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Return of the Manx: John Turner interview

Manx International stage race organiser on the race format, why the race will only be held every two years and his thoughts on the difficulties of race organisation

First run in 1936, the Manx International (or Manx Trophy) was a staple of the British road racing calendar until 2003. In its heyday – forming part of the Isle of Man international cycling week – it was a race that attracted some of the most iconic names in the sport, including Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Tom Simpson and Eddy Merckx.

Tim Hall wins the Manx International RR. 22nd June 1990. Photo: Paul J Wright

The race was revived in 2016, forming part of British Cycling’s Spring Cup Series. Then the following year, the race hosted the British national road race championships.

This year, the Manx International will be a three-day stage race held 2-4 August, and will form part of British Cycling’s revamped national road series [look out for our forthcoming primer on the series]. The race will include four stages: an evening kermesse, a morning time trial hill climb, an afternoon 15-lap circuit race and a 3-lap, 113 mile road stage. It’s a novel format

We caught up with co-organiser John Turner to find out about thinking behind the race format, why the race will only be held every two years, the challenges of organising the race and his thoughts on the difficulties of race organisation in general.

HSBC UK British Cycling National Championships – Road, Isle of Man 22/25 June 2017 – Men’s Road Race. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Some die-hard cycling fans may be sceptical of the format but if you want to bring new fans to the sport you need to be innovative

Can you tell us how the Manx International stage race came about?

The race is a result of the revived Manx International GP one day race 2016 and the British Championships of 2017 that followed thereafter, which were organised by Steve Shimmin and Richard Fletcher (the latter with whom I am co-director on this year’s race). When the application to host the British Championships was made it was always in mind that there should be some form of racing legacy thereafter. Much in the same way (but on a much smaller scale) as the Tour de France start in Yorkshire has led to the successful legacy of the Tour de Yorkshire. Also what the BC champs and International GP did was highlight the need to offer something more than a one day race, bearing in mind the logistical cost to participating teams of travel to the Island. As a result, a three-day four-stage format was formulated in order to give teams more and varied racing opportunity and make the decision to come to the island more attractive.

How challenging has it been to make the race a reality? 

It has and continues to be challenging. No matter how many times events are organised you still have to obtain the buy-in of organisations and people in order to make it work each and every time. However, we are lucky on the Island as access to the right people, particularly in government departments, is easy to obtain which eases the process somewhat.

Can you tell us a bit the format of the race?

Yes. The first stage is a fast and furious kermesse on a circuit up at Cooil Road Business Park, just outside of Douglas. This takes place on the evening of Friday 2nd August. The road surfaces are relatively new and smooth, so it should lead to some fast and exciting racing. Also the viewing opportunities for spectators should make it a real crowd pleaser so we hope there will be a good turn out to watch.

The hill climb TT goes up a climb known as the Sloc. The climb is long, tough and quite exposed

Stage 2 on Saturday morning is a complete contrast. This time we are in the south of the island with a hill climb TT up a climb known as the Sloc. The climb is long, tough and quite exposed but again the road surface is good. It really is one for the grimpeurs in a team, as although there will be a flat run-in at the top, a reasonable amount of time could be lost on the way up.

Stage 3 on Saturday afternoon again takes place in the south of the island, this time on the Billown circuit for a circuit road race. For those that don’t know, this is where the Southern 100 motorcycle road races take place in July each year. The circuit is a 4.25 mile ‘square’ of roads which are predominantly, but not pan, flat. The run-in to the start and finish from the last corner is a straight line 400m drag race and so if the race stays together it will be a battle between lead-outs and sprinters.

HSBC UK British Cycling National Championships – Road, Isle of Man 22/25 June 2017 – Men’s Road Race. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

The final stage, Stage 4, takes place on Sunday with 3 laps around the 37.75mile mountain course. This is the queen stage in which riders will have to tackle the 6-plus mile mountain climb on three occasions, with the start and finish at the TT grandstand. Many cycling icons have raced on this circuit – Coppi, Merckx, Anquetil and Fignon to name but four – and so competitors will be following in the footsteps of the greats.

It seems quite an unusual format for a stage race. What was thinking behind introducing a kermesse and a hill climb TT into the race?

First and foremost variety. We wanted to mix the racing up as much as possible for a few reasons. Firstly, we appreciate that some domestic teams are smaller and even though they might struggle to compete on a straight GC basis in a traditional stage race, they may be able to make a mark on at least one stage if they have a good climber or crit rider in their ranks. Secondly, in trying to maximise racing by way of four stages in three days we wanted to keep the racing as sharp and exciting as possible. Finally, from a spectator point of view, the greater the variety of racing on display the better. Some die-hard cycling fans may be sceptical of the format but if you want to bring new fans to the sport you need to be innovative.

I understand the race will be held every other year. Is that right? And if so, how come?

Yes, that is the current position. It was felt that in order to maintain a quality event, keep the event fresh, and in order to minimise costs to travelling teams, a biennial event would be better. In addition to this, we were mindful of not exhausting the goodwill out of the local community with an annual event and also sponsors who might see the value of the racing sponsorship exhaust quickly with a year on year event.

HSBC UK British Cycling National Championships – Road, Isle of Man 22/25 June 2017 – Men’s Road Race. Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

What has the reception been from the local community?

Excellent so far. Many people still remember Isle of Man cycle week and the racing that took place then. Also cycling and cycle racing is synonymous with the island as a sport and it continues to punch well above its weight in the production of pro racers and champions. However, the island puts up with more than its fair share of road closures each year with various events and so keeping as much goodwill as possible by not holding the event annually was a prime consideration.

I hope that teams are swayed by the opportunity to race and win one of the most iconic trophies in British cycling history

I know a few elite teams have said they won’t be able to come to the race because the costs (travel, accommodation and so on) are prohibitive for them. Do you have any concerns about the type of field you’ll be able to attract to the race?

Ultimately if the racing format and schedule is attractive enough then teams will come. As already touched upon, although this stage race format is fairly avant-garde, there is a rich history behind the Manx International which you cannot buy. I would hope that teams are swayed by the opportunity to race and win one of the most iconic trophies in British cycling history. That aside every effort is being made to mitigate costs to teams in terms of travel and accommodation. I would urge teams thinking of giving the race a miss to contact Richard Fletcher or myself before making a decision not to attend as we will do as much as we possibly can to ease the burden.

There is no magic bullet for getting authorities and the police to buy into road racing

More generally, what more do you think needs to be done to help race organisers put on the races in the UK and the Isle of Man?

I think the issues for race organisers throughout Britain are manifold. The last 10-15 years has seen the loss of some great races, such as the Archer GP, and many other races disappearing due to recurring issues of road closure problems, lack of sponsorship and loss of volunteers.

HSBC UK British Cycling National Championships – Road, Isle of Man 22/25 June 2017 – Men’s Road Race. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Of those issues, race organisers can only control the controllables. You can’t force a road closure if the powers that be aren’t prepared to give it. Society now is full gas pretty much 24/7 and no-one outside of cycling wants road closures which they see interfere unnecessarily with their lives. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet for getting authorities and the police to buy into road racing. The same goes for volunteers. So much goodwill is drawn upon by race organisers with volunteers. A goody bag will only take you so far. Expecting people to turn out to marshall year on year at the same events is a big ask these days particularly with the demands on people’s free time in general. If it is a single big road race is it better to risk the event demise by holding it year on year or perhaps is it better having a fresh event every other year?

Money is another issue. There are always rising costs to consider. Some bigger races now run sportives alongside their race either earlier in the day or the day before. Even if it is being run independently of the race organiser, it will attract people and, in so doing, raise a race profile and hopefully make the race itself more attractive to sponsors. I know it is an extreme example but look at Ride London and how successful it is on a sportive and road race level. I should point out that SAS Events Limited will be hosting a sportive on the morning of Stage 4 of the Manx International. This will include a closed road run over the mountain section of the course so you can enjoy great riding and racing that weekend. What’s not to like?

The Manx International stage race will take place 2-4 August 2019