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Uphill battle: the race to save the Lincoln Grand Prix

Lincoln GP organiser hopeful of finding a new sponsor but says that without one it's unlikely the race will be resurrected

The Lincoln Grand Prix is emblematic of the struggles currently facing the UK road racing scene. The iconic one-day road race, first held in the summer of 1956, is deeply rooted in British road racing folklore. With an illustrious list of past winners, featuring many of the greats of domestic road racing, it is arguably the ‘monument’ of British road racing. And yet, at a time when more British riders than ever are riding at the very top level of the sport, the race is fighting for its survival.

Without a sponsor, there will be no race in 2020. And it is unlikely the race could be resurrected from there

The event announced earlier this year that previous title sponsor, Cheshunt Homes, will be ending its support in 2020, putting the race’s future in jeopardy. The search for a new title sponsor received a further a blow recently when British Cycling announced they will no longer fund a TV highlights shows for its National Road Series, of which the Lincoln Grand Prix is a part.

With the race’s future in flux, our new contributor James McKay decided to put some questions to race organiser Dan Ellmore to find about more about the race’s history, the challenges of running the race, the impact of British Cycling’s decision to pull TV highlights and the his hopes of finding a new sponsor soon.

2017 HSBC UK | Spring Cup Road Series – Lincoln Grand Prix – JLT Condor’s Ian Bibby wins. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

How long has the race been running, and how has the event changed over the years?

It was first run in 1956, and it is the only UK race that has run every year since.

What does the race mean to cyclists in the UK?

It’s known as “the one the riders want to win” and has a huge following with cyclists that are not riding the race. It is the UK event with the big crowd to go and watch.

Why has it become so prestigious?

The list of previous winners is full of Olympians and Commonwealth Games riders. We have also had some huge names ride: Mark Cavendish (2nd), Brad Wiggins (2nd), and Geraint Thomas, have all ridden but didn’t win.

2015 National Road Championships – Lincoln Grand Prix – Etixx Quickstep’s Mark Cavendish. Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

What attributes are required to win the race?

The finish – up the climb of Michaelgate – requires an explosive effort. It’s not a long climb but it is cobbled, and it’s on the 13th ascent [Ed: 8th ascent for the women] so you need that jump after 12 previous efforts. It’s 102 miles of racing for the men, 63 miles for the women. The bulk of the 8-mile circuit is fast, wide, and wind-swept. But at the end of each lap, there is the narrow cobbled Michaelgate climb and then the ensuring chase over the top if there are any splits.

The cost for the police, stewards and NEG is in excess of £20,000

What challenges face the organisers of the race?

The Lincoln” is unique because it runs through the town centre, every lap for the whole race. This creates a spectacular backdrop of the castle and cathedral, which are the city’s main tourist attractions. This also gives a focal point for the crowd and we get up to 10,000 people in the Castle Square/Michaelgate area. The downside of having so many spectators is managing them; it takes 8 Police motorbikes, 2 Police cars, 8 NEG bikes, and 60 Stewards, with road closure powers to keep the circuit closed (but allow traffic out where possible). The cost for the police, stewards and NEG is in excess of £20,000, which is one of our biggest financial challenges.

HSBC UK British Cycling Spring Cup Series – Lincoln Grand Prix 2017 – Lincoln Cathedral start rollout. Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

How is the race received by the local community?

We understand we close a lot of roads in the town centre and this does impact on drivers, but we have spent a lot of time making sure people are aware. We letter-drop 1200 houses on the route to give them a good warning and alternative routes, etc. We also make sure the public is aware of the economic benefit of the race to the city. In general, the race is very well received. Because of its age, it has become an annual tradition for a lot of people to come out and watch, even though they may not be cyclists.

What impact will the decision by British Cycling not to fund a TV highlights package for National Road Series races?

It had a negative effect on any sponsors who have been involved for a number of years and have enjoyed the TV exposure. Sadly we didn’t have any warning this would happen, or we could have spoken to them first.

As you can tell from the number of races being cancelled, it’s right at the point of no return for some events

If you could ask British Cycling’s new elite road racing manager Erick Rowsell to implement one thing to help support races like yours, what would it be, and why?

The organisers of the National Road Series races need to be involved in the decisions that British Cycling takes for the Series. If British Cycling makes decisions like axing TV coverage, they need to realise the effect of reduced sponsor income for the race organisers. I realise the Series is a British Cycling thing but the Lincoln GP is just one of several races in the Series. So taking sponsors on board for the Series, or removing TV coverage, needs to be something the race organisers know about. Otherwise, we just get squeezed further on getting the funds needed to run the race. And as you can tell from the number of races being cancelled, it’s right at the point of no return for some events.

We are hopeful we will be able to find a sponsor and will have something to announce soon

How is the hunt for a headline sponsor going? How hopeful are you that you’ll find one?

We are hopeful we will be able to find a sponsor and will have something to announce soon.

2017 HSBC UK | National Women’s Road Series – Lincoln Grand Prix – Drops’ Alice Barnes wins. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

How likely is it that the race will still go ahead this season even without one?

Without a sponsor, there will be no race in 2020. And it is unlikely the race could be resurrected from there.

If you do find a sponsor, would the race ever consider becoming a UCI event, inviting foreign teams or running a junior race?

We ran a junior support race for many, many years. It was on at the same time as the men’s race, but this became impossible as we need to open road-closures to release the traffic build-up. So now we run a women’s race in the morning and a men’s in the afternoon. We would love to become a UCI race. If we can get the funding secured, and build from that stable base, that is where we would like to go with the race.

How much more funding and resources does running a UCI race take compared with a National A event?

UCI races pay travel and accommodation for foreign teams, so we estimate it would add around £10,000 to the budget, plus any uplift in prize money required.

Many thanks for Dan for his time, and his continuing efforts for the race.