of VeloUK.net, explains why in a field that contains the reigning World Champion, the biggest star of all might just turn out to be a 22-year-old from South London.” 

Larry Hickmott

“I’m hoping that Ethan Hayter, who’s such an exciting rider, comes to the race as well. I’ve lost count of how many races he’s won this year, including GCs.”
“I’m hoping that Ethan Hayter, who’s such an exciting rider, comes to the race as well. I’ve lost count of how many races he’s won this year, including GCs.”“I’m hoping that Ethan Hayter, who’s such an exciting rider, comes to the race as well. I’ve lost count of how many races he’s won this year, including GCs.”

Hello and Welcome

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this in-depth preview of the 2021 Tour of Britain. 

“After a year’s Covid-enforced hiatus, organisers The SweetSpot Group have returned with an epic edition running almost the entire length of the British Isles and including stages in England, Scotland and Wales. 

“Its world-class field is headlined by the reigning world champion: Julian Alaphilippe, who won the race in 2018 and is back for more. 

“Brother UK has sponsored Britain’s national tour since 2014 and served it as Official Print and Results partner since 2016. 

“This year, as well as backing the race and serving its teams, riders and organisers with print solutions, our Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews and vehicles will provide a critical service to the race. 

“In this episode, we’ll hear from Phil Jones MBE, Brother UK’s Managing Director and this podcast’s co-host, on the huge organisational effort required to step up from top-tier domestic races to supporting the best teams and riders in the world. 

“Andy Hawes, the Tour of Britain’s Route Director, will lift the lid on the geographical, logistical and sporting knowledge required to plan a 1390km route running from one end of Britain to the other, loaded with 19000m of climbing.

“Harry Tanfield, a UCI WorldTour professional with Team Qhubeka-NextHash, and a ‘graduate’ from a Brother-sponsored domestic team, explains the differences between riding the Tour of Britain as a Continental squad eager for opportunity and a WorldTour squad targeting a result. 

“And Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net, shares expert insights gained from covering every edition of the modern Tour of Britain - and even from attending the 1980 edition of its forerunner, The Milk Race.”

Part One - Neutral Service p/b Brother UK at The Tour of Britain

Timothy John

“When the 2021 Tour of Britain rolls out of Penzance on Sunday September 5, the presence in the race convoy of three Neutral Service p/b Brother UK support vehicles, boldly wrapped in our distinctive black-and-white livery, will be no small achievement.

“Called up by race organisers SweetSpot Group at comparatively short notice, Phil Jones has worked tirelessly with Tony Barry, our vastly experienced neutral service manager, to meet the huge technical and organisational demands of supporting 18 professional cycling teams."

Phil Jones

 

“It was only a month or so ago that we got the call from SweetSpot to say, ‘If needs be, can you assist us by stepping in?’ I’m not sure of all the technical details but, fundamentally, that was the question that was asked of us. My answer was: ‘Ok, give us 24 hours.’

“Twenty-four hours later, after chatting with Tony, and also trying to understand what this might mean to us, because of course there’s a financial cost to that, then there’s equipment, a huge amount of organisation to be done, planning, getting things ordered and deployed. We gave a very positive yes the following day to say, ‘If you need us, we can rapidly pull this together.
 
“Our full machine went into action at that point: getting an extra care wrapped, drivers, mechanics. Thankfully, the race organisation is exceptional at doing things like the hotels. It’s everything really: you’ve got to think of all of the requirements in advance, now, in order that we could get all the things we needed at a time when components particularly are in very short supply as everybody knows. If you’re trying to buy bits and bobs for your bike right now you’ll know that’s it not easy. 

 

Timothy John

“It’s difficult to overstate the operational challenge embraced by Phil, Tony and the Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews in accepting the challenge of supporting a race as epic as this year’s Tour of Britain. 

“Supporting 18 teams, many with different technical partners, has offered a very real test of the company motto #AtYourSide.

“While the technical permutations of a sport with different standards for drivetrains, braking, and even wheel axles can seem endless, Phil reveals that detailed planning offered a solution.”
 

Phil Jones

 “While they seems limitless, the peloton’s technical permutations can be codified. We’ve spent a lot of time in the background over the past few weeks build a ‘super spreadsheet’ that allows to look at all 18 teams - the bike branding they’re riding, the groupsets they’re riding,  the rotor sizes their riding, gears they’re riding - i.e. 11-speed or 12-speed, what pedals etc. - in order that we can properly understand what we believe is the technical environment required. 

“Right now, for the 18 teams attending, we have the answers for 17, as to the group sets they’re riding. Fourteen of those are on Shimano, three are on SRAM, and one we don’t have the answer yet. That’s for a Conti team coming from New Zealand, so we’re making those enquiries now. 

“But, of course, then what you have is a difference between SRAM 12-speed and Shimano 11-speed. That’s fine. And then on the wheels, you have different rotor sizes run by the different teams. Some teams are running 140mm front rotors, 140mm rear rotors. Some are running 160mm front rotors, 140mm rear rotors, and some are still running rim brakes. 

“We know right now that if a rider suffers a rear puncture, it’s most likely to be a rim with a Shimano 140mm rotor. We’ll have those positioned on the car so they’re very easily accessible. If someone has a front puncture, it’s likely to be Shimano, but we don’t know if it will be 140mm or 160mm. 

