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British Cycling appoints task force to “support revival” of domestic racing scene

“I’m passionate about ensuring that other riders can benefit from the same opportunities as me in the future,” says the task force’s chair Ed Clancy

With the UK’s domestic racing scene coming under increasing scrutiny in recent months, as financial pressures and dwindling resources continue to bite, British Cycling has today responded by launching a new elite road racing task force, set up to support the governing body as it attempts to “innovate and energise” local racing in Britain.

The newly-appointed task force, which will be chaired by three-time Olympic gold medallist and former stalwart of the domestic road racing scene Ed Clancy, will convene for three months, during which they will put forward a series of recommendations for British Cycling to implement in 2024 and beyond.

The announcement comes in the wake of a troubling few months for local British bike racing, with the challenging economic climate, and the pressures it has placed on potential sponsors, resulting this year in the collapse of several British Continental teams, while also placing strain on race organisers at all levels.

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Despite the continued success of British riders at the highest level, the number of British men’s and women’s third-tier UCI Continental squad has dropped to five this year, compared to the eight which raced on home roads in 2016.

And though the number of women’s rounds in the elite national road series has increased from eight to 12 in the same period – a testament to the growth in recent years of the women’s side of the sport – the number of rounds in the men’s series has fallen from 17 to 12, while the total number of road races has dropped from 17 to 11.

Due to current inflationary pressures, a crucial issue outlined by race organiser SweetSpot’s PR director Peter Hodges in an interview with road.cc earlier this year, British Cycling says that the total cost of delivering an event has risen by as much as 10 percent year-on-year since 2019, increasing the cost of event delivery by around a third during that period.

This precarious situation for British bike racing was underlined by the announcement in late March that the Women’s Tour – one of the most important stage races in the women’s international calendar – was cancelled for 2023, just weeks after SweetSpot launched a crowdfunder in a bid to save the race, and months after the Tour Series, another SweetSpot event, was also put on temporary hiatus.

The Women's Tour climbs Black Mountain in 2022 (SWpix.com)

> How do we save UK bike racing? SweetSpot's PR Director on Women's Tour cancellation and staying positive for the future

Faced with this worrying climate, British Cycling’s new task force has been given a targeted remit to consider the composition of the elite national calendar, including its road and circuit elements, the challenges currently facing the dwindling number of domestic teams, as well as the opportunities to grow the reach and profile of domestic races.

The governing body says this will complement the work of its existing Road Commission to increase the number of participants and events across all levels.

The task force will be comprised of a range of stakeholders, including former and current pro riders, managers, events organisers, sponsors, and those involved in media and marketing.

Alongside ex-pro and chair Clancy, it includes DAS-Handsling pro Monica Greenwood, Pro Noctis rider Jo Tindley, former JLT-Condor manager John Herety, Brother UK MD Phil Jones, race organiser Chris Lawrence, Rapha marketing manager Jess Morgan, and Steve Fry, the co-owner of marketing agency M2 Sports.

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Announcing the eight-person task force, British Cycling CEO, Jon Dutton, said in a statement: “Since joining the organisation in April I’ve spoken to a huge number of passionate and talented people in our community about the current challenges facing domestic road race organisers and teams.

“Our new task force is an example of how we want to bring people closer to the organisation and work collaboratively towards solutions against the challenging and complex environment that we operate in.”

2023 Men's Ryedale Grasscrete Grand Prix (Craig Zadoroznyj/SWpix.com)

(Craig Zadoroznyj/SWpix.com)

Dutton continued: “This won’t be a talking shop – the task force will be meeting regularly over the coming months with a view to providing our team with clear recommendations to implement. While we are clearly working within challenging financial parameters, and some changes will naturally take us longer to enact, there are a number of areas where we can and will make immediate progress.

“The health of domestic elite road racing has a significant impact on the overall financial health of our organisation, and our ability to support more events and programmes across our range of disciplines in the future. While the past few years have been challenging, I’m optimistic about our ability to turn the tide and forge a sustainable roadmap for the future.”

Six-time track world champion Clancy added: “I’m enormously grateful for the support I received from domestic teams and races during my career as a rider, and I’m passionate about ensuring that other riders can benefit from the same opportunities as me in the future.

“It’s a real honour to be asked to chair the elite road racing task force, and working alongside what is a really talented and experienced group I’m confident that we can be a positive force for change.”

> British racing scene is “a real struggle”, says Ineos Grenadiers manager Rod Ellingworth

Earlier this year, the Ineos Grenadiers’ Deputy Team Principal Rod Ellingworth became the latest voice to add to the chorus of worry surrounding Britain’s racing scene.

