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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 34

Episode Description

The 2023 season has offered action and intrigue. In this latest episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, are joined by rider Sian Botteley (Hutchinson - Brother UK) to consider developments ranging from Jon Dutton’s appointment as the new CEO of British Cycling to the postponement of the Women’s Tour.  

The Brother UK Cycling Podcast

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Episode 34: Intrigue and Action

Episode contents

  • 00.02 – Introduction
  • 00.38 – Hello And Welcome
  • 02.04 – Part One: Racing Round-Up
  • 09.49 – Part Two: Executive Decisions
  • 19.48 – Part Three: Grand Nationals
  • 27.40 – Part Four: Know Your Roots
  • 40.41 – Part Five: On Hiatus
  • 53.05 – Outro 
  • 54.51 - Social Shoutout



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. 

“Now, if you were hoping for a minute to catch your breath after the tide of headlines, race postponements, team announcements and  rider transfers that marked the early part of the year, your luck has been out. 

“Since our last episode, the Sweetspot Group announced that the Women’s Tour will join the Tour Series on hiatus in 2023, British Cycling has appointed a new Chief Executive and revealed the venues and courses for the 2023 National Championships, and there’s been highly-competitive, high-adrenaline, wheel-to-wheel racing – and plenty of it!

“In today’s episode, we’ll get a view from the sport’s grassroots with insights from Marc Etches, organiser of the Sheffield GP and Monsal Hill Climb, and from its pinnacle, with Peter

Hodges, Communications and Marketing Director for SweetSpot Group. 

“Joining us to discuss the action on the road and the equally intriguing developments behind the scenes are Sian Botteley, a vastly experienced rider with our own Hutchinson - Brother UK elite women’s team, and, of course, my co-host, Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK.

“Phil, Sian, thank-you very much indeed for joining me today.”

Part One: Racing Round-Up

Timothy John

“Well, I said in the intro that there’d been plenty of racing. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook, isn't it, given the number of announcements and developments behind the scenes, but, my goodness, the season is underway and with no clearer example that the CiCLE Classic. 

“The Anexo/CAMS women’s CiCLE Classic, to give it its full tile, won by Jess Finney of AWOL-O’Shea, ahead of Monica Greenwood of DAS-Handsling and Fenix–Deceuninck’s Flora


“Sian, of course, was fifth - your highest finish, Sian, I think, in your home race - and Tammy Miller, your Hutchinson Brother UK team-mate was sixth, another fine result in a campaign that has already yielded overall victories at the Peaks 2 Day and LeCol Classic. 

“Now, a couple of days ago, we had the men’s CICLE Classic, won by Luke Lamperti of Trinity Training, by millimetres from Tijl de Decker of the Lotto Dstny Development Team and James McKay of Cycling Sheffield, who recorded another superb result in an excellent season. 

“The other big result since our last episode was Ruth Shier’s victory in the Dave Peck Memorial, the opening round of the British Women’s Team Cup. That was Ruth’s second victory in

as many races, having won the Finsbury Park CC road race in Saffron Walden - her second solo victory in as many races, too.

“My goodness, Hutchinson-Brother UK are going well at the moment, Sian. Your team-mate, Lydia Watts, finished second to Ruth at the Dave Peck Memorial, so the team is on fire. What’s it like to be part of at the moment?”

Sian Botteley

“It’s really enjoyable being part of the team at the moment. I think we’ve built up some really good momentum to begin the season. It’s a really good group of people, and we all get on really well. We’re all really behind each other when we do well, and working towards a broader team goal is something that we all really get a kick out of. It’s just as nice if my team-mate wins than when I win myself, so it’s been a really nice year so far.”

Timothy John

“Well, you’ve taken it to the bigger reams overseas already, Sian. You rode in the - and I’m sure I’m going to mangle this - the Zuiderzeronde in The Netherlands, where, unfortunately, you crashed and had to abandon the race, so tell us about that.”

Sian Botteley

“That was quite disappointing for me, to be honest. The team took part in that race last year. The conditions were very different last year to those we experienced this year. I think last year there was driving rain and some quite severe crosswinds that they had to deal with. 

“When we were over there this year, it was quite tranquil in comparison, really. There wasn’t much wind. It was cold, for sure, but it was a sunny day, and although the conditions weren’t

as challenging, the racing was still very full on from the gun. It was as aggressive and as competitive as I was expecting it to be.

“A team of four of us went: me; Lydia, Charlie and Ruth. Although I’d race in Belgium before, I ‘d never raced in The Netherlands, so it was a little bit of an unknown for me. I think I found my feet quite well in the race. It was very hectic to begin with. The bunch riding was very aggressive, very technical, but I didn’t have a problem with it at all. 

“I think I’d made it through the more hectic part of the race. Roughly 20km in, I don’t think I’d ever been further back than 15th or 20th wheel. I was maybe 10th wheel when it happened. Somebody crashed on the right-hand side of the bunch, and it just ricocheted across to the left-hand side where I was, and I was on the floor before I knew it. 

“It was very frustrating because I think I’d done the difficult part, I’d made the split in the front group, and I was confident that I would have been able to stay there until the end because

it turned out to to be a bunch sprint, which suits my attributes as a rider. I was confident that I would have been able to pull off a good result. 

“Being on the floor half-an-hour into the race was quite upsetting to begin with, but, although I was very annoyed when I had to pull out and sit in the car for the rest of the race, when I thought about it rationally as the race went on, yeah, I was quite pleased with how I had ridden and how I had put myself within the right position to be able to achieve a result. 

“We’re still very early in the season, and I am going to Belgium this weekend with the confidence that I can ride at that level, and although I didn’t manage to pull off a result when we

went to The Netherlands, I’ve come away from that experience confident that I can.”

Timothy John

“We must just ask you to tell us also about the CiCLE Classic. You provided us with a very insightful preview in our last episode and then went off and delivered your best result by finishing fifth with a magnificent ride in a breakaway that stayed away.”

