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  5. Episode 15: “Women's Tour Preview”

Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 15

Episode Description

This episode previews The Women’s Tour: a top-tier stage race, widely considered the most well-organised in the women’s sport. Brother UK has sponsored the event since its inception in 2014 and served as Official Print and Results Partner since 2016. This year, our Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews will take their place proudly in the race convoy.

Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK and the podcast’s co-host, describes the logistical and operational challenge in preparing our neutral service support for a race with a diverse array of technical requirements. Phil shares his experiences from inside a neutral service vehicle at the recent Tour of Britain, too.

Sophie Wright is a professional cyclist with the Alé BTC Ljubljana squad: an Italian-registered team competing at the sport’s highest level. As a ‘graduate’ of a Brother UK-sponsored domestic squad, Sophie is well-placed to comment on the race’s appeal to visiting superstars and homegrown talent. 

Mick Bennett is the Race Director of The Tour of Britain and The Women’s Tour. A former Commonwealth champion and Olympic medallist, he has spent a lifetime in the sport, most of it at the helm of Britain’s biggest races. His insights on the myriad challenges faced in staging a world-class bike race are well worth hearing. 

Becky Storrie is a young woman in a hurry. Signed in mid-season by CAMS-Basso from the Brother UK-OnForm development team, she will make her stage race debut at The Women’s Tour, testing her legs over six days alongside the newly-crowned world road race and time-trial champions. Becky’s honest and insightful comments on such a daunting opportunity offer an invaluable insight.

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 Women’s Tour. 

 

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Episode 15: Women's Tour Preview

Episode contents

  • 00:02 – Episode introduction
  • 02:03 – Hello And Welcome
  • 04:08 – Part One: Neutral Service p/b Brother UK
  • 08:43 – Part Two: Opportunities and Inspiration
  • 21.48 – Part Three: Television and Organisation
  • 30.13 – Part Four: The Route
  • 35.28 – Part Five: Neutral Service p/b Brother UK - continued
  • 38.31 – Part Six: The Final Word
  • 40:38 – 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 special edition to preview the return to racing of the Brother UK-sponsored The Women’s Tour.

“Managing Director Phil Jones reveals that the Women’s Tour will present a greater challenge even than the Tour of Britain to our Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews.”  

Phil Jones

“For me, the dynamics are really going to change here. I think we’ll be much more active. My view is that it’s certainly going to be a much busier Women’s Tour than it was a Tour of Britain.”

Timothy John 

"Sophie Wright, a ‘graduate’ of Brother UK-sponsored domestic team, and now a fully-fledged professional, describes the impact on a British rider of the Women’s Tour’s huge crowds."

Sophie Wright

“It really does make a huge difference just to see the British flags waving. I just feel very fortunate to have these supporters coming out to cheer you on.”

Timothy John 

“Race Director Mick Bennett reveals the vast logistical operation undertaken by organisers SweetSpot Group to protect riders and the public from Covid.”

Mick Bennett

“We’re still running this with very strict Covid protocols, and teams will operate in their own bubble, and that means a separate floor for each team in each hotel.”

Timothy John

"And Becky Storrie, who began this year in domestic races for Brother UK-OnForm, reflects on her meteoric rise to the CAMS-Basso team and a place In the Women’s Tour." 

Becky Storrie

““I’m really, really excited. The past couple of months have really been a whirlwind: opportunities that I never thought would come my way.”

Hello and Welcome

Timothy John

"Hello and welcome to this special edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast to preview The Women’s Tour.

"Race organisers The SweetSpot Group have assembled a galaxy of starts for this seventh edition of an event widely regarded as the best organised on the women’s professional calendar. And with an unprecedented 26 British riders on the start line, the thousands of fans expected to flock to Britain’s roadsides will have plenty of homegrown talent to cheer on too. 

"Brother UK’s support fo this year’s race will reach new heights. Having sponsored The Women’s Tour since its first edition in 2014, and having served as Official Print and Results Partner since 2016, this year we’ll take provide a vital service on the road, courtesy of our Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews. 

"In this episode, we’ll hear from Phil Jones, Brother UK’s Managing Director and this podcasts’s co-host, on the additional challenges he and neutral service manager Tony Barry have embraced to build on their  success at The Tour of Britain. 