“So, before the race, we’ll visit the pits and we’ll speak to all the lead mechanics and get the specific technical details that we’re missing. The neutral service mechanic, who generally sits behind the passenger seat, will have that on the head rest so that if there’s a couple of riders in a breakaway, they can quickly reference that. 
 
“‘Who have we got? Israel Start-Up Nation. I know straight away that’s a 160mm front rotor and a 140mm rear rotor. So in the event of a puncture, the mechanic knows straight away where to look on the roof for the correct wheel to deal with that specific problem. 
 
“A lot of this complexity is dealt with by good pre-planning.”

Part Two - Planning The Route

Timothy John 

“Phil and Tony haven’t been the only ones grappling with the herculean organisational challenge that is the modern Tour of Britain, however. Route Director Andy Hawes, working with Safety Manager Steve Baxter and Sergeant Duncan Street of the Central Escort Group, has planned - and driven - every inch of its 1309.9km. Here’s Andy.”

Andy Hawes 

“The first run through is a sense check: can we do this? Nine times out of ten, you pick your KOMs on that first run through because, purely by the nature of a KOM, it presents itself in front of you. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get the sprint locations as well. Sprint locations are becoming harder and harder to find every year, what with local authorities putting in traffic-claiming measures. Speed humps, traffic islands, splitters, you name it. So sprints don’t always come on the first run through. 
 
“On the second run through, we’re doing this with Duncan. He’s sense-checking everything we’ve done, and then we’re picking up everything else along the route. ‘Where does that junction go? What happens if we shut that one? Will motorists just nip round and use a different one? Do we need to shut that one before that one?’ We’re getting a really good feel for things and putting some flesh on the bones for the risk assessments and the ETAs.
 
“And then the final one is when we’re really looking at the sporting aspect, because, yes, we might have found the KOM right at the beginning on stage one, but where actually are we going to finish it? And where actually are we going to start it?
 
“I have a can of marking up spray. I mark up where we’re going to start the KOM, mark where we’re going to finish it, and take photographs. Those pictures then go into a document for my Route Tech Signage Crew. Come the day, they’ll look at it, say: ‘Ok, this is where he’s marked it,’ and then go and put the signage out.”

 

A Rider's Perspective

Timothy John 

“The sporting points are, naturally, of greatest concern to the riders, and Harry Tanfield is well-qualified to comment, having ridden and finished the Tour of Britain twice, firstly in 2017 for Canyon-dhb and again in 2019 for the now-defunct Katusha-Alpecin squad. 

“This year, Harry will miss the race. Team Qhubeka-NextHash need him instead at the Benelux Tour: a seven-stage race run in Holland and Belgium and a fixture of the WorldTour calendar, still known to most fans - and Harry - as the BinckBank Tour. 

“For an 80kg power house, this year’s Tour of Britain would be a poor fit, but Harry says its demanding parcours reflects its prestige: one that this year has attracted world champion Julian Alaphilippe, his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team-mate Mark Cavendish, and Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert.“
 

Harry Tanfield

“I was always the first reserve for The Tour of Britain. With the course, every day is super hard: 3000m or 3500m of climbing. It’s a better fit for my race programme for me not to do the Tour of Britain, but to do the BinckBank Tour instead. My characteristics as a rider are better-suited to the BinckBank Tour, which means I can do more to help my team. It’s unfortunate that they overlap, which means I can’t do my home race.

“The level is higher in the BinckBank Tour, and I can assist more there than I can in the Tour of Britain. It’s more important for the team to get a victory or a result in the BinckBank Tour than in the Tour of Britain because it’s a WorldTour race. 

“The Tour of Britain offers a real contrast in course with the Tour of Britain. Because they run at the same time, people have to choose between the two. I think the style of riders looking towards the Tour of Britain are those looking to get in a big racing load [for the world championships]. The course is a lot harder [than the BinckBank Tour]. 

“The course suits puncheurs, Classics-style riders, rather than all-out sprinters, even though all-out sprinters don’t exist any more: everyone’s just very good at everything [laughs]. I wouldn’t be surprised if the race comes down to a group of 30 guys and Mark Cavendish is still there because he’s going well at the moment. It would be good to see. Hopefully, Cav gets some stage wins. 
 
“Wout Van Aert could probably win almost every day there. I think it says a lot about the guys who are going there. When you look at the list of sprinters who are going to the BinckBank Tour and the list of sprinters who are going to the Tour of Britain, there’s Cav and Wout Van Aert. I don’t really know many other sprinters who are going there because it isn’t a particularly sprinter-friendly race. 
 
“I’ve looked at the profiles. There are maybe three sprints of some sort, possibly four. I think there will be three kind of decent bunch sprints, I would imagine, so I think there are still quite a lot of opportunities for sprinters in the race, but it’s going to be a very high-level race if riders like [world champion] Julian Alaphilippe and Wout Van Aert are there, trying to take on the general classification. It’s going to get ripped up quite a lot.” 

 

A Tough Course

Timothy John

"Larry Hickmott shares Harry’s analysis. His coverage of every edition of the Tour of Britain since it relaunched in 2004 has made him an eyewitness to the success of home-grown talents and visiting superstars. He says the Tour of Britain has grown steadily harder, more competitive and more exciting and believes this year’s edition will be no exception." 