Sian Botteley

“I think I really surpassed my expectations with the CiCLE Classic, to be honest. I went in to the race fairly confident, and I knew, obviously, because I’d done it before, that I could get a result. It’s my home roads, and I know the roads really well, and I was confident that I could pull off a result. I was thinking that for me to achieve a result that I was happy with that the race would have to come down to a reduced bunch sprint as it normally does. 

“I was positioned well and made sure that I never got in any trouble. We were going over the Somerberg for the first time, and I think when I entered the Someberg, I was probably

the furthest back that I’d been. We were maybe 35km in, and I hit the sector maybe 20th wheel.

“I was overtaking people, and by the time we got to the end of the sector, there was a group of five and then a small gap and then me. I had to go quite hard to cross the gap to the leading five, but I had looked ahead and clocked who was there and thought: ‘If a move is going to go, that’s going to stick away, and I need to be there.' 

“I buried myself to get across to it, and when I got there, I looked around and I'd dragged a couple of people with me, but then I couldn’t see anybody else. I thought: ‘This is unfamiliar territory for me,’ because I’d never been in a proper breakaway like that before. 

“It was hard, and we were going pretty hard for the first five kilometres that we were in the breakaway, and I was starting to think that I might be overstretching myself a little bit. We

were working well and we’d pulled out a good gap straight away. We got a time check of over a minute within five kilometres.

“I was finding it quite difficult, and then suddenly [team-mate] Tammy [Miller] appeared, and I have never been so pleased to see anybody in my life! Tammy is such a strong rider, and I knew that having her there would really make a difference. 

“We kept getting time checks and the time kept going out, and it was all a very unfamiliar situation for me, being in a breakaway like that, but I think the whole experience has been a good confidence boost for me, and although I knew I could get a good result before it, as I said, I thought it would have to be a bunch sprint. 

“Immediately after I’d finished, coming fifth in a breakaway of six when, as a confident sprinter, I was thinking, I should be able to do better than that: I’d never been in a breakaway

before, and I’ve taken more confidence from that ride - from being in a strong breakaway - than coming third in a bunch sprint.”

Timothy John 

“Well, having seen the huge outpouring of congratulations on social media in the aftermath of that race, Sian, your performance certainly didn’t go unnoticed. 

“Phil, the women’s CiCLE Classic: it’s some race, isn't it? An absolute monument of the British calendar.”

Phil Jones

“All credit to you, Sian. I know you went in confident, but to take away those learnings as well. That was the earlier point that we made: you’re improving as a rider, for sure, and this is giving you extra confidence, and the team is all suddenly rising up. We’re seeing this team confidence come, and you’re coming to those races, thinking, ‘We can win this. Regardless of whether you’re a Conti team or not, we think we can win.' That brings a certain attitude which I think is great for domestic racing and international racing.”


Part Two: Executive Decisions

Timothy John 

“Well, what a brilliant way to start this episode: with insights, literally, from inside the race. 

“Now, I said in the introduction that only some of the action in British road racing since our last episode had taken place on the road. Quite a bit of it has courted in the boardroom, as

well, and who better to ask about that then Phil, so we’re extremely lucky to have Phil with us. 

“What I’m referring to here is British Cycling’s appointment of a new CEO: that’s Jon Dutton, who becomes the federation’s third chief executive in three years. Now, I hope that isn’t misleading. They haven’t chopped and changed on annual basis. Julia Harrington left the organisation in January 2021 and was replaced by Brian Facer, who left on October 31, 2022 with, and I quote, “by mutual agreement of the board of directors". Now that, of course, came in the immediate aftermath of a very controversial sponsorship deal with Shell. 

“Jon seems to know a bit about cycling. He served as, quotes, Director of Readiness, for the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de Yorkshire, and is currently on the board for Glasgow’s hosting of the UCI World Championships this August.

Phil Jones

“Well, he seems on the face of it, a very capable individual, Tim. Those coded words - ‘by mutual agreement’ - are words that we all use in large enterprises to say something is not working, and there’s normally a breakdown in confidence or communication between the board of directors and the chief executive. It could be one or it could be the other: the CEO is frustrated with the board, or the board is not happy with the way the CEO is performing. Clearly, to come in as the third person within a [short] space of time is going to put a lot of pressure on you as an individual to go: ‘They need to get this right.’ 

“If you look at Jon’s credentials, they all seem to be there. He seems like a very capable individual who should do a good job, but you have somebody now who really does need to steady the ship. You really need to steady the ship now. They’ve had crisis after crisis that they've been trying to deal with and, of course, the third of those being the announcement of the Shell deal, which didn’t land at all well from a PR perspective..Although commercially it ticked an incredible box, it was almost a PR disaster when you looked at the reaction on social media. 

“BC as an organisation has multiple things that it needs to do. It needs to win medals, and then, of course, it needs to make sure it goes away and increases participation because Sport England wants that and UK Sport wants that. But then we’ve got this bit in the middle of the sandwich where we're interested: who’s going to look after and be the passionate

supporter of the UK road racing scene in the UK in amongst all of that? 

“I read Jon’s announcement. I can see that he rides a bike, which is great. He’s obviously done lots for cycling, which always helps. I really hope that, as far as his first phase in the business, and I’m going to use another big, horrible, corporate bingo word - in his ‘discovery period’ - in your first 100 days or so, you should be asking a lot of questions and listening a lot.

“I hope during that discovery period, he gets to read all of the strategic documents that have been written about what needs to be done, he goes and talks to all the people who have an active stake holding in making this happen, and then he really does listen and goes away and begins to execute and do something because I don’t think we’re lacking ideas, we're not

lacking resources, we’re not lacking people who feel passionately about it. What we really need now is a bit of execution, don’t we? Why don’t we get things moving?”

Timothy John

"Absolutely. When we talking off-air Phil, you mentioned that one of the challenges to getting things done will be the immediate departure of Acting CEO, Dannielle Every. Dani will leave British Cycling in Spring 2023, according to the statement, so right about now, to become the Chief Operating Officer at the PGMOL, which oversees professional football referees and match officials in England. 

"Now, I don't think anyone can criticise her effectiveness. She oversaw a number of detailed strategic initiatives at British Cycling, including five-year plans for each of the federation's eight sporting disciplines, and for road cycling that 'The Road Ahead,' published in 2021. 

