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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 21

Episode Description

Timothy John sits down with Route Director Andy Hawes outside a café in Ferndown, the finish town for stage seven of the 2022 Tour of Britain, to learn how the route of Britain’s biggest bike race is planned. 

Over coffee, Andy lifts the lid on his week-long, 2000-mile odyssey: a drive that accounts for his second full-route recce with Safety Manager, Steve Baxter. 

Andy describes the logistical and organisational considerations that inform his work, including the delicate balance between sporting and commercial necessities that must be achieved. 

He explains how he must envisage a professional bike race on an urban highway, enlarges upon the numerous safety concerns that inform his assessments, and reveals how the feedback generated by other races informs his ambitions for the Tour of Britain.

Listen now to enjoy a rare and privileged insight into the processes that inform the route of a world-class bike race. Follow @brothercycling on social media for news of forthcoming episodes. 

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Episode 21: Andy Hawes Interview

Episode contents

  • 00.01 – Part One: Dorset Calling
  • 05.48 – Part Two: Driving Ambition
  • 12.10 – Part Three: Planning The Route
  • 13.32 – Part Four: The Isle of Wight
  • 15.48 – Part Five: Shorter, Better? 
  • 18.30 – Part Six: Strength To Strength
  • 20.05 – Part Seven: Southern Comfort


Part One: Dorset Calling

Timothy John 

“You join us here live in Ferndown, believe it or not, which is a strange experience for me, because I’m from Poole. Cycling has always been my lifelong passion, and, believe it or not, the Tour of Britain is coming to Ferndown. Wonders never cease.

“The man who’s made that happen is sat opposite me, that’s Andy Hawes, the Route Director of the Tour of Britain, working for SweetSpot Group. Andy, it’s a town where not a lot happens and where, in September, an awful lot is going to happen, but I can see why you’re bringing the race here. There are some nice, big, wide roads.”

Andy Hawes

“Yeah. I mean, when we came here for the first time back in April, it was quite clear that Ferndown just lends itself to being a perfect host town for the Tour of Britain. The roads running into it are super wide.

"Literally, as we’ve just driven in here now, talking to my Route Safety Manager, Steve Baxter, I was saying: 'This is going to be such a fast run in.' There’s a dead left-hand turn with 700m or 800m to go, and then it just rises up gradually for the finish, so, yeah, there’s going to be a pretty spectacular sprint finish to this stage.”

Timothy John

“Tell me about your day because your day will have begun in West Bay today.”

Andy Hawes

“Yes, it did. It began 170-odd kilometres ago in West Bay. We rolled out through the 3.2km neutralised section and then we hugged the coast all the way to Weymouth, shot in-land a little bit and joined the coast again in Lulworth. 

“We dropped down again to Corfe Castle and the headed back in land up through Wareham and Blandford Forum, and then into Verwood, and then, literally, here we are in Ferndown.”

Timothy John

“The west of the county where you’ve just described - Lulworth, Corfe Castle - these are places where I go and ride my bike, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing for me to think that some of the best riders in the world are going to be racing over it. 

“It would have been a beautiful place for anyone to drive today, but you won’t have been taking in the scenery, you will have been taking in the technicalities of the route.”

Andy Hawes

“Oh, like yourself, I’m very, very familiar with Dorset. I was virtually brought up here as a child. We never had foreign holidays. We always came to Swanage. I love it. I know the county really, really well. I’ve had a lot of time to ride my bike down here as well.

"I know a lot of the history of the place. I know a lot of the towns and villages. It was nice to say to Steve as we were driving through, ‘This is this,’ or ‘There’s Corfe Castle,’ or Tyneham and Lulworth and the firing ranges and the tank museum. It’s going to be an amazing stage and shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Timothy John

“This is my cycling backyard, and I’m delighted that the race is going to be coming here. It’s going to be absolutely sensational.

“I saw when you got out of the car with Steve that he was clutching his i-Pad. Have you got some technical work to do in this area? What will you be checking now we’re in the very heart of Ferndown, where riders will be travelling at speed?”

Andy Hawes

“‘We’ll just make sure that the final run in…The last 10km of any stage are super important for safety. We’ve driven in a lot slower than the race, just so we can take in all the information and how we’re going to set it up, and how we’re going to take traffic light junctions. The last couple of roundabouts: whether we’re going to cut them or go right the way around them. 

“We’re just, literally, building up a picture. We’ve got one more route recce to do in about five weeks from today, which sis then four weeks from the event. I think we’re only about nine or 10 weeks from the event now, which is just crazy. 