"Mick Bennett, the Race Director of both The Tour of Britain and The Women’s Tour, describes the early history of SweetSpot’s standalone women’s race, describes SweetSpot’ success in establishing a gold standard for the women’s sport, and reveals the challenges his team have overcome in bringing it back to British roads in after a year’s Covid-enforced hiatus.

"Sophie Wright, a ‘graduate’ of a Brother-sponsored team, now racing in the Women’s WorldTour for Alé BTC Ljubljana, describes the significance of the race to her Italian team and the personal importance it holds for a British professional with few opportunities to race on home roads.

"And Becky Storrie, whose meteoric rise has taken from appearances in the National Road Series for the Brother UK-OnForm development team to her debut in a Women’s WorldTour race for CAMS-Basso, shares her excitement and expectations for the biggest race of her career."

Part One - Neutral Service p/b Brother UK at The Women's Tour

Timothy John

"The Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews made an impressive debut in international racing at this year’s Tour Of Britain. 

"Driver Andrew Bramhall compared the step up from supporting top-tier domestic events to driving in The Tour of Britain’s race convoy to a footballer moving from the third round of the FA Cup to the Champions League final. 

"Phil Jones, Brother UK’s Managing Director and this podcast’s co-host, naturally took the closest interest in their performance on the road, having been instrumental in the detailed planning phase, up to an including sourcing, racking and wrapping a third vehicle."

Phil Jones

“What I really heard more than anything was just the sheer professionalism of the drivers and the mechanics. I watched every single stage. I recorded the live highlights. I went through the entire race, minute-by-minute, mile-by-mile, because I was very, very interested to understand the role of the cars, when they’d be up, what the demands would be: all that kind of stuff. I did have it on the 30x forward wind on Sky at times, when the racing was very quiet. But it did allow me to realise what was going on. 

Timothy John

"The opinion of Mick Bennett is also worth hearing. As Race Director of the Tour of Britain, as well as The Women’s Tour, Mick held more than a watching brief on the progress of our neutral service crews in SweetSpot’s world-class men’s race. How, then, does he think Neutral Service p/b Brother UK will fare in the race convoy for The Women’s Tour?"

Mick Bennett

“First and foremost, I think hats-off to Brother, Phil Jones and the whole of the neutral service team because, as a result of Covid, our previous neutral service supplier, Vittoria, with whom we have a long-standing contract, couldn’t travel or weren’t willing to travel with the quarantine issues we have in the UK. I think they had events tight up to the Tour of Britain as well, which I think would have prevented them leaving the hotel for anything up to eight days, even with PCR testing. 

"I think one negative is far outweighed by the fact that Brother, Phil Jones, had this wonderful netural service facility, albeit only two vehicles. We run a three-car neutral service as a Pro Series event, which the Tour of Britain was. And I think the guys - and woman - rose to the occasion. I think they did a splendid job. 
 
"Given that they’d never operated three vehicles in one race before, to operate three is a very different challenge, and for them as a crew and a team and a facility , because they had to get all of this kit together and bikes as well to fit the other car. 

"Some of the stages are shorter so the fatigue of the drivers will be less - well, I hope so - but it could be more intense, because the changing pattern of women’s races, latterly the last five or six years has really improved and there tends to be more consistency among the level of athleticism within the riders. I did a short calculation there are 26 British riders in this race. Some of them - I’m guarded when I say that - may not be used to being in an event at this level and at this intensity."
 
Timothy John
 
"Mick is absolutely right of course when he says the dynamic of modern women’s racing - world-class athletes racing at full-gas - is the same as the men’s. His observation that some of the British debutants might face a significant challenge in competing against the world’s best is accurate too, and we’ll hear plenty on this topic later in this episode from recent Brother UK-OnForm graduate Becky Storrie. 

"Where the two pelotons differ substantially, however, is in their technical diversity. When it comes to the breadth of wheels and components that Neutral Service p/b Brother UK will be required to support, the Women’s Tour looks set to provide a far greater challenge than The Tour of Britain, as Phil Jones explains." 

Phil Jones

“We were already in touch with SweetSpot to understand how many teams were coming, which was sixteen. We then went away to investigate what group sets they were running, and the super spreadsheet was replicated. Very interestingly, what that’s told us is that the demands on neutral service for the Women’s Tour are going to be very different to the Tour of Britain. In fact, there’ll be more demanding. 

"There is a greater variety of wheel sets in play. In fact, we’re going to be carrying more wheels than we carried for the Tour of Britain. I think that, in itself, creates a slightly more complex technical environment than we experienced previously. 