“Phil, just how does a large organisation gain and retain momentum when there are so many shifts at board level?”

Phil Jones

“It’s really, really difficult, particularly  when you’ve got somebody who’s been there a long time and understood it all. Sometimes, you’ve got to understand the wiring: how the work works. You’ve got one thing that can appear on a PowerPoint slide or a strategic slide and then the reality of how the work gets done: who does it, who needs to traffic things along, and things like that. 

“Clearly, for me, at such an important time, if you’re walking in as a new CEO, and, at the same time, someone as important as Dani is saying, ‘Well, I’m leaving,’ it leaves a big

vacuum. You don’t have that knowledge that you can lean on: that person who becomes an important pillar in your first three months or so. 

“My view is that clearly something is going wrong. Clearly, there is something around the way the board is operating or the culture which is leading to this dysfunction of some kind. You’ve got the governance, the constitution, you've got the organisation, all of these things, but something is clearly happening which is leading to this revolving door of good people coming and good people going out. There has to be a reason for it. 

“When you look at some of the strategic documentation that has been created. Some of the things that I’ve picked up: a particular sentence, ‘To be a modern and effective governing body where decision makers can be held to account,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Well, alright, there’s quite a few decision makers still there who probably need to be held to account.' 

“People are a bit frustrated. Here we wall are. We’ve been talking on this podcast for a while, and we know the people who are passionate, we know the people who are the do-ers, we know the people who are just getting on with it. Regardless of all the politics that’s going on in the governing body, they’re just getting on with organising races, running teams, starting

teams, doing stuff. 

“I think there’s a growing frustration that the erosion that the scene is seeing is not being properly tackled, and I guess that this is the rallying cry with a new CEO, and I’m sure he’s going to be listening to the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, Tim, is to say, ‘Why don’t you come on here as a guest? Why don’t you come and talk to us about this scene? Why don’t we get a few people on here and begin to chat about this, because I’m sure that there are some things that you could hear where you could go away very quickly and action and get things moving.'”

Timothy John

“Well, I can only echo that. Let’s get Jon on the podcast. We’re in Manchester. He’s in Manchester. Let’s get to the studio and hear what his vision is for British Cycling, and we can provide a perspective as a sponsor that’s stood at the side of the domestic sport for nearly a decade.

"Just a final thought, Phil, before we leave this topic: does Jon need to make some sort of gesture, some sort of policy initiative, early in his leadership to acknowledge the scale of the

challenge that the scene is facing, or should he instead make an early commitment to the ‘Road Ahead’ strategy and say, ‘We’re going to see this through’?

Phil Jones

“Well, if it were me... Let’s just assume for a moment that I’m putting on that hat. Of course, I’m going into my discovery phase, as I talked about earlier. I'm going into to my stakeholder engagement phase. Bing, bing! I think we’ve nearly got a line on the corporate bingo here, haven’t we, Tim? 

“But there is this document that exists, and it’s called the Road Ahead. It was created by Dani, signed-off by the board, and this is the strategy for the road to Paris and what they want

to do about the road scene, and the volunteers they need, marshalls, erosion of teams, all this stuff.

“The first thing I would be doing is getting out there and doing a couple of fairly big, high-profile interviews with the cycling media and appearing on a couple of podcasts and going: ‘Ok, what is it you’re saying? Here’s what I think. Here’s this document, and I’m determined to either bring this to life or review it.’ 

“Now, I do feel a bit uncomfortable when you say those things, because, basically, you're saying there’s going to be another big delay. So, if a lot of competent people have already

written this document, and your board has signed this off, then surely accountability [dictates], ‘We all believe in this.’ 

“Your job as a CEO should be to go away and start executing against it: to say, ‘Ok, what do we need to do? What are the priorities?’ You start running a priority matrix, which are big, easy-to-do things which are in your control, which you can get done quickly. You start working on those immediately and send messages to the market that something is changing. Those easy wins is where you’re at. 

“I’d be out there, personally, just engaging and getting the story out there that things are changing: ‘I’m here now. Energy’s going to change. Momentum is going to change. Somebody

new is here, and we’re going to go away and start solving these problems.' 

“That’s what I would do, so I’m really hoping that we see a similar type of behaviour from Jon.”

Timothy John

“Great stuff. We would certainly welcome that, wouldn’t we: new energy, positive statements, engagement with the media, and some reassurance that road cycling is at the top of British Cycling’s agenda. 

“There has been a first annual review of the Road Ahead strategy, but certainly not the full-scale review that, as you say, Phil, would fall within Jon’s remit if he’s so minded. 

“Phil, thanks very much indeed. I mean, some very valuable insights there.”
















Part Three: Grand Nationals

Timothy John

“Well, one thing that British Cycling can be credited with is excellent stewardship of the National Championships in recent years. We’ve had two cracking editions since the Road Ahead strategy was published in 2021, at Lincoln and then last year in Dumfries and Galloway. Now, since our last episode, they’ve announced the venues and courses for the 2023 National Championships, which will be held in Redcar and Cleveland. 

“The first big takeaway, I guess, is that the three major disciplines – road, time-trial and circuit - will again be decided at the same championships. That was a format introduced at Lincoln in 2021, and it seems to be a winning formula. Who can forget Harry Tanfield and Ethan Hayter going wheel-to-wheel in the men’s circuit race in Lincoln on the Friday and then

again two days later on Michaelgate?

“The headlines from the courses, I think, are that the time-trials are going to be fast and flat, the circuit races will go along the Esplanade on Redcar seafront, which will look great on television, and the road race is going to be very, very hard. 

“There will be lots of climbing, including an ascent each lap of Saltburn Bank, which has a maximum gradient of more than 22 per cent, as we saw back in 2019 when the Klondike GP was part of the National Road Series calendar. 

“Sian, you’ll have a much better perspective than either Phil or I on how these courses will feel. What was your initial reaction when they were unveiled?”

Sian Botteley

“My takeaway from looking at the road race course was, well, ‘Wow!’. Very, very hilly and contrasting with last year’s course, for sure, which was very, very flat in comparison to this year’s course. 

