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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 11

Episode description

The Brother UK-sponsored Tour Series is Britain's biggest circuit racing series. It's brought adrenaline-fuelled racing to town-centre circuits the length and breadth of the country since 2009. Many household names gained prominence at the Tour Series, including Anna Henderson, the Brother Cycling' graduate' now winning races in the UCI Women's WorldTour.

Our guests for this investigative edition could scarcely be more qualified to comment. Joey Walker, a rider for Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing, is the reigning British Circuit Race Champion. So too is Rebecca Durrell, who won the women's title while riding for Team Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm, now CAMS-Basso.

Rebecca and Joey share insights gained from their experience at the pinnacle of the sport. They lift the lid on start line nerves, riding on the limit of crashing, managing the logistical and tactical demands of the Tour Series and sharing the sensation of victory with crowds of several thousand people.

Mark Botteley offers a manager's viewpoint. He describes the challenges his young riders are likely to face in the 2021 Tour Series, describes the tactical options for a squad long on potential but short on experience, and calls for elite domestic road racing to embrace the Covid-inspired opportunity to restructure. 

Peter Hodges is the Communications Director at SweetSpot Group, the Tour Series organisers, and a man who has witnessed an astonishing 102 of the 107 rounds held by the competition since 2009. He describes its challenges, successes and plans for the future, and even shares memories of his favourite venues.

Phil Jones is the Managing Director of Brother UK and this podcast's co-host. As the leader of a major business and sponsor of the Tour Series, Phil is keenly aware of its economic challenges. He offers a positive vision for continued partnerships between the race and local authorities as councils seek new ways to revive town centres decimated by lockdown. 

Part one of this eleventh episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast offers everything you need to know about Britain's best-loved crit series, from pre-race anxiety to post-race recovery, physical exhaustion to emotional exhilaration. Check out part two for a discussion of the issues featuring co-hosts Tim and Phil and Larry Hickmott, the editor of Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net.

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Episode 11: “Tour Series Preview – Part One”

Episode contents

  • 00.03 – Introduction
  • 00.36 – Coming up
  • 02.44 – Hello and welcome
  • 04.04 – Views from the saddle
  • 07.15 – Free, fun, fast
  • 10.31 – Stepping into the shop window
  • 15.14 – Natural born crit racer
  • 16.55 – A balanced campaign
  • 18.43 – Race, recover, race
  • 20.02 – Managing the season
  • 23.15 – C is for councils, commerce
  • 26.33 – Tour Series tactics
  • 29.13 – That winning feeling
  • 32.18 – The crowning glory
  • 38.00 – Brother UK's sponsored teams and the 2021 Tour Series
  • 38.40 – The final word
  • 40.28 – Social shoutout

Transcript

Timothy John – 0.03

“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 - 0.23

“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 – 0.36

“Coming up in this special edition to celebrate crit racing and the Brother UK-sponsored Tour Series.”

“Joey Walker, the men’s British Circuit Race Champion, tells us why racing on the limit is standing operating procedure for the country’s best crit riders.”

Joey Walker – 0.52

“With crit racing, you’re setting off, you’re in the red zone from lap one, and you don’t come out of the red until the finish. It’s literally an hour at threshold.”

Timothy John – 1.02

“Rebecca Durrell, the women’s British Circuit Race Champion, reveals that the adrenaline levels experienced on a Tour Series start line are rarely found elsewhere.”

Rebecca Durrell – 1.11

“A lot of the time, I have to change screen on my Garmin, or whatever head unit I’m using, because my heart rate’s at 120bpm, and I’m just stood there. That’s the adrenaline.

Timothy John – 1.20

“Mark Botteley, the manager of Team Brother UK-OnForm, explains that his young guns are determined to give everything as they step into the Tour Series arena.”

Mark Botteley – 1.31

“All of the Tour Series races are very, very technical: in and out of corners, fast acceleration, elbows out, no quarter given. That is the key, and you battle for everything. Every place is crucial."

Timothy John – 1.42

“Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, and this podcast’s co-host, identifies a generational opportunity for crit racing as towns and cities seek to recover from lockdown.”

Phil Jones – 1.54

“Local authorities need to kick start those local economies again. They really, really do. There’s a really good opportunity, I think, for 2022, for those local authorities to get re-engaged with the idea of using a sport like crit racing to get those city centres full again”

Timothy John – 2.10

“And Peter Hodges, Communications Director of Tour Series organiser the SweetSpot Group,  explains how short form cycling delivers a perfect night out.”

Peter Hodges – 2.20

“Crit racing, at the end of the day, is great entertainment. It’s a good free, fun, fast family night out, a bit like you see with the T20. You go home knowing who the winner was. Also, it’s that cool thing of, ‘Well, I saw them racing around my town or city centre,’ and you can relate a bit more to that. It’s definitely got a place as that, sort of, summer season entertainment. 

 

Timothy John – 2.44

“Hello and welcome to this special investigative edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast. 

