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