“The amount of climbing in this year’s edition of the national road race championships course is quite daunting, to be honest. The main climb of Saltburn Bank looks incredibly steep,

with gradients of over 20 per cent, and it’s certainly not a short climb either, so I think it’s going to be really challenging, and it’s going to produce some worthy winners. 

“The road race course doesn’t look like it’s going to suit me particularly well, to be honest. I wouldn’t call myself a climber. It will be interesting. I think it will be an iconic edition of the race. It’s certainly challenging. 

“I think the time-trial courses contrast with the road racing, being more or less complete flat, and the crit doesn’t look particularly complicated wither, whereas the last corner for the crit

last year was really tight, and it was about 50m from the finish, so it was very much a fight into that last corner. 

“This year’s course looks a little more simple. Most of the corners I believe are right angles, so although it will create a very fast, interesting race, it will be more of a normal crit than, basically, just a bun fight into that last corner.”

Timothy John

“And Phil, how did you respond to the courses when British Cycling lifted the lid on them?”

Phil Jones

“Well, I thought it would be relatively easy to predict the time-trial winner. Nothing too technical about that course in reality, so that’s just going to come down to straight, high-quality aerodynamics, isn't it, and whoever the top time-trial riders are will probably be the favourites. 

“A bit like Sian, I thought the circuit race has a couple of dead turns in it but it looks fairly easy. You’ve got a very long finish on the circuit, which is great. It should mean a good sprint for

the final corner, or perhaps a bunch finish, or perhaps one rider getting off, we’ll see. 

“The road race, again, as a result of the course profile, is going to lend itself quite well to the climbers, and that will become a bit attritional, won’t it, because it’s a seven-lap race for the women, a ten-lap race for the men, so we know how that’s going to work out, don’t we? 

“It’s all going to roll off together quite nicely and by about the middle of the race we’re going to see people pull away on the climbs with a view to dropping off the weaker riders. 

“It’s good, and I’m delighted that at least we’ve got a good national championships there, some good courses, and I’m sure lots of people will be travelling Redcar and Cleveland to go and support that.”

Timothy John

“Sian, you might be hoping for dry weather at least! Lincoln was grizzly and Dumfries and Galloway was torrential!”

Sian Botteley

“Personally, I quite like racing in the rain. The national champs last year were probably the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in, but I loved it, to be honest: the wind, the rain. For me, the more challenging conditions, the better, because, to be honest, it doesnt really bother me, and I think that if the conditions are bad, and you can handle it, you’ve beaten half of the field before you’ve started because a lot of people just switch off when they open the curtains in the morning and see rain and wind. 

“I definitely revel in those conditions, but it would be nice if we had a nice day. It’s definitely more enjoyable as you’re racing but, for me, it’s definitely less important than for other

people, I think.” 

Timothy John 

“Here’s a question for you both: does the national champion's jersey make the rider, or does the rider make the national champion's jersey? Last year we had a superstar win the men's race and a rising star win the women's race. 

“Does the national champion’s jersey gain in prestige when it’s on the shoulders of Mark Cavendish? Or is the proof of its own power evidenced by the fact that Alice Towers is now

competing in the Women’s WorldTour? Sian, let’s start with you.”

Sian Botteley

“Certainly for Alice, I think having the national champ's jersey has really elevated her as a rider. She has gone from strength to strength this year. For example, the ride she did in Paris-Roubaix, where she spent the day in the breakaway, that was a really classy ride. 

“Although before her performance at the national championships last year we knew that she was a very talented rider, I think that really cemented her as a rider at the top of her game. Obviously, she’s really young still, but I think the national champ’s ride from her last year was just a sign of things to come, and she’s certainly fulfilling that expectation.

“On the men’s side, Cavendish is one of the best riders of his generation. For him, having achieved so much already, the national champs isn’t as great an achievement as his record-equalling number of Tour de France victories, his world championship, but it’s always a privilege to wear the national champ’s jersey. I'd certainly love to one day. 

“I think it elevates teams who have a national champion on their roster as well.”

Timothy John

“And how about you, Phil? Is the British champion’s jersey somehow more prestigious because Mark Cavendish is inside it, or do you take the opposite view: that it’s the jersey that make the rider, and, as Sian says, Alice Towers might be taken as Exhibit A for that argument. “

Phil Jones

“For me, it’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other, really, Tim, isn’t it? And this is the joy of how the nationals are raced: very, very differently to many other road races because when some of these top WorldTour pros come back, they don’t have their teams around them in the same way, so they’re having to dogfight back in the dirty end of racing again: every person for themselves. 

“I think we saw Mark Cavendish come with this absolute determination to try and win it. He wanted the kudos of that jersey because he loves the scene so much, and everybody

went, ‘We want to see him in it.’ 

“But, equally, as we’ve just described, for someone like Alice, it can be used as a spotlight. It jacks you up. It puts you, suddenly, in the shop window for a lot of Conti teams and, of course, WorldTour teams. So I think it does both, really, 

“The kudos in the WorldTour of learning a national champions jersey…I think if you’re in the WorldTour, and you haven’t got your national champion’s jersey on, I think everyone’s looking at you and finger-pointing and saying, ‘Ok, well I’m a national champion, aren’t you?’

“It can help with negotiations, it can help with kudos, it can help with everything. Of course it can. But with the scene itself, what we really want are people who earn that jersey. So if you come to a nationals and earn that jersey from your own volition, your ability as a rider, then I don’t mind if you’re a WorldTour pro or just a domestic rider. If you beat everyone on the

day, you’ve won the right to wear it.”


Part Four: Know Your Roots

Timothy John

“Well let’s take a look now at the sport from its grassroots. I mentioned Marc Etches in the introduction: organiser of the Sheffield Grand Prix and the Monsal Hill Climb. Now Marc, to borrow one of your phrases, Phil, is a ‘do-er’, and we’ll hear from him in a moment. 

“Let’s just put some context around this. There have been several National B races since our last episode on March 23, including the Timmy James Memorial GP, which will certainly

have resonated with you, Sian. I know that Tim was a very close friend of yours, and your dad, Mark Botteley, organised the race. 

