Spring is the traditional season for renewal. Nature awakens, blossom blooms, tree leaves return, the earth warms, and – in 2021 it seems – British racing teams announce their new squads. With the British road racing season delayed this year, April squad news seems to be all this rage. Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus, Lancaster – Lightning TRG, Nuun-Sigma-Sports-London, and VeloPerformance have all made big reveals this month.
Now, with a knockout launch video (see below), a stunning new Rapha kit, increased sponsorship, and eye-catching new signings, Matt Hallam’s Crimson Orientation Marketing RT may well have saved the best to last.
The journey of Hallam’s team – set up in just eight weeks back in 2017 – is one we have followed closely here at The British Continental. It’s a team with roots firmly planted in the northwest of England, the new kit even features the Lake District, and most of the team’s sponsors and riders are based there. When we spoke to him back in February last year, the team looked set for a breakthrough year. New sponsors, a bigger budget, and exciting new signings indicated his two squads – men’s and women’s – were ready to compete on a new level. You know the story by now though. Covid-19 hit the UK, road racing closed down, and the team’s ambitions were put on hold.
We’re looking to step up to the Conti level next year, so we have to formulate a plan around that ambition to make it happen
It’s been a challenging 14 months since then for Hallam. As he told us in our podcast interview with him last summer, if his team wasn’t able to continue its progress, he might begin to question the sustainability of his project. Thankfully, when I caught up with him last week ahead of the team’s 2021 launch, progression and ambition were apparent in abundance. The team has a new sponsor in Rapha Custom, an increased budget, new signings including national circuit champion Joey Walker and young cyclocross talent Toby Barnes, and an ambition to step the men’s squad up to UCI Continental level next season. Here’s what he told us…
So, what’s new for 2021 Matt?
I’d say the whole direction the team is looking to take this year is new. We’re looking to step up to the Conti level next year, so we have to formulate a plan around that ambition to make it happen. I know I’m putting my head on a block, putting it out there that the team’s vision is to go Conti, but I think we have to do that in order for people to see the direction that we want to take. If it happens, amazing. And if it doesn’t, we’ll know we tried our best to make it happen.
So that is where we want to go. And we hope that utilising the partnerships we now have developed with the likes of Rapha, producing insane content for those guys that will potentially be seen by hundreds of thousands of people on their socials, we can do that. We want to demonstrate that we can put our sponsors in front of a lot of people.
Yeah. We’ve done so well over the past few years at developing our image. People see the team as a professional well-run outfit and that is strengthened even further with the likes of Rapha and other partners backing the team. We’re lucky enough to be sponsored by Porsche as well. So we want to continue that, so we can take the next step up and go Conti. It’s not an easy process, finding the required sponsorship to make that step. And we, we wouldn’t want to be making that step on a complete shoestring budget either. So we are trying to put ourselves in front of an audience that sees value in the team stepping up to that level, finding prospective sponsors that want to be involved with us.
We want to be taking it to the Conti guys and show we’re good enough to be there
And as well, we want to be taking it to the Conti guys and show we’re good enough to be there. We’ve got an incredible crit squad and crits are going to be a really big part of our our calendar. Obviously, if we do then get enough sponsorship to go Conti then that the squad would significantly improve as well.
Talking of squads, what changes have been made to both your men’s and women’s squads this year?
On the men’s side, the only rider that left the men’s squad was Josh Edmondson. And then we’ve signed Joey Walker, the national crit champion, Toby Barnes, who has excelled in ‘cross, Adam Mitchell, a really talented first-year under-23 from the Spokes Racing Team, and a Polish national rider, Maciek Furczyk, as well.
Joey certainly is the main signing for us. We’re really proud to have made him an offer that was stronger than the Conti offers he had on the table. So, we are still just an elite team at the moment, but we’ve been able to pull some top riders in, including a national champion. I think the squad is strong enough to support him in the National Circuit Series and the Tour Series as well, with the likes of retained riders such as Leon Mazzone. We’ve got an incredible crit rider in Chris Sherriffs as well. So we are going to be able to compete in these national circuit races now. We want to disrupt things a little bit now with the Conti teams, get in the mix, and show ourselves as contenders in that type of racing. The same goes for the National Road Series races as well. The goals don’t change there. We’re still going there to get results. And we’re really fortunate a lot of our retained riders have dedicated the past year to that pursuit really. They are in incredible condition because they’ve worked their asses off.
