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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”