“From that perspective, all of these National Bs coming along, you can understand the frustrations of people like Marc who object to people describing the scene as ‘dying,’.

“To offer a different perspective, there’s only been one National A race since our last episode and that was the Annexo/CAMS women’s CiCLE Classic. Those are two quite different dynamics. 

“Is this evidence of a thriving grassroots scene? Or is it evidence of a neglected elite scene? Or is it a bit of both? Marc Etches can certainly give us a view, so let’s hear now from Marc.”

Marc Etches

“We can see all the great stuff going on. We’re only in April and already we feel like we’ve had a cracking season of National Bs. 

“We see high profile athletes, who are on the WorldTour etc, criticising and saying now the scene is dead. The scene is not dead. That’s when I…I had an interview with the Yorkshire

Post. Me and Giles Pidcock said our piece, because there’s a breaking point at some point where you feel you have to back your corner.

"And,for me, going to all these events and seeing all these people working hard: these are my friends, and you think, ‘Right, hang on guys, we’re being criticised here by people who probably don’t know enough about grassroots as it stands at the moment.’

“I’m far from being a keyboard warrior. I see a lot of negativity on social media. I think the primary one is, ‘What does British Cycling do?’ Everybody moans about British Cycling: Why don’t they do this? Why don’t they do that? British Cycling is the national governing body, just like the FA is for football. They make sure that the clubs, officials, volunteers, coaches etc. are fit for purpose. They work behind the scenes and provide a platform to organise races. 

“They’re not throwing money out right, left and centre like people think. The magic bullet here is not British Cycling. They going to remain as the national governing body, give us direction and help with any questions we have as regional event officers. They can help with any queries, the regional boards - there’s all that infrastructure in place. 

“But they don’t organise…Well, they do organise races because [they’re organising] the national championships this year. Jonathan Day and the crew have managed to pull in, up in the North East, the national championships, so they’re working on that blue chip event, which is brilliant. They’re working hard behind the scenes on that, which, again,  people on social

media might not see.

“I guess we were a little bit perturbed the other year when British Cycling pulled the television broadcast from under us, but when we actually looked at it, the value, for what British Cycling was paying, just wasn’t there. 

“I intend this year to try and live stream the Sheffield Grand Prix, as we’ve done for Otley and Ilkley, so it goes out to a bigger audience, and if that’s out via YouTube and Facebook,

then that’s good for me. We’ll keep an eye on the viewing figures.

“We’ve all watched Paris-Roubaix on GCN. It is a platform a lot of fans are familiar with, and it’s at the click of a button, I guess, then to watch the Lincoln Grand Prix. That would be really good. How much that would cost, maybe we should find out. Maybe it’s a good avenue to go down.”

Timothy John

“Wonderful to hear there from Marc Etches, who, as I mentioned, organises the Sheffield Grand Prix and the Monsal Hill Climb. I should also mention that Marc is a BC-certified commissaire and a dedicated volunteer with Yorkshire’s White Rose Youth League, which has produced, among others, a certain Tom Pidcock and Connor Swift. 

“So, Sian, you’re a rider. You’re absolutely at the heart of this. Is BC neglecting the National Road Series? Or are they pursuing the right strategy in rebuilding from the bottom up? Is

Marc right to object when people say that the scene is dying?”

SIan Botteley

“It’s difficult to say that the scene is dying, to be honest, from my perspective, having ridden quality National B races and a quality National A ace in the CiCLE Classic. I think that the standard of women’s racing has gone through the roof in the last couple of years, and the CICLE Classic, as always, was run excellently. It was faultless, and it attracted a really quality

field. Although the quantity of National A races has reduced to six from maybe eight in previous years, the races are of a higher quality than ever, I think.”

Timothy John

“And what about the absence of television coverage? I mean, wearing his organiser’s hat, Marc grudgingly accepts British Cycling’s analysis that its Eurosport deal didn’t deliver value for money, but GCN has delivered a revolution since then.

“Surely even the keenest grassroots race organiser - and it’s hard to think of one keener than Marc - can’t be expected to fund a television deal? I mean, live-streaming, Facebook, it’s a great initiative, but it’s not in the same ballpark as coverage on GCN, and that responsibility has to lie with British Cycling, doesn’t it?”

Sian Botteley

“We’re still getting decent coverage from the likes of Monument HQ, who’ve been producing some really nice highlight videos that do get the race out there. TV coverage, I think, is definitely missing, and that definitely requires the federation to come in and chuck a decent chunk of money at it to get it back to that level, and you’re right in saying that TV coverage will attract sponsors. That will definitely go a long way towards it.”

Timothy John

“And what about the racing? What does this new landscape of high-quality Nat Bs and occasional National As look like from the saddle? Already this year, you’ve ridden a brilliant National B race in the form of the Peaks 2 Day and an amazing National A race in the Anexo/CAMS women’s CiCLE Classic.”

Sian Botteley

“Certainly, looking at the National B scene, it’s stronger than ever, and having ridden races such as the Peaks 2 Day and the Fat Creations race down at Goodwood, the quality of those races was probably as high as a National A race that I would have ridden last year, 

“For both of those races - the Fat Creations race and the Peaks 2 Day - the quality was the same. The fields were slightly smaller [than a National A race], but the difference is, because

the fields were smaller, the people who weren’t doing those races were the people who perhaps wouldn’t finish a National A anyway. 

“The quality is really high, and because of the smaller number of National A races, and because series like the British Women’s Team Cup, which we did at the weekend, exclude the Continental riders, that then means the National B races that aren’t part of the Team Cup are elevated to a higher standard, because the Continental riders, as there are fewer National A races for them to do, are flooding to National B races and making them a really high quality.” 

Timothy John

“And how about the style of racing? Has this new landscape, where fewer National A races mean that Conti teams now turn up regularly to second-tier events, has that changed the way that National Bs are raced?”

