What is this race and why should I care about it? Strade Bianche is a unique race in the professional calendar that has its earned place in the hearts of cycling fans, despite only being in existence for 14 years. While amateurs are often found aping their heroes at cyclosportiveRead More »
British Cycling’s new chief executive, Brian Facer, has only been in the role for five weeks - most of which he has spent at home - but he certainly has his hands full. With Covid-19 having forced the cancellation of 4000 races in the last 12 months, the country’s domestic scene is struggling. Internationally, Britain’s cyclists are facing a period of huge uncertainty with new Brexit regulations requiring work permits of certain non-elite riders. HSBC UK, the national governing body’s commercial partner, is pulling out at the end of this year leaving an estimated £30 million black hole of funding. And there is always the ever-present threat of a doping scandal. On Tuesday, a medical tribunal will hand down its decision on the case of Richard Freeman, the former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor who is accused of ordering a batch of testosterone to the national velodrome in 2011 with the intention to dope a rider. Regardless of the verdict, UK Anti-Doping has already charged Freeman with two anti-doping rule violations arising from his evidence. It has been described as potentially the most serious blow yet to the reputation of the all-conquering professional road and Olympic teams. Yet Facer could hardly sound more thrilled with his lot. “It’s a hugely exciting time,” says the former London Irish CEO, in what is his first interview since taking over from Julie Harrington. “I’d argue there’s never been a better time to get involved in cycling.” Facer’s positivity is based on the fact that, while Covid may have hit the professional and amateur race scene, cycling is booming at a grassroots level. Retailers could hardly keep up with the lockdown demand as families and individuals rediscovered the simple enjoyment of riding on traffic-free roads. “23 million people are riding bikes,” Facer says. “9.1 million people are riding their bikes more than three times a week. You’ve got 1.4 million more children cycling last summer, bicycle sales grew by 60 per cent [in lockdown]... it’s a substantial market. There are huge opportunities out there to capitalise.” Facer, 50, is one of the 23 million. An unashamed ‘fan’ of cycling, he rides with Daventry CC and in the press release last autumn which announced his move to British Cycling he made a point of saying that he had completed a number of Etapes du Tour, including Col du Tourmalet and Alpe d’Huez. It’s not hard to imagine how some might have seen that as a bit try-hard, but Facer is unconcerned. “I think it's definitely beneficial to love what you do and be passionate about what you do and want to get involved in it,” he says. “Yes, I’m a huge fan. I’ve been to every Tour de France for the last 15/16yrs. I’ve been standing on the side of the road with my cowbells. And normally, to be fair, when I'm not at races in person, I'm usually on GCN or one of the channels watching what's going on. Even when I was working in rugby I’d always have the races on my phone or whatever.” Facer, who names mountain biking as his discipline-of-choice, is clearly not just a fan, though. If London Irish’s current renaissance is anything to go by - the club, in a new home in Brentford and with a revitalised squad, are closing in on the Premiership play-offs having been relegated in his first season - he knows how to run a business. He also clearly brings a strong work ethic. Facer drove two-and-a-half hours to Sunbury-on-Thames and back every day while at the Exiles, and still got up at 5am every day for a run with his dog and sometimes got a ride in on his return. He has now rented a place in Glossop [although lockdown 3.0 hit the day after he signed the lease so he hasn’t been able to use it] and says he wants to apply that energy at British Cycling in a number of areas. Finding a new commercial sponsor is clearly high on the list - “Obviously, the pandemic doesn't help. But the positives of what we heard [from the Prime Minister] on Monday night has certainly helped now with our conversations. And we are in some good conversations at the moment.” - but so, too, areas such as diversity, gender equality and athlete welfare. British Cycling has just announced a new diversity advisory group, featuring an impressive expert panel, about which Facer is excited. “There’s got to be a shift in the way we take cycling to the cities and the way we talk to different groups within the Bame community,” he says. “I’m a big champion of Freestyle BMX because that is something you can take to the cities.” He adds that this is not merely box-ticking, with British Cycling’s own makeup under review. “Absolutely. You have got to look inwardly first. We’ve got to be more diverse and inclusive. And then it gives comfort that we're doing the right thing. So absolutely, it’s a root and branch thing. If you're going to talk, you have to walk the walk.” He is also keen to set up some sort of independent body, similar to The Rugby Players Association [RPA], for riders and athletes to air grievances. “There’s things I think I can bring from the rugby world which could help us develop,” he says. “But overall I think we’re in great shape. Julie did an amazing job. She did the hard yards in terms of overhauling the culture and governance of the organisation.” Would a high-profile ban for Freeman undermine that progress and set British Cycling back? “We expect that there will be mud thrown at us because it's so high profile,” Facer says. “But it’s important to us that those allegations are really out there and properly pursued. I think we’re a very different organisation to back then, both culturally and from a medical governance point of view. “If you talk to UK Sport, to Sport England, or DCMS, actually we now set the standards. I think it’s something we need to shout about a bit more. “In the conversations we’ve been having [with potential partners] it hasn’t been a problem. This is a great time to be invested into cycling on the back of the Tokyo Olympics, with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year, then the cycling world championships in the UK in Glasgow the year after, and then Paris 2024. Millions of people on bikes. It couldn’t be a better time to invest really in a sport that’s really on the up.”
