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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 33

Episode Description

Domestic cycling’s winter of discontent and the green shoots of recovery represented by a thriving National B scene fall under the microscope of co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones MBE in an episode to preview the 2023 National Road Series. Race organiser Deb John and rider Sian Botteley offer additional insights.

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Episode 33: 2023 season preview

Episode contents

  • 00:02 – Intro
  • 00.37 - Hello and Welcome
  • 01:58 – Part One: Uncomfortable Truths
  • 08:26 – Part Two: Killer Bs
  • 16.13 – Part Three: Root and Branch
  • 23.24 – Part Four: A Classic Edition?
  • 31.40 – Part Five: Reasons to be Cheerful
  • 37.00 – Stay Positive

Transcript

Introduction

Timothy John

“If your passion lies in elite British road racing and you want an inside line on the teams, riders, organisers and sponsors that make this sport such a compelling spectacle, you’re in the right place.

“I’m Timothy John and joining me for every episode is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones.”

Phil Jones 

“Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be here. We’re going to use this platform to talk about all the key issues surrounding the sport. With special guests, deep dives into hot topics and plenty of chat, we’ll keep you informed about all things UK racing. Stay tuned!”

Hello and welcome

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this new edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, where we today we’ll look ahead to the 2023 National Road Series, which starts this Sunday with the Anexo/CAMS Women’s CiCLE Classic. Sian Botteley from Hutchinson – Brother UK, who’s ridden every edition of this trailblazing, mixed surface race, will be our guide.

“We’ll celebrate a superb victory for Sian’s Hutchinson-Brother UK team-mate Tammy Miller at the Peaks 2 Day stage race and investigate whether high-quality National B races are evidence of renewal from the grassroots. Race organiser Deb John, co-founder of Cold Dark North, will share her insights.

“We’ll reflect on what might accurately be described as British road racing’s winter of discontent and discuss the wider effects of an economic downturn on the domestic sport. And we’ll celebrate the many reasons still to be cheerful, from the continued success of young British riders to August’s UCI World Championships in Glasgow. 

“Joining me to discuss all of these issues and many more is my co-host Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK. Phil, thanks for joining us.” 

Phil Jones

“Hi Tim. Good to be here.” 

 

Part One: Uncomfortable Truths

Timothy John

“Well, as we mentioned off-air Phil, there's a lot going on in domestic road racing at the moment, and, unfortunately, a lot of it is very bleak. 

“The Tour Series is on hiatus until 2024, while race organisers The SweetSpot Group search for new backers. Their strategy is to target local authorities in larger towns and cities. 

“Now, arguably SweetSpot faces an even tougher challenge with its Women’s Tour: a world-class women’s race facing a £500,000 funding shortfall, despite the support of Brother UK. They’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign, but let’s not a put a gloss on this, they’ve got a mountain to climb. 

“We’ve seen another British-registered, UCI Continental men’s team fold. This time it’s AT85, which is Tim Elverson’s team: a squad that’s been at the sharp end of domestic road racing for nearly a decade. That is a very serious loss.

“Ribble-Weldtite, another leading, British-registered UCI Continental men’s team, announced over the winter that it wouldn’t return to the domestic peloton in 2023, and Ribble has

since launched the Ribble Collective with a series of riders competing across different disciplines. 

“More positively, Simon Howes, the general manager of our own Brother UK - Orientation Marketing development team, has found new sponsors for his UCI women’s team. The squad that last year raced as CAMS - Basso will the year compete as DAS - Handsling.

“And while we’re continuing on a positive theme, Brother UK has renewed with both of our women’s teams: The team that last year raced as Brother UK - LDN will this year compete as Hutchinson - Brother UK, and we’ve moved across to facilitate Hutchinson’s arrival as co-title sponsor. And, of course, we’ve renewed with Brother UK - Orientation Marketing.

"And we continue as Official Print and Results Partner and presenting partner for the Green Zones both at the Women's Tour and the Tour of Britain.

