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Pioneer: Cherie Pridham interview, part 2

The Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother manager on her approach to the team's race programme, the state of the UK scene & her ambitions for 2019.

Team manager of Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK, Cherie Pridham is one of cycling’s pioneers. As an athlete, she was a world class bike rider, completing no less than 8 editions of the Tour de France Féminin. As the owner of Cherie Pridham Racing, she is now, as far we know, the only female manager of a men’s Continental bike team. And she’s also the longest-serving Continental team manager in the UK.

In Part 1 of our interview with her, we discussed her journey as a DS & team manager, her time managing Team Raleigh, how she re-built the Vitus Pro Cycling team from scratch and her strengthened squad for 2019.

In this second and final part of the interview, we discuss Pridham’s approach to the team’s race programme, her thoughts on the state of the domestic scene, her approach to managing her less experienced riders and the team’s ambitions for 2019.

I had to bite my lip last October, because it was all doom and gloom. It was the end of the road scene, according to some. But these changes aren’t a new thing

Photo: Alex Duffill /Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother

What’s your approach to building your race programme. I imagine Scott Thwaites and others will be looking to shine in some of the bigger races?

When we launched the team last year, we set out a three-year programme to our sponsors. Last year, the focus was on development. For year two, we’ve strengthened the team significantly. If we enjoy a successful season in 2019, we can consider expanding our race programme again in year three.

It’s critical that we maintain the support of our sponsors if the team is to be sustainable. To that end, we’re developing an approach that meets everybody’s needs. We’ve worked on this approach for the last year with The Poole Agency.

It’s always been our intention to follow a single programme, where we might have opportunities to ride one or two UCI races per month, depending on invitations

People who know the British scene know that I operate to certain standards, whether that’s how the team is presented or the effort I expect from my riders.

The race programme won’t be radically different this season. We’re essentially a British team, and that’s one thing we’ve made quite clear to the riders. I’ve always supported the British scene and will continue do so. That said, we will develop the race programme to get as many invitations as we can.

We haven’t sold this team as one that will pursue a dual programme. It’s always been our intention to follow a single programme, where we might have opportunities to ride one or two UCI races per month, depending on invitations. But our focus has always been on selection for the Tour of Britain, which is very, very important. The Tour Series is also important for sponsors, and we also want to support the British calendar, so anything else that comes along is a bonus.

We do a lot of work behind the scenes to assure ASO and Welcome To Yorkshire how much we value their race

Our invitation to the Tour de Yorkshire has been hugely important, of course. It’s a massive opportunity, and a privilege that I’ve never taken for granted. We do a lot of work behind the scenes to assure ASO and Welcome To Yorkshire how much we value their race. We’ve been at every edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, and we’ve come away with representation in the breaks on each occasion, and had a couple of top-10 finishes too.

2018 Tour de Yorkshire – Stage 1: Beverley to Doncaster – Yorkshire, England – Vitus Pro Cycling prepare their kit. Photo: Allan Mckenzie/SWpix.com

Did you consider requesting an invite to the Tour de Normandie this season?

I love the Tour of Normandie. I’ve done it four times. I’ve won several stages over the years and come close to winning the overall classification. I think we missed out on overall victory for Alexandre Blain by three seconds in 2013. I’ve certainly got unfinished business in Normandie. It would be great to head back there in 2020.

What do you make of the domestic scene this year? There’s a new national road series with new races, although Chorley has disappeared. And the teams you’ll be competing against will be different with JLT Condor and One Pro disappearing, and SwiftCarbon and Ribble stepping up…

I had to bite my lip back last October, because it was all doom and gloom. It was the end of the road scene, according to some. But these changes aren’t a new thing. I think it was just a bit of a sad coincidence that a couple of UK teams folded in the same year.

I have to give credit to [Commercial Director] Jonathan Rigby at British Cycling. We’ve had a couple of meetings with him at the National Cycling Centre. Their whole attitude and approach to supporting the teams in whatever way they can – first and foremost by listening to what the teams are saying, what the DSs are saying, and what they believe is needed – has been very refreshing. Hats off to those guys. It’s early doors, but it’s pleasing to see that we’ve had two or three more races added to the calendar, and actually, things aren’t as bad as some were predicting towards the end of last year.