When we spoke at the beginning of 2020, you said you’d essentially put together two teams: a crit squad and a squad that was good enough to compete with the different demands of a national road race. Is that still the case this year?
Definitely. It’s almost a split squad in the sense. We have 15 riders in the men’s squad now but they’re evenly split that down the middle with a dedicated criterium team and a dedicated road squad. So it’s a big squad but we feel that we need to specialise in those disciplines to really perform at our best.
So I have signed riders that are incredible crit riders and others that are super on the road and won’t probably get a look-in in any of the crits. So we’re specifically building towards groups of riders that can get results in those different types of races. Trying to find that ‘rouleur’-type rider that can cross over and get results in both is incredibly difficult, I think. For me, it’s about being clever about getting riders to train specifically for results in each discipline. So that means you’ve got crit riders training 15 hours a week versus the road squad doing 25. It’s a different approach to it, really. The riders are just focused on results in the specific races they’ve been recruited for and they tailor the training accordingly.
And now we have a bit more certainty about road racing in the UK, what might your race programme be looking like this year?
You only have to look at the Conti teams in the UK and how they struggled to actually get overseas to race so far. We don’t have the budget of a Conti team but we’re still trying to explore opportunities to go abroad. But it’s incredibly difficult. And so we have to look at the UK and what’s on offer here. Hopefully, we’ve got a healthy National Road Series programme. I’m sure it’s not as healthy as we’d like. But we’re hopefully getting five races in there, a full National Circuit Series, a full Tour Series, you know.
Anything that gets eyes on British racing again, you commit your programme around that
I think anything that gets eyes on British racing again, you commit your programme around that. In the current climate, it’s wise to do that, in my opinion. We don’t want to blow half our budget going to do a UCI race in the middle of nowhere when the potential outreach from that race is minimal. You’re asking riders to commit a lot to do that, with the potential of having to isolate when they return home, and so on. I really hope that things do improve with regard to travel restrictions. Vaccine passports might come in, for example. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? We’d love to be racing more overseas, and we were planning to do this. We had our first UCI race booked for Poland in May, but that’s not now an option because of the restrictions. Hopefully, we can get over to Belgium in September, that’s the next goal for getting some racing in on the continent. But for now, we have our eyes on the British races, where we know that we can get to the start line.
And what about the women’s squad? How has that changed and what are your ambitions?
It’s a squad of seven women. We’ve introduced two new riders to the women’s team. One of those is Mary Wilkinson, who has had results in National Road Series races, including the podium at the Ryedale Grand Prix. We’ve also welcomed an under-23 rider, Lucy Ellmore, into the squad as well. The goal for the women’s team is to go to those National Road Series rounds and be competitive.
We’d completely changed the women’s squad last year and we never got a chance to see them race. So it’s a complete unknown for us, how they’re going to go. But we do have a really strong women’s squad now. Results in the circuit and road races for both the men and women is what we’re building towards. And the regional presence, supporting local races, is also important for us. So the women’s squad will be attending a lot of regional races, boosting the participant numbers for women’s racing, which is important for us to do. Hopefully, it inspires other women to give it a go as well.
In: Toby Barnes (Cero – Cycle Division Racing Team), Maciek Furczyk (Unknown), Adam Mitchell (Spokes Racing Team), Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling/b Brother UK)
Re-signed: Elliot Harrison, Matt Hallam, James Hill, Oliver Huszar, Adam MacRae, Leon Mazzone, Isaac Peatfield, Alistair Thomas, Chris Sherriffs, Jude Taylor
Departures: Josh Edmundson (Unknown)
In: Lucy Ellmore (Otley CC), Mary Wilkinson (Jadan – Vive le Velo)
Re-signed: Sophie Earl, Melissa Greaves, Gwenno Hughes, Jo Ryding, Sammie Stuart