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Time for a rethink: reforming the domestic calendar and road series

Colin Clews, Race Founder & Director of the Rutland -Melton CiCLE Classics, sets out his vision for a reformed top-tier domestic road race calendar

Colin Clews, Race Founder & Director of the Rutland -Melton CiCLE Classics at CiCLE Classics, sets out his vision for a reformed top-tier domestic road race calendar

For too long we appear to have been stuck in a rut, fitting national series to existing races and whatever new events happen to come along

28/04/2019 – Road Cycling – Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic, Leicestershire, England – Colin Joyce of Rally UHC Cycling wins. Photo: SWpix.com

The issues

We are told that ‘vast sums’ are being invested each year by British Cycling (BC) annually upon the organisation and operation of the various National Road Series for men and women.

But what do we see from that?

  • Calendar. Series that appear to stumble on from year to year, with old events falling by the wayside and the odd new event appearing. Some continue, others disappear after just a year or two.
  • Branding. Simply branding everything that moves in the same image. This may do wonders for BC’s sponsors’ egos, but how does that assist in the creation of characterful races attracting their own sponsors and being able to make an impact in their own right? We need races to be able to do this so that they can replace the many British ‘monuments’ of the past that have been lost.
  • Finance. Existing organisers constantly seeking financial support for their events to help them develop and grow, but ultimately left to their own devices to find the income they require to run their races.
  • UCI races. The top-level teams asking for more single day international races on home soil in which they can show themselves, as well as earning much needed UCI ranking points to help improve themselves.

What is needed is to start from scratch by setting out what a national series should look like

28/04/2019 – Road Cycling – Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic, Leicestershire, England – Will Bjergfelt and Pete Williams of Swift Carbon, mechanical, wheel swap.
Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Creating a new vision

Where is the progress towards overcoming all, or at least some, of these issues?

For too long we appear to have been stuck in a rut, fitting national series to existing races and whatever new events happen to come along. Is it not time BC began to give a lead as the governing body and set out what a series should look like? And then find existing and new events to form a balanced national series? Might this then begin to be reflective of the need that exists for events to headline a resurgence of ‘real road racing’ in Britain?

What is needed is to start from scratch by setting out what a national series should look like – both geographically and the type of events that are needed – and work forward from there.

A reformed domestic calendar

Firstly, there should be a set of series spread across the whole of the summer season, starting in March and lasting until the end of September. The basic and simplistic aim being that in each month there should be as follows:

  • 1 elite men’s series road race
  • 1 elite women’s series road race
  • 1 junior men’s series road race
  • 1 junior women’s series road race
  • A series of international UCI-level road races (.2 and .1)

Each series should consist of a maximum seven races spread across the whole year. Limiting the series to seven races would result in more potential weekends of racing than currently utilised, opening up dates for new races wishing to enter the calendar. This would particularly be the case where any single date and venue embraced more than one series category (e.g. the Lincoln GP holding both men’s and women’s elite races on the same day, or any variation of this, such as the women’s and junior men’s CiCLE Classics being similarly organised).

If the geographical spread of races was not balanced, then as a governing body, why shouldn’t BC look for new or existing lower level races in those areas lacking major events and assist in building them up into what is needed. This might mean some existing ‘major’ events being told that they no longer fit, but might this not then be a spur to them to look to moving on to international status, etc. rather than just doing the same old thing?

A range of races such as that outlined above would also allow for the insertion of ‘special’ events and series such as the Women’s Tour, and Tour Series without undue interruption to the overall domestic calendar. It would also retain plenty of opportunity for teams wishing to ride abroad regularly do so, although the emphasis would be on providing more basic level UCI racing in the UK.

28/04/2019 – Road Cycling – Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic, Leicestershire, England – Ali Slater of Vitus. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Boosting international race representation in the UK

At present, there has been little evident progress in responding to the request of the larger domestic teams for more international racing (i.e. more UCI races in the UK). Unless there are unknown applications in hand, the potential for major progress in this respect for 2020, or even a partial series for 2020, is now too late to consider. However, a measure of progress towards this concept could be made in 2020 by the identification now of existing races interested and willing to make this move towards international status. For this to occur, only a small measure of investment is required.

Whilst full international status is now too late for next year (UCI registration being required by mid-June latest), races interested and willing are allowed to take up to three foreign-based teams which would provide pseudo international racing in the first year, with a view to the move to full international status in the second or third year. The estimated extra cost to each race in the first year of making this move is £5000 per event. A sum and contribution not dissimilar to that made to events like the Lincoln GP, the Archer GP, Tour of Cotswolds, etc., in the past to allow them to offer international racing when income streams into BC were at far less affluent levels than they are now. Perhaps some of the current “vast sums” of investment in the National Road Series could be used to support this evolution, rather than simply assist in providing a cut rate advertising bill board at National Road Series races for HSBC?