Pridham embraces Scott Thwaites after his 2nd place at the 2019 East Cleveland Klondike Grand Prix. Photo: Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother

And, are you excited about the Isle of Man stage race?

Yes, it’s another race, and it’s an exciting angle having a different format. It’s an expensive location, in terms of travel and accommodation costs, but as a British-registered UCI Continental team, we have to commit to these races.

You’ve got 14 riders in your squad this season, that’s slightly bigger than you had last year?

Yes, we had 12 last year. A squad of 14 riders feels like the right balance. You only need one or two of the riders to go down with injury or illness, and the team is significantly weakened, especially given the structure of the British calendar, where the programme is very intense for a three-month period. You need a huge amount of luck if your squad is to avoid illness and injury, and having an additional rider just makes life a little bit easier.

So often, you see young riders move up a level, and their expectations are completely unrealistic. My role is partly to teach the younger riders in particular that signing a UCI contract does not make it a given that everything will be done for them

Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother lead the bunch at the 2019 HSBC UK Men’s National Road Series – East Cleveland Klondike GP. Photo: James York

And the squad includes some riders you’ve picked up from the elite levels, like Mikey Mottram, Frederick Scheske and Red Walters. What are your hopes for them this season and how would will you manage their transition to the UCI level?

To some extent it’s about how much they want it. So often, you see young riders move up a level, and their expectations are completely unrealistic. My role is partly to teach the younger riders in particular that signing a UCI contract does not make it a given that everything will be done for them. They still have to work hard. The riders who stand out for me are those who go out and seize the opportunity they’ve been given.

The young guys need to find their own races when they’re not selected. We don’t run a double race programme, so I’m going to guys who probably won’t race for two or three weeks and telling them to find National B races and so on, and to go and get results. They’re not only fighting for a contract for next year, they’re also building their own CVs. Results matter in any race, both for the rider and for the sponsors.

What was behind the decision to switch to disc brakes this season?

Our title sponsor is Vitus Bikes, who wholeheartedly embrace disc brake technology, and we’re happy to move with the times. Our race bike has already created a great deal of interest. We had a presentation from SRAM at our recent training camp in Calpe, and all the guys are very happy with the new 12-speed groupset and the hydraulic disc brakes.

Are you worried about the potential challenges of changing disc wheels in a race situation?

I think, with everything, you just have to adapt. Our mechanics and the neutral service teams will use power tools to remove the bolt-thru axles, much like Formula One pit crews use pneumatic wrenches for wheel changes. I think our mechanics have got it down to about 12 or 15 seconds for a wheel change, which is as quick as changing a wheel with a rim brake – and let’s not forget that wheel changes with traditional caliper brakes are not foolproof.  

Our goal is to become one of Britain’s best UCI Continental teams

Cherie Pridham at the HSBC UK British Cycling Spring Cup Road Series – Chorley Grand Prix 2018 – Chorley, England. Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

What would success look like for you this season?

Our goal is to become one of Britain’s best UCI Continental teams. We’ve been there before, with Team Raleigh-GAC, and we have the riders and commercial backing to return to that level. It won’t be easy – there are some very strong squads out there, which is great for the British scene – but we’re determined to give it our best shot.

The Tour Series is a big priority for us, whether that’s winning the series outright, or winning individual rounds and  challenging for the overall. We need to get back winning races. At the end of the day, a win is a win. From my perspective as a DS, the more victories we can collect, the more satisfied the sponsors will be.

I’m delighted to have received an invitation to the Tour de Yorkshire, and we’re determined to be competitive at the Tour Series and qualify for the Tour of Britain; that, for me, would be a success.

Read more

Part 1 of our interview with Cherie Pridham.

Our preview of the 2019 Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother squad.

Featured photo: Alex Duffill /Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother