The British Continental teams tend dominate the domestic road racing scene, both in terms of results and publicity. But look more closely at the domestic scene and you’ll notice that elite-level teams form an important part of the fabric too. They not only provide an important proving ground for riders wanting to step up to Continental level, or higher, they add spice and colour to top-level domestic races, including the National Road Series, and can also be race protaganists in their own right.
In this new series, we shine a spotlight on some of the non-Continental domestic teams in the UK. Our first episode featured Cycling Sheffield. Here, the the spotlight falls on Spirit Tifosi.
Spirit Tifosi‘s 11-rider squad have been a consistent presence in the National Road Series this season. They’ve placed a rider in the top 20 of all but one race in the Series so far. Add to that Rupert Graham’s 9th place in the National Road Championships time trial, and Tom Mazzone’s 13th in the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic, and it’s easy to conclude the team is capable of than holding its own in the company of its British Continental competitors.
Introducing the team
Russell Rowles’ Spirit Racing Team was established in 2010 and is now a firm fixture on the domestic road racing scene. Rowles explains that the mission of the team is “to develop riders to a standard that will offer them the opportunity to move onto Pro Conti level and beyond … and obviously to hopefully unearth and develop some serious talent.” Perhaps their biggest success to date in rider development is Jacob Hennessy. The 22-year-old was invited on to British Cycling’s Senior Academy after a successful stint at Spirit, and now rides for Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes.
Results are important but how we race and improve is what I look for and what we achieve as a team performance is of utmost importance to me
Fun and teamwork are also important values for the team, Rowles says. “At the heart of it all is a strong team work ethic which manifests itself as intense focus on the bike whilst racing, but equally with a large dose of fun off it.”
The team has ridden a full programme of National Road Series races this season and has also taken part in selected crits, as well as a UCI stage race in Poland, the Baltyk-Karkonosze Tour.
As with most other elite teams, Spirit Tifosi operates on a small budget. “We have a tiny cash budget”, says Rowles. “The riders supplement where they can to make up the shortfall in travel and accommodation costs.” Rowles also injects his own cash into the team in order to keep it going, funding the team’s car, race truck and service course, amongst other things.
The team has secured some notable results this season. Tom Mazzone grabbed the team’s first National Road Series top 10 with 8th at the Stockton Grand Prix. And Rupert Graham’s 9th in the National Road Championships time trial was no mean feat for an elite rider facing World Tour opposition. Especially one who, like most of his team mates, works full time.
Graham’s exploits in Poland this year were also memorable for Rowles. “The highlight so far for me was Rupert Graham coming within in 3 kms of winning a stage of the Baltyk – Karkonosze Tour. He attacked with 60 kms to go, opening up a solo gap of 3 minutes plus at one point. It took the might of some serious UCI Conti teams to pull him back. The plaudits we got afterwards were my highlight and the look on the faces of the team managers when I told them he had a full time 9 to 5 job was priceless.” Graham is clearly a rider Rowles has big hopes for. “Keep an eye on Rupert he has a world class engine but has only been racing seriously for two seasons now.”
Results aren’t everything for Rowles however: “If I’m honest results are important but how we race and improve is what I look for and what we achieve as a team performance is of utmost importance to me.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Rowles has some big goals. “A Ryedale GP top 10, a Berlemont Trophy win and a podium in the Bourne CiCLE Classic” are all ambitions.
Rowles hopes he can be even more ambitious next season. Much may depend on the age-old question of cash. Rowles, like many other team managers, is still on the hunt for sponsors for next season. But with the right resources, he hopes the team can aim for a “bigger and deeper race programme” next season, with more UCI races.
|Charles Walker (23)|
|George Clark (U23)|
|Ollie Hennessy (Junior)|
|Team principal/owner||Russell Rowles|
|Assistant DS||Dan Clemens|
|Soigneurs||Mark and Gina Peacock|
|Service course and logistics||Mark Baines|
For more about the team, visit their website.