“It is a worry,” the 50-year-old said in May. “You look at British talent at the moment – it's not like there’s no young bike rider coming though, male and female. It’s pretty strong, but the racing is a real struggle.

“I am from clubs who put lots of races on, and I know they struggle to put on races. My dad put on races for years and he stopped because he couldn’t keep up with pressure from authorities, more and more money, and everything else.”

However, the former Bahrain-McLaren general manager remained optimistic about the broader condition of British cycling, beyond its presently debilitated racing scene.

"Yet if you look at some of the cycling facilities in the UK and some of activities that are going off, there’s some great coaching, really good activities in velodromes around the country,” he said.

“I’ve just taken my kid to the local BMX place and there’s some fantastic coaching going off.”

> British Cycling to cut U23 road programme, cites "incredibly challenging financial landscape"

Ellingworth’s comments echoed the cautious optimism of SweetSpot’s Peter Hodges, who told road.cc in April that – despite the Women’s Tour’s temporary hiatus for 2023 – the doom and gloom surrounding British domestic racing this year shouldn’t detract from the success of the events which are still being held.

“There is a lot of negativity around the domestic scene at the moment. But at the same time, there are loads of fantastic things going on at grassroots,” Hodges told the road.cc Podcast.

“Rather than dwelling on the negatives, let’s talk about all the positive and good things – and I’m sounding very evangelical – and that will hopefully create more growth. The bigger the cake is, the bigger the slice is for everyone.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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11 comments

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dubwise | 6 months ago
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Too little too late from an organisation that couldn't give a damn about the domestic racing scene.

Races have been lost because of BC rules and regulations leaving organisers with no option but to pull the plug.

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Jimmy Ray Will | 6 months ago
2 likes

This is a positive step, but I fear the wrong team may have been assembled.

One of the biggest issues I think BC has is that for as long as I can remember the focus has been on development pathways for those wanting to be elite. This includes significant focus on youth development.

All very commendable, however, the challenge as I see is that very few of us are elite, which means much of what is in place is totally irrelevant to the vast majority of members.

For domestic racing, I believe the focus should firmly be around building sustainable, viable sport for the average joe, not the next Bradley Wiggins.

Provide the average punter a compelling reason for racing week in week out, and I am confident they will race. When you don't you get what we are seeing... dwindling numbers and with it dwindling everything else.  

Simply put, get a healthy amount of people racing at the bottom and middle levels, and the domestic elite scene will also get sorted by default. 

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Left_is_for_Losers | 6 months ago
1 like

I noticed the remarkable 1-2-3-4-5 result by Saint Piran at the Ryedale GP was not received well by some, and while it might be reflective of the current domestic scene, it also is a testament to what the team are doing. 

They also had their feeder team, 05/03 there and a women team, and the support they have shown to riders from the collapsed AT85 and Ribble-Weldtite teams has been nice to see too. I don't think they are to blame, as Trinity would usually be there too for example. 

Something needs to be done, and there is a lot of British talent at the moment - the issue is more the economics and getting the funding to go racing. Saint Piran have some pretty unique ways of funding, plus a shop, cafe and sponsorship etc. 

It would be nice to see BC put some money from the track into road racing, it's clear that it can have results from the recent champs in Glasgow where GB wiped the floor with the other nations on the track. 

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Jimmy Ray Will replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 6 months ago
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Intresting comments.

The challenge with Saint Piran as I see it is that they are the poster boy of all that is wrong with the domestic scene whilst simultaneously showcasing potential solutions.

Their success is down to being the last man standing, and their survival is down to a mix of minimising spend, innovative funding models, and a healthy dose of jazz hands and faking it to make it. 

Fundamentally though they are a passionate team trying to make a difference, and that needs to be applauded. 

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peted76 | 6 months ago
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More tarmac closed circuits are required in order to make racing accesible to more people. 

We held a race this weekend in the midlands and had people from Central London, Brizzle and Liverpool travel arrive on the start line. It was a straight forward Mens 3/4 with 70 out of a maximum of 80 entrants.

As much as we discuss and would like to, we do not put on a Womens/Junior or other category race on the same day as it's cost and logistically prohibitive, mainly due to it being on open roads. For years we've looked forvenues and area's within the area and it's a nightmare. Another local club has put on a town crit for a couple of years, however that's only possible due to local sponsor fundraising and an awful lot of wrangling with the council.. the cost to do a town crit must be ridiculous, you're looking at four to five grand just to put barriers in place for a day.