Larry Hickmott

“I think the race is definitely a lot more competitive, a lot harder than it was in the beginning. It has the same format as any pro race, which is lots of early breakaways and then being controlled for much of the race. But then there have been days, certainly in the year when Alex Dowsett was wearing yellow, when a lot of the stages became uncontrolled because of the parcours that SweetSpot and Andy Hawes introduced into the race. The race became a lot more exciting and far less controlled. 

“Lately, it’s become more and more competitive. I did enjoy the days when Tom Boonen was wearing the rainbow stripes in the race. In those days, the race was not treated as a major race as it is now. I think it says a lot when you get guys like Wout Van Aert coming here to prepare for the world championships as have other guys in previous years. I think it says a lot about the standing of the race now. 

“I think with eight stages and the parcours this year, the race is hugely demanding. I’ve spoken with a couple of riders who are riding it and a DS as well, and there are thousands and thousands of metres of climbing every stage, which, for guys like Van Aert is no big deal; even for guys like Mark Cavendish, it’s probably not as tough as riding some of the Grand Tour stages. But it’s certainly a tough race where, by the end of eight days, the riders will know they’ve been in a bike race.”

Part Three - Raising The Standard

Timothy John

“It’s not only The Tour of Britain that has increased in stature. The Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews will roll out for their first big league professional race at this year’s edition after honing the service for almost a decade on the domestic scene. 
 

"Phil Jones is keenly aware of the pressure that accompanies servicing the world’s best riders on live television, but believes that the laser-focussed planning natural to a major business and the vast experience of service manager Tony Barry will win the day. 

Phil Jones
 

“You always have that pressure within neutral service, of course you do, and when you’ve got really big-name riders, as you’ve described there, that pressure seems to escalate. I’ve had this chat with Tony, just to say: ‘Look, it’s really, really important that we, through excellent pre-planning, try to mitigate as much as possible, in order that if something happens, we’re ready.’ 

“We’ve been supporting neutral service now for nearly 10 years, and, during that time, clearly, we’ve been refining what the service does. We started by liverying the cars, getting the right equipment onto the cars [bikes], getting the right equipment into the cars (wheelsets), and we’ve been through all the transitions of technology: the move from rim brakes right the way through to disc. We really have a lot of experience now in what good neutral service looks like. 

“Now, to be given the opportunity of supporting the Tour of Britain will be challenging for us, because there’s a lot of work we’ve had to do behind the scenes in the last few weeks, just to be sure that of the 18 teams we have racing in the Tour of Britain, we can cover all the bases if it comes to service in a hurry.”

 

Crash Protection

Timothy John

"Pressure is simply part of the package with a race as prestigious as The Tour of Britain, whether providing neutral service to cycling’s superstars on live television or planning a route that the peloton can negotiate safely at speed. 

"This year’s biggest races have been plagued by huge crashes. In many cases, notably at the Tour de France, where a spectator brought down the entire peloton on the opening stage, an accusing finger has been pointed at the route planners for taking the peloton along narrow roads."

Andy Hawes

“I would never criticise another event organiser. You don’t know what they’ve had to go through to get the race to get down that particular road or why it’s gone down that particular road, so you will never find me getting to Twitter, or Instagram or Facebook after a race, banging the keyboard and saying, ‘That was absolutely shocking,’ because I’m not in their position. 

“I don’t know why they’ve had to do what they’ve had to do. I would never make a song and dance about that. You just look at it and think, ‘Ok, I can’t let that happen on our event,’ and, ‘What am I going to do on our event to make sure that doesn’t happen?’’
 
“We all know that the opening week of the Tour de France is chaotic and absolutely crazy. Everyone is fighting to be at the front the whole time. Speeds are getting faster, the roads are getting narrower. Even in France, street furniture is popping up all over the place. And you look at the Giro d’Italia as well: the Giro is having exactly the same issues.
 
“You know, that huge crash on the Tour had a human factor involved in it as well. We all make silly mistakes and that’s literally what it was: it was a silly mistake. The spectator didn’t mean to do it, but I was like: ‘Wow. That’s probably one of the biggest crashes I’ve seen on the Tour.’ 
 
“I felt sorry for all the riders. The preparation they’d made to get ready to race and then to have that wiped out so early on is just terrible. I just think: ‘Right. How am I going to stop that from happening on our event?'”

Part Four - Brand Positoning

Timothy John

“Narrow roads aren’t a concern only for the riders or route planners. The neutral service crews must also make a detailed study of the parcours before every stage. The width of a road has a profound impact on the positioning of a neutral service vehicle, as Phil Jones explains.” 

Phil Jones

“I remember being at the nationals a few years ago. We were going through very, very narrow lanes. The convoy was very, very strung out and the break was away. As a result, the team car for the rider in the break was positioned twelfth in the convoy, or something like that. They were way back. The rider had a technical issue which we needed to service. 

“So, the width of the road at certain key points can heighten the need for neutral service or lessen it. On wide roads, if a break is three minutes up the road, it’s highly unlikely that neutral service will play any part, because there will be a team car there. It’s only really when a one-minute gap has developed that the team cars get pulled in. We could be active up until the point when the break is allowed to go. When the break goes, the team cars tend to take over, and we’ll tend to do more service in the middle of the bunch. 