“Phil, are these the toughest times for domestic road racing that you’ve witnessed in the time that you’ve been following this sport closely?”

Phil Jones

“Yes, they seem to be, Tim. I’ve been following the sport now, domestically, for around 10 years or so, and I can't remember a time when there seemed to be so much negative news about. Of course, part of our job here is not to dwell on that unnecessarily, but just to, really, I guess, talk around a few uncomfortable truths. 

“However, it’s not all bad news. There is some really good stuff going on, which we’re going to cover today, I know, but absolutely I can’t recall a time when not only was it just about the entire scene, but sponsorship - large races not finding commercial sponsors and teams folding - concurrently. 

“There seems to be quite a storm here at the moment, doesn’t there, and, I guess, what we’re interested in is what is the pathway through this, and what will the scene look like after a

lot of all this stuff has played out?”

Timothy John

“Well, that’s a very good point. You’re perfectly placed Phil to comment on this as the leader of a major business. From my much narrower perspective as a cycling journalist, it’s tempting to view this as a phenomenon unique to the sport, but there is a significant downturn occurring in the wider economy, isn’t there?"

Phil Jones

“Without a doubt and when these downturns occur, the first thing to go is what we call discretionary spending. Businesses baton down the hatches in the same way that households baton down the hatches. Businesses do the same thing. They examine all their costs, where they’re spending money, and, of course, we’ve all got cost pressures in the business right now, including payroll. 

“People who work for my business, and the news is dominated by pay awards in the public sector. Money has to be found to fund these pay increases that people are asking for to meet the expectations of employees.

"Discretionary spending, and this can include sponsorships, marketing investments, various other things, tend to get put on hold, curtailed or ceased. The money is swept into different buckets.

"So, whether you’re in the public sector, or you’re in the private sector, both sectors are under a lot of pressure now, and that is clearly playing out in the environment that we’re seeing for people like Sweetspot having great difficulty finding somebody, frankly, with big enough pockets to fund, as title sponsor, the Women’s Tour.”

Timothy John

“Yeah. Another excellent point, and Sweetspot mentioned local authorities specifically, didn’t they, when announcing a pause this year for the Tour Series. Councils, local authorities - call them what you like - these are the lifeblood of the Tour Series, aren’t they?”

Phil Jones

“Yes. Public sector, local councils particularly, are the primary income stream for the Tour Series. Private sponsors, like Brother, that’s fine. We sponsored the Tour Series for many years. We ceased our sponsorship of the Tour Series last year to focus on the Women’s Tour and the Tour of Britain. 

“However, councils play a really big role in the Tour Series. It’s a very simple business model, really. Local council pays Sweetspot to come and put the bike race on. Local council then invites all the people that live in its vicinity to come and watch it.

"It links into active travel policies. It’s good for city centres and town centres because it brings visitors into the economy. Local pubs and restaurants do well out of it. Fundamentally, a spotlight is shone on that city when it’s on the telly. It’s a very simple model, really. 

“But we know now, because of everything that’s happening in government and the cost of living crisis, councils are really struggling because their budgets are being cut. They’re having to review all of the services that they provide, and as a result, they need to look at the investments they’re making, and despite the requirement for things like more active travel, if the money’s not there or they’re not providing the core services that they should be providing then of course everybody’s looking at them, and they have to explain why they’re spending their money on certain things.

“I think the guys at Sweetspot were having great difficulty  that funding envelope opened up to fund six to eight rounds of the Tour Series.”

Timothy John

“Well, extremely challenging conditions across the board, whether private or public, as you very succinctly described, Phil.” 

Part Two: Killer Bs

Timothy John 

“Well, we said we’re going to be positive, and goodness knows we’re going to try, and we’ve got a real reason to be cheerful in the success of the National B scene. 

“We can sit here and scratch our heads and wonder what’s to be done about the domestic road scene, Phil, but there are people like the Yomp Bonk Crew, Cold Dark North, Marc Etches who are just getting out there and putting on high-quality National B events. 