Sian Botteley

“I think before this year, quite a high proportion of National B races would end in a bunch sprint of some description. Certainly, the Dave Peck, only once before Ruth’s victory the other day had it ended in a breakaway victory. Every other year, it had been a bunch sprint. I think the only race this year that had ended in a bunch sprint was the Easter Classic at Castle Combe. Every other race has been raced really aggressively and has finished in a breakaway. I think that is testament to how high the level is; certainly from a riding perspective. 

“I think now that the racing is becoming much more exciting to watch and much more engaging, I think that is a really good sign for the future, and, hopefully, that will attract more sponsors.”

Timothy John

“And how about form a sponsor’s point of view, Phil? Is a thriving grassroots scene with high-quality coverage from the specialist cycling media enough to satisfy a major business? Or is there no substitute for blue riband races like the Lincoln Grand Prix and television coverage like we enjoy for the national championships?”

Phil Jones

“I think it just always depends, Tim, what your business does and what audience you’re trying to reach: whether you’re trying to reach a mass audience or a local audience, I think what I just heard Sian describing there is that the quality of racing is still really high; it’s just that for National As, we need to get the quantity back. If we could get a couple of National As on that schedule again, happy days. 

“It doesn’t mean because there’s a slightly reduced schedule that the quality is any different. In fact, you could argue, and we said this on the last podcast, if I recall, Tim, that the quality of National B racing has gone up as well, as a result of what you just said there, Sian: Conti riders saying, 'I want to race. I need my race fitness at a certain level,’ so they’re going back

to the Bs. 

“The quality is still there, and I think that’s an observation that we shouldn’t let drop. It’s just that what we’ve seen is a short period of time in which we’ve seen a couple of teams fold, a couple of races go off the calendar, and suddenly the whole world has imploded. It hasn’t. There’s still lots of really great stuff going on here. 

“But I think that we’re in an age now…Back in the day, what was the business model of cycling? Dead easy. Slap it on the telly, reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of people,

pass me a payment, I can make sure you get eyeballs on your brand, isn’t it marvellous?

“But, of course,things have changed a lot for brands now, haven’t they? We’re into content, we’re into engagement, we’re into direct marketing. We want to understand how we can connect directly with customers, fundamentally. I think from a connectivity point of view, that whole thing is not properly tied up yet, with regards to how do we connect the scene properly. 

“Individual races are very much left to their own devices. Lincoln are off to find their own sponsor. One individual does all that work, and that wraps up that one race; that one big brand.

If we could have a better connected sponsorship strategy, certainly for the As and Bs, and that would have to be coordinated by the federation, then that would be a really great start.

“Some years ago, I observed that when they had the really big flagship sponsors like HSBC at BC, their whole strategies were based around mass audiences and mass participation. They were interested in Olympic medals and, fundamentally, tens of thousands of kids on bikes in parks and all those sorts of things. 

“I always felt that the road racing scene should have been sold as a separate asset. Sell that one to a brand that’s interested in the road racing scene, who can create credibility, help create engagement, help build marketing plans, help build the whole lot as a more coherent pillar, rather than selling it to one brand that owns it all. My view would be the rights should be sold individually, so that you begin to grow a category with a certain brand that has more of an interest to grow it. 

“From my point of view, it is what it is . If you’re a cycling brand, if you’re a new bike manufacture, or a start-up kit manufacturer, and you want to go round to all these races with a little tent up and sell direct, why not? But if you’re a bigger brand then I think because there is a difficulty to coordinate activity like this, then it’s less of a proposition. 

“This is where SweetSpot has more capability. They can be a bit more joined up in driving together digital campaigns, as well as mass broadcasting, mass media, email marketing,

custom data collection, social. You can have a much more integrated marketing campaign.

“I’d love to see a way where we can move the domestic road racing scene and get a bit more integrated, and, if it does, that creates the platform to attract more brands in my opinion.”

Timothy John

“Well, thank-you both for such very detailed responses: Sian on the sporting side and Phil on the commercial side. 

“There’s an interesting parallel, I think, and that’s the ‘portfolio’ approach that both teams and sponsors are adopting. 

“Phil, you’ve done it for some years now with Brother Cycling: the big professional, televised races like the Tour of Britain and the Women’s Tour give us eyeballs and exposure, while our sponsorship of grassroots teams shows where our heart is: we’re at the side of the sport.

“Sian, you mentioned earlier in the episode that Hutchinson-Brother UK is racing in Belgium at the weekend. You’ll do National A races, you’ll do National B races, you’ll race


“It seems to me, at least, that that the road scene in its current form demands a mix-and-match approach, whether you’re a sponsor, a team, or a rider, and, as Phil says, a more joined up approach would benefit everybody.”



Part Five: On Hiatus

Timothy John 

“Well, you gave me a very nice link there Phil to Sweetspot and the Women’s Tour, because they’re next on our agenda. 

“I caught up earlier this week with Peter Hodges, Sweetspot’s PR and Marketing Director, and somebody who knows the sport inside out. Sweetspot, of course, organises the Tour of

Britain, the Women’s Tour and the Tour Series. 

“Sadly, since our last episode, Sweetspot has announced the postponement of the Women’s Tour in 2023, citing increased running costs, reduced commercial support and the lack of a vehicle sponsor.

“Let’s hear now from Peter.”

Peter Hodges

“We announced the decision on March 31, on a Friday morning. The decision was made officially earlier that week, probably on the Monday afternoon or the Tuesday morning, but we wanted to let stakeholders know who we work with, partners like Brother, cottages.com, Cycleguard etc, but also the stakeholders: the venues that we'd announced, the likes of the UCI and British Cycling, the teams, the partners and suppliers who supply us with the podiums and so forth, and also the staff: so a lot of people to consult, and we wanted to do it properly. So we put the announcement together, to all be coordinated and singing off the same hymn sheet, if you like.

“The last few years, since the 2019 edition, costs have gone up with inflation. We reckon costs are about 20 per cent higher than last year. The main ones are hotels and the logistics: the petrol. If you think that all of our suppliers, for example, the company that supplies the podium, well, their costs have gone up, their staff costs have gone up and those are passed

on to us. 