"Within those sixteen teams, we have five running SRAM. That’s a lot more than was in the Tour of Britain. You heard already that you have two teams running Campagnolo, and we have eight teams running Shimano: a mixture of rim brake Shimano and disc rotor Shimano. When you do the maths on it all, that is eleven different types of wheels that neutral service has to be able to service at the side of the road. I think we need a trailer, Tim, for this one 

"It’s going to be very, very interesting. Certainly, some of the insights that we were able to bring to people who follow us on Instagram, when we did the takeover with Sigma Sports, when I pointed to the roof of the car was that we put red tyres on SRAM wheels, so that when the mechanic jumps out of the car and needs to service a SRAM groupset, he knows straightaway to look for red. 
 
"It might well be that we put a different coloured tyre on the Campag, albeit I think they will be kept inside for the Women’s Tour with predominately the SRAM and the Shimano, probably the rotor wheels, given priority for when the mechanic jumps out of the jump seat." 

Part Two - Opportunities And Inspiration

Timothy John 

"This year’s Women’s Tour will underline the race’s position as the most respected stage race on the women’s professional calendar. Its sixteen teams include all nine with UCI Women’s WorldTour status: the female sport’s highest rank. 

"Sophie Wright, who made her breakthrough with a Brother UK-sponsored domestic team, is now a fully-fledged professional with the Italian UCI Women’s WorldTour squad Alé BTC Ljubljana, led by Spanish champion Mavi Garcia and Swiss champion Marlen Russer. 

"For Sophie, stars like Great Britain’s defending champion Lizzie Deignan, and the two riders who accompanied her on the podium when the 2019 edition concluded in Pembrey Park - Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Amy Peters - merely add to its appeal."

Sophie Wright 

"I guess it just gives the race more value when you have these big names turning up because, again, that’s how you get bigger crowds. This is what we want, really: we want more eyes looking at our racing because this will attract more sponsors, more TV time etc. So having big names is a great thing.

"It’s like hosting an event and having the world’s top singers coming along. It just kind of adds value to the event and a bit more prestige, I guess. It makes it a good race to be part of because if you’re racing with the top riders, you just automatically assume that it’s going to be a great event if they’re putting it on their calendar. 

"You’re not going to go to every single race. We have our specific calendars for the specific races we’ll be targeting. It’s coming towards the end of the season. Some riders will finish their seasons early, but you’ve still got the big names coming to the Women’s Tour at the end of the season then it just goes to show that it is a sought-after race."
 
Timothy John 

 

"For Sophie, racing wheel-to-wheel with the world’s best female riders is simply part of the job. Professional sport can never be described as routine, but having competed at the sport’s highest level since catching the eye of professional squads with her scantling ride for Team GB at the 2018 European Championships, she will be highly familiar with the pace and intensity of the Women’s WorldTour peloton. 

"For Becky Storrie, who moved from triathlon to cycling just two years ago, and who began this season competing in British Cycling’s National Road Series for Brother UK-OnForm, the Women’s Tour represents a very steep learning curve. Luckily for this gifted climber, the ease with which she manages even the steepest trajectories applies as much to her career progression as her riding style."

Becky Storrie
 
 “It’s an incredible opportunity. I’m very excited. When you go through the list of those names, it’s incredibly daunting, which I think is only to be expected, especially going back to my first stage race. What a debut stage race to go for. I mean, go big or go home, as they say. I’m just trying to turn those fears into excitement and concentrate on the positives that are going to come out of this experience. Six months ago, if you’d said I was going to be racing in the Women’s Tour, I would’t have believed you. 

 

“I quite enjoy throwing myself in at the deep end. That’s how I learn best. I feel that you’ve just go to sometimes. I feel almost in my situation that I’m making up for lost time. I only joined the sport two years ago. I don’t have time to waste. I’ll take any nuggets of information that anyone’s willing to give me; any advice, I’ll just grasp, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and I’ll just try again. 
 
“I'm very much a ‘throw me in at the deep end, and I’ll give it my best shot,’ kind of girl."

 

Timothy John

"A glance at the start list for this year’s Women’s Tour is enough to confirm that deep ends don’t get much deeper in women’s professional cycling.  While a harder, hillier course might have better suited both Becky and Sophie, neither will doubt that the depth of talent assembled for this year’s Women’s Tour is as deep as for any race, anywhere. Here’s Mick Bennett." 