“Is this evidence of the sport recalibrating, and rather than waiting for a top-down solution, pursuing a grassroots solution instead?”

Phil Jones

“Without a doubt what we can't be is dissatisfied with what’s going on around the B road races. These organisers are doing a brilliant job and putting on fantastic races. What is the difference between National A races and National B races? Well, lot’s of technical things, and one of the organisers, Deb John, is going to talk about that in a little bit more detail, but the reality is that they’re lower cost to organise, nowhere near the same amount of governance around those particular races, so they’re actually a little bit easier to put on. 

“As a result of that, we’re seeing organisers react to that. They’re saying, ‘Ok, there aren’t enough [National A] races, so we’ll put these races on.’ Very interestingly, what we’re seeing now is a lot of the elite and UCI teams, because of a lack of A races, dropping into the B races. This could be a bit of turning point where, effectively, a lot of these teams do turn up at the B races, fundamentally to make sure they keep their race fitness and keep the riders on the road. 

“That should mean that the Bs might become a very, very competitive scene. I mean, it’s already competitive, but suddenly it could become a very, very different scene to that that has

been in the past.”

Timothy John

“Absolutely. Just look at the National B races we’ve had already this season: the Perfs Pedal Race, won by Jack Rootkin-Gray, who had a stellar domestic campaign last year for Saint Piran and lit up the Tour of Britain and posted some impressive results in Belgium. His team-mate, Alexander Richardson, won the Jock Wadley. Teenage sensation Cat Ferguson won the women’s race at Capernwray, a week before winning the junior Trofeo Binda in Italy. I mean, measured by any standard, these are very high-quality riders, and they're choosing National B races to start their seasons.

“Now, a moment ago, Phil, you mentioned Deb John from Cold Dark North, and I managed to catch up with Deb shortly after another hugely successful edition of the Capernwray Road Race. Let’s hear now from Deb, who can provide an inside line on the challenges and satisfactions of organising a National B race.”

Deb John

“I love racing. I just love it. It’s such a great spectacle. Having raced Capernwray myself, and knowing how difficult it was, when I was given the chance to organise it, I leapt at it. I don’t know if you’d call it fun, but the satisfaction, and the response from women and men, has just been fantastic. Incredibly satisfying.

“It has to be a closed road to be a National A, which involves a lot more expense, in terms of the police closing the roads, barriers, the equipment that’s used, timing chips, etc, etc.

Those things are quite difficult. The roads are very narrow in places, so geographically, from a practical perspective, it might be difficult.

“I’d have to talk to somebody else about those requirements. I don’t know if I’d want to take that on. That seems more organising with large bodies like local councils and county councils and raising vast amounts of funds: tens of thousands. I’m not sure if I really want to go into that, although I would always be up for helping or being involved in doing something like that.”

“There’s a basic number of kilometres that you have to cover for it to meet a National B standard. It can be less, depending on the altitude climbed. Capernwray has over 1500m of climbing, so it means it doesn’t have to meet the limit of kilometres; you can do slightly less. 

“[The field size] depends on the circuit and what the BC risk assessment for the circuit is for how many people it allows. You can sometimes ask for dispensations, but, in all honesty, I

think that 60 is probably a good number for the courses that we have around here.

“I couldn’t run them without the NEGs; without the expertise of the comms, who know the courses, who have to drive the courses beforehand. We put out all the signs. We have a great guy, Alan Roper, who always delivers all the signs. He’s incredibly helpful about everything to do with signage. We put those out the day before. 

“The comm will drive the course first thing in the morning, taking notice of where everything is, the weather, the state of the roads etc., so he or she can deliver a good speech to the riders, informing them of any potential problems. 

“I couldn’t do it without the accredited marshals, which is a fantastic thing that British Cycling have introduced. They’re trained, they have the ability to stop traffic for a certain amount of time, they have a uniform so people take notice of them, rather than just somebody waving a red flag.

"And I couldn’t do it without the small team of people who help me at all my races. Some of them aren’t even cyclists, but they really love the buzz of being involved in organising it, so that’s great.”