“Today, we’re putting crit racing under the microscope and, in particular, the Brother UK-sponsored Tour Series, which kicks off in Guisborough on Sunday August 8. Fast and furious, intense and adrenaline-fuelled, these town-centre circuit races demand incredible fitness, supreme bike handling and zero tolerance for fear. 

“The televised Tour Series is arguably the biggest and best-loved crit series in Britain. Founded in 2009, it’s given an early platform to a host of talented riders, some of whom went on to become household  names. 

“Our expert witnesses for this episode are the reigning British Circuit Race Champions, Joey Walker and Rebecca Durrell, Mark Botteley, the manager of Team Brother UK-OnForm, Peter Hodges, the Communications Director for Tour Series organiser the SweetSpot Group, and my co-host Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK. 

“With their help, we’ll gain an inside line on the sporting, organisational and commercial demands of crit racing, and learn just how important the Brother UK-sponsored Tour Series has become to the health of elite British cycle sport.” 

Timothy John – 4.04

“Few events are as nerve-racking for the riders as a round of the Tour Series. 

“For athletes who spend most of their time training alone on country roads, to be thrust into a busy town centre to perform in front of thousands of expectant fans can set the pulse race soaring - even before the race has begun. 

“The trial is even tougher for young riders, who might be making their debut in a national event. The good news for rising stars is that even champions feel the heat. Here’s Rebecca and Joey.” 

Rebecca Durrell – 4.32

“There aren’t many experiences in life that quite give you the feelings that you get when you’re stood on the start line. A lot of the time I have to change screen on my Garmin or whatever head unit I’m using because my heart rate is at 120bpm, and I’m just stood there. That’s the adrenaline. You know what’s coming. You know it’s going to be 45 minutes of absolute furious races. That’s why you’re stood there filled with the adrenaline.” 

Joey Walker – 4.57

“I know that feeling. It’s not nice, really. Obviously, it’s the anticipation. You’re stood on the start line and you know that in ten seconds you’re going to be at max heart rate. It’s not a very nice feeling, but you’re sort of chomping at the bit. You just want to get going. So, yeah, the wait’s never nice, but it’s obviously your body’s way of being ready for what’s about to come. Battle!”

Timothy John – 5.19

“Battle! What a word to describe a crit race, and who better to offer it than national champion Joey Walker?" 

“Brother UK will field four teams in this year’s Tour Series: the Team LDN and Team OnForm women’s squads, and the Crimson Performance team, who will enter squads in both the men’s and women’s races. 

“One team who knows all about the Tour Series is Team OnForm, who won rounds in 2018 with the sensational Anna Henderson, and who, in the guise of Team Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm, won several rounds and the overall in 2019. Becks Durrell, who took back-to-back victories in Birkenhead and Salisbury, were a key part of this success. 

“This year, Team Brother UK-OnForm returns with a fresh crop of young talent, including Ellen Inglis, Daisy Mae-Barnes and red hot prospects in Becky Storrie and Imani Pereira-James. In fact, of the five-rider squad, only Sian Botteley will have raced a Tour Series round before. 

“Here’s team-manager Mark Botteley on how this year’s compressed, three-race, week-long series might help his young charges.” 

Mark Botteley – 6.26

“All of these Tour Series races are very, very technical: in and out of corners, fast acceleration, elbows out, no quarter given. That is the key, and, as well as everybody is capable of riding, I think it’s only when they get the taste of the first one that they’ll realise exactly what a Tour Series race is like. And the beauty of having the three races together is that if they don’t do so well in the first race, then, almost certainly, it’ll probably be just not getting to grips with the specifics of a Tour Series race.  

“In an ideal world, we’d like all five riders to be right near the front from the word go and absolutely smash it. The reality is that one or two will probably struggle with the pace of it, in and out of corners. The great thing is that two days later, those who don’t get the kind of performance they’re looking for will get a chance to go again.”

Timothy John – 7.15

“The Tour Series has never stopped evolving. Launched in 2009, it’s become a staple of elite British road racing: the ying to the yang of British Cycling’s National Road Series and SweetSpot’s own Women’s Tour and Tour of Britain. This year’s winning teams will receive the opportunity to race in America, thanks to a partnership between SweetSpot and USA Crits.

“Peter Hodges, SweetSpot Group’s Communications Director, who’s met all the champions and witnessed nearly every round, is well-qualified to offer an opinion on what makes crit racing, and The Tour Series in particular, so popular.”

Peter Hodges – 7.50

“Crit racing is, dare I say it, easier for the man or woman in the street to understand. It’s shorter, sharper. It brings bike racing to the people, by the virtue of being in a town or city centre. In some countries, that’s what you need. In other countries, with an established cycling heritage and culture, they go to the event, rather than needing the events brought to them.

“But at the same time, I’m not going to say this is like cricket where we need to make every form of cycling shorter, sharper and snappier. There’s definitely still a place for stage races, and week-long and longer racing formats, but crit racing, at the end of the day, is great entertainment. 