“While we don’t have so many Covid mitigation costs, there are still things that are a legacy of the pandemic. The great example of that is on the race we have about 40 police officers. They all used to be in twin rooms, but since the pandemic, they have to be in single rooms, so you go from having 20 rooms a night to 40 rooms a night. Multiply that by the number of nights in the race, and it all starts adding up.

“One of the reasons why the car situation was such a challenge, and firstly we have to say in no way should this reflect negatively on Skoda. They’ve supported the race since it started in 2014. They’ve supported the men’s tour since 2009. They’ve been a fantastic partner, and we’ve been spoiled by their involvement. 

“The auto industry is still struggling to get over the pandemic and the chip crisis. In the last couple of years, we’ve had some strange fleets, if you like, from Skoda. In the past, they’d all

been the same model. There have been weird issues trying to get cards with sun roofs. It’s very complicated.

“I’m not an expert on the auto market. A lot of the car companies we went to said, “We haven’t got any money,’ but more importantly, they said, ‘We haven’t got a fleet at the moment,’ or, ‘We haven’t got the access to this,’ or, ‘We can’t let that number of vehicles go out.’

"It’s mainly the absence of new money. We’ve mentioned the example of Skoda stepping back, which as the main loss. The 2022 Women’s Tour, hopefully your readers will have noticed, it was the Women’s Tour. Every previous edition has been, you know, the Friends Life, the OVO Energy, even the AJ Bell Women’s Tour. The 2022 race was the first without a title sponsor. 

“It’s important to note that, yes, we did say reduced commercial support, but we did have the support of Brother, Accurist, cottages.com, Cycleguard, so there are brands out there, that are supporting cycling and supporting women’s cycling, and have done for a number of years, but, if you like, its bringing new money.

“We all know that the cycling industry is in a challenging place. I’m sure everyone that's listening will have seen announcements from the likes of Strava and Wahoo, cutting back, but also people like Moore and Large, the distributor, sadly ceasing to exist, so there is a problem across the cycling industry. So cycle industry support, which might involve value-in-kind is

reduced, but really it’s trying to get in those sponsors from outside of the sport: the likes of the AJ Bells, the Friends Lifes, the OVO Energies.

“Sadly, men’s sport, not just men’s cycling, but men’s sport, is still an easier sell. I suppose it’s got the, if you like, how ever long a history and that natur bias. I remember when we first started the Women’s Tour in 2014, and Guy Elliott gave us a fact, and it was something ridiculous like two per cent of global sports sponsorships went into women’s sport and 98 per cent into men’s. It was one of those facts where you asked to see the source because it was absolutely bonkers. 

“I’m sure that’s improved, and we see great things like the Barclays Super League, and Vitality have been in netball and the Hundred and so forth, but it’s definitely not 50-50, and there

are reasons for that because the sport is still growing; talking specifically about cycling. 

“If people are basing [their sponsorship investments] on the returns of media values, for example, our social media numbers and website numbers are still growing. They aren’t yet one-to-one with the men’s Tour of Britain. 

“There is a certain amount where naturally you would expect someone to say, ‘Well, if I’m doing this as a pure advertising play, I’m getting more eyeballs on the men’s race than I am on the women’s, so that’s my focus. 

“But, brands that I’ve mentioned before, the likes of Brother, cottages.com, Accurist, Cycleguard, are supporting both events as indeed have brands in the past, because the beautiful thing we’ve got is a product where we can say, ‘Tell you what, we’ve got a fantastic, week-long, women’s race in June and a fantastic, week-long, men’s race in September. You can

have both of them and support both of them.”

Timothy John 

“Well, great to hear there from Peter Hodges, SweetSpot’s PR and Marketing Director, and a man who’s closer to the hiatus of the Women’s Tour than pretty much anybody else. 

“Well, let’s begin, Sian, by asking you to describe the impact that the Women’s Tour hiatus will have on domestic cycling. I mean, at a first glance, it’s a professional race on the UCI Women’s WorldTour, and you would imagine it would have no immediate effect on the domestic women’s calendar, but it will have a tremendous impact as a halo event, an inspirational

race, that can pull 300,000 people to Britain’s roadsides." 

Sian Botteley

“I think it’s going to have a massive effect, to be honest. As you said, it’s a really inspirational thing for British female riders to be able to go on a ride and watch the best riders in the world ride through their hometown. It’s certainly very inspirational, and that will be missed, I think. 

“For riders of my level, it’s also very inspirational because for me to step up to a Continental team, which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility with our team or making a move to another British team, the Women’s Tour is very within reach, and that is at the top of the world, really. For that to be so close to home is very inspiring and motivates you to train hard

because it's tangible that you could be there.

“So that race being missing, hopefully it is only going to be a one-year hiatus but it is definitely concerning, and it’s going to be a big hole, I think.”

Timothy John

“Phil, do you think we’ll see the return of the Women’s Tour next year? We’re likely still to be living in an inflationary economy, still facing the same economic headwinds, but if the history of professional cycling teaches us anything, it’s that sponsors come and sponsors go. There’s always new money available. There’s always new companies seeking new opportunities to promote their brands, so how do you read this situation?”

Phil Jones

“Well, Tim. I can tell you that I had dinner with the Chief Executive of SweetSpot a couple of weeks ago. Over dinner, we were able to really talk about this situation in quite a lot of detail. Obviously, there are some elements that I certainly wouldn’t discuss here, but you’ve heard from Peter that you come to a certain point where you go, ‘We’re lacking a title sponsor, and were lacking a vehicle sponsor.’ No chief exec in the world can look at that and say, “Well, it’s ok, we'll just reach into our own pocket and fund it out of our own pocket.’ 

“The gap is just too big, so you’ve got to make those big calls, and say, 'look, this is it,' because you’re talking about serious sums of money here: £500,000 to £600,000 just to cover  costs, before you make anything. And you’re right: police charges have gone up. Fuels gone up. Everything’s gone up. You want to try and hire rental cars to replace the Skoda fleet,

They’re not available, and the cars that are available are not fit for purpose or as so expensive that it becomes unaffordable. 