The future of British cycling is in safe hands with Tom Pidcock, Jake Stewart and Ethan Hayter looking the most likely candidates to end the wait for its next win in the men's cobbled classics. Speaking with Telegraph Sport before joining Ineos Grenadiers, Tom Pidcock said he believed the British outfit should win more one-day races than they have done since its inception as Team Sky in 2010 given their riders. Perhaps of wider interest to British cycling fans, though, was his warning that the next generation of talent was ready to break through. Tom Pidcock interview: 'Ineos should be winning more classics' “We've got me, Ethan Hayter, Fred Wright, Jake Stewart and Matt Walls [now racing in the WorldTour],” the 21-year-old Pidcock said. “We were all on the academy together. I think the new wave is coming through. “I think we're now going to see what the next generation can do.” On Saturday, he looked determined to make good on that as 'opening weekend', the traditional start to the classics campaign, got under way. Following his first hit out the week before at the three-day Tour du Haut Var, Pidcock was at his typically aggressive best at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad where the Yorkshireman, making his WorldTour debut, appeared unfazed in the presence of seasoned professionals. After bridging over to the lead group in a move that oozed class, Pidcock crackled and fizzed as he put in repeated attacks. In the end, however, he ran out of gas having poked his nose into the wind once too often. While Pidcock was rolling over the line in 55th place — just ahead of Yves Lampaert, Julian Alaphilippe and Alexander Kristoff — and team-mate Hayter, who was well positioned before crashing, another 21-year-old Briton was making a name for himself. Stewart, who rides for French team Groupama-FDJ, outsprinted seasoned campaigners Sep Vanmarcke, Heinrich Haussler and Philippe Gilbert to take second in one of the most prestigious semi-classics on the calendar. It felt like a moment. UCI WorldTour 2021: Complete team-by-team guide and race calendar Just over 24 hours later and Pidcock was back in the heart of the action at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, though on this occasion he rode more economically. Bouncing around in the main group of contenders or chasing group saving his energy. Gone was the excitable ball of energy that, perhaps, caused him to burn too many matches, too soon, at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He's a quick learner is Pidcock. And the lessons learned on Saturday led to him taking third place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Over the past decade only Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard have won semi-classics while racing under the Union flag, while further back Barry Hoban prevailed at Ghent-Wevelgem. Just one British male, Tom Simpson, however, has won the Tour of Flanders while Paris-Roubaix has eluded the likes of Roger Hammond, Hoban and Stannard. So what next? Whether or not Pidcock, Stewart or Hayter progress from here and go on to write a new chapter in British cycling remains to be seen, but based on this weekend's racing the future looks very bright. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne: Pidcock completes superb weekend for young Britons after Pedersen takes win Sunday February 28 — Kuurne to Kuurne, 197km
Froome said he could see himself racing into his 40s and pointed to the example of Tampa Bay's 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who won his seventh Super Bowl crown this month. Froome, who won the Tour in 2013 and from 2015-17, was not part of the Tour last year after being left out of the Ineos-Grenadiers squad but is expected to line up with new team Israel Start-Up Nation. "We are seeing more and more examples in professional sport with the most recent being Tom Brady, which was an incredible story," he said.