“In this particular race, we have three neutral service vehicles, not two, as we have in domestic races. We have a Skoda estate car on our fleet here at Brother UK, which we sent to the wrappers yesterday, and it’s come back today. That has now been fully-wrapped as a neutral service vehicle. That will go off for racking next week and will then be technically equipped. 
 
“That’s been one of our other challenges: the need to have a third vehicle. That vehicle will be mostly servicing wheels. The front two vehicles will also have bikes on the roof.”
 
Timothy John
 
“Phil and Tony have clearly left no stone unturned in providing a neutral service support able to mitigate every conceivable issue: what Brother UK’s expert planners describe as “known unknowns”.
 
“The Tour of Britain is simply too prestigious to leave anything to chance. For one week each year, bike racing consumes the attention of the British public, who line the route in their tens of thousands to catch a glimpse of its speed and colour, while millions more watch on television. 

 

“For Larry Hickmott, aka the hardest working man in cycling, and often the only journalist at many British events, the Tour of Britain is an invaluable showcase for British cycle sport.” 

Larry Hickmott

 

"Larry’s point that British fans have had to endure an absence of top-level racing far longer than their European counterparts is especially valid. The 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire now seem a lifetime ago. 

"The upside is that work of Route Director Andy Hawes and his SweetSpot colleagues has not been wasted. Much of the route planned for the 2020 edition, cancelled in the face of lockdown, will simply be used this year." 
 

 

Andy Hawes

 

“Of the eight stages, we have been able to use six-and-a-half. We were in a very good position at back end of 2019, into 2020. We got the first route recce in early. By mid-February, we’d got the first four stages down on paper, ready to go. We were just missing a fifth stage at that point and confirmation for the finish of a sixth stage. Seven and eight were all in place, so we were in a very, very good position. 

“We were very fortunate that everyone was in total agreement when we had to make that decision on the fateful day in March: ‘You know what, we’re going to have to postpone.’ Everyone was in total agreement. We said: ‘No drama. Let’s pick up what would have been the 2020 race and drop it into 2021, so we were in a good position.” 

“The 2021 race would have been the epic of all Tour of Britain if we’d held it in 2020. We’d already designed the stages. We’d already gone down a long route with our stakeholders and they were very keen that what we had already planned for 2020 continued in 2021.
 
“With the exception of a couple of venues where we’ve had to change the route and change the start location, basically there are no huge changes from what would have been 2020’s race. It was exciting for 2002. It will be even more exciting in 2021. It would have been a huge race last year, but because it didn’t happen, it’s going to be an even bigger race this year because the UK hasn’t seen any racing on this scale since the world championships in Harrogate.” 

 

Timothy John 

"The 2020 parcours offered an embarrassment of riches. We’ll hear later from Andy on his personal preference, but for Larry Hickmott, whose seen more stages of the Tour of Britain than most of us had hot dinners, the opening stage in Cornwall is the jewel in the crown." 

Larry Hickmott

“I think it will be a great race to watch because, even from day one, the race goes up and down. It’s hugely exciting stage in Cornwall, and I don’t know if they could have picked a better stage to kick the race off. It’s going to catch out a lot of teams, I think: those teams who haven’t really read the road book.

“I spoke to a DS this morning. They’ve examined the course. They know it’s going to be lots and lots of narrow roads and lots of lots of sharp climbs. They know how important positioning is going to be. Whether a race can be controlled in that sort of environment, I don’t know.”

Part Five: The Continental Divide

Timothy John

“Controlling a race is a hallmark of top-flight professional cycling. Well-drilled teams with specialist riders tasked with specific duties delivers results for the best but can make the racing dull and formulaic. 
 

“In recent years, The Tour of Britain has offered the best of both worlds: challenging the heavyweight squads with demanding routes and inviting a handful of British squads from professional cycling’s third tier, who race in a far less predictable fashion. 

“Harry Tanfield has seen the Tour of Britain from both angles. In 2017, he made his race debut with the third-tier Canyon-dhb squad, before returning in 2019 with WorldTour outfit Katusha-Alpecin. 
 
“So how does a team’s budget and squad depth affects its tactics and ambition? Here’s Harry.” 
 
Harry Tanfield
 

“Everyone [in a WorldTour team] has a goal, has a job to do during the race, whereas in a UCI Continental team, it’s all about the breakaway. It doesn’t matter who it is, someone has to be in the breakaway, because the team needs to be on television for the whole day. 

“Ideally, it’s not one guy, because one guy might be good at the end, in the sprint. Ideally, they’ll wing it by following some good wheels. Everyone else is searching for the breakaway, and, obviously, only one guy can go in it. The other guys are just left to support the other rider. They can’t really do much for them anyway. They’re better off just following the lead outs of the faster guys. 

“In a WorldTour team, it’s much more organised. You might be given a specific role: for one person to be in the break, or even no one to be in the break, or for someone to be on the front in anticipation of the final to set-up a certain rider. Someone else might be assigned to handing out bottles. I remember The Tour of Britain being quite a free race, when I was with Katusha. 

“We had a plan in the final for one or two guys to be ‘either/or’. We did everything we could to position them well and lead them out into the bottom. If you’re told to ride the final two kilometres into the climb or the final sprint then you’ve got to do it. You have to keep the speed high to keep your rider at the front or on the wheel that he needs to follow. 