Timothy John

“So, great to hear there from Deb, Phil - someone you know personally. I know the you’ve experienced the Cold Dark North proposition first hand.”

Phil Jones

“Indeed, I have. I went up to join Debs and Toby on a ride. It was some years ago now, Tim, it’s got to be said, but it was an absolutely beautiful route. It was the Lune Coal Road. Beautiful, beautiful. Very, very challenging climbs. 

“Debbie is a very capable individual on a bike. She’s about half my size and half my weight, so trying to chase her up any gradient was near impossible. Her and Toby do a great job up there. I think they are a template for what can be achieved with a bit of effort and determination, coordination and some willing volunteers.”

Timothy John

“Absolutely. Chapeau to Cold Dark North, who this year are organising the National Hill Climb Championships on The Struggle, so fair play to them, and, if we’re looking for a reason to be cheerful, the continued success of Deb and Toby and the Proper Northern Road Race Series is something to celebrate.”

Phil Jones

“The recent Peaks 2 Day looks like a cracking little race as well. It looked really challenging. All the teams were up for it. It looked a cracking race.”

Timothy John

“Well, you made a very good point a moment ago, Phil, when you asked what is the difference between a National A and a National B, specifically in terms of the quality, and if you look at the start list for the Peaks 2 Day, you would have to say, very little, especially on the women’s side, where two out of three of the British-registered UCI Continental teams were present. 

“I mean, th route, too, I think bears comparison, although Nat Bs are much shorter than National A races. Mark Botteley, the manager of Brother UK - Orientation Marketing, described

the [Peaks 2Day] route to me as, quotes, “savage”, and wondered how many riders would have finished if stage two, particularly, had been any longer!

“It was interesting to see Ed Clancy, no less, a three-time Olympic champion, just turn up at a race held almost in his backyard, and Ed made the point on Twitter that whatever’s happening to the sport at the higher levels, at the grassroots, at races like the Peaks 2 Day, the scene is thriving.” 

Part Three: Root and Branch

Timothy John

“Well, the new National Road Series is nearly upon us. It starts this Sunday with the Anexo/CAMS women’s and junior CiCLE Classic, and we’ll discuss this in detail a bit later. 

“But for now, let's take a high-level view of the series, and the most recent statement from British Cycling was to announce an extra round. The men’s competition moves to five

rounds, and the women’s competition moves to six rounds, and that additional round will be held in East Cleveland. 

“Now, East Cleveland has previously hosted a round of the National Road Series in the form of the ‘Klondike’, which proved a happy hunting ground for Brother UK-sponsored teams the last time it was held, back in 2019. Anna Henderson won the women’s race for Brother UK - Tifosi p/b OnForm, that's the team now called DAS-Handsling, while Scott Thwaites finished third for Vitus Pro Cycling Team p/b Brother UK. 

“The National Circuit Series, along with the National Championships, which we now know will be held this June in Redcar and Cleveland, is British Cycling’s other major proposition in domestic racing. That has six rounds for men this year, five for women and both competitions include the showpiece events in Otley and Ilkley. 

“As we mentioned earlier, there are just two, British-registered UCI Continental men’s teams now, following the sudden conclusion of AT85: St Piran, who are doing a really good job, and Trinity Racing, which exists to get young riders into the WorldTour and, my goodness, they’ve had some success with that. There are three, British-registered UCI Continental

women’s teams this season: AWOL-O’Shea, DAS Handsling, and Lifeplus-Wahoo.

“Phil, we’ve already said that the National B scene is thriving, but let’s consider that from the other end of the telescope. The amount of National A races held each year grows fewer and fewer. Have we reached the ceiling of what can be achieved with a volunteer-led model?”

Phil Jones

“Well, you would think so, given where things are at right now. I’m sure everybody around the scene, people who’ve raced for years, retired professionals, commissaires, you name it: everyone is looking at this and saying, ‘We feel sad about it, but the reality is, it’s going through some restructuring, some reorganising, some recalibrating,’ but clearly this just needs a root and branch review here. Somebody needs to lead a root and branch review of this scene. 

