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549 days and counting…

It's been a long, painful wait for top-tier road racing in the UK. We argue that what we need now is a concerted effort to maximise race opportunities in 2021

It has now been 549 days since Damien Clayton, then of Ribble Pro Cycling, crossed the line to win the Bourne CiCLE Classic. Emily Nelson won the women’s edition that very same day: 1st September 2019.

What is the significance of this, you might ask?

Without racing, teams face an existential crisis

Well, that was the last time a National A race was held in the UK. In other words, it was the last opportunity for the UK’s Continental and elite teams to go head-to-head in a top-tier road race in the UK.

For elite teams, in particular, that is a desperately long time without any high-level racing. Whilst teams are becoming more adept at using social media to give their sponsors much-needed oxygen, there is no denying that teams – and the sponsors that keep them going – need races. Without racing, without the chance to compete for the honour of being ‘the best’, teams face an existential crisis.

2019 HSBC UK National Women’s Road Series – Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix – Rebecca Durrell (Brother UK – Tifosi p/b OnForm) beats Jess Roberts of Team Breeze. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

With so long since race action, it is vital that British Cycling and the wider community take the initiative to ensure that 2021 is not another lost year for road racing in the UK. Whilst the National Road Series should return in the summer – Covid-dependent – that is still a long time off for many elite teams, even if it does. And unlike their UCI Continental counterparts, they do not currently the required exemptions to race abroad.

What we need now is a concerted effort to maximise top-tier racing opportunities this year

What we need now is a concerted effort to maximise top-tier racing opportunities this year. There are many ways this could be done, but here are a couple of ideas as a starter for ten.

First, until road racing returns, how about a virtual National Road Series, held in over the next few weeks? Using a platform like RGT, this could even use ‘real’ courses from the Series, giving the races and teams publicity alike. By inviting only Continental and elite-level teams in the UK, it would give the country’s best teams the chance to vie for the title of being the best virtual team in the UK. It would generate much-needed publicity. It’s relatively simple to set up, administer and stream live. And only small teams are required, meaning Continental teams with race obligations abroad could still field riders.

And once ‘in real life’ racing does get underway, could British Cycling provide incentives and support to existing National B races – such as the Berlemont Trophy – so that they can be added into the National Road Series in order to boost the number of top-tier races on British soil before the season ends?*

These are only ideas. But in our minds, we need at least some proactive support to help kickstart the domestic road racing scene once again. As one team manager said to us recently: “we need something. Anything“.

*Thanks to Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling for this idea.

Featured photo: James Huntly

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