“It’s all-in for that team effort, getting a result for that one guy, as opposed to other riders trying to pick up something for themselves.”

Timothy John

“Each year, Race Director Mick Bennett must balance the regulatory demands of a UCI-sanctioned professional road race with the expectation among British fans that the best domestic teams will be given a chance to test themselves against the visiting squads of the UCI WorldTour.
 
“Larry Hickmott has watched the race organisation’s varied attempts as an interested observer, noting the effect of an unpopular qualification system on British Cycling’s National Road Series and the maturity of the home nation’s strongest teams, who now carry the fight to the big budget squads for success each year in jersey competitions.”
 
Larry Hickmott

 

“I’ve never spoken to Mick about the demands that the organisation faces in terms of how many teams it can put on the road, but it would certainly be nice for the sport, or better for the sport, in two ways:

“Having all the British teams in the race does help the sponsorship and does help keep the sport at a higher level in this country than it would if only one or two teams were in the race. 

“The other thing was the qualification system for The Tour of Britain. It had a huge effect on the racing in the Premier Calendar events, and not a good one. It was quite negative racing because every team manager had The Tour of Britain as their ultimate goal, and a lot of tactics would revolve around that. 
 
“It depends on the riders who the UCI teams here have to play with. You take Ribble-Weldtite. They’ve got a guy called James Shaw, who is sorted with another team for next year, but will still be going into this race, no doubt, with a lot of ambition, after two top-10 finishes in big races this year: at The Tour of Slovenia and The Tour of Norway.
 
“Canyon-dhb, I think, have won the last two sprint jerseys and now they have a rider who won the KOM jersey as well in Jacob Scott, so they definitely have the strength. Those competitions are no longer an easy win: the sprints competitions and the KOM jersey etc. 

 

“There are teams, like Canyon, who have the strength-in-depth to go into this race on a good level, compared to the other teams. Whether all of the UCI teams have that strength is another matter.”
 
Timothy John

 

“The final constituency concerned with the Tour of Britain’s great Continental divide are the riders. For British riders on third-tier ‘Conti’ teams, the Tour of Britain represents a shop window with few rivals. 

“Harry Tanfield caught the eye of UCI WorldTour suitors by winning a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2018. He believes that talented British riders can make a positive impression on their WorldTour rivals by climbing strongly, following the right wheels and negotiating finales with intelligence and panache.” 

 

Harry Tanfield

“I think the guys who can naturally climb pretty well just have to look for the riders, look for the teams, hold your own and not get in the way, but just be at the front, on the wheels you need to be on, and, naturally, the people who are around you will just drop away, and if you’re good enough, you’re good enough: you’ll stay up there. 

“You’re always looking to follow a good wheel, especially if it’s a mountain finish, or a hard, hilly day: as it’s getting more selective, just being in a position to follow. If it whittles down to a group of 20 guys and you’re still there, that’s a great opportunity for you as a UK rider to demonstrate your ability.
 
“If you’re on the attack, and it doesn’t work out, or if you gamble in the final and try to follow the wheels, you’ve just got to play it as the race unfolds.”

Part Six - We Transfer

Timothy John 

“About the only person involved with the Tour of Britain not concerned by the classification of the teams is Route Director, Andy Hawes. Andy’s focus lies elsewhere, specifically on designing a route that is challenging and safe. 
 

“He must also design a route that minimises the logistical challenge. Inter-stage transfers, where the teams travel by coach after the finish of one stage to the start town of the next, can tax the riders’ physical resources almost as much as the racing, as Phil Jones explains. 

 
Phil Jones
 
“Post-ride, you need very quickly to eat, to shower, to change; you need to have a massage. You have an hour straight after the stage to do very quick things: having something to eat quickly, getting your bike off to someone, getting showered and getting into some different clothes. That’s assuming you’re note even on the podium, you have to do all of that: a warm down, all that stuff.
 
“By the time that’s done and dusted, it’s probably going to be a good hour or more before they finish, before they’re even on the coach. And then, assuming you have no one on the podium, it’s 4pm or more before you’re away. 
 

“Let’s say you have two or three hours of transfer to do. You’re at the hotel at half-past six, seven o’clock. Then you have to get into your room. Then you might want to have your massage. You’ve got to have something to eat, call your partner. The longer the transfer, the more compressed that schedule becomes.

 

“That’s why a lot of riders pick and choose stages and decide: “Well, actually, it might not be worth me being on the podium that day. Thinking of the transfer the day after, it’s better that we’re all away and we look for the stage the day after. I know that sounds a bit insane, but, I think, on some of the really big races, the Grand Tours, some of that thinking might come into play.”

Timothy John 

"If, for a business leader, Phil seems impressively well-informed about the post-stage protocols of a professional cyclist, it’s because he gained an invaluable insight from riding the entire route of the Tour of Britain, one day ahead of the race, in 2018." 

Phil Jones

“Well, of course, I’m no elite or WorldTour rider, but I think where the tiredness can build up is in the transfers. That was the one thing that I think was the real insight I had from riding in 2018. You finish a stage and have to drive to another stage, and when they end up being big transfers, they can be quite tiring. 

 

“This particular edition of the Tour of Britain is going really from the bottom of the country: it’s going from Penzance all the way up to Aberdeen; thankfully, all going north, which is great. But there are still some reasonable transfers. They build up additional tiredness because they cut into recovery time. 