“I know there’s been an awful lot going on on social media and traditional media, talking about the demise of the scene. It will find its way through. Whether it will look like how it does today, we will see, but I think the question that needs to be asked is, what will the value be for a UCI Continental team if they’re going to still race in the UK? 
 
“Only having two teams on the men’s side, three women, then, fundamentally the number of teams now able to compete and provide competitive racing in these A races is beginning to reduce. Naturally, they are going to end up going abroad to get their race programmes totally fulfilled, and the number of seats available for riders coming through the system is also

becoming smaller because, really, that’s been the springboard, has it not, to get yourself onto a Continental team to perhaps springboard up into the WorldTour. 

“The reality is that with the scene dwindling, becoming smaller, then, fundamentally, everything becomes smaller around that. The scene begins to shrink. Somehow all of these stakeholders, and one would have to say perhaps being led by the federation, British Cycling, need to look at this and say, ‘Ok. Well, what do we now do? Let’s have a strategic plan that we can use to rebuild things.’

“Clearly, there are some difficulties back at BC. They’re recruiting for a new Chief Executive again. As a result, the federation will just be ticking along right now without much strategic intent. That can only mean that the length of the road, the runway to try and resolve all of this, just gets longer and longer and longer. I’m not sure how much longer we can all wait for

an intervention of some kind. 

“In the short term, the B racing will just carry on as usual, but, fundamentally, a root and branch review is going to be needed on how the sport funds itself and how people like Sweetspot, who are running some of the largest races in the country, which bring overseas teams and hundreds of thousands of people out onto the street, if there is ever an advert for active travel and the joys of cycling, then there it is. Maybe it may even require some sort of government funding. Who knows.”

Timothy John

“Well, I think all options have to be on the table now, don’t they? We don’t want to get past the point of no return with this. You make a very good point about an unfortunate lack of strategic direction and leadership at British Cycling while they search for a new Chief Executive, but something has to be done to try and place this scene on an even keel.`’

Phil Jones

“I think another interesting point, Tim, is I looked at a spreadsheet earlier today, and I looked at the teams that we had sponsored since we've been sponsoring within the UK domestic scene, and that all began in 2017. If you look at all of those team names, almost all of them have changed. They've either changed or failed. They've started under one name, gained new sponsors, which is great, and year-after-year, sponsors have been retained or left, or the team has failed, and that would normally be as a result of a commercial sponsor changing their mind. If you look at any of those teams, a thread goes through them, fundamentally. 

“Interestingly, AT85 started out as Canyon - Eisberg in 2017. We were one of the first sponsors of that team back then. That team has had a number of different sponsors and turned into AT85. I can only imagine AT85 may have been impacted by all the things that were going on in the Silicon Valley Bank drama. That could have influenced their decision to  stop

discretionary expenditure which, suddenly, at very short notice, meant the end of the team.

“Nobody wants that, but the funding model of cycling teams has never been any different. It just goes from year to year to year, and these teams come towards the end of every year hoping they’ve got a sponsor for the following year. It’s never been any different. That’s the key thing. It’s probably not going to change as far as the commercial model is concerned, but it’s how do these teams continue to provide returns to their sponsors if the racing scene is shrinking? It relies on the riders being on the road, generating the publicity, generating awareness, creating content and all that kind of good stuff. Everything is linked and interdependent.”

Timothy John

“Well, some valuable observations there, Phil. Elite and professional cycling are unquestionably a complex system where interdependency is key, and where some kind of intervention, whether from the federation or even the government, seems increasingly likely."

Part Four: A Classic Edition?

Timothy John

“Let’s try to keep things positive. Let’s move on now to discuss the opening race of the 2023 National Road Series, and that, of course, is the ANEXO/CAMS Women’s and Junior CiCLE Classic. This is one of the most cherished races on the domestic calendar, and it’s brilliant that, despite all of the challenges that we’ve discussed, it returns, year after year. 