“The final route recce is literally…it’s a tick box process where we’ve got everything written down. We know what we’re doing, we know how we’re doing it, and it’ just to make sure that,

come the day, this is how it’s going to work. 

“Verwood and probably 10kms before Verwood: I can see it now. There’s going to be an early breakaway. They’re going to snaffle up all of the king of the mountains points and all the sprints points, and then whoever’s on GC is just going to get the team to the front, turn the gas on, and it’s going to be full bore to the finish here.”

Timothy John

“Well, that really is what I wanted to ask you about: that leap of the imagination. You can do all the technical side. You can tick all the boxes, note all the traffic islands and all the rest of it, but you’ve actually got to be able to envision a professional bike race on the road in front of us.”

Andy Hawes

“Yeah, and it’s quite difficult sometimes, because when we’re doing the route recces, we’re doing the route recces in live traffic, and we’ve got everything going on around us, and I have to concentrate, primarily, on driving my car and doing everything legally.

“But, at the same time, I’ve got in the back of my mind, ‘Ok, right. We’re coming up to this junction. What’s going to happen when we get to this junction?’ We’ll ask for quite a bit of parking restriction, so we have to envisage what it’s going to look like with no parked cars.

“Quite often, when I’m on the back of the motorbike in the race, I don’t recognise somewhere because a) we’re travelling through so fast, whereas before we might have been backed

up in traffic or there were people there and no parked vehicles, so it’s quite crazy at times. 

“It’s literally, building that picture up about how we’re going to deliver it technically and how, possibly, it’s going to be raced as well. At the end of the day,  the riders will race it how they want to. The Tour of Britain has, in recent years, been quite formulaic. On a sprint stage, they’ll let the early breakaway go. They’ll mop up all the sprints and KOMs, and then, literally, whoever’s on GC will start riding with 20km to go. 

“With this last 20km as well, I’m happy for them to ride full gas, because they’re just brilliant roads. Everyone needs to look at the road book for today, if they want that breakaway to succeed because it is a possibility, but also, in the same breath, it offers that perfect situation where they could just close it down within a heartbeat.”

Part Two: Driving Ambition

Timothy John

“Now this is stage seven we’re discussing, stage seven of eight, which means, Andy, that at the beginning of this very long week you would have been a few hundred miles north of here.”

Andy Hawes

“Yeah, I was just looking at the car today. I left home a week ago today - Saturday last week - and today we’ve just  ticked over 2000m in seven days.”

Timothy John

“That’s a lot of driving.”

Andy Hawes

“I left Kent, where I live, on Saturday. Drove up to collect Steve from Leeds and then we went all the way to Aberdeen. We’ve driven every stage pretty much real-time for the last seven days. It’s been good. 

“It’s had some ups and downs as you can imagine. We were just finalising the sporting points, confirming that we’re going to have a King of the Mountains here, or a sprint point there,  or how we’re going to do this; where we’re going to do traffic management; where the run-in is going to be closed from. We’ve literally done that day after day after day, so I feel pretty tired now.”

Timothy John

“I bet you are! This is recce two of three.”

Andy Hawes

“This is recce two of three, so, literally, back in four weeks’ time. From here, we’re going to hot foot it straight down to Portsmouth, onto the old Wight Link ferry, straight across, and then we’ve got two nights in one hotel, which is pretty much unheard of; two nights at a hotel in Ryde.

“Then we’ll have stage eight tomorrow and then put our feet up a little on Sunday evening after we’ve driven. I might even go out. I’ve got my bike in the car, so I might even go out and put in a quick 30km or 40km. 

“Then I’ve got an early meeting on Monday morning with the Isle of Wight [council] and then back over on the ferry and back home.”

Timothy John

“So, arguably, the best is yet to come.”

Andy Hawes

“Yeah. It’s going to be one of the toughest final stages that we’ve done for a little while. Last year, I said that I thought the leader’s jersey could change on the final stage, and it did, on the finish on the esplanade in Aberdeen.

“Depending on what kind of lead that whoever is wearing the leader’s jersey brings into on the final stage, I think, again, it could quite easily change. I’ve driven the Isle of Wight route a number of times now, when we were formulating it. I’d never really been on the island and looked at having a bike race. I think this will be about the fifth or sixth time that I’ve actually

driven this route, so I know it quite well now.

“In April, I took the opportunity to ride the last 40km myself. I wished I hadn’t, because I think the last 40km has got something like 700m of climbing. It’s absolutely crazy, so don’t underestimate the final stage. Those 40km, depending on which way the wind comes on the Military Road: it’s either going to be a howling tail wind, like the day that I did it, or it’s going to be a crazy, crazy headwind. I hope it’s a tailwind for them because a headwind along there would be brutal.”