“It’s a good, free, fast, fun, family night out, a bit like you see with the T20: come down, watch it, have a great evening out. You go home knowing who the winner was, and, also, it’s that cool thing of, ‘Well, I saw them racing around my town or city centre,’ and you can relate a bit more to that. 

“It’s definitely got a place as, if you like, summer season entertainment.”

Timothy John – 8.52

“Races like those in The Tour Series rely on more than sporting appeal, however. A sound business model is an essential foundation. Who better then to comment on the economics of the Tour Series than Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK and this podcast’s co-host? As the leader of a major business, Phil has a clear understanding of the finances required to bring bike racing to town and city centres.”

Phil Jones – 9.16

“SweetSpot has a full commercial set-up, a full logistical and operational capability to move this Tour from town-to-town and from city-to-city. It really is super impressive, when you see them turn up and then break it back down again. 

“But what they also have is a commercial operation that’s working, because of course what this relies on is developing deep relationships with local authorities over many, many years in order to then ‘win’ a particular town or city to host a particular round. That’s not a quick decision. There’s a lot of stakeholders involved to win over in a decision like that. There’s an awful lot that needs to be done in terms of by-laws to close certain places. 

“And, of course, they need to be able to talk an economic language to a local authority and the benefits of holding a certain race in terms of putting somewhere on the map, getting them on the TV; what we call the GVA: the Gross Value Add of a race coming to a particular distinction. 

“And SweetSpot have got a well-versed team there and a very, very good business model that allows them to go and continue to talk to local authorities about the benefits of holding a race like this over so many years now. Well, for over a decade, as we’ve described.”

Timothy John – 10.31

“There’s no question then that the Tour Series is a major event.  Almost uniquely in British cycle sport, it offers a ticket to the big time for young riders. 

“So is the opportunity to race in front of thousands of people daunting, inspiring or both? Peter Hodges sets the scene, while Becks reflects on the impact of a Tour Series round on a young rider racing under its spotlight for the first time.” 

Peter Hodges – 10.54

“We do have a lot of young riders where it’s their first time, if you like. We know that crits are popular, but not all crits are in a town or city centre. We do hear of people saying: ‘My aim is to get into The Tour Series in the future.’ I think that’s because a lot of these riders have grown up watching the ITV4 coverage, seeing the likes of Dean Downing or Rob Hayles, in the early days, winning those stages; great names like Laura Kenny etc. They say that racing in front of the crowds, generating that sort of buzz, and they’d like to be a part of that.”

Rebecca Durrell – 11.31

“For girls who are developing and first coming into it, it can be such a nerve-racking place, and I completely understand why, and it’s easy to forget that. You’ve got the girls in the bigger teams who’ve got all of the kit, all of the bikes, all the support. Everything looks so professional. If you’re part of a smaller unit where you don’t necessarily get that support and you’re sorting your own bike, you don’t have a mechanic and you’re buying your own kit, it can be a very difficult place to be. 

“So fair play to the girls who put themselves out there and get themselves on the start line. All it is experience. You get used to that type of racing, and if you keep on chipping away at it, and working your fitness and the skills that you need to be a successful crit racer then it is do-able to be up there at the front of the race.”
 

Timothy John – 12.18

“Well, how inspiring to hear a champion like Becks Durrell reveal that it’s possible to work your way from the back of the grid to the front. 

“Reassuringly for young riders who hope one day to match her achievements, Becks hasn’t always found the Tour Series plain sailing. 

“Here, she describes her debut, way back in 2014.”

Rebecca Durrell – 12.38

 “Oh, man, I got…I won’t say it, cos I’ll be swearing, but let’s just say it was very, very difficult [laughs]. I remember it really well. It was up in Edinburgh, and it was the year that Katie Archibald won. I’ll be honest, back then, I didn’t really know who was who. I just enjoyed bike racing. I’d just turn up. 

“There was a cobbled climb. It’s ironic, because since then I’ve enjoyed cobbled climbs, but at the time it was so difficult because I’d never really ridden on a circuit like that. The front of the field just got smashed to bits in true Katie Archibald style. 

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow! I’ve got a lot of work to do, if I want to get to that level. A) I don’t know if I can, with fitness; I don’t know whether I’m just not gifted enough, and B) There’s a hell of a lot to do.’

“But it was a great line in the sand, and I enjoyed it. It was the atmosphere that really drew me to it. It’s quite funny when you look at the years since then, and the success since then. It’s been a pretty crazy journey.”

Timothy John – 13.35

"The irony of Becks struggling on the cobbled sections of the Edinburgh circuit will not be lost on anyone familiar with her two subsequent victories at the Lincoln GP: a race notorious for its brutal - and cobbled - Michaelgate climb. 

"Covid put a stop to the Tour Series in 2020, but in 2019, the last time it was held, Becks was a pivotal member of the series-winning Brother UK-OnFOrm p/b Tifosi team.

