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Smells like team Spirit: Russell Rowles interview and 2020 squad reveal

Team owner of Spirit Tifosi BSS Rotor unveils his 2020 squad, reflects on 2019 and discusses his hopes for the new season

Russell Rowles, team owner of the elite-level Spirit team, can look back on 2019 with a great deal of satisfaction. 9th in the team standings of the National Road Series after regular top 20 finishes, 9th in the National Road Championships time trial through Rupert Graham, as well as Graham’s win in the Victor Berlemont Trophy. They also came oh-so-close to their first ever National A road race win when Tom Mazzone took second on stage 3 of the Manx International.

We now are a fixture in the bigger races, not just making up the numbers

2020 will mark the team’s 10th year in existence, during which time they have slowly evolved into becoming one of the most competitive elite teams on the UK circuit. With new sponsors on board, the team name will evolve from Spirit Tifosi to Spirit Tifosi BSS Rotor next year. With the new squad under contract – and new title sponsors in place – we caught up with Rowles to find out who will be lining up for the team next year and how things are shaping up for the new season…

2019 HSBC UK National Road Series – Cycle 360 Manx International Stage 3 – Ed Clancy of Vitus Pro Cycling wins ahead of Tom Mazzone (Sprit Tifosi) and Harry Hardcastle (Wheelbase Cabtech Castelli). Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

First up, let’s take a quick look at the new squad. The team will consist of 12 riders, including 5 new signings. In Rowles’ own words, “It’s a mixture of retained riders who have been blooded at the sharp end of the level we aspire to. On top of that, we have gone for youth.”  

There are 7 retained riders in total: Frazier Carr, George Clark, Jake Hales, Rupert Graham, Charlie Passfield, Jordan Peacock and Charles Walker.

Joining them will be 5 new signings. 20-year-old George Kimber joins after a year with Holdsworth-Zappi, where he rode some big U23 races, including the fearsome Valle d’Aosta. Meanwhile, three riders step up from the junior ranks: Angus Hawkins, who joins from the Zappi Racing junior team, Farley Barber (Pro Vision Race Team) and Joe Baker (ZeroBC). Finally, David Bolland will join from Andy Moore Autocentres Racing.

Rowles admits he had tried to persuade some other young stars to join too, but reflects that they didn’t join because “we are not quite at the level to tempt them to sign.”

Leaving the team are the retiring Chris Dredge, Ollie Hennessy (younger brother of Jacob Hennessy) and the Isle of Man brothers Tom Mazzone and Leon Mazzone, a pair that achieved some of the team’s top results in 2019.

Rowles says that with new young riders onboard, the team will continue its development focus. “Our model is to uncover raw talent by offering the opportunity to race at the highest level we can achieve. The older riders we’ve retained demonstrate a willingness to learn, improve and also mentor others in some instances”, he explains.

He’s also kept on a core of riders that he believes can challenge for big honours next season. “In the case of Rupert Graham, Charlie Passfield and Jordan Peacock, they each show huge potential to podium in HSBC National Road Series and UCI races”, says Rowles.

Charles Walker. Photo: Spirit Tifosi

He looks back on 2019 with some satisfaction but also recognises the team has room for improvement: “We improved in some areas and trod water in others. Cash is the key, but on the whole, I was pleased with our results and the fact we now are a fixture in the bigger races, not just making up the numbers. Saying that, we still have a way to go to win them.”

“The highlights were Rupert coming 9th in the National TT and winning the Victor Berlemont Trophy. However, Jordan consistently sniffing out the big break of the day in the National Road Series and Rupert’s 70km solo attack in Poland that almost bagged us a UCI race win were also big signs of improvement.”

Rowles is philosophical on the challenge of finding sponsorship at a time when several Continental-level teams have folded having failed to secure ongoing funds.

Take the time out to watch a race unfold from the team car and you will be hooked for life

“It’s always a challenge and even more so when you have a day job. But we are honest to everybody who invests. Yes, the return on investment is not the reason you should invest, but take the time out to watch a race unfold from the team car and you will be hooked for life,” he posits.

2019 HSBC UK National Road Series – Lancaster GP – Lancaster, England – Spirit Tifosi. Photo: Craig Zadoroznyj/SWpix.com

And whilst there is plenty of pessimism about the domestic scene, Rowles offers a more positive outlook: “It is changing and strangely I would argue for the better. British Cycling is committed to developing riders and the race calendar. We the team owners just need to realise and understand the mission statement.”

Rowles’ positive outlook extends to his hopes for next season. “I’m really positive”, he says. “We know what is needed to achieve results and develop riders. And with our current crop, I think we should uncover a star and trust me our ethos will ensure that all the team ride for that person on any given day.”

He picks out four riders he’s confident we should watch out for. “Rupert Graham is a rider with a World Tour engine and will win big”, he asserts. “Charlie Passfield has now finished his exams and will be a very strong rider in 2020. Jordan Peacock has improved every year in the team, and I see no reason why he won’t podium big in 2020. And Angus Hawkins will be a star, so I will be looking for him to be a winner, at National B level first of all”.

What of the team’s race programme? They will ride the full National Road Series calendar once again. Rowles also hopes to ride a number of UCI races, as the team has done in previous years. He says the team has “a lot of invites to UCI Europe Tour events, as well as races in Africa and elsewhere. So at present, I’m sitting down to select the best programme.”

And what would success look like in 2020? “The sponsors wanting more in 2021, first and foremost. Then winning a round of the National Road Series, a win in a UCI road race, and a top 10 in the National Road Championships road race. Followed by one or more of my riders surpassing my expectations of them for 2020; nothing else matters.”  

Photo: Gary Main

Featured photo: Craig Zadoroznyj/SWpix.com. 2019 HSBC UK National Road Series The Beaumont Trophy Stamfordham, Northumberland