Timothy John

“One thing that’s absolutely certain is that it is going to look spectacular. The helicopter shots over Tennyson Down, over the Solent, the Needles…”

Andy Hawes

“And not just on the final stage: the helicopter shots on pretty much every stage this year…The opening stage on Aberdeenshire: when we went up there in April and did the first one, there was still snow everywhere. The Scottish Borders never fail to deliver. Then County Durham. We’re going up one of the toughest climbs that County Durham has to offer, and then the run down into Sunderland. 

“And then we shouldn’t be underestimating North Yorkshire. We haven’t had the race there for quite a few years now. We were there on Wednesday, and it was absolutely stunning. I know that they say Yorkshire is God’s county, and I almost agreed with my Yorkshire counterpart, but I just couldn’t. 

“Then into Nottinghamshire, and parts of Nottinghamshire are quite beautiful: the great forest that we go through. And then Gloucestershire, as we saw with the Women’s Tour, offered some spectacular scenery and some spectacular racing. And then Dorset. Oh, I mean the first visit…”

Timothy John

“Now we’re talking!”

Andy Hawes

“Now we’re talking! As we come up over the firing ranges, over Lulworth ranges…”

Timothy John


Andy Hawes

“Yeah, it is breathtaking. You’ve got the sea on the right hand side and the plains on the left…Yeah, I think this year is going to be visually exciting.”

Timothy John

“Yeah, I think the Jurassic Coast is going to stand up well to the scrutiny of the helicopter cameras."

Part Three: Planning The Route

Timothy John

“We’re saying now that this is your second of three route recces. The first you did back in April, but even that isn’t stage one, is it? The beginning of the process is the meetings with the councils; just getting everybody on board to host this race. When did that take place?”

Andy Hawes

“Oh, it all started a long, long time ago. Let’s take the Isle of Wight stage just as an example. We were talking to the Isle of Wight in 2019. We skipped a year. Something happened - I don’t know what happened - that made us lose a year.”

Timothy John

“A global pandemic, maybe?”

Andy Hawes

“That’s the one, yeah. Exactly. A global pandemic!

"We were planning way in advance for that [year], hence why I’ve done so many trips around the island. But, generally, we start 18 months, one year out. We’ll get some initial thoughts down on paper; some initial ideas on electronic maps, fire it across to them. Say to them: ‘Right, does this work for you guys?’

“Basically, we’re still tweaking. We’ve tweaked the route today. We made quite a big change yesterday to stage six, but the second route recce tends to be where it ends. We’ll make no more changes.”

Timothy John

“There’s a big logistical, a big commercial, I guess, process before you get your maps out and start planning the route. You’ve got to get the councils on board.”

Andy Hawes

“Oh, yeah. We have to make it work for the race as well. It’s all well and good that we’ve got Dorset, or let’s say for example that we had the Isle of Wight, but we really needed Hampshire to make it happen or we needed West Sussex so that it all fitted in so that we could decamp to Portsmouth and Southampton to get the ferries across. 

“So, yeah, it doesn’t happen by chance. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it.  One of the best and most exciting days of my year, and also can be the worst, is the national route

launch. Everybody says: ‘Oh, fantastic - it’s coming past my door,’ or it’s doing this, or it’s doing that. And then you get the others who say….”

Timothy John

“It’s not coming past my door!”

Andy Hawes

“‘It’s not coming past my door. How can it be the Tour of Britain? You’re not even going to Wales this year!’ But they’re so short-sighted that last year they had two stages. 

“We always have to make the race work for us. The race has to move in the right direction, because there are strict UCI rules in place about the transfer times and the amount of hours

they can be; also, our primary concern is looking after the riders. The riders are the people that we’re doing this for. If you upset the riders, that causes friction. 

“This race is absolutely spot on in the calendar for anybody who wants to do well in the world championships, and it has been for many years now, and it will continue. It’s a good warm-up race, because the riders come here, they know how tough the Tour of Britain is. It’s not days and days of flat roads and bunch sprints. It’s up and down. 

“The roads are so much heavier. It’s like a two or three mph drop in speed, and it always feels much harder. Anyone who wants to do well in the worlds is always going to come to the Tour of Britain over the Vuelta, hopefully.”

Timothy John

“Will that be true this year, given that the worlds will be 12,000 miles away?”