Mick Bennett
 
“We’ve got a stellar line-up. It’s just amazing. I think our only absence is Anna Van Der Bergen, who’s no longer racing. The field speaks for itself - it will be an amazing line-up on the start-line in Bicester - but also the fact that we have 26 British women lining-up alongside those stellar riders is descriptive of where the sport has gone. Who thought that we would have 26 British riders on the start line? It shows where the sport has come to. It would have been lovely to have had Zoe Backstedt in the race: the newly-crowned world junior champion.”

 

Timothy John

"Zoe Backstedt, who pulled on the rainbow jersey of world junior champion just three days before we recorded this podcast, is only the latest in what might accurately be described as a golden generation of British female cycling talent. 

"Brother UK has played its part, sponsoring the teams that provided an early platform to riders like Becky, Sophie and the sensational Anna Henderson, surely the rider of the elite women’s road race at the recent world championships, but what is the source for this seemingly inexhaustible well of talent? Here’s Becky." 

Becky Storrie

 

“I don’t think I could point to what’s driving it, but when you list those incredible women that we have, they're role models for young girls or just people wanting to join the sport. It’s all about having people to look up to at the end of the day; people to be like. 

"The world championships were incredible to watch. We had such a strong Great Britain women’s team. Obviously, being a cyclist, I’m biased, but I just thought it was brilliant But I’m sure, even not being a cyclist, there were lots of young girls out there or young boys saying: ‘Wow! Look how far women’s cycling has come.’ Just all the role models that we have: how can you not be inspired?”

Timothy John
 
 "Becky is right to identify the inspirational aspect of women’s road racing or indeed any road racing. Professional cycling suffers chronic commercial instability as a result of being free-to-view from the roadside, but what it loses in revenue it more than recoups in its ability to excite, enthral and inspire.
 
"Phil Jones saw stage five of the recent Tour of Britain from inside a Neutral Service p/b Brother UK support vehicle and reports that the crowds that some had feared would not return after its Covid-enforced absence came in their thousands. Now, he hopes, they’ll turn out in similar numbers for The Women’s Tour. 
 
Phil Jones

 

“It was absolutely bonkers. It really was. I mean, there were hundreds of thousands of people at the sides of the roads. It was incredible. Particularly around the sprint stages and the climbs, the crowds were just wonderful: the noise, the excitement, the fancy dress. All of the things that we love to see, it was there. You’ll have seen some of the riders really playing up to that, encouraging the crowds as they went through at the front and in the break. They were loving it. 

“For me, seeing it all come back again was just so good, and I really, really hope that we see with the /Women’s Tour, likewise those same crowds come out. Normally with the Women’s Tour, you’re looking at around something in the region of 300,000 people by the side of the road. It’s a very, very significant professional racing event here in the UK, and I want to encourage everybody to get out and see it.”

Timothy John

 

“If the scale of the support creates an indelible impression on those inside the vehicles of the race convoy, imagine how much more inspiring it must be for the riders in the peloton. The athletes are unquestionably the stars of this travelling show. Little wonder then that the team buses parked in the start and finish towns hold such a magnetic attraction for the fans. Sophie, who views the sense from the inside out and a seat on the other side of the tinted glass, takes her responsibilities seriously.”

Sophie Wright

 

“I like to take time for the fans, I guess, because if you can inspire just one person, it’s great, especially these young riders, or whoever. The fans can be five years old or eighty-five years old. We’re all sharing the same passion. That’s the great thing with cycling and road racing: anyone can turn up at the side of the road and cheer; just stand outside their houses. 

“I love it too when you’re going past the schools and you can just hear this massive roar from the kids. Maybe, they go home and they say: ‘Today we watched a race come past. I want to get a race bike.’ It’s great to think that we can inspire people because, ok, at the end of the day, we’re doing our job, but this is what we love. At the end of the day, if we can inspire people along the way, then, brilliant.”
 
Timothy John

 

“It’s interesting to hear Sophie describe the roar that greets the peloton whenever it passes a school. Road cycling’s ability to inspire children, and in an age where the pressures on young people are often intolerably high, is heartening, 

“Race Director Mick Bennett, bearing the burden of ultimate responsibility for the safety of everyone participating in the Women’s Tour - crowds, riders, convoy drivers and moto pilots - can seem a tough operator when the race is on, but even he is not immune to cycling’s emotional and inspirational appeal.”

