Richardsons Trek were one of the most impressive elite teams on the domestic circuit last season. With an exciting crop of young riders, they regularly caught the eye, and not just because of their striking orange jerseys.
Taking several top ten placings in National Road Series races, they finished 2019 as the second best placed elite team in the Series overall, behind Saint Piran. They also narrowly missed out on winning the National Circuit Championships after Isaac Mundy pulled his foot from his pedal with victory seemingly in the bag. Wins included the Saffron Walden GP and the Jef Schils Memorial Road Race. And in Belgium, they picked up podiums on the kermesse circuit. The team’s strength in depth meant that results came from a range of riders. Isaac Mundy, Joe Sutton, Lewis Bulley and Pete Cocker were four of the riders who stood out.
Perhaps one of the most exciting of all, however, was James Jenkins. Just 20-years-old last season, Jenkins counted 9th at the Lancaster Grand Prix, 11th at the South Coast Classic, 7th at the National Circuit Championships and wins at the Saffron Walden GP and the Jef Schils Memorial Road Race on his 2019 palmares. He also looked accomplished in his first stage race in France, finishing 12th overall at the 3 Jours de Cherbourg. He’ll be one to watch in 2020.
Indeed, with increased sponsorship and some new signings, the team as a whole has a promising outlook this year. The long-running team, supported by title sponsor Richardsons Cycles, is managed by Andy Lyons, Dean Shannon and Steve Skuse. Lyons and Shannon inherited the team in 2012, saving the team’s previous incarnation, Twenty3c, from disappearing. From there, the team has steadily grown, with Richardsons Cycles coming on board in 2013.
It was without a doubt the team’s best season to date
As the team looks ahead to 2020, we caught up with co-manager Andy Lyons to review the season just gone, discuss the new squad, ponder the state of the domestic racing scene and talk 2020 goals.
Looking back on 2019
2019 was the best season yet, according to Lyons. “It was without a doubt the team’s best season to date. We had riders constantly in the top ten in the National Road Series events and it was about strength-in-depth with the whole team being competitive”.
“The real highlights for me were seeing James, Joe and Pete step up a level. It’s what the team is about, helping to develop and bring riders through. But I guess the biggest highlight and lowlight happened on the same day at the National Crits Champs in Rochester. The team rode superbly and when Isaac jumped away and was joined by Joey Walker we knew the team would have its first national medal. With 75 metres to go, it was a done deal, Walker was never coming round Isaac and then Isaac pulled his foot out! It was a great day but it could have been even better. We were devastated for Isaac but he was incredibly philosophical about it. A national champion in a Richardsons Trek jersey would have been pretty special.”
The 2020 squad
The team start 2020 with a squad of 11 riders. 7 riders continue from 2019, including Simon Alexander, Pete Cocker, Rhys Howells, James Jenkins, Isaac Mundy, Stephen Parsonage and Luke Ryan. Four riders come into the team: Sam Asker (Lee Valley Youth Cycling Club), Jim Bradford (ActiveEdge Race Team), Callum Riley (Team Wiggins Le Col) and Aaron Stone (Cycle Team OnForm). This means they lose key riders Joe Sutton (who joins Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) and Lewis Bulley (who will ride for Indulek-Doltcini-Derito).
Lyons believes the squad can continue its impressive form into 2020, picking out James Jenkins, in particular, as one to keep an eye on. “We have 5 or 6 riders at least who will be looking to continue to improve on their 2019 results. 2019 was quite a breakthrough season for James Jenkins who has been with the team for three seasons already and is still an under-23 and we fully expect he will continue to improve. But he will not be the only orange jersey up there at the sharp end of the big races.”
“Hopefully we’ll be every bit as competitive as 2019. It’s difficult to judge a season on results alone; it will be about whether we can take another step forward as a team, help more riders develop, ride better races and also enjoy it!”
The team starts the year increased sponsorship. They retain key sponsors from 2019, and bring on board DAS, an office furniture company based in London. Lyons says the extra money will allow the team “to look after the lads a bit better and ride a better programme” but that their ethos will remain unchanged.
We try and do things properly and within our budget and that will remain the case
“We are an amateur team, run by people that do it for the love of the sport and want to help as many riders develop as possible. We try and do things properly and within our budget and that will remain the case. I think that is why we have slowly grown and are now competitive against the UCI Continental teams. It’s about knowing your limits.”