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Simon E replied to peted76 | 6 months ago
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peted76 wrote:

More tarmac closed circuits are required in order to make racing accesible to more people. 

We held a race this weekend in the midlands and had people from Central London, Brizzle and Liverpool travel arrive on the start line. It was a straight forward Mens 3/4 with 70 out of a maximum of 80 entrants.

Sounds impressive. The local league are doing well to get half of that, the handicapped groups are small.

Similarly, the numbers entering the races at the 1km circuit in Shrewsbury have dropped significantly, even the Cat 3/4s. There aren't enough women to even hold an event. The road racing teams aren't keen to race there, it's not really appropriate for a bunch of Cat 1 & 2s. Traffic-free locations are very few and far between and trying to manage a loop on quiet roads for a Thursday evening race, however briefly, is fraught with issues.

I somehow doubt that BC's team can turn things around. The combination of the state of the roads, the volume of traffic (sometimes hostile), the shortage of organisers and volunteers plus the ever increasing cost make it less and less viable so it is going to make the job really, really difficult.

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Jimmy Ray Will replied to Simon E | 6 months ago
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What is it with road racing teams and riders not wanting to ride circuit races? 

Back in my day (please read in comical old man's voice), riders would race circuit and road events.

To be fair, I know the answer... its a mix of riders being less willing to race to simply make up the numbers, and BC updating points structures a few years back, which essentially classified most crits as training events for road races. 

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Cugel replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 6 months ago
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Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

What is it with road racing teams and riders not wanting to ride circuit races? 

Back in my day (please read in comical old man's voice), riders would race circuit and road events.

To be fair, I know the answer... its a mix of riders being less willing to race to simply make up the numbers, and BC updating points structures a few years back, which essentially classified most crits as training events for road races. 

Agreed - closed circuit racing can be a true sport, with lots of events, event types and rider classes catered to on the same day (or even over a whole weekend) by a series of numerous races one after the other. Thirty years ago, I and others organised such races for the LVRC on the Lancaster closed circuit. They were a great day out, for riders, families and anyone who wanted to see bike racing. 

Similar events were organised for non-veterans, and were equally popular especially for sprogs and ladies, who otherwise found it hard to enter road racing, as events were few and often far away. And no second or third event later on, if you got dropped in the first event.

The other advantage of closed circuits is that they can be good for spectators.  A road race on the open roads is hardly ever about watching the race (unless its a crit on a short town centre circuit) and far more about spending hours by some roadside watching each other and perhaps getting drunk or otherwise being a nuisance to locals. See TdF for details.

*********

In Britain there are numerous large areas, often near towns and cities, that are either wasteland or populated by a few sheep. There's numerous locations where all kinds of closed circuits - including some with serious hills, bends and the like - could be built, along with facilities (changing rooms and so forth) to support races that would be road races without the need for the huge costs and dangers of racing on the open roads. No annoyed locals either*.   1

It would take money and effort.  As others have said, British Cyling will not spend what money they have on such things as they are indeed (and always have been) focussed on "the elite". Even 30 years ago, they were nothing but an officious, expensive and depressing nuisance rather than a helpmeet to any local and truly amateur cycling culture.

* In a majority of the road races I rode in  30 and more years ago, there was at least one incident with other road traffic, pedestrians or other such hazards. Some were quite serious.

On the Dolphinholme circuit, an irate local deliberately backed out of his drive into the bunch going fast downhill on a bend. In a race on the Fylde, Alan Boardman was kicked by a large horse over a ditch and a hedge into a field, where he lay unconcious before being carted off to hospital for a few days. And so on and so forth.

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Paul J replied to peted76 | 6 months ago
1 like

Have you considered using motor racing circuits? Britain seems to have a lot of those (motor racing having been v popular in UK in 30s onward; plus lots of aerodromes built in WWII later repurposed). GCN seems to have attended races on a motor circuit, and in Ireland Mondello Park is regularly used for bike races.

The UK has so many of them... seems an option?

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lonpfrb replied to Paul J | 6 months ago
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Yes, and Motor Sport Vision who own the majority of UK circuits are up for it, though it's not cheap.
Supported a 24h event at my local circuit Brands Hatch (Woodland GP) and it was great. Brands is MSV HQ where there has been racing since 1920, and they like an occasional quiet event.

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peted76 replied to Paul J | 6 months ago
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We've looked and we've asked, test tracks / airports / convension centers (large car parks) and they are either not local to us, unsuitable or too costly.. 

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