“So dominant was the team, that Becks sternest opposition came from her co-leader, Anna Henderson, who now plies her trade with Jumbo-Visma in the Women’s WorldTour.

“Mark Botteley was an eye-witness to Anna’s early success with Team OnForm and believes she stands as an example of how a young rider can use the Tour Series as a shop window.” 

Mark Botteley – 14.24

“She clearly had so much ability. It really did shine. The Durham rounds were absolutely fantastic. You could just see what a special rider she is. In actual fact, it’s a shame that there isn’t a Durham round this year, because I think Becky Storrie would be one, I think, who would be so up for that. It would be right up her street.

“The Tour Series is a window of opportunity for young riders to impress, and Anna is a classic example of somebody who just showed what she is capable of. Then she got into the Great Britain team and rode fantastically well at the World Championships in Yorkshire.

“Look where she is now. Other riders will be thinking, ‘What a shop window to showcase what we can do.’ I’m certain that there will be somebody, not necessarily from our team, not necessarily from CAMS-Basso, but there will be one or two riders this year who will really catch the public eye, so to speak.

Timothy John – 15.14

“Interestingly, Joey didn’t make his Tour Series debut until he was already an established rider, but as the son of legendary British pro Chris Walker, Joey is a natural born crit racer. 

“Here, Joey reflects on the savage demands of racing flat out on a city centre circuit and draws a contract with point-to-point road racing, where the effort is longer, but not always so intense.”

Joey Walker –15.38

“It’s fast-paced, it’s aggressive, and the crowd really gets you going. It’s my favourite sort of racing. A lot of people love it. It’s really big in Britain and has been since my dad’s era. It’s part of the British racing scene, really.

“You are finding the limit of your tyres, especially at races like Ilkley. I didn’t have time to recce the course. I’d never done it before lap one of the race. Going down a descent into a fast bend blind is a scary experience, but as soon as you’ve done a couple of laps of the circuit, you know how fast  you can go. You’re always pushing that limit. You’ve just got to. You’ve got to be on the limit of crashing because then you know you’re going fast enough. 

“With crit racing, you’re setting off in the red zone on lap one, and you don’t come out of the red until the finish. It’s literally an hour at threshold, whereas in a road race, there’s obviously the fight for the breakaway, which is like a crit in its intensity. Once the breakaway has been formed and everyone’s happy, there’s that little chill period where you can have a chat! It sounds pretty good! You can take it all in before picking up again at the end of the race. 

“There are three parts to a road race, whereas crit racing is just an hour. You’ve got what you’ve got and, yeah - it’s hard!”

 

Timothy John – 16.55

“Hard is putting it mildly. And the physical challenge doesn’t begin and end with the effort of the race. 

“The Tour Series represents a specific period on the calendar - two weeks, typically, and one-week this year - when the riders must switch their preparation from gruelling road races to short, sharp crits. 

“Becks Durrell reveals that this isn’t always easy - even for a rider who is not only the reigning British Circuit Race Champion, but is the reigning National Road Series champion, too."

Rebecca Durrell – 17.23

“The UK scene is quite a tricky mix, if you want to be successful in a number of races. Early season varies each year. That year [2019], for the women, started with the Klondike Grand Prix. I remember it being quite cold. I can’t remember which month it was, but it was fairly early on. 

“Then you have the Tour de Yorkshire, which is a completely different kettle of fish: the calibre of the field, the parcours - you need to be really fit and going pretty well if you want to achieve things in that. 
 

“Straight after, you’re into The Tour Series, followed a couple of days after by the Lincoln Grand Prix, then back into The Tour Series, and then, for the remainder of the season, back into the road races, and if you want to go abroad for UCI stage races.

“It’s a delicate mix. It depends on which races you want to succeed in. I was quite lucky in that I’d had a good enough winter to have an elevated level of fitness compared to previous years, and that just stood me in good stead for the rest of the season. I think it helps having a strong team as well. When you race as a team, you’re more likely to be successful.

“It’s hard. I think it takes a few years usually to experiment with your training and figure out  how to make it all work in a season.”

Timothy John – 18.43

“There’s a further dimension to the demands faced by the athletes. Once the Tour Series is underway, teams and riders must typically manage long transfers and late nights. 

“This year’s series - a compressed, week-long campaign, with three rounds in close geographical proximity - is the exception, but Joey explains that the Tour Series’ typical two-week schedule places additional demands on the performers who take centre stage when the flag falls.”

Joey Walker – 19.11

“The Elite Circuit Series is quite spaced out. There’s a week in-between events, whereas with The Tour Series, you race one round, you’ve got a day in between to travel and then you’re on that night again. It’s not quite like a stage race, but it is because you’ve got fatigue that’s carried over, if you like, and that definitely makes it harder as well. 

“You definitely do what you can to recover, but there’s only so much that you can do. You’re finishing at 10 o’clock most nights. You’ve had your caffeine, so you don’t sleep until 2am! The lack of sleep and the effort before bed time really adds up. 