Mick Bennett

“What got me into cycling at a late stage, when I was sixteen or seventeen, was I went out to watch the then-Milk Race, That inspired me, and I didn’t really have a bike. I thought: ‘This looks amazing.’ And it was the whole day. 

“I very often use the example of a school child getting up very early in the morning, having prepared their lunch for the day with their parents, and saying: ‘I’m going to school today. For a school project, I’ve designed a jersey, and I’m going to carry that  poster at the side of the road, and I’m going to show that.’

“No one might even see that poster but the fact that they’ve prepared for the one, two, three days prior to going out to stand at the side of the road just to see this whole, colourful caravan go by, to me is inspirational.

“Even when I see it, I think that child has stood for the whole day at the side of the road. And you see whole flocks of them stood there in their school uniforms, which have been neatly pressed. And the teachers are there and extra barriers. 

“I wave at them, and they scream. They’ve no idea who’s in the care or what he is, but the motorbike caravan goes through: 30-odd police bikes. Lights going, sirens going, high-fives. You wave out of the car, and it’s like being a pop star [laughs]. It’s so uplifting. I’ve even forgotten the question, I’ve got so carried away. “

Part Three - Television And Organisation

Timothy John

“Professional cycling has a less sentimental side. The clue is in the title. Professional sport must generate revenue if it is to survive. Road cycling, as a show that offers free admission to its roadside audience, faces a perpetual state of existential crisis. 

"For women’s professional cycling, whose growth curve might be mistaken for the steepest Alpine climb, the criss is more pronounced. The ambition of its teams and riders for greater television coverage often collides with the complex and financially-motivated world of broadcast rights. 

"This year, the Women’s Tour will not receive live television coverage, in contrast to the recent Tour of Britain. For Becky Storrie, desperate that her sport receives an equal share of the spotlight, it’s not good enough.”

Becky Storrie
 
“I think it’s incredibly disappointing, to be honest with you. Personally, I think it’s a real shame, because that has a knock-on effect on women’s cycling as a sport. Without coverage, how are you meant to inspire the next generation. They’re not going to know about it. Coverage is everything. It’s the same for the sponsors. Sponsors put in a lot of money and effort into supporting women’s cycling teams, and how are they getting that return? An hour’s highlights? That’s highlights. It’s not the full race. I feel that we deserve more than that. I am incredibly disappointed about that. It is a real shame.”
 
Timothy John

 

"Race Director Mick Bennett says SweetSpot shares the riders’ disappointment. He blames a UCI regulation mandatingf 45 minutes of live television coverage for Women’s WorldTour events and warns that the unintended consequence will be fewer women’s races. 

"He maintains that the prime time slot secured by SweetSpot for an hour-long highlights package of this year’s Women’s Tour will offer greater viewing figures than 45 minutes of live coverage in the working day, and maintains that broadcast is still fair superior to fledgling alternatives, like streaming."

Mick Bennett
 
“Bear in mind that this was a regulation that was brought in by the UCI without any consultation with an race organiser at WorldTour level. And when it was announced at the UCI Congress at the end of 2019, there was absolute uproar, because organisers were currently forced to - as some have - to cancel their events and not move on with it because, quite simply, they couldn’t afford it.
 
“It was not our intention. We signed an agreement very early on with Eurosport and GCN to broadcast this live, but the economics would simply not stack up this year. We could not do this, as much as we desperately wanted to.

“‘We looked into whether we could stream this event, but there’s just not the coverage that you’ve got in some of the other countries in mainland Europe, and we couldn’t have a programme that took you ten minutes to buffer a signal. 

 

“We felt that with the contracts we have with iTV and with other countries around the worlds: we would had to have sacrificed that, just to show a forty-five minute [highlights] programme. It didn’t make practical sense, or economic sense.  
 
“The viewing figures we will have for the [highlights] will far outweigh what we would have had for the live programme. We’re on at eight o’clock at night, prime viewing time, and the numbers we get for that and then it goes out globally, for a [live] one-hour programme of the final 10 riders of the individual time-trial, doesn’t make sense.
 
“I think the UCI needs to re-look at that because other organisers are in uproar about it.”
 

Timothy John 

"A parallel debate exists around whether women’s races are more successful as standalone events, like the Women’s Tour, or joint presentations, like the Ardennes Classics." 

"Sophie is strongly in favour of standalone races for women and argues that cycling fans benefit when organisers like SweetSpot spread the action across separate events." 
 
Sophie Wright

 

“I think that when our races are bolted onto the men’s races: firstly, we have to get up at a ridiculous hour. We’re eating breakfast at 5am, if we’re racing at 8am or 9am.  It almost feels like: ‘Right, quickly get the women’s race done and dusted and now time for the main event - the men’s race.’ That’s kind of the feeling I get. And, of course, they show the last 30km of the women’s races and the whole of the men’s race. 

 
“It has positives and negatives, because, of course, you do have the crowds who are going to be travelling and making the effort to go and see the men’s race, so then they think: ‘Ok, let’s arrive a few hours early to watch the women.’ But then, kind of in the back of your mind, you’re thinking: ‘These crowds are only here because we’re the warm-up act.’
 
“By having your own, standalone event, you’re sure that the crowds are there for you: to watch the women’s race, to cheer on the women, and that makes you feel that you’re part of your own event, rather than quickly get it done in the morning and now time for the main event, so I think it is really nice that the Women’s Tour isn’t bolted onto the men’s Tour of Britain.
 
“And, actually, it gives the cycling fans in Britain, it’s kind of like, having your birthday and Christmas presents all on one day, or you have them at separate times of the year, and it kind of spreads the occasion.”
 
Timothy John

 

“Mick Bennett justifiably claims a leading role for the Women’s Tour which was launched as a standalone race back in 2014, when the women’s sport was far less developed than it is now.”

Mick Bennett

 

“There was a groundswell of support for women’s racing in this country, but I think we were the pioneers. We were right at the forefront of that. 

“We struggled to get a sponsor from the beginning, but then Friends Life stepped in, and they saw the absolute benefits. “Again, I keep going back to the public at the side of the road. Do you judge the success of an event by the public that come out to watch? Do you capture their imagination? Do you meet their needs, if you like?”

 

Timothy John 

“Despite ongoing arguments about the logistics and coverage of the women’s sport, there is little disagreement that the Women’s Tour is the best organised of any women’s race. 

“From vast crowds to equal prize money to four and five-star accommodation for the riders, many athletes in the Women’s WorldTour consider it to be head and shoulders above other races, some  with longer history and grander reputations. Here’s Sophie.”

Sophie Wright

“Equal prize money is another massive bonus. The good organisation, nice accommodation etc. - it all adds up to the kind of whole, encompassing this great race. 

“When I talk to the riders on my team, the majority of whom are Italian, they really like the Women’s Tour: they say that its a very well-organised event,  you stay in good accommodation, good logistics and they also especially like British porridge at breakfast time! Maybe that’s the reason they come along!
 
“It’s a six-day race. It’s a proper race. You get the WorldTour teams coming along. For me, I see it on the calendar as being one of the best races of the year, but maybe I’m just biased because I’m British, but I genuinely think that my Italian team see it as a very prestigious race and one of the main races on the calendar.”
 
Timothy John
 
“Mick Bennet is comfortable talking the talk on the quality of experience the Women’s Tour provides to its teams and riders, secure in the knowledge that his race walks the walk.”
 
Mick Bennett
 
“The main reason that they come here, riders from abroad, is word of mouth from the other riders who have been here before. We have more prize money than the UCI sets: something like 40,000 Euros in prize money. They have increased contracts now, all the teams and riders. We give them four/five-star hotels. We give them amazing facilities within the hotels. The food is second to none. All of the menus are designed by us for the riders.
 
“Their teams and officials get accommodated in car parks. We have a team waiting at the hotel for them to arrive, and we help them to park, plug them into power supplies, give them additional water supplies, extra towels, extra ice.
 
“And all of that, as well as facilitating them at a finish. We have changing accommodation for the riders behind the podium. Heaters. I’m going to use the phrase ‘marginal gains’, but marginal gains to enable the riders to have the most comfortable facilities, within reason, to race in this country.
 
“Couple with that is the size of the crowds at the road and the adulation that they get. It’s off the scale.”

Part Four - The Route

Timothy John

“The route of the 2021 Women’s Tour is compact and largely flat: a six-stage parcours of just 535km across England’s central belt, starting in Bicester on Monday October 4 and ending in Felixstowe on September October 9. 