“It’s very, very difficult, and I can really understand, as somebody who leads a business, why they had to make that decision, but I can tell you this, they are redoubling their efforts to find a title sponsor. They’ve recently appointed a brand new Managing Director at SweetSpot. That was the reason for our dinner: for me to meet that individual. A very experienced person with a big, big background in client acquisition, business development, all that kind of good stuff. They absolutely are determined to solve this issue. 

“From my point of view, the reason they came up is that they’re doing a bit of a tour. They’re going around, they’re visiting all the councils, they’re visiting potential sponsors, talking to business networking groups, trying to uncover that layer of who those new names could be, to bring that fresh money to bear to sponsor the races, the big ticket races: the Women’s Tour, the Tour of Britain, these both need title sponsors with deep pockets. You’ve got to be able to put 500 to a million on the table for the rights to that race. You’ve got to be a

company of a certain size to do that. 

“My job is, I guess, to try and assist them in pointing to a few of the businesses certainly that I know in the North West that are doing well, and also businesses nationally where I think they ought to be having conversations because they are experiencing fast growth, and when you're experiencing fast growth it means you’re doing well, and when you’re doing well, you normally have money to invest in discretionary expenditure, as we’ve discussed before. 

“My view would be that I’ve got high levels of confidence that the team at SweetSpot are determined to solve this problem for 2024.”

Timothy John

“Well, that’s wonderful to hear. We’ve worked closely with the guys at SweetSpot over the years, and they are very commercially astute. And what a wonderful example, Phil, of #AtYourSide that you’re looking out on their behalf, almost, for sponsors who might fit the bill. That’s absolutely brilliant.”

Phil Jones

“The other thing that we discussed is that there got to be a point where, in my view, when we had this issue with the Women’s Tour, I would have walked it straight into government. I would. I would have gone straight to the culture minister, and I would have gone, ‘Right, This race is too big for our economy [to fail][; too big to let this one have a hiatus.  

“As we know, money can be fairly easily found and distributed within government departments if the optics look good. So to have half-a-million, one million people stood at the roadside, all feeling good about the world for a payment of 500 grand to maybe rescue that race for the season I think would have been a fairly good proposition. Unfortunately, the timescales they had were maybe just a bit too short but my view would be they should be working on those relationships now so that if they’re faced with this issue in the future, they can walk it into somebody who may be able to write that cheque if needs be. 
“Nationally, we need it. The nation needs it. We need this huge, huge race that’s on the telly, all over the world, that says: ‘Women’s racing. Here it is in the UK. This is the place to be.’ It has all sorts of impacts on tourism and wider GVA, gross value add, the money that comes into local economies, and governments are interested in that stuff, Tim; governments love

that stuff. I think the proportion moving forwards, for me, how to make sure that’s we’ve also got government involved at this sort of level for races of this particular standard.”

Timothy John 

“And they absolutely should be concerned that a race like the Women’s Tour won’t go ahead this year. Everyone is signed up, and rightly so, to the promotion of women’s sport. 

“The Women’s Tour is not just a great British race. The riders in the Women’s WorldTour peloton say it’s the best stage race on the calendar, and women’s racing is something that this

country does extremely well. 

“Sian, you, of course, are much, much closer to it than Phil and I. Were you surprised that there wasn’t some kind of late rescue package?”

Sian Botteley

“I was certainly surprised. I think there had been concerns about the race for a little while, but I really thought that there would be a last-minute saviour for it. The conversations that you’ve had, Phil, with SweetSpot are reassuring, by the sounds of it. 

“I was certainly surprised that nobody came along to save it for this year. It is really important. It’s too good a race to let go for a year. When you watch it on TV, you see hundreds of school kids at the side of the road, looking at what they could become in 10 or 15 years time. I think letting that go is really sad. We can only hope that it will be saved for future years.”



Timothy John

“Let’s start to bring this episode to close. We’ve discussed some very complex issues today, and I think we’ve been able to provide some really valuable insights. 

"The domestic calendar is now in full swing. There’s been no shortage of National B races, as we’ve discussed in some depth, and next month we’ll see National A races for men and women at the same event for the first time this season at the Lincoln Grand Prix. 

“Now Lincoln, for many people, is the jewel in the crown of the domestic calendar: a blue chip, blue riband event, so we’ll definitely look forward to that. 

“The second round of Cold Dark North’s Proper Northern Road Race Series at Oakenclough on April 30 will be among several National B events in the weeks ahead, and listen out for our special edition with co-founder Deb John. 

“Sian, I guess, you’re already thinking about the second round of the British Women’s Team Cup, the Banbury Star race, which takes place on Sunday May 21. Are you looking forward

to that already?”

Sian Botteley

“I am looking forward to it. I’ve never done particularly well there in the past because that climb is quite hard: Edge Hill. I think we take it on three times, and it’s quite steep, quite long, and it's a very challenging course for a National B, but now we’ve got the likes of the Peaks 2 Day, that’s becoming the norm, to have challenging course like that. 

“The finish of that certainly suits me. If I can make it over the challenging climb of Edge Hill, then I certainly will be able to achieve a good result there but that race falls the weekend

before we as a team are off to a stage race in the Czech Republic, so that will be a good form-finding race for the following week.” 

Timothy John

“Let’s wrap up now with a social shootout. If you want to follow any our guests, here’s where to find them: 

“Marc Etches - that’s Marc with a ‘c’ - is on Twitter at Marc UNDERSCORE Etches, and he’s on Instagram @marcetches, all one word.

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

“Sian, if people want to follow you on social media, how do they go about that? 

Sian Botteley

“Yeah, it’s @sianbotteley on Instagram and on Twitter as well, not that I’m particularly active on Twitter, so I’d probably just say head for the Instagram, I think.”

Timothy John

“That’s all one word: sianbotteley.

“And, Phil, you’re on Twitter, of course."

Phil Jones

“Yes, you can find me @roadphil. It rhymes with Road Kill, but just put a Phil in instead of the kill!

Timothy John

"Ha! An easy mistake to make. 

“And, of course, you can follow Brother Cycling. We’re @brotherycling on all three channels. 

“Thank-you very much indeed, Phil, thank-you very much indeed, Sian, and thank you very much indeed to everybody out there for listening.”