Lyons reflects that slowly growing has been enabled through the establishment of several long-term relationships with key partners and sponsors. “We are very fortunate to have some very supportive and encouraging, longstanding sponsors that understand cycling and sponsor the team for the good of the sport and also because they appreciate the role the team plays in developing riders.”
“Richardsons Cycles are brilliant. Everyone thinks they must be a huge chain of bike shops but Erik and his team are a local bike shop in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex., Simon Bragg from the London Leg Up Fund recognises the value in helping young riders develop and the qualities and lessons it gives them for life outside of the sport. Metrow Foods is run by two former pro bike riders Mick Bath and Bruce Hodges, so they know teams like ours need help if we are to develop riders. EASST is a charity for helping Essex-based sports persons and they recognise what we do. There is also Little Bleeders, Alex Dowsett’s haemophilia charity. Alex and his trustees recognise how we help riders develop and publicise the good work of his charity, but ultimately they want to put something back into the sport. Not forgetting IKO the roofing material manufacturer who have supported the team for 4 years and more recently Laka, the cycle insurance specialists and Wahoo. This type of backing builds stability and has allowed for our relative longevity.”
“In 2019 we also teamed up with Rapha who now make the teams kit and we are a ‘Rapha supported team’. To be recognised by a brand like Rapha and have them approach us and actively want to support the team was justification that we are doing things right. This has helped to build the team’s stability, as they are keen like us to make this a long term relationship.”
Stepping up to Continental level?
Despite the team’s stable growth, stepping up to Continental level has not so far been a serious consideration for the team. “It’s a nice thought”, says Lyons, “but we would only consider doing it if we could do it properly. We know what budget we’d need and we aren’t anywhere near that.”
“Yes. we could probably afford to register, but all of the people involved in running the team already work full time and from our perspective if we were going to take that step we’d want to do it professionally, take the team away to proper races and also pay the riders. So, for the time being, we’ll stick with being ‘elite’ and know our place. If we did want to step up we would need major investment and a complete change of approach and that is something we’d need to think long and hard about.”
The domestic racing scene
And what about the health of the domestic racing scene? With races and teams closing down, pessimism abounds about the scene’s future. Lyons has mixed views.
“I don’t think we can pretend that it’s healthy because it’s not. We’ve lost races and we’ve lost key teams. 15 to 20 years ago there were 18 Premier Calendar events. Now [in 2020], there are 8. It’s a very difficult period and there are no easy answers. British Cycling are aware of the issues and are working to resolve them but its not an easy task and unfortunately, we don’t see any immediate improvements on the horizon. Having said that, the level of racing is actually improving, the races themselves are getting harder and the level of competition is improving so some things are going in the right direction.”
It is all very well providing a healthy youth structure and encouraging junior racing but cycling in the UK needs to have a senior level which the young riders can aspire to
What concerns Lyons most is that the domestic scene doesn’t provide talented juniors with the kind of pathway that they need in order to progress. “One of the really disappointing things we see is the number of young riders coming through that we can’t help. There is a strong junior and youth scene in the UK which is a real positive. There are many, many young riders that turn senior full of enthusiasm, but they suddenly realise the senior scene isn’t what they’d imagined. There aren’t teams or races for them and very often we lose them from the sport because there isn’t a natural progression for them.”
“It is quite demoralising. It is all very well providing a healthy youth structure and encouraging junior racing but cycling in the UK needs to have a senior level which the young riders can aspire to and gives them an incentive. Yes, going abroad is an option but a healthy UK scene is extremely important for the good of the sport.”
Back to the season ahead, the team’s race programme should be similar to 2019, with the team riding the full National Road Series, but with a few more excursions to Europe, says Lyons. “We rode the Three Days of Cherbourg in September and it was a great event in all respects and we have been invited back. We would like to ride some more French races in 2020 along with our usual trips to Belgium.”
And what are Lyons’ objectives for 2020? “Without wanting to sound unambitious,” he says, “I’d say much the same as 2019. We want to help riders develop and find their feet at the national level, providing them with a team and an environment to do this. Hopefully, the results will follow. We have backing for 2020 and 2021 and if the results do continue to go our way and the UK racing scene picks up and gives sponsors a few more opportunities, then who knows what the future holds.”