“A separate race for men, of course, which is a UCI-certified event and so attracts an international field. The women’s race is now firmly established as a fixture on the National Road Series. It has a new title sponsor, Anexo, which provides replacement vehicles for motorists caught up in no-fault claims, and CAMS, the Cycle Accident Management Service, well, last year they sponsored Simon Howes’ UCI Continental women’s team, so great that they’re on board with Colin Clews' race.

‘Hutchinson - Brother UK is sending a very strong squad, following their overall victory at the Peaks 2 Day race with Tammy Miller, and Brother UK. - Orientation Marketing will be, literally, racing on home soil: team manager Mark Botteley is a recognised expert on the CiCLE Classic. He grew up around those lanes, he’s raced on them and knows every inch of the course.

“Phil, how important is the CICLE Classic to the domestic women’s road scene?”

Phil Jones

“Well, I think that is a genuinely brilliant race. The combination of on-road and off-road. It’s a fabulous circuit, it’s always challenging, weather conditions can change it. However, I think it’s a credit to Colin Clews and the team of people, the volunteers, who put that race on, because he has consistently run that race since 2014, when the juniors started racing - I think James Shaw won that year - and, of course, the women’s edition from 2016. 

“That’s meant for all of those years, he’s got the funding, the organisation, he’s got everything absolutely spot on. The only year that race hasn’t run was 2020 when we had Covid. I think it’s a very, very important race on the domestic calendar, no doubt. All of the riders really look forward to that race. 

“We have previously talked about the role of neutral service. Brother are no longer sponsoring the neutral service vehicles any longer; however, it is the busiest race of the year for neutral service vehicles, with wheels and punctures and all those other things. Nowadays, more of the riders will be riding tubeless, so they can prevent punctures as much as possible.
 

“It’s really key race, all the riders love it. It’s a real spectacle and a very, very, very important race on the calendar.”

Timothy John

“Now, as we mentioned, we’re determinedly seeking out reasons to be cheerful, and one not to overlook is the exponential growth and rising standard of women’s racing in this country, and when you look at the start list for this edition - Sophie Lewis from DAS Handsling, Mary Wilkinson from Team Boompods, Flora Perkins from Fenix-Deceuninck, Jo Tindley, from Pro Noctis - Heidi Kjeldsen - 200 Degrees Coffee, another former British criterium champion. I mean, there is quality throughout this field. We’re not looking at a scene-setter for the men’s race. It’s a separate event with a very, very strong field.”

Phil Jones

“Without a doubt. When you look at the teams, they’re all bringing their best riders to his particular event. Everybody wants to win it.  All the riders want to win this race. It requires such brilliant bike handling skills.

“Normally, the field dwindles down, doesn't it? There are probably around 119, 120 riders start, but only 25 or 30 make the end. It’s a bit like Paris-Roubaix. Your luck on the day can determine whether you’re going to be in that group of 30 or not. If you’re one of those individuals who has a technical problem, or your positioning's not great and a break goes, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to catch it due to the nature of the roads, and the nature of the riders and how they ride for this particular event, so you’ve got to be on your game. 

“Looking at these squads, there are some seriously strong women riders who will be, I’m sure, gunning for victory.”

Timothy John

“Absolutely. It’s a super hard race, and who knows it better than Sian Botteley of Hutchinson - Brother UK? Sian has ridden every edition of the women’s race, and, as a child, she used to go and watch the men’s race. It’s a course she knows intimately, making her a very, very qualified source. Let’s hear now from Sian.”

Sian Botteley

“How many times have I done the race now? Well, I’ve done it every year it’s been on, so six or seven. It’s just something a bit different. We don’t have anything else like that in this country. 

“I think it throws a lot of people: the fact that there are off-road elements; perhaps not quite so much now as it did a few years ago because the rise of the gravel scene in this country has been quite steep over the last couple of years and there are a lot of riders who are good cyclo-cross riders and stuff like that which makes the off-road bits easier for people.