As to events that might wish to become part of a domestic international series, Rutland – Melton CiCLE Classic is already there. The Beaumont Trophy has held that status in recent years, the Lincoln GP stands above its contemporaries in the current National Road Series, and new events such as the new South Coast Classic and Bourne CiCLE Classic have ambition to move quickly to full international level. Some of, if not all, these races could provide the basis for an international series. There must also be others who, with the correct levels of support, could also make the progression.

We need races that are attractive, not just the same old 10 mile circuits in the sticks that bore everyone to tears

28/04/2019 – Road Cycling – Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic, Leicestershire, England – Will Bjergfelt. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

New National Road Series events

By removing such elite events from the current National Road Series, gaps would be created that could then be used identify events for inclusion in the National Road Series as described above. This could involve encouraging existing or new well-organised National B or National A events of quality to apply to join the National Road Series. We need races that are attractive, not just the same old 10 mile circuits in the sticks that bore everyone to tears. Such races would also have the incentive to be able to progress themselves into the ranks of the new international race series. In contrast, currently we have a situation of the ‘same old, same old’ each year with very little room for movement or incentive for progression.

The very clear distinction between the National Road Series and the new international race series would be its branding. Whereas the former would continue to maintain the form and style of the BC sponsors, the new international series would be free to seek its own ‘light’ form of overall branding linking it together, with essentially each event in the series freely developing and highlighting its own character and sponsors. The recently operated Belgian ‘Napoleon Games‘ series could be used as a model to follow, where although owning 50% of the series branding, unlike HSBC who utilises this to the potential detriment of all other sponsors, Napoleon Games sold on much of their share to other sponsors, with each organiser involved benefitting in cash terms from a proportion of the income generated.

The above represents initial thoughts on how the domestic road racing scene could move forward, – it can certainly be expanded and refined. No single individual or group has a monopoly on ideas for what needs to be done. It is offered as a starting point for progress, at a stage when the 2020 domestic calendar is beginning to be considered. Why not start from a point where a new calendar is set out and organisers are asked to bid for the slots that they believe they are capable of contributing to, to help support a new style of season long road race calendar for the UK?

Featured photo: SWPix

1 comment on “Time for a rethink: reforming the domestic calendar and road series

  1. Hi, nice article and good points to kick-off a discussion.
    With reference to Women’s racing – I would suggest that whilst the idea of separating off 3 events into UCI ‘UK Series’ ( Lincoln, CiCLE Classic, Tour of Reservoir for example) and having a 7 race ‘Premier Calendar’ would create a hierarchy of events, however it adds 2 further RR events to an already stretched financial (and time) burden on teams and riders. It’s undoubtedly a nice idea to develop the calendar, but more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Women’s racing in UK is Amateur made to look Professional by those involved, with care and a great deal of sacrifice, and huge credit to all those that expend the energy in doing so. It can’t be an expectation for resources just to be stretched to fit an expanded calendar.
    As with the developing WWT calendar, it is far better to help existing events create better stand alone spectacles than just add more.
    6 great Premier Calendar races April to Sept (with BC money spent on improved promotion, activation, media, profile raising marketing, dedicated PR etc, all increasing exposure for the sport in UK) combined with 2 challenging UCI 1.1s within that timescale, is a far better bet, meeting the same developmental goals as Colin’s article and not adding to current burdens. Below this, a number of stepping-stone events, ‘a Premier Calendar 2’, working with event organisers to create attractive spectacles in their own right. Restrict entries to these for riders ranked outside top 30 in National RR series ranking at entry deadline time, as an idea.
    Sponsorship money is tight and will remain so for a while given the circumstances, so a 5 year plan along these lines would give stability and structure for potential investors to grasp what’s on offer, this creates a narrative in a sometimes confused overall picture in the sport.

    Another area of great concern is geography. The current Women’s HSBC RR Series is hugely challenging for female rider living anywhere below Birmingham. As mentioned, the riders aren’t full-time by and large, so a 1000km Sat-Sun round trip to race, then be at work first thing Monday morning, is an unreasonable ask, let alone 4 weekends in succession as this year (Res, Nat RR, Curlew, Stockton). This needs addressing in any calendar re-jig, it doesn’t bring the best out of riders and teams.
    it will be an on-going process, but looking at the distinct challenges in the Women’s race scene is a must and it not get absorbed by looking at the calendar as one mass.

    Looking forward to this developing conversation,
    David, manager/owner Bianchi Dama women’s cycling team.

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