Bri­tish pro teams fac­ing un­cer­tain fu­ture

Bri­tish teams show­case their tal­ents as un­cer­tain fu­ture awaits do­mes­tic scene, writes Paul Knott

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Bar­ring the chilly Septem­ber weather, you could be mis­taken for think­ing it was the mid­dle of July. Quick Step Floors racked up an­other race vic­tory with French­man Ju­lian Alaphilippe con­tin­u­ing where he left off at the Tour de France by tak­ing a sin­gle stage and over­all hon­ours at the Tour of Bri­tain.

His stage win from a re­duced bunch sprint on a breath­less stage into Bris­tol, and a sec­ond-place fin­ish be­hind Sky’s Wout Poels on the sum­mit fin­ish to Whin­lat­ter Pass, were de­ci­sive in beat­ing Poels to the over­all ti­tle by 16 sec­onds.

Speak­ing af­ter tak­ing sec­ond atop Whin­lat­ter, the French­man ex­plained he was will­ing to gam­ble it all for the over­all win: “It [Whin­lat­ter] was the only mo­ment to make the dif­fer­ence. If I wanted to take the jersey, I had noth­ing to lose as to fin­ish sec­ond, fifth or 25th is the same for me.”

Alaphilippe was paced on the lower half of Whin­lat­ter by team-mate Bob Jun­gels be­fore an elite group of Alaphilippe, Poels and Ef-ed­u­ca­tion’s Hugh Carthy broke clear of previous race leader Pri­mož Roglič. “Me and Bob are like broth­ers, he knows me and I know him,” he said. “When he started his ef­fort at the bot­tom of the climb it was for me to at­tack to try to take the jersey.”

Alaphilippe’s form makes him a red-hot favourite for the World Championship road race later this month in Inns­bruck. The punchy climbs and tight de­scents will to be piv­otal in de­thron­ing Peter Sa­gan. “I never imag­ined be­fore com­ing here that I would be race leader,” Alaphilippe said. “Af­ter this I go to the Tour of Slo­vakia, and then rest, then I’ll be fo­cused on the Worlds and Il Lom­bar­dia.”

While Quick Step Floors’ in­cred­i­ble 2018 win­ning streak con­tin­ued and the World­tour rid­ers in the pelo­ton looked ahead to Inns­bruck, many of the do­mes­tic teams and rid­ers were look­ing ner­vously ahead to a win­ter of un­cer­tainty.

The fu­ture of Team Wig­gins hangs in the bal­ance, ac­cord­ing to team man­ager Si­mon Cope, while One Pro Cy­cling an­nounced on the eve of the race they were look­ing to run as a women’s team in 2019.

One of the more es­tab­lished Bri­tish teams of re­cent times, Jlt-con­dor, are also yet to con­firm their po­si­tion for next year, with JLT not re­new­ing the con­tract it signed with the team three years ago. A num­ber of op­tions still re­main, although team man­ager Jon Herety was hon­est about the sit­u­a­tion his team, and the whole UK scene, finds it­self in.

“We are in a stupid sport,” he said. “You can be here to­day, gone to­mor­row. The flip side of our sport is if you’ve got enough money you can start a team to­mor­row.”

What is per­haps most damn­ing for the Bri­tish scene was how this un­cer­tainty is ac­cepted as par for the course. “We’re not strug­gling, it’s nor­mal,” said Herety. “I’ve been do­ing this for 15 years and we’ve only ever once signed a spon­sor for three years and that was in the mid­dle of Septem­ber and we’re not there yet. It’s al­ways been bust/boom with the process in the UK in par­tic­u­lar where every­one is fight­ing over the same rid­ers and then sud­denly there’s no teams for those same rid­ers.”