“Stage two ends in Exeter and the following day they’re setting off from Carmarthenshire, so there’s a reasonable sized transfer there. We’ve got from Warrington to Carlisle and, of course, Gateshead up to Hawick. 

“Compared to when I did it, we had longer transfer distances, but with this year’s route, going directly from south to north, it is actually a little bit easier.”

Part Seven - The Regulator

Timothy John

“When the race begins, Andy does not simply put up his feet and admire his handiwork. His role transforms to that of Moto Regulator. 

“As a pillion passenger on almost the final motorbike ahead of the seething pack of riders, he his their last line of defence: a pair of eyes ceaselessly scanning the road ahead - and the crowds - constantly seeking a disaster to avert.”

Andy Hawes

“On the event, I’m probably the last-but-one motorbike ahead of the peloton. Usually, the only other vehicle behind me is the TV moto. As the Moto Regulator, I’m the pillion. Not only am I looking in the mirrors of the moto that I’m riding, I’m looking over my shoulders, I’m looking forwards and gauging what’s going on. 

“‘What are thy going to do? I can see a dog up ahead: how tightly is it being held on its lead?’ I’ll say to my pilot: ‘Just roll up to there, will you, so I can tell the owner to pull their dog back.’ You can see them with flags, or draping stuff over the barriers, and you’re just constantly scanning and trying to do a dynamic risk assessment of what might cause an issue.

 

“After every stage finish, we’ll have a debrief with Mick Bennett, the race director, all of the commissaires. Duncan [Street, Central Escort Group] will be there; Steve [Baxter, Safety Manager] will be there. We will also have the second Moto Regulator. We’re all in our RV for a big debrief. As soon as everyone can get into that, everyone asks: ‘How did that go? How can we improve for the next day?’ And sometimes that meeting lasts 15 minutes. At other times, it will last an hour. 

“It’s very rare that I get to sample the atmosphere at the finish. My role as Moto Regulator means that I roll in at two minutes maximum before the peloton rolls in. I don’t even see the finish any more. By the time I’ve followed the deviation, my pilot’s parked, I’ve walked from Tech Moto Parking, and the riders have come in. 

“There were a number of stages in 2019, where I had no idea who won! I know how I left the race, and who was on the front and who was doing the pulls, and who it looked as if they might win, but I have no idea until I get the communique at the end of the night or manage to catch the highlights through the window of Event Control.”

Part Eight - The Commercial Imperative

Timothy John

“It’s clear then a close relationship exists between the sporting and logistical aspects of The Tour Of Britain.

“There is another major component, too: the commercial.  Routes are planned around start and finish towns and the councils prepared to host the race.

“Andy Hawes explains the commercial imperative behind his sporting canvas.”  

Andy Hawes

 

“Usually, it comes from Jonathan Durling, our Commercial Director. He deals with all of our stakeholders. He’ll say: ‘Andy, we’re going to have a stage. It’s going to start in Cumbria and finish in Gateshead. Get me from Cumbria to Gateshead, and make it as exciting as you can. Because I know those areas, making the stage exciting is something that I can and will do. 

“We’re dealing with Cumbria County Council and Gateshead. But you can’t get from Cumbria to Gateshead without going through Northumberland and parts of County Durham. That brings in another two groups of people.

 

“You start your conversations with Cumbria and say: ‘Where do you want to start the stage?’ They say: ‘We want it to start in Carlisle.’ I ask if there’s anything in particular that they want me to include, and we bend the route accordingly. They were very keen that we included Pooley Bridge which was wiped out in the big storms, and they’ve rebuilt it, and it’s fantastic. They were also very keen that we had a sprint in the high-street in Penrith.

“I know we’re going to drop due south as quickly as we can. We almost do a u-turn so we can come back up into Penrith. And knowing that we’re going to Gateshead, we might as well go over Hartside while we’re at it. Alston Moor: now we haven’t been up Alston or onto the moor. What have we got there? There’s Killhope Cross. Wow! That’s 100m higher than Hartside. It’s a shorter climb but much more brutal. 

“‘Where can we go from there? Ah, Burtree Fell. Right, ok. That will drop us into Hexham, that will go into Prudhoe, that will go into Rowlands Gill and before you know it, we’re into Gateshead.’ So you speak to Northumberland council and then you speak to Gateshead.”

Public Affairs

Timothy John

“The sheer number of public bodies Andy must deal with to get the Tour of Britain’s show on their roads is mind-boggling. 

“In the case of stage six, he liaised separately with the highways authorities and police forces of Cumbria, County Durham, Northumberland and Gateshead. 

 

“If a stage passes a motorway, he must liaise with Highways England. If it crosses a railway line, he must inform Network Rail. If it takes in the coast, he involves the Coastguard. 

“Astonishingly, given the Covid situation, the most recent stage of the Tour of Britain was its 2019 finale in Manchester.” 
 
“Its route from Altrincham to the city centre and an incredible finish on Deansgate required the cooperation of 14 local authorities.”
 
Andy Hawes

 

“If anybody had seen the Manchester route when we drove it for the first time, they’d say we couldn’t have done what we did. I almost said, ‘Well, we can’t do this,’ but we persevered with it and got 14 local authorities working together. 

