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Reset: towards a more sustainable domestic scene?

Hannah Farran argues that the disappearance of big-budget domestic teams offers the scene an opportunity to reset and rebuild itself from the ground up

The men’s domestic racing scene is changing. As recently as 2016 – as well as Team Sky – the UK boasted a Pro Continental team, One Pro Cycling, as well as six Continental teams, most of them very well-funded. Many riders at the Continental level earned good salaries, and the teams could afford impressive infrastructure and solid race programmes.

For the scene to be sustainable we need to remind our riders and management that the domestic scene should be a stepping stone to the levels above

Looking ahead to 2020, the scene will look very different. With Madison Genesis and Team Wiggins Le Col closing their doors this year, there will be three, maybe four, Continental teams at most next season. And without knowing the details of individual team finances, it’s clear that budgets will be modest compared with 2016 levels. At the same time, however, several elite teams have indicated they have either stabilised or increased their sponsorship levels, something which may spark a more competitive domestic race scene in 2020.

A recent debate on Twitter sparked the question: could all this actually present an opportunity for a more sustainable domestic scene?

The answer, suggests Hannah Farran, is yes. In this post, Hannah explains why…

2019 OVO Energy Tour Series Launch – Birkenhead Town Hall, Merseyside, England. Ellen McDermott of Boompods, far left. Photo: Alex Whitehead/

“I feel the changes in the domestic scene we’ll see between 2019 and 2020 offer an opportunity for the scene to stabilise at a level where there is sustainability. And from there, growth.

I firmly believe the domestic scene should be a stepping stone to higher levels of the sport.

We should not be seeing salaries which exceed the minimum salary of the World Tour. Why? Because in previous years, the scene has enabled this to happen, meaning it has prohibited riders’ ambitions (and further progression) because on lucrative salaries they had no incentive to progress to higher levels of racing.

On the other hand, we have seen teams who are sustainably-run, but with much lower budgets and wages, take young riders under their wing and progress them on to Pro Continental and World Tour teams.

The sport does not have a way of generating income directly from itself. There are no ticket sales (in road races at least) and there are limited merchandise sales compared to other sports. This means we rely solely on external sponsorship and this, as I am fully aware, is an exceptionally finite and hard-to-come-by resource. Especially with the ever-increasing fees of running a team. Next season, for example, British Cycling is now requiring British UCI registered teams to find an extra £3000 just to participate in the National Road Series. This does not include race entry fees and is separate to the new UCI anti-doping fee that Continental teams have to pay in order to compete in ProSeries races like the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain.

Many teams come and go because they fail to grow organically and sustainably

In my experience of running an elite women’s domestic team, I have seen riders who have been promised the earth, receive nothing. We have always been a team who operates within itself. And we have progressed year on year, working with what we have in order to get to where we want to be. Many teams come and go because they fail to grow organically and sustainably.

We have never paid a rider wage nor do we plan to. To do so would mean our budget would have to increase ten-fold and would possibly take money away from where it is truly needed. Instead, we have seen riders step up onto teams above us and are now winning European medals. This has been whilst juggling a part-time job or finding personal sponsorship until they get to the level where a salary is a viable option.

I have also been a soigneur for a Continental team and seen the behaviour of teams who have since folded due to expanding beyond their means; teams that have turned up to a round of the Tour Series with World Tour infrastructure that is beyond what is needed at a domestic level.

This is an opportunity for the scene to reset and rebuild itself from the ground up

Instead, we are now at a level where the best teams going into 2020 will operate on a budget that makes a healthy race programme, equipment and expenses such as food and accommodation viable. This is an opportunity for the scene to reset and rebuild itself from the ground up.

Yes, wages are available but the top domestic riders (on the whole) will be paid in line with the results they get and the ‘return on investment’ they provide back to the team. And those riders will generally be the ones who make that step up at the end of each season. 

I’ve also had riders who wish to go full time and make this a viable option by personal sponsorship. This is a thin line to tread with existing sponsors – and the exposure personal sponsors then gain – but I believe it to be healthy for the sport if it allows riders to be full time, make that jump, and then leave the team with a bank balance that doesn’t mean they have to fold. I’ve seen riders balance part-time work in the winter where riders are home for long periods of time or create personal revenue streams that can be developed remotely. This type of entrepreneurship is the way forward and I think actually benefits the riders.

I am aware there isn’t a perfect solution. There will be people on either side of the fence; pro wages, against wages, pro small wages and pro big wages. I have seen it first hand on the men’s scene and I’ve had to navigate it first hand in the women’s scene. I believe that in order for the scene to be sustainable we need to remind our riders and management that the domestic scene should be seen as a stepping stone to the levels above. This doesn’t belittle the scene nor its riders it merely makes a scene that is sustainable a reality by acting within and not beyond itself.”

Hannah Farran is co-manager of the elite British women’s cycling team Team Boompods who have raced at an elite level within the sport for the last 3 years including the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour Series.

Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/ 2019 OVO Energy Tour of Britain – Stage 5: Birkenhead Park to Birkenhead Park, England – Erick Rowsell of Madison Genesis.

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