“For Sophie Wright, a formidable climber, a course with a total ascent of 4846m offers little opportunity to demonstrate her skill, but the speed and intensity of a world-class peloton, not to mention the huge crowds expected to line the route, should make the 2021 Women’s Tour one to remember regardless.” 

Sophie Wright

“It really does make a huge difference. I saw at the world championships in Belgium: the crowds were 20 people deep, probably more in places, and the roar from the crowds was just amazing. The Belgian riders must have just felt such a massive boost of adrenaline. 

“You have adrenaline anyway when you’re racing, but just to see the British flags waving, makes me feel very fortunate to have these supporters coming out to cheer me on. I just have a lot of respect for them because they’re taking their time to come out onto the roads and support us and just share the passion of cycling, which is just brilliant. 

“It’s lovely to see people at the end and familiar faces will come up to me, and we’ll have a chat. There are people on the domestic scene which I haven’t seen for a long time, since I used to do nationals etc. It will be really nice just to catch up with familiar faces and fans from young and old. 

Timothy John
 
"Phil Jones will be far from alone in looking forward to stage six from Haverhill to Felixstowe and the Women’s Tour’s route through an area to which the public is denoted access. Even high-security military bases, it seems, welcome a bike race."
 
Phil Jones
 
“When I was looking through the route, I was really excited, because one of those particular stages, which is stage six, goes right through the middle of Wattisham Airfield again, which is the home of the Apache helicopter and the guys from the Army Air Corps will have two Apaches parked either side of the runway, and the riders are going to go straight through the middle of it, and I think this is wonderful, wonderful stuff, because it will make for great television.
 
“It’s absolutely awesome. I was lucky enough to go to Wattisham Airfield a couple of years ago and just see what goes on there. Genuinely, it’s a super impressive thing, but I just think, even for the riders, to be steered onto that airfield…
 
“The public won’t be allowed on Wattisham Airfield. It’s a very, very secure military base, but it will make for a wonderful helicopter shot as they fly over and see these two Apaches with the peloton whizzing straight through the middle of them. That will be exceptional.”
 
Timothy John 
 
 "Like Sophie, Becky Storrie is happiest when the road points skywards, but she has a talent for time-trials, too. Her Women’s Tour debut coincides with its first time-trial stage: a race of truth on a pan-flat course just a shade over the classic 10-mile distance, in the Warwickshire town of Atherstone."
 

Becky Storrie

“I would have preferred, obviously, a few more climbs thrown in there, although I am really, really looking forward to the individual time-trial which I believe is the first edition this year in the Women’s Tour. That is incredibly exciting. I love a time-trial. It brings a whole new dynamic to the race, so it will be really good to see how I fare against the best riders in the world in that discipline. 

“That’s kind of my goal, looking into it, is to enjoy it. It might not be the course that I would have designed, but I’m sure it’s going to be hard no matter what. I don’t think I need to worry about that. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to the time-trial.“

Timothy John
 
“In summary then, the 2021 Women’s Tour is compact and achievable, in logistical and sporting terms. It might be described fairly as an edition for our times as the nation recovers from the psychological and economic scars of Covid. The grand finishes in Whitehall and the stunning climbs of Carmarthenshire seem far distant, but surely it is in SweetSpot’s plans to place the riders on bigger stages as soon as circumstances allow? Here’s Mick Bennett.”

 

Mick Bennett

“That’s a good question. I haven’t really got a direct answer, other than we respond to whichever regions and venues want us, and then we make a six-day tour around that. 

“Would we like to go back to the centre of London? Yes, we would, but, as I said, our paymasters are teh regions and the venues: we can only go where we’re invited to and welcomed to go to, and that’s always going to be the challenge. 

“Would we like more days? Yes, we would, but those extra days have to be paid for. We also have Covid protocols now, just to add to the burden. My team here has done a fantastic job, just managing our way through the Covid protocols, issued by our government and also the UCI. 
 
“We’re still running this on very strict Covid protocols, with each team operating in its own bubble and that means a separate floor for each team in each hotel, because you can’t have a team spread over for floors of a hotel. You’ve got to have one floor. 
 
“More parking in the car park, electric supplies, water supplies…all of that. The team here do a fantastic job, and they have done so for many years."

Part Five - Netural Service p/b Brother UK - Continued

Timothy John

"We started this episode by considering the technical challenges the Neutral Service p/b Brother UK in-race support crews might face at the Women’s Tour and, seeing that this is the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, it seems only fiting to end on the same topic. 

"After the unqualified success of their Tour of Britain debut, it would be easy for our crews to consider the shorter, more compact Women’s Tour a simple task. Phil Jones is on guard against complacency,. He warns that The Women’s Tour might even be a tougher assignment." 

Phil Jones
 
“I think another really interesting characteristic for the Women’s Tour vs. The Tour of Britain, is that in the Tour of Britain, most of the teams had two team cars, so that when the break goes, they have one car up the road and one sitting with the bunch.  There are one or two minor exceptions to that, where we had guest teams come over who only had one vehicle. They rely on netural service a lot, lot more.
 
“Now because of the nature of women’s racing and funding and sponsorship and all of those things, I think we’ll see fewer, two-vehicle teams, and because of that there will naturally be a greater reliance on neutral service to  either support riders in a bunch or in a break. The dynamics are really going to change here. I think we’ll be much more active on the Women’s Tour.
 
“A great outcome for neutral service is that we’re not needed. That’s the best outcome for us in a race is that were’ just a comforting presence: if you need us, we’re there. The best outcome is that we’re never needed: no crashes, no technicals, nothing like that, and the whole thing ends up being a nice drive around Britain’s roads, frankly. But having done a lot of the pre-planning, my view is that certainly it’s going to be a much busier Women’s Tour than it was a Tour of Britain.”
 

Timothy John 

"Mick Bennet is another who sees in The Women’s Tour the potential for a demanding engagement for Neutral Service p/b Brother UK. As race director, it’s natural that Mick would identify the athletic component: specifically, what could turn out to be a gulf between the superstars of the Women’s WorldTour and less accomplished riders making their debut in a race of the highest level."

Mick Bennett

“If the disparity between the top end and the lower end of athletic performance is something to be guarded against, neutral service at the back could be anything up to 20 minutes to half-an-hour down on the front group, and that means, potentially, you could be hitting people that are tired of waiting for the race to pass, and could well be having roads reopen. As many of the listeners will know, we run a rolling road closure here, rather than a total road closure 

“And listen to the radio. Stay on alert. Stay focussed and concentrate, because when you don’t, and I’e done it myself, when you’re not concentring, that front group is on top of you in the blink of an eye.”

Part Six - The Final Word

Timothy John 

"The 2021 Women’s Tour will bring to an end the drought of top-level women’s road racing on British soil when it rolls out of Bicester on Monday October 4. 

"Like so many of the things we enjoy in life, the race was forced last year by Covid to take a back seat, but its return this year offers further evidence of the slow return to normality. 

"The opportunity for rising stars like Becky Storrie to make her Women’s Tour debut shows too that life never stands still. It’s a mark of the fleeting nature of youth and peak athletic performance that at 24 she admits to having no time to lose. 

"Let’s leave the final word, then, to Becky. Recently graduated from Stirling University with a first-class degree, and still more recently crowned Scottish road race champion, she is the very definition of a young woman in a hurry. 

"Fate has handed her an opportunity at the Women’s Tour that she is determined to make the most of." 

Becky Storrie
 
“What makes it extra special is that it’s a home race, and that kind of makes it less daunting. I mean, watching the men’s Tour of Britain, that was incredibly exciting, and I feel really grateful, and excited for the opportunity to play my part in the women’s race, alongside the newly-crowned world champion.
 
“On the other hand, it’s very daunting, for what will be my first stage race, which is terrifying, because it’s a big stage race. I’ve just come back from the RAS, but, unfortunately, I was caught up in a crash on stage one, so I never got to finish that stage race, so I’m hoping this will be much better this time around. 
 
“We’ll have lots of team meetings beforehand. I think, if we’re just looking at the team, we can see a mix of youth and experienced riders. For the likes of people like me, who are new to the sport, to really soak up every bit of experience and learn from the people in my team: Hayley [Simmonds] and Natalie [Grinczer].
 
“It’s an opportunity for me. Just throw me in at the deep end, and I’ll play whatever role I can just to help my team-mates and have a good time, hopefully, as well. That’s the main thing!”

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 @roadphil for cycling and @philjones40 for business and leadership.

"Sophie Wright is on Twitter and Instagram @SophieKWright8.

"Mick Bennett is on Twitter at @mickbennett2.

"And Becky Storrie is on Twitter at @becky_storrie and on Instagram at @beckystorrie.

"You can follow The Women’s Tour @TheWomensTour on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"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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