Erick Rowsell, British Cycling’s Elite Road Racing Manager, delivers an open address to the cycling community about the future of British road racing.
We recognise that there is an urgent need to reinvigorate the discipline at every level
After ten months in post as British Cycling’s first Elite Road Racing Manager, it is a touch surreal that I’m yet to witness a national-level road race on home soil.
While 2020 has been quite the year, for every sport, it doesn’t feel unreasonable to say that road racing has been hit especially hard.
In March we saw postponements of the Tour de Yorkshire, Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race and the Women’s Tour, followed by the Tour of Britain in May, and the ongoing disruption and strict guidelines in place soon put pay to any hope of a national series or championships.
What’s more, this only added to the existential threats facing organisers of some of this country’s most storied races, like the Lincoln Grand Prix and Eddie Soens, who sought new backers and organisers to keep the wheels turning for another year.
As a former rider I understand the frustrations which riders, teams, event organisers and volunteers have faced – of watching the Grand Tours on TV while being limited to 15-minute circuit races at home – and I want to thank them for their continued patience and understanding. While we understand the continued challenges of controlling the spread of the virus, we are also acutely aware of the need to find a way forward for road racing, providing the sport with the tools and confidence to resume racing. And with that, our attentions turn to 2021.
Earlier this week we announced the provisional national series calendars across elite, youth and junior – something which we know is vitally important for teams, clubs and riders as they begin to piece together their race programmes for the season ahead. In the face of continued uncertainty and lockdowns, and the additional financial pressures precipitated by Covid-19, I am enormously grateful for the support of our event organisers, along with their local authority partners and sponsors, for their support in helping us to get to this point.
We were also pleased to announce that we would be re-introducing an under-23 competition into both the men’s and women’s road series, helping the achievements of talented young riders stand out and adding another layer of competition into the season’s racing. This is just the first step in a longer-term vision to offer under-23 riders a clear and comprehensive pathway to success.
Finally, earlier today we further strengthened our commitment to young British talent by announcing the introduction of a new Elite Development Team (EDT) status, bridging the existing gap between UCI Continental and sponsored/club teams, and providing additional support – and more importantly recognition – for those who receive EDT status and their riders. Should this prove successful, in the future we will also consider whether elements of it could be extended to junior and youth clubs and teams, extending the benefits across the pathway.
While this is a positive start, it is by no means the summit of our ambitions. We continue to work with others, to listen, and to plan for the longer-term future of the discipline as a whole – not just the elite level. Last December we launched a wide-ranging consultation with the sport into all seven of our disciplines, and I am pleased to say that the plans are now nearing completion, setting out our long-term vision and identifying the range of steps we need to take to get there.
These will already be familiar to many of you, but include the need to establish a vibrant and coherent racing calendar, both nationally and in every region; removing the barriers which prevent event organisers from delivering more races; better coordination with the home nations and established national-level races; amplifying our national series and championships to ensure they achieve the acclaim which they deserve; and providing support to those events with sights on UCI status.
I would have only taken this role in the knowledge that the organisation was committed to the change which we all want to see
While change will not come overnight, our commitment is sincere, and we recognise that there is an urgent – and as William Fotheringham described on this website earlier this year, existential – need to reinvigorate the discipline at every level. I have said elsewhere that I would have only taken this role in the knowledge that the organisation was committed to the change which we all want to see, and despite the lack of racing this year that commitment is now stronger than ever.
While I have thanked our organisers, sponsors, teams and riders, and am incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of the officials, marshals and others who give up their time year in, year out, I wanted to end by thanking you – the fans of our sport – for your unerring passion through good times and bad.
While we may not always agree, as an organisation we are always listening and your continued backing for the sport will be absolutely vital in spearheading its resurgence through the current pandemic and beyond.
I look forward to seeing you all down at the finish line next year.
Featured photo: James York. 2019 Grasscrete Ryedale Grand Prix