“In an ideal scenario, you’d do a spin the day before, but it all depends on travel. Some transfers can last four or five hours. You’ve just got to do everything that you can and then hope that you’ve recovered enough to go again." 

 

Timothy John – 20.02

“Team Brother UK-OnForm manager Mark Botteley is very pleased with the composition and position on the calendar of the 2021 Tour Series. He believes the unique circumstances of a sport attempting to begin again after the enforced absence of Covid offers an opportunity for it to restructure - notably, for British Cycling’s National Road Series.

Mark Botteley – 20.22

“It’s come at the perfect time. It fits really nicely in the calendar as we are for 2021. It’s very good to have something there and was much needed because there was a bit of a four-week gap: yes, the odd National B race, but it’s good for the riders to have something to focus on before the Ryedale Grand Prix

“This year, we’ve had the CiCLE Classic in June/July and the National Championships won’t be held until the middle or end of October. It makes you think: ‘Is this the way forwards? Are we missing a trick here? Is this not an opportunity to have a proper look at maybe restructuring the National Road Series?’ Rather than condensing it into such a small period of time, maybe this is this is the opportunity to think, ‘Well, actually, this really worked.'

“Maybe some National Road Series races could run a little bit later. Back when I was racing, the Tour of the Peak was always in September and that’s when the Premier Calendar became the finish, not midway through August.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to change things, maybe. I think 2021, if nothing else has given people a reason to look at the way things are done and to think, ‘Well, maybe we could just alter things.’”

Timothy John – 21.24

“Deciding whether or not to restructure the National Road Series is very much a matter for British Cycling, but Tour Series organisers SweetSpot are keen to return to their traditional May slot. 

“With that said, Peter is open to the potential of two, week-long blocks of crit racing and identifies Britain’s biggest cities as the ultimate venue for the Tour Series.”

Peter Hodges – 21.44

“This year, invention has been, as you say, the mother of necessity. It’s worked very well, in terms of us having a week slot. It’s just before road racing comes back with the Lancaster GP and Ryedale GP. And all three events complement each other in that we go from Guisborough to Sunderland to Castle Douglas. They’re relatively geographically compact, and by giving the teams three events in six days, certainly logistically it helps them. 

“The ambition, certainly for next year, is to go back into May. That’s what we’re planning for at the moment. We don’t quite know what Covid is going to bring or what the winter is going to bring, but, hopefully, we should be in a better place in 2022 than 2021. So absolutely the aim is May, and I think British Cycling were very good to give us the window in August because they recognised that they wanted Tour Series events to take place. Other organisers were very good in allowing that, so thanks to them.

“The aim is to be back next year in May and to have more events. It worked very well this year: three events. A nice, short, sharp series that gives people the racing, but I guess, ultimately, we need more events to make it commercially viable, as well. Perhaps two events a week, spread out over two or three weeks. It’s interesting, though, the point about how one week works really well and perhaps it should be two, one-week blocks with a week off in between, three in the north, three in the south. We don’t know. 

“The thing we’d love to do, obviously, is to take the racing into some really big city centres: your Manchesters, your Birminghams, your Bristols. It would be great to do that, a bit like we used to see in the Kellogg’s criterium days.”

Timothy John – 23.15

“Peter’s use of the ‘c’ word - commercial - takes us to the heart of the challenge of staging bike races of any scale, let alone a national series like the Tour Series; critically, one that is largely dependent on local authority funding. 

“Phil Jones says that councils hit by austerity and then by Covid, who might previously have looked at the Tour Series as tool to promote sustainable travel, might now view it as an opportunity to revitalise high streets decimated by lockdown.”

Phil Jones – 23.45

“I know a number of chief executives who are in charge of local authorities, and it really is a thankless task because they have so much to do. Of course, over the last 15 months or so, almost their main effort has been about handling the health care crisis.

“In among all that, of course, it’s part of their job to promote the economic development of their region. We’ve seen that has taken a fairly big knock during the Covid period. But in the period before that, we mustn’t forget that there was a long period of austerity where local authorities were having to deal with very big budget cuts. That meant that they didn’t have an awful lot of money to do what might be deemed as “nice to have” initiatives, like, perhaps, hosting a round of The Tour Series.

“What was saw begin to emerge was those local authorities who had a strong interest in promoting sustainable travel as part of their budget - they might perhaps have won some money from the government - and they would use the Tour Series to link into their sustainable transportation or environmental-based strategic objectives.

“But, of course, the game has changed again. Now was have this issue where, frankly, the city centres have been empty for a long time. Now the local authorities need to kick start those local economies again. They really, really do. So for me, there’s a really good opportunity for 2022 for those local authorities to get re-engaged with this idea of using a sport like crit racing to get those city centres full again.”

Timothy John – 25.13

“Phil makes a compelling case and, reassuringly, Peter says that local authority interest in the Tour Series remains high. Peter offers a 2021 series comprised entirely of new venues - Guisborough, Sunderland and Castle Douglas - as Exhibit A. 