“I’m not afraid to say, I came down that finish straight on Deansgate, and I had a tear in my eye. It was incredible to see what everybody - not just me, but everybody on the start crew, the finish crew, and everybody at SweetSpot who’d been involved - what we achieved that week and that stage…

“To give you an example, we drove that stage on our final route recce. In the car, we had an average speed of 19mph. The stage was run off at nearly 47kmh. They raced it quicker than we were able to drive it on that final stage. 

 

“Sometimes, you want to get in the car and move on. Other times, you want to have that moment and just savour the atmosphere.”

Part Nine - On The Map

Timothy John

“For the councils who pay to host the Tour of Britain, the atmosphere is what it’s all about. 

“In practical terms, this means thousands of people flocking to town and city centres. It means footfall on shopping parades and bums on seats in bars and restaurants. 
 
“As the leader of a major business, Phil Jones can offer a clear insight into the Tour of Britain’s commercial rule, and as Cheshire resident, he believes stage five will be a valuable boost for the economy of its finish town, Warrington.”

 

Phil Jones

“It’s absolutely massive. Other events, perhaps even those in SweetSpot’s portfolio, like The Tour Series, tend to focus on one place; on one town. But The Tour of Britain just engages the whole country. It goes right the way through the spectrum, from school children to pensioners are at the side of the road to see the race. It’s a proper spectacle. And that’s really, really good for all of the councils that get involved with the race. It really does put them on the map. 

“Stage five this year, which is in Cheshire, ends just up the road from me in Warrington. I’m riding in the neutral service vehicle that day, so that’s going to be exciting: I’ll be riding around in the neutral car on the roads that I ride every weekend, which is wonderful. 

“But I know that Warrington, as a town, has just spend tens of millions of pounds on the regeneration of its major shopping areas - a brand new food court, a cinema complex - and they want to put a spotlight on it. So what better way than to have the race finishing in front of the very famous golden gates in Warrington, in order that Warrington can be talked about as a thriving town, investing in itself, a good place to live, and its tens of thousands of residents can come into Warrington, pack out those bars and restaurants for the afternoon, and everyone goes away feeling rather good about the world. 
 
“So that’s why the councils do it. Right the way through the route, which passes through the ‘golden triangle’ of Cheshire, starting with the footballer world of Alderley Edge, going out into the Peak District and then, ultimately, rolling quite close to my house before turning to come into Warrington. 
 
“It means that all the businesses along that route are going to benefit somehow. There will be people out on the streets and, when it’s for The Tour of Britain, the numbers are hundreds of thousands, and that can only mean till ringing for all of the businesses along that route.”
 

Timothy John

“The huge crowds attracted by the Tour of Britain are motivating not only for councils and local businesses, but most especially for the riders. 

“Harry Tanfield made a highly impressive debut for Canyon in 2017, outsprinting Caleb Ewan in the bunch kick that concluded stage four and finishing only one second behind Primoz Roglic in the following day’s time-trial. 

“In 2019, he returned to ride a more controlled, but no less enjoyable race for Katusha-Alpecin, riding as lead out man for two-time Monument winner, Alexander Kristoff,.

“He remembers the vast impact made by the 2017 edition on a 22-year-old, racing on home roads for a British-registered squad from professional cycling’s third tier.”  
 
Harry Tanfield

 

“For me, the 2017 race was the biggest ever; the biggest race that existed! It was a really good year; quite sprinter-friendly. I enjoyed it. I was in the breaks quite a lot, getting points. I had a couple of top-10s, I think. I was good in the time-trial; good on the sprint stages too, mixing it up. It was a really good race. 

“I remember on one of the sprint stages being right up there in the mix; following the guys at the front and thinking: ‘I’m in the lead outs.’ It was great for the team, great for the points and for the publicity as well. You’ve got to be in the top-10 to get your name on the board and on the television. It’s good for the sponsors. It would have been nice to repeat that this year. I’m sure there’ll be an opportunity at some point in the future, hopefully, when there isn’t 3,000m to 3,500m of climbing every day!

“The crowds were massive. The support from everyone in the towns and villages that we passed: it could have been the Tour de France coming through, you know? Big support from everyone, locally; lots of people waiting for the race to come through. Riding in the breakaway, when you’ve fought all day on the road, we had great support, especially being English. It was really nice. 

“The race in 2019, the last one I did, that was, again, a good race. I enjoyed doing that one.”

Part Ten - Getting Round

Timothy John

“This year’s race is unlikely to be enjoyable for any of the riders, and this observation is intended, of course, as a compliment to the route. With a combined 19,000m of climbing, even the strongest riders in the race are likely to suffer. 

“Larry Hickmott notes the presence of a team time-trial on stage three and believes the need for strength-in-depth could exacerbate the plight of British domestic teams starved by lockdown of international racing. For some, he says, just finishing will be an achievement.”

Larry Hickmott

“I think that’s one of the things that a lot of the teams have been preparing for and looking at their riders, because they haven’t had the level of racing and the amount of UCI racing that they would normally. Just trying to make sure that their riders can get round the Tour of Britain, which has never really been an issue before, could be an issue this year with such a difficult parcours.

“Because it’s got a team time-trial in it, that could be significant, I think, because the team time-trial does go uphill a little. The team will have to have strength-in-depth. I’ve not seen any line-ups as yet of the riders who are coming here, other than Wout Van Aert and Mark Cavendish. But teams like INEOS-Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma will have the strength-in-depth to do a good team time-trial, as well as being competitive in the road stages.”

 

Timothy John

“Strength-in-depth is a stock-in-trade for the UCI WordTour squads Larry mentions. We know already that Deceuninck-QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma are bringing some of their biggest stars to the race, and their support riders are likely to be impressive, too. 

“What hope then do the British-registered, UCI Continental squads have in carrying the fight to such formidable opposition? Harry Tanfield offers some hard-won advice to this year’s debutants.” 
 
Harry Tanfield

 

“Just take it easy on the first two days. The race starts pretty hard anyway. It’s going to be a new experience for them. It’s a long race at eight days. The team time-trial is still going to be a hard day for those guys, even to make the time cut, so they’ve got to go full gas everyday. 

“I think it’s going to wear people down quite a lot, especially with the route. It’s not like you’re doing 1500m [of climbing] or 2000m and then you have a sprint day thrown in here and there. Every day is hard, so err on the side of caution and save your pennies. You shouldn’t miss the time cut because it’s 15 per cent, I think, for most of the stages, but you only have a certain amount of pennies, so spend them wisely. 

“An eight-day race is a long race. If everyone in the team is completely cooked after three days, there’s not much point in the team being there, if they can’t be in the breakaway or attack in the final. If everyone is on their knees and out the back for the last four days of the race, they might as well not be there. 

“I think it’s good for people to share the load within the team. You can’t expect one guy to go in the break for an hour at the start of the race every single day. It needs to be a team effort to cover moves. People have to be a bit conservative with it, I would probably say, just because of the nature of the parcours this year.”

Best of British

Timothy John

“From debutants to rising stars to seasoned pros, Britain does not lack talent. Increasingly, riders from the home nation at the Tour of Britain are representing WorldTour teams. Larry Hickmott has his fingers crossed that visiting squads from the top tier will select the best of British.” 

Larry Hickmott

“Just thinking about INEOS, I’m hoping that Ethan Hayter, who’s such an exciting rider, comes to the race. I’ve lost count of how many races he’s won this year, including GCs. Another rider I’m looking forward to seeing, who’s done well, is Connor Swift. He’s won a big race in Tro-Bro Leon. He’s got his third top-10 in a French stage race this week. I notice that this team are riding the Tour of Britain, and I’m sure a French team won’t come without Connor or Dan McLay, so it will be interesting to see how they go.”

Part Eleven - The Final Word

Timothy John

"Regardless of the nationality or profiles of the riders, the budgets of the teams, the star of this year’s show is unquestionably the course. 

"Time-trials and road stages, coastlines and city centres, the epic route planned by Andy Hawes lies at the heart of this most demanding edition of the Tour of Britain, both figuratively and literally. 

"Let’s leave the final word then to Andy. Having started work on the route more than a year ago, conducted endless meetings with countless bodies to secure its sign-off, and driven every inch of it three times at least, he surely must have a favourite stage." 

Andy Hawes

 

“I have been asked this question so many times this year, and I still don’t think I can give a definitive answer: ‘Do you know what? It’s going to be ‘x’ stage. They’re all amazing stages. They all have something about them that’s unique to that stage. 

“If you look at stage one, the first 30km, up through St Just, dropping down through St Ives, Carbis Bay: just stunning. It’s so quintessentially Cornish. I kind of pride myself on the fact that somebody could pick me up, drop me somewhere in this country, and I could look around and pretty much could tell you where I was. 
 
“The Devon stage never fails to put a smile on my face. The Carmarthenshire stage, the team time-trial, up through the valley and heading towards the National Botanic Garden’s of Wales: stunning. The Welsh coast: fantastic. Cheshire: we’re descending down the Cat&Fiddle to Macclesfield. Nice. 
 

“Stage six? Whoa! That is an amazing stage: descending Dockwray to Watermillock, alongside Ullswater, through Penrith, up Hartside, Killhope Cross, Burtree Fell. And nothing screams ‘Gateshead’ louder than finishing at the feet of the Angel of the North. 

“That stage, for me, is right up there. But then, we go into the Scottish Borders, which are stunning. The final stage is in Aberdeenshire, and I must admit, I’d been to Aberdeen two or three times, but never out into the shire. The Cairn o’Mount is just a stunning climb. 
 
“I’m torn. I really am torn between stages six and eight, but if you really push me, I think I’d probably go for stage six.”

Social Shout-Out

 
Timothy John

"Let’s end this episode in our traditional fashion with a social shout-out. If you want to follow any our expert witnesses, you can do so at the following addresses.

 

"Phil Jones is on Twitter at @philjones40 for business and leadership and @roadphil  for cycling.
 
"Andy Hawes is on Twitter and Instagram @FastHawesy.
“Harry Tanfield is on Twitter at @Harrytanfield94 and on Instagram @HarryTanfield.94 - that’s a full-stop between Tanfield and 94. 
 
"Larry Hickmott is on Facebook @veloshooter, on Twitter @velouk and @AussieLarry, and on Instagram @VeloUKWebsite.  
 
"And we sincerely hope you’ll follow Brother Cycling. We’re @brothercycling on all three channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
 
"Thanks very much indeed for listening and do, please, stay safe." 

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