“You’re perhaps always going to have an affinity with a local race that you’ve grown up watching, and that’s definitely the CiCLE Classic for me. I grew up watching it with dad. He knew the roads like the back of his hand, and now that’s the same for me. I know every corner of that circuit. I used to work in an office that was on the Borough-on-the-Hill circuit; the one you

do three times. The roads are very familiar to me and that definitely makes it quite special. 

“I think the biggest thing about it is that you have to be smart when riding those off-road bits. You don’t want to be fully on someone’s wheel because you can’t see what’s coming, you can’t see if there’s going to be an enormous hole, which is fairly likely on some of the sectors. I think there’s definitely an element of making your own luck in the CiCLE Classic. There are going to be certain things that you can’t avoid, but you can make life easier for yourself by riding sensibly. 

“The rest of the circuit shouldn’t be underestimated either. It could quite easily lull you into a false sense of security if you are new to the race. The first 15km, I reckon, is pretty open. The roads are quite wide. It’s all quite safe, and then you turn into Owston, and you’re immediately on a road that’s [only] wide enough for two people with grass up the middle, and then you’re onto all the narrow little lanes, and you’re on pretty narrow roads for the next 50km or 60km. It can blow to pieces quite easily if it’s a hard race. 

“All of those skills are a big part of it. You definitely just need to use the skills that you’d use in any other road race and be sensible with your positioning and just use your head, really,

and conserve energy where you can, because it’s really quite a hard course from an up-and-down perspective, as well as the technical nature. 

“The most likely scenario based on how it’s played out for the last few years would be a reduced bunch sprint. It’s quite an attritional course in general, which ends up with the bunch whittling down. I don’t think there have been more than 30 people left at the end, going for the win. 

“You can definitely play a team game. I’m not necessarily going to reveal what ours is, but you definitely can do that!”

Timothy John

“So wonderful to hear there from Sian, Phil. It’s impossible to overstate how valuable her knowledge will be to Hutchinson – Brother UK. She’s already led a recce ride around the lanes of Owston and its immediate vicinity. It’s fair to say, I think, that she knows every inch of the CiCLE Classic course.”

Phil Jones

“Without a doubt. The managers will be really well prepared too with clear race strategies. When you look at who’s won this race in the past, particularly on the women’s side, the first year it was won by Becks Durrell, who’s a very, very capable rider, and the year after that, Katie Archibald. You see that it really lends itself well to…if you look at those individuals, very strong criterium riders, in their own right too, so I just wonder whether that raw power that they possess is one of the key rider attributes that makes a successful winner of the CiCLE classic.”

Part Five: Lifting Stones in the Long Grass

Timothy John 

“Just in commercial terms, Phil, Anexo and CAMS are on board for the CiCLE Classic. We’re seeing Rapha and WattBike already starting to activate their sponsorship of the Lincoln Grand Prix. Is there a positive story to tell here: that the blue riband British races are attracting sponsors?”

Phil Jones

“Yes, indeed. New sponsors have emerged for 2023, and you’ve only got to look at Ian Watson’s squad. We’ve made a move to co-title this year because he’s got a bigger, better, larger-spending sponsor, which is great!

“If I look back at part of our journey into the sport, invariably what we’ve done when we’ve sponsored teams is brought other sponsors to the sport or the team, and we’ve moved from title to co-title or gone off to sponsor a different team. What I’m not saying is that it’s all down to us. I’m not saying that, but the more commercial people who are in a sport, other businesses are attracted to that and wonder why you’re there and want to accrue the same benefits that they perceive might have been gained by you. 

“There is and there are sponsors coming to the sport. We just have to lift more stones and look in this long grass to find some new names because entry into the domestic sport, the actual cost of entry, is not significant, relative to other sports. If you looked at football, if you looked at rugby: some of these real big, big, number sports, you can get a lot of brand

exposure for not a lot of money. 

“I think if we are going to be in recession, and we start to talk about getting value for money, then that is probably a pretty good thing for cycling, because it does offer that, and I know that because we’ve been looking at our ROI for many, many years now, and we get a good ROI out of the things we spend our money on, so it is there. I just think we need to make a better effort, a more coordinated effort, to bring additional sponsors to the sport at all levels.”

TImothy John

“Well, hear, hear, Phil. That’s a powerful message that I don’t think is delivered often enough: that a business like Brother UK, a major business, finds that cycling delivers ROI, year after year. That’s wonderful to hear and great that these races, whether it be Rapha and WattBike at Lincoln or ANEXO and CAMS at the CiCLE Classic, are attracting new sponsors, even during these very challenging times. 

“And that leads us rather nicely onto our concluding thought which is reasons to be cheerful, and I hope that doesn’t sound tin-eared or tone deaf to the challenges that our teams, riders and races are facing. We know that there are very real problems, but we know also that there are very dedicated people, determined that the show will go on. We’ve talked

already about Cold Dark North, the Yomp Bonk Crew, Marc Etches: there are a lot of good people out there fighting the good fight, and that’s something to celebrate. 

“We’ve got new and creative race organisers putting on brilliant races. We’ve got some new money coming into the sport. We have an abundance of British talent, whether it be 16-year-old Cat Ferguson, or the most recent Rayner graduates: Harrison Wood called up by Cofidis for his first Monument Classic at Milan-Sanremo, Sam Watson on the attack at Nokere Koerse. The talent pipeline hasn’t run dry, and, to cap it all off, later this year, we’ll have the UCI World Championships on British soil in Glasgow. 

“I don’t think the sport has run out of road just yet, Phil. There’s a brighter future on the horizon.”

Phil Jones

“Without a doubt. I’m what’s called a positive pragmatist. You have to deal with uncomfortable truths. There’s no point running away from them. But when you’re dealing with uncomfortable truths, you have to have a plan. I think that’s the only thing that’s lacking that I can see at the moment. I haven’t seen a strategic plan anywhere that says: ‘Ok, the pathway out of this looks a bit like this.’ It’s being left to people as individuals to go out there and do it individually, rather than a huge coordinated effort. 

“If you look at the various different pockets you’ve just described, there are new sponsors and the B race scene is thriving. We've got a lot of passionate people doing their best out there to keep things moving. I think that’s pretty good; a pretty good place to start. 

“This isn’t the first time that the sport’s been in difficulty. Talk to any retired professional who raced 15 or 20 years ago, and they’ll talk to you about the highs and lows of commercial sponsorships: sponsors coming, sponsors leaving, teams collapsing. It’s just part of the sport. 

“The main thing is, let’s not panic, but more importantly, let’s get a plan together and bring the talent, the organisers, the teams, BC, all the relevant stakeholders, let’s get that better

coordinated, and let’s get a plan moving in order to begin to improve things. All is not lost. There’s a lot still to gain. 

“It think that’s the key point that I’m coming at this from: we can easily drown in negativity, but instead let’s just really look at it, stay pragmatic about it, but with a positive outlook that it can be turned around.”

Part Six: Stay Positive

Timothy John 

“One hundred per cent. Let’s stay positive, let’s celebrate those who are fighting to keep the sport on the road, but as your rightly say, Phil, let’s get a plan in place, let’s get all the stakeholders around the table, whether that be British Cycling, Sweetspot, GCN, or even Sport England and the DCMS.

"Let’s get all the stakeholders around the table and build a way out of this. We certainly don’t lack talent, and we don’t lack passion, and we’ll see both this Sunday at the Anexo/CAMS women’s and junior CiCLE Classic.” 

“Somebody we absolutely know will be there is Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK: that’s Larry Hickmott. You can follow Larry for live updates from the race on Twitter: @velouk or @aussielarry. You can also follow Brother Cycling. We’re @brothercycling on all three channels. 
 
“Phil, thank-you very much again for joining me today., and thank-you to everybody out there for listening.”

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