“He does concede, however, that commercial backing has been harder to find. The Tour Series will run this year, for example, without a title sponsor, following the conclusion of a partnership with OVO Energy. But with a hugely impressive track record, few would bet against SweetSpot driving the Tour Series to new heights into 2022. 

“Phil tips his hat to their hosting this year of the Women’s Tour and the Tour of Britain - the other jewels in SweetSpot’s crown - and says his dealings with its commercial team have revealed relief at being back under way.”

Phil Jones – 25.58

“There’s a real excitement, certainly when I’ve talked to the commercial guys at SweetSpot. They’re so happy that they can get this rolling. There have been so many stop-gos about whether our blue ribband races, The Tour of Britain and The Women’s Tour, would happen in 2021, and now, of course, we know that they will happen.

“I think there’s a great sense of relief from everyone involved in the organisation there that they can just crack on now and get this delivered and then get back to some sort of normality, and get these top teams over, get these top riders over, and showcase again everything that this sport has to offer.”

Timothy John – 26.33

“What the Tour Series has to offer is exhilarating racing with challenging tactical component. Unlike the National Circuit Series, it’s not enough for a team pursuing overall victory to rack up a host of individual wins. 

“The Tour Series is, first and foremost, a team competition, where a team’s ranking is based on the aggregate finishing times of individual members. Becks Durrell says that protecting the position of team-mates is an extra challenge for leaders in the hunt for individual victories. 

Rebecca Durrell – 27.02

“It changes with each round. It’s a moving picture, isn’t it; a moving target. You’ve got to adapt as the Tour Series goes on. I think every team goes into wanting to get the win in the first round, because then you’ve got the wind in your sails, you’ve got the points, and you’ve got the jersey; you’ve got the momentum

“From then on, you’re working to the strengths of your team and there are races within the race, if that makes sense. If a break goes up the road, everybody doesn’t just sit up and think ‘Oh, they’re going. We’ll just cruise round for the rest of the race.’ It’s a battle for every single position, and that’s what make it so exciting, so you really just have to go in there and work to your strengths. 

“For example, if one of your team-mates is having a bit of a hard day, you’ve got to be mindful. If you’re at the front of the race, you’ve got to be thinking of them as well, because you need all the points you can get. If you spit them out the back of the race then that potentially is the team classification gone. You’ve got to think about the whole picture. You can’t just think about what’s happening at the head of the race, so it’s quite interesting from that respect."

Timothy John – 28.00

“Tactics vary with the experience of the team. For Becks Durrell, whose CAMS-Basso squad will defend the title they won in 2019 as Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm, maximising the team’s score is an obvious consideration. For young squads like Team Brother UK-OnForm, the approach is less planned and more dynamic. Here’s manager Mark Botteley.”

Mark Botteley – 28.21

“Riders have to think on their feet. You go in there with a bit of a plan, which is just to get riders up the road, or in that first ten or fifteen. If we can come away with two or three riders within the first 15 or 20, then I think we’ll have done an absolutely fantastic job. You battle for everything. Every place is crucial. 

“As regards team tactics, I think the first round, we just see what happens. We just try to race it as competitively as we can and then we see where we are overall after the first round and then maybe take it form there for the second and third rounds. 

“If a particular course suits a particular rider, they might excel, and then the other two courses might not suit them, so it is very difficult to have a clear plan. In the first round, we’ll just ride aggressively, get in there, get in amongst them and show everybody what we can do. In the second and third rounds, if we get the opportunity to ride more as a team,  to either defend a place or try and push higher up overall, then all well and good.”

 

Timothy John – 29.13

“It’s the nature of elite competition in any sport that victory is achieved only by the strongest. Of the hundreds of riders who’ve raced a round of the Tour Series since 2009, just a handful have won. So how does victory taste? Becks Durrell’s win in front of a vast crowds in Salisbury in May 2019 is one that sticks in my mind.

“On a memorable night for Brother UK-sponsored teams -  Freddie Scheske and Ed Clancy crowned a dominant performance in the men’s race with a one-two finish for Vitus Pro Cycling - Rebecca calmly rolled from the finish line to the podium and offered a good-natured apology to the Lady Mayoress for soaking her in champagne! Those are my memories. How does Becks recall it?”

Rebecca Durrell – 29.57

“I think the overwhelming feeling with any race wins for me - and I think it’s different for every person - but it’s actually relief. It’s like an overwhelming sense of relief, and that in itself is quite powerful. Obviously, it’s really exciting, and it’s a massive rush and a big adrenaline hit, but I think when you’re trying to achieve results and you’re putting quite a lot at stake to try and achieve them, when you do actually pull them off, it’s a massive relief. That feeling in itself is awesome.

“Salisbury was different. That was special because the crowds were immense. It was a gorgeous evening, wasn’t it? Normally you get a quiet area of the circuit, but Salisbury was pretty busy all the way round. It think everyone was pretty boozed in  the town centre and enjoying their pizzas and their beer and everything.  It was a proper party atmosphere, so that was definitely a special one.

“I had family there as well. To be honest, I have family at most of the races; I’m really lucky. When they’re there and get a chance to enjoy it, it’s even more special.”

Timothy John – 30.56

“Joey first tasted individual victory at the Tour Series by winning the Durham round in 2019. For most visitors, the magnificent cathedral is Durham’s most memorable feature, but it’s the cobbled climb that sticks in the memory of most Tour Series riders, including Joey, whose since shown himself to have a special affinity with crit racing’s roughest ramps.”

Joey Walker – 31.16

“Obviously, I have really fond memories [of winning the Tour Series in Durham, 2019].  Circuits like Durham and Rochester - short, sharp climbs in crits really do suit me, and Ilkley was the same. They just suit my style, really. 

“In Durham, the race split. It was quite a wet night, and there’s a dead turn into the cobbles, which doesn’t make it easier. The first four or five laps was a fight to get into that corner, and once it starts splitting up, you can relax a bit. 

“I had Jon Mould with me. I was feeling really good on the night, and I remember saying to Jon, ‘I’m going to attack next lap,’ but we were still only 15 minutes. in. He was like, ‘Don’t you dare!’ Obviously, I’d never raced at Durham before. He just said to me: ‘Don’t attack now because you’re going to need the extra energy at the end,’ so it was good to have Jon there to calm me down a bit and use my attack at the end and solo to victory. It still annoys me that they messed up the lap boards, so I didn’t get to celebrate!” [laughter]
 

 

Timothy John – 32.18

“Despite the exhilaration of their Tour Series victories at Durham and Salisbury, both Rebecca and Joey have even bigger circuit race victories on their pal mares. 

“The 2019 British Circuit Race Championships in Rochester were notable for three things: cobbles, vast crowds, and a one-on-one dog fight to decide the winner in both the men’s and women’s races. 

“Let’s start by hearing Joey’s memories of his last gasp triumph over Isaac Mundy: a victory immortalised in a magnificent photograph that might also be titled ‘agony and ecstasy’.

Joey Walker – 32.55

“It’s really just you in the moment. It’s weird how you hear the crowd, but you don’t hear the crowd, if you know what I mean. It’s just background noise. When I crossed that finish line, I couldn’t really hold in the celebration. It was what it was. The years of dreaming of a win like that just came out. That’s the story behind the picture and one of my biggest wins.

“Again, it was a short, sharp climb. Me and Isaac [Mundy] jumped away and held off the Canyon team who were chasing. We were going well and coming into the sprint, I didn’t really want to lead it out anyway because there was a headwind. 

“In the last left-hander, I remember it so well, Isaac’s wheels skipped on the corner, and that’s what unsettled him for the sprint. He unclipped. It’s a shame because - he might say different! - but I felt as if I was going to come around him anyway, because there was a headwind. It’s a shame we didn’t get to have it out until the line, but it made a good picture anyway.”

Timothy John – 33.55

“And how about Rebecca? Her race to the national title brought her wheel-to-wheel with defending champion -  and team-mate - Anna Henderson. The two riders who had spearheaded Brother UK-Tifosi’s team competition triumph in the Tour Series were suddenly set against each other. It was Becks emerged victorious at the end of a gripping, race-long duel.”

Rebecca Durrell – 34.16

“It was a massive relief. That was the overwhelming feeling. You go into a race with a plan, or half a plan. You know roughly what you want to achieve. You haven’t always got the legs to do it, but you at least have a plan in place. 

“For that race, the plan was to go as hard as possible and try and split everything up. We didn’t plan to do it as a team, necessarily, but it happened as a team because we had such a strong crit racing squad that year. 

“From there, it was just trying to be clever. Anna and I were team-mates and knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses pretty well. It was a case of just playing to that and having fun with the race as well because you want to enjoy it and, especially when the crowds are there, you want to put on a bit of show. It was a case of that and trying to keep a cool head.

“Crossing the finish line, I felt a massive sense of relief. In the days leading up to it, I had a feeling that there was a good chance I could win it, if I played my cards right and did everything right. You always need a bit of luck on the day. But, yeah, it all went well and I won on the night. It was awesome. I was absolutely buzzing after that. It was brilliant.

Timothy John – 35.18

“Victory at the national championships brings a very special prize: a white jersey emblazoned with red and blue stripes. Incredibly, because of Covid, Becks had to wait more than a year to wear the jersey in competition: a privilege extended by British Cycling in the absence of any British Circuit Race Championships in 2020. 

“By that time, she had an even greater prize: baby Jasper. Despite finding the demands of a sleepless infant incompatible with the demands of an elite athletic career, Rebecca finally pulled on the jersey last month at the Otley Grand Prix.”

Rebecca Durrell – 35.53

“After winning the national jersey at Rochester, I didn’t ever wear it in a race. It was a big thing for me. You gain a sense of achievement and a sense of pride. You want to stand on the start line wearing the national stripes.

“When I was pregnant, and when I first had Jasper, I thought: ‘Will there be an opportunity for me to do this?’ Because when I was first thinking of doing this, a lot of races were being cancelled, yet Otley seemed to be the one that was definitely going to be there. I made my decision. I thought: ‘I’m going to go for Otley. If I don’t get round, I don’t get round, but at least I’ve pulled on the jersey. I’ve ticked that box and archived that.'

“It was hard. I sounded as if I smoked 50 cigarettes a day afterwards! But it was brilliant. Since then, I’ve struggled to get out as much because Jasper’s just not sleeping. I’m just exhausted to be honest. I just don’t have capacity for it at the minute. Some mums do and hats off to them. I just don’t know how they do it. Maybe they’ve got a baby that sleeps a bit better, or maybe they’re just superhuman, but, for me, it’s not do-able at the minute.”

Timothy John – 37.03

“Joey, by contrast, has had several opportunities to wear his national champions jersey and will do so again when the Tour Series begins in Guisborough on Sunday August 8. Earlier outings in the stripes have convinced him that the jersey is not a garment worn lightly. It’s effect on spectators and on his rivals, he says, is unmistakable.”

Joey Walker – 37.23

“I do and I don’t. It adds pressure to what is already a high-pressure race. Crits are really intense so to have the jersey as well is extra pressure, because even if you’re in the crowd at the side of the road, watching the race come past, you always pick out the national jersey. Even if you don’t know who the rider is, someone watching might say, ‘He’s the national champion.’ 

“So, yeah, you always get picked out, and I’ve definitely noticed that it’s harder to jump away. I think, in the Tour Series, I’m going to have to play around a bit with tactics and see how I can win.”

Timothy John – 38.00

“Winning will, naturally, be high on the agenda of Joey’s team: the Brother UK-sponsored Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing squad. After less than three years in the sport, Matt Hallam’s team will travel to Guisborough, Sunderland and Castle Douglas with genuine hopes of victory. 

“The Team Brother UK-LDN women’s squad will do the same, and while Brother UK-OnForm manager Mark Botteley has been very modest in this podcast, many observers will watch the progress of Becky Storrie and Imani Pereira-James with the keenest interest.”
 

Timothy John – 38.40

“Let’s leave the final word to Peter Hodges. SweetSpot Group’s Communications Director has met all the champions and travelled the length and breadth of the country since 2009 to promote the Tour Series. It is possible then, from such a vast archive, to choose a favourite round?”

Peter Hodges – 38.58

“Of the 107 rounds, I think I’ve attended 102 of them, rather worryingly, which is a lot of laps. I don’t even want to think about how many laps, and also I don’t want to think about the poor riders who’ve had to put up with me for an awfully long time at these events. 

“Is there a favourite event? Oh, Ipswich in 2013, I think it was, was excellent. Our final round in Ipswich. Packed crowds. Really, really good. The two Salisbury events were fantastic as well. Great crowds. Really good location, with the Market Square location and everything within it, helped by the good weather. 

“To be honest, I think the winner is probably Aberdeen. We did 2017, 18 and 19, and now Aberdeen has the Tour of Britain this year. We had beautiful weather. It is an amazing city. For any listeners who haven’t been, I do encourage them to go to Aberdeen and to look at it because until you go there, you don’t realise what great buildings, museums, galleries they’ve got. 

“A brilliant city centre, brilliant weather, a great circuit, and the support we had was incredible. We had huge crowds. We had packed support events the whole day. All the shops - even the likes of McDonalds and Sainsbury - had put stuff in their windows to promote the event, so Aberdeen was absolutely brilliant and one of the highlights. That first year in Aberdeen was absolutely fantastic and the second years proved to be nearly as good as well.”
 

Timothy John – 40.28

“Let’s finish in our traditional fashion with a social shoutout. If you want to follow any of our expert witnesses, you can do so at the following addresses: 

“You can follow The Tour Series at @tourseries on Facebook and Twitter, and @thetourseries on Instagram.

“You can follow Joey Walker on Twitter and Instagram @joeywack. All one word. J-O-E-Y-W-A-C-K.

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

“You can follow Mark Botteley on Twitter at @bournecoach, B-O-U-R-N-E, and on Instagram at @botteleymark on Instagram. Botteley, of course, B-0-DOUBLE T-L-E-Y.

“Peter Hodges is on Twitter and Instagram at @peterdhodges.

“Phil Jones, our Managing Director, is on Twitter, @roadphil for cycling, and @philjones40 for management and leadership.

“And we sincerely hope you’ll follow Brother Cycling. We’re @BrotherCycling on all three channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  

“Many thanks indeed to all of our guests and most of all to you for listening. 

“In these uncertain times, when Covid is still very much with us, then do, please, stay safe.”

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