Andy Hawes

“I think this year may be a little bit different but I don’t know. If you look back over the years and the successes of people who have won the worlds, whether it be the road race or the time-trial, they’ve always made a bit of a show at the Tour of Britain. Let’s hope so. Fingers crossed.”

Timothy John

“Do you have a trusted pro who you can get to try out some of these routes? Do you have various pros in different counties who you can sound out?”

Andy Hawes

“Sometimes. If there’s something that I’ve come across that maybe I’ve never come across before or wanted to include, I’ll always ask a pro their thoughts on it. The last time we did that was when we had a time-trial in Bristol. It was a really big descent. We asked Alex Dowsett for his thoughts on descending a hill like that on a time-trial bike. He was like [it’s fine]. 

“I have to get it into my head sometimes. Yes, I’m a cyclist. I’m nowhere near pro level, but you look at it as if you would cycle it. You’ve got the full width of the road here. You’re going

to go kerb to kerb, gutter to gutter. I’ve got a real good feel for it now and certainly since I’ve been the regulator on the back of the bike. You really get to see what these guys can do. 

“Some of the venues that we speak to will say: ‘I don’t know how they’re going to get through that small gap.’ I have an analogy that I use with them now. I say, ’The peloton is just like a swarm of bees. They’ll come to something and then they’ll go around it. You never see a swarm of bees crashing into something. It’s very, very similar for the cyclists. They’re very good at avoiding hazards.’ 

“Having said that, they’ll probably crash into something now! There are always one or two [riders] who tend to find the bollard that, obscurely, is not marked. It gives them [the councils] an understanding of how the race moves.”

Part Four: The Isle of Wight

Timothy John

"You mentioned earlier about keeping riders on-side, about the logistical aspect and that kind of stuff. Tomorrow, or, in fact, in half-an-hour’s time, you’re going to experience the biggest logistical challenge, I guess, which is getting that race onto the Isle of Wight. How big a challenge is that?”

Andy Hawes

“Huge. [laughs]. You’ve just go to think from an organisational perspective: I’ve got 32 police motorbikes, a couple of police cars. I’ve got a further 40 civilian motorbikes that make the race run. I’ve got all the commissaires’ cars, the AA - you name it. I’ve got to get all of those onto the island, even before we’ve thought about the 20 teams. 

“We’ve said to the teams to bring reduced infrastructure over. Do they need to bring their equipment  trucks or can you get away with two team cars and the bus, or two team cars and a

minibus? We’re working through this process at the moment. We’re working through this process at the moment, but it’s huge logistics.”

Timothy John

“And the ferry companies are all on board?”

Andy Hawes

“We’ve got a great partnership with Wight Link. They’ve come on board. They’re there to help us out: to make sure that we get everyone on and off the island smoothly. Some people won’t be going onto the island until the morning. Other people will be going overnight, but, yeah, it’s a big logistical operation.”

Timothy John

“I was saying earlier, literally my first job as a cycling journalist was to sample a sportive on the Isle of Wight, and that was 2012: ten years ago. I know that the Isle of Wight councils were chasing the cycling dollar even then, and rightly so: it’s a beautiful place to ride a bike, isn’t it?”

Andy Hawes

“Oh, it’s fantastic. I was over there in April. I rode the last 40km. Foolishly, I forgot that I had to ride the last 40km back to where I’d left my car, so I did and 80km round trip. 

“The roads are fantastic. I know that Island Roads have spent a lot of money on making the roads some of the best roads that the race will be on this week. And then there’s the amount of traffic: it just seems different. I think because tourism is such a big part of the island’s economy, drivers are a little bit more tolerant of cycling, as well. I just felt super safe. As a cyclist myself, I loved it. 

“These guys, as pros, we’ve put some grippy little climbs in there for them. It’s not an easy final stage. It’s not going to be a parade lap of the island, shall we say.” [laughs]

Part Five: Shorter, Better?

Timothy John

“If the race remains in play to the final stage, as it did last year, you will have had a job well done.”

Andy Hawes

“I hope so, yeah. We’ve been to some completely different regions this year, and we have a right old mix of terrain. We’re mixing things up right from the word go with the opening stage finishing at the Glen Shee ski station. We always like to have a bit of a hill top finish but not necessarily on stage one. The climb up, while it’s tough, I’m hoping that it won’t effect overall GC because the main players are going to be there. 

“What’s interesting, and, again, this goes back to me riding bits of the route myself and thinking, ‘Bloody hell: this is going to be hard,’ and then I ride it and think, ‘Well, actually, I’m

getting up here reasonably well.’ These guys will probably still be in the big ring going up Glenshee because it’s not super tough.

“The rolling roads of the next three stages…The Yorkshire stage, on stage four, I think without a shadow of a doubt, it will literally be one of the hardest stages that we’ve done for a number of years. It’s super short, it’s about 147km, but, literally, if you’re not going up, you’re going down. Some of the descents are breath-taking. I’m going to have to tell my pilot to push on some of them because I don’t want to get caught.” [laughs]

Timothy John

“Funnily enough, we were talking about this during the recording on Thursday: this trend towards shorter stages. The two best stages of the Giro this year for my money, were those two circuit stages: short, but with action throughout. It seems like you’ve got something similar going on in Yorkshire.”

Andy Hawes

“It’s a bit of a common misconception. A long stage doesn’t necessarily mean a good stage. The riders think, ‘We’ve still got another 180km to go,’ when they’ve done 60km already. It just drags on. For them, certainly if it’s bit featureless - no big climbs to split it up - they’ll let the break go. They’ll let it go to six, eight, maybe even 10 minutes. They know that it’s probably going to be a sprint finish, and that’s when they’ll start winding it back in and maybe the last hour, 90 minutes of racing is the most exciting.

“Again, you know, as I said, this goes back the stage in Bristol. We had a stage that was about 135km, and I mean, from kilometre zero to when we crossed the finish line in Bristol, it was absolutely flat out. I think that shorter stages is what we need. 

“The first four stages is going to be pretty tough. The fifth stage in Nottinghamshire is going to give them a little bit of time to decompress a little bit. There are some super wide roads - long, straight roads where they can almost switch off - and they need that after the first four stages because they’ve got so much going on.  

“I guess it’s like any Grand Tour. The first couple of stages are nervy. I always try and put in an easier stage for them so they can switch off and recover and get ready for the final push - and they’ve got a final push this year.”

Part Six: Strength To Strength

Timothy John

“Well, we say every year, Andy, almost to the point of cliché that the Tour of Britain goes from strength to strength and the facts back up the hyperbole. Last year, it went to the final stage. The protagonists were a rider called Wout van Aert, a rider called Ethan Hayter: world-class riders. 

“You’ve been designing this route now for many years: where do you think the Tour of Britain stands in the pecking order? I know it was always SweetSpot’s ambition to be the fourth best. ‘We can’t compete with three-week Grand Tours, but among the week-long stage races, we want to be the best there is.’”

Andy Hawes

“I think we are. I think we are up there with the best there is. There are a handful of facts that back that up. If you look at social media stats, we’re the fifth biggest race, because I think Paris-Roubaix, although it’s only a one-day race, has a bigger social media engagement than us. It’s the Tour de France, the Giro, the Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Britain, in social media standings, which, thinking about today’s world where social media is king, we’ll take that. 

“We’re constantly thinking about what’s [going to be] the next big thing. I’m listening to podcasts, I’m watching the TV programmes, I’m listening to GCN and hearing the feedback; trying to see bits and pieces. 

“Some people ask, ‘Why are you not adding in gravel stages?’ Or, ‘Why are you not doing this?’ Just listening to feedback on other races and watching other races.

“I’d never criticise another race because we never know if we’re only one step away from that action that’s caused such and such. But there’s plenty going on, and I think at this moment in time, we’ll continue to build on what we’ve got: our relationships up in Scotland; hopefully, this new, reformed relationship with Yorkshire. There are so many undiscovered roads in Yorkshire, and Dorset, and other regions that are new to us.”

Part Seven: Southern Comfort

Timothy John

“Speaking as a southerner, I can’t thank you enough, as someone from Dorset, for bringing the race here.

"I understand entirely that Yorkshire has a recent history with the Tour de France and that British Cycling is based in Manchester and that the north of the country has always been a cycling heartland, but it’s absolutely wonderful to see Britain’s biggest race down here in Dorset.

“Andy, thank-you very much indeed for giving us your time today, right in the middle of your second route recce. Absolutely brilliant that you’ve taken the time out for us. I wish you every success in the weeks ahead.

"I don’t think I’m giving away any confidences when I say that everybody at Brother thinks that this is a wonderful race to be involved with. I think most cycling fans would say that the Tour of Britain is one of the best races in the world, and you’ve only got to look at the quality of fields that it attracts to validate that.

“Thank-you very much for all that you do for cycle sport in this country, and thank-you very much for taking time out to talk to us today.”

Andy Hawes

“No, it was my pleasure. Thank-you for the coffee. We even sat outside. What’s not to like?” [laughs].