“It’s hard for teams to get spon­sor­ship”

The un­cer­tainty within Bri­tish teams rid­ing at UCI Con­ti­nen­tal level means rid­ers have typ­i­cally only ever signed one-year con­tracts. One Pro rider Pete Wil­liams has been part of the Bri­tish team since its in­cep­tion four years ago, see­ing them rise to Pro Con­ti­nen­tal level be­fore drop­ping back down and now out of the men’s scene al­to­gether.

“The cli­mate at the mo­ment is ob­vi­ously not easy for teams to get spon­sor­ship — if you look at BMC they couldn’t get any­thing them­selves,” Wil­liams said. “So it wasn’t a mas­sive sur­prise we didn’t get the spon­sor­ship to step up a level. Even so it’s a mas­sive shame and has left us with a co­nun­drum to find some­thing be­cause it’s not a good year out there for rid­ers look­ing for new teams.”

It is ironic that the Bri­tish scene is strug­gling for spon­sor­ship in a sea­son where the rac­ing has been as com­pet­i­tive as ever and while Bri­tish rid­ers dom­i­nate the Grand Tours.

Ear­lier in the sea­son, Harry Tan­field’s break­away win on stage one of the Tour de

York­shire was the spring­board to earn­ing him a move to Ka­tusha-alpecin for 2019, whereas Con­nor Swift’s sim­i­larly im­pres­sive win at the na­tional road race has at­tracted at­ten­tion from a num­ber of World­tour teams as well as a sta­giaire ride with Di­men­sion Data at the Arc­tic Tour of Nor­way.

The Tour of Bri­tain was the last ma­jor shop win­dow for those, such as Wil­liams, look­ing for a ride next sea­son.

“The Bri­tish teams used to turn up at this race years ago and get an ab­so­lute kick­ing, whereas now that’s no longer the case. Some­thing needs to change, be­cause this isn’t work­ing. But I’m not sure quite what,” Wil­liams said.

Mon­e­tary prob­lems aren’t only re­stricted to One Pro, with the four other Bri­tish do­mes­tic teams in the race hav­ing vary­ing suc­cess look­ing ahead to 2019.

Hav­ing missed out on an invitation to the Tour de York­shire and only get­ting a late en­try for the Tour of Bri­tain due to the col­lapse of Aqua Blue, Cope was clear on how that has af­fected the pur­suit of spon­sors.

“I think the do­mes­tic scene is cur­rently in an ab­so­lute mess,” he said. “The prob­lem we’ve got is it’s hard to get money. But then if you want to take a po­ten­tial spon­sor to a race, where are you go­ing to take them? You couldn’t take them to the [Tour of the] Reser­voir, or Ryedale be­cause as much as they are good rac­ing cour­ses it’s no good for at­tract­ing spon­sor­ship money. I think if [Bri­tish Cy­cling] want this part of the sport to carry on, they’ve got to do some­thing about it.”

All the rid­ers can do is show­case their tal­ents. Tom Pid­cock and Gabriel Cul­laigh once again shone on the big stage, with Cul­laigh tak­ing two top-10 finishes and Pid­cock fin­ish­ing sixth on the Whin­lat­ter sum­mit fin­ish among the es­tab­lished World­tour tal­ent. “All day it was just up and down and was pretty tough, to be hon­est,” said an ex­hausted Pid­cock af­ter crest­ing Whin­lat­ter Pass for the third time in two days.

“I didn’t feel that good and felt like I’d

“The do­mes­tic scene is in an ab­so­lute mess”

eaten too much. I didn’t go straight out with the front guys, which was prob­a­bly a good thing. I got third in the sprint of the rid­ers be­hind and I’m pretty happy with that. I can’t ex­pect to go with the big boys. Not yet any­way.”

Will per­for­mances like this be enough to keep the team run­ning through 2019? “I think there will be some­thing,” Cope said. “But at what level I don’t know.”

The pelo­ton hit Horse­guard’s Pa­rade on stage eight

Alaphilippe cel­e­brates with the win­ner’s tro­phy

Pete Wil­liams (left) has been with One Pro since the team’s in­cep­tion

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