Analysis: the future of road racing

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Cycling Weekly took an in-depth look at the problems facing organisers of races on Britain?s roads in February, following the cancellation of the Archer Grand Prix and the Tour of Wessex.

Police stopped the Bikeline Two-Day on Saturday afternoon, proving once again that the future of road racing in Britain is under serious threat.

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Just as the green shoots of recovery had become visible, a harsh frost has descended on road racing at the elite level in Britain, and for some organisers the job of holding a race on the highways is as difficult as it?s ever been.

Despite an influx of money from Sport England (the recent funding totals £24.3m) and the Sky sponsorship, which has swelled British Cycling?s coffers to the tune of tens of millions of pounds for the current Olympic cycle, road race organisers are, largely, having to fend and fund for themselves.

Changing the law in Britain is very slow going, but the window of opportunity is finite. If the premise of road racing on the roads is not defended, and the hand of the organisers strengthened before the London Olympics in 2012, while there is political capital to be had from supporting British cyclists, it will never happen.

The sport is only a couple of wrong turns away from a situation where top-level domestic road racing is impossible in great chunks of the country. Only big events with local Government backing and commercial sponsorship will survive. And while that is great, the life blood flows through the veins of smaller events, which desperately need help.

In the glow of post-Beijing success, Dave Brailsford, British Cycling?s performance director, said that the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had written to him to congratulate him on the medal haul and offer his support to cycling should they need it.

Road cycling needs it now. The political lobbying is all very well, but time is running out. It?s time for British Cycling to realise the strength it has within and impress on Government the importance of road racing.

Brilliant as the vision to eventually have a closed road circuit like Hog Hill or Hillingdon in every BC region is, road racing is a vital arm of the sport. Some of the events may not be touched by glamour, but they represent the pinnacle of the sport in this country. If they are not defended, the whole infrastructure of cycling is under threat. If British Cycling cannot stand up for the elite events, what chance is there of protecting the junior races, the fish and chippers, the evening handicaps if they come under threat in the coming years?

Precedent has to be set now, while cycling is hot and politicians want to be seen to be associated with the warm glow of success.

Lobbying individual MPs and under secretaries is great. No one is trying to undermine the many months of work that is been done to garner support. But when the Early Day motion calling for a change in the law, a consistent set of police charges and the adoption of the Community Accreditation Scheme [see The Solutions], just 55 MPs supported it. That?s less than ten per cent.

But when you read part of the statement regarding the fight to secure the future of racing on the roads posted on British Cycling?s website the heart sinks. It read: ?Alan Campbell MP was supportive of British Cycling’s objectives on cycle racing on the highways and highlighted again that it is an issue that needs cross-departmental support within government. Alan Campbell MP will now seek the support of Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Transport.?

Bikeline 2 DayAbove: last year?s Bikeline, which this year was cancelled by police

Anyone who?s ever watched an episode of the Classic BBC comedy Yes, Minister, knows there?s no such thing as cross-departmental support within Government.

In effect it means: ?Thanks for coming, we hope you enjoyed the tea.?

That may be a harsh assessment, but it is a realistic one.

British Cycling has dozens of Olympic champions in its ranks. Its profile in the mainstream media is higher than ever before. When Dave Brailsford or Nicole Cooke or Bradley Wiggins speaks, people listen.

If Britain is to produce a Tour de France champion in the next decade, as Brailsford hopes, racing on the humble B-roads of Britain plays a significant part.

From the outside it sometimes appears that British Cycling consists of two halves. The blue-sky thinking, shoot-for-the-stars sporting side, and the careful, methodical, slightly ponderous administrators.

It?s time for those two halves to unite, taking the best approach from each and formulating a strident, clear campaign to get the public, the politicians and the press to understand why road racing matters.

That doesn?t mean riding down to Parliament and clacking around the ancient halls in cleats issuing a lot of demands and making cycling unpopular.

It means the very top level figures at British Cycling (riders, coaches and administrators) approaching the very top level politicians in Government (the Prime Minister and his cabinet) and stating the case for establishing laws now which can allow cycle racing on the road to not only exist, but grow.

BC needs to tell Government that future sporting glory depends upon it, because in part, it does.


Before Christmas, a 13-race Premier Calendar programme was tentatively announced. On it were the Archer Grand Prix, back after a year?s absence, and an ambitious two-day Tour of Wessex stage race.

In the space of the past few weeks, the Archer Grand Prix has been cancelled again, citing high policing costs and lack of sponsorship. The Tour of Wessex has been cut to a one-day race on a series of smaller circuits because of police bills that were not only potentially high but also left open-ended by the local force. The Chas Messenger two-day will now be a single-day event because the sponsor?s pockets are, understandably, not as deep in tough economic times. Finally, the Bikeline was cancelled on the first stage by police.

While it may be a tad dramatic to say that the future of road racing on the highway in Britain hangs by a thread, we are only two or three wrong turns away from a set of circumstances that could, effectively, price the sport off the roads.

If the police and Government agencies in areas that are currently compliant were to adopt the more cautious, or in some cases, obstructive, approach we?ve seen in the south, the sport would face a bleak future.

The problems are complex. At its heart is a set of laws that are ill-equipped to cope with the demands of holding a bike race on open roads used by traffic.

The Cycle Racing on the Highways act dates back to the 1960s when road conditions and attitudes to health and safety were very different, Despite some more recent revisions, it is woefully out of date.

Police see only risk, and set their charges accordingly. Because there is no set of guidelines, they can over-rule the event?s risk assessment findings and demand more officers are hired. And, as there is no set tariff of charges, they can also set the price. It means that if the police object to a race taking place on any grounds, they have the power to say no.

There is inconsistency everywhere. Durham Police insist on a full road closure, which affects part of the Tour of the Reservoir. But neighbouring Northumbria Police don?t, although they have this year insisted the Beaumont Trophy has a temporary road closure (a 15A road closure order) if there is to be a field of more than 80. This will cost Peter Harrison, the organiser, an extra £725.

However, lobbying for firmer rules carries pitfalls. No one wants to see such a tight set of legislation drawn up that events which are currently existing quite happily suddenly find a fresh set of obstacles placed before them.

Bikeline 2 DayAbove: Russell Downing at last year’s Lincoln GP


It is not all doom and gloom. Some events are thriving and have built in a series of other activities, including mass-participation rides, to appeal to a broader number of people. The Beaumont Trophy Premier Calendar race runs on the same weekend as the Northern Rock Cyclone Challenge, which is part of the UCI?s Golden Bike series. In the East Midlands, the Cicle Classic also engaged well with the local community and businesses. Up in Scotland the Girvan runs quite happily on

Yet there are inconsistencies, and a ?post code lottery? has emerged. When Tour of Wessex organiser Nicholas Bourne tried to apply a similar format to the Beaumont Trophy, running a sportive and a race in the south west, he has met with a series of ever-changing obstacles.

Down in Buckinghamshire, the Archer Grand Prix was never likely to attract support from a Regional Development Agency because tourism is not high on the area?s list of priorities. In places the roads are busy and the costs of policing and marshalling the event grew too large for the organisers to cover without sponsorship.

Widening the appeal of cycle events is vital. There is likely to be greater opposition to the roads being clogged for the sake of just 100 or so elite riders who come into the area, spend nothing in the local community, bring precious few spectators, and disappear again leaving a trail of empty gel wrappers.

But if there was a mass-participation ride, or another non-cycling event, as part of the day?s entertainment, objections may begin to melt away.

BC needs to help individual organisers to significantly raise the profile of their events in their own communities. Engage the locals, coincide a cycle race with a local fete or fair or even a French market, and the race becomes part of the community rather than an obstruction to the roads on the way to Sunday lunch.

But the central key to the future is the adoption of the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, which would give civilian marshals some police powers to deal with motorists on race day. It has been running successfully in Essex and Gwent for a couple of years now, and Surrey and Kent may adopt it this year. British Cycling is working to get the scheme adopted nationwide.

British Cycling has more money and power than ever before, but it is not simply a case of throwing money at events. Any investment must carefully considered. After all, a small, club-run organisation may resent a larger for-profit organiser with a major sponsor getting the same BC grant as them. Any investment in individual events would need to be issued on a needs basis.

For all its ills, the Premier Calendar is the elite road racing series in the country, yet there is not even a leader?s jersey, or a trophy for the winner, let alone a title sponsor. Economic conditions are harsh, but BC is in a strong position. And £200,000-worth of investment in the Premier Calendar would go a long way in the short term.


East Midlands Cicle Classic

Colin Clews

How much does it cost to run your event?

Around £40,000 to run the event each year

What percentage of that is policing costs?

Leicestershire Constabulary don?t want the exact figure for the cost of policing divulged. I know it?s a lot less than the cost in Lincolnshire, which is only seven miles away from where I run my race. It?s a small but significant part of the budget. But we also have to pay for around 200 people to stay in a hotel, it?s part of a sponsorship deal, but we?ve still got to pay for them.

What are your relationships with the local police and authorities like?

I?ve got an absolutely excellent relationship with the police and authorities. They?d much rather a good sporting event in the town rather than something that brings trouble. They?re very accommodating.

What single thing could be done to make your job as an organiser easier?

Uniformity. There is inconsistency about how racing on the highway is viewed in different areas of the country. There are not many areas in the country that could do the same as we do. We have a total road closure in parts. It?s really unsafe for the riders to have such a discrepancy between regions where they can race the whole way across the road in some parts of the country and only on one side of it in others.

Lincoln Grand Prix

Ian Emmerson

How much does it cost to run your event?

It costs around £40,000 to run the race.

What percentage of that is policing costs?

The policing and all safety measures account for around half of the budget.

What are your relationships with the local police and authorities like?

We?ve got a reasonable relationship with them. They are very co-operative, though, as it?s a major event for the city.

What single thing could be done to make your job as an organiser easier?

The one thing I could wish for is less health and safety legislation to deal with, although I have a safety officer to help me with that now.

Tour of Blackpool and Tour of Pendle

Ivor Armstrong

How much does it cost to run your event?

I don?t hold the budget, the council does. I merely run the races for them, so I don?t know how much it costs to run the event.

What percentage of that is policing costs?

I can?t divulge policing costs because I?m serving on the road commission, but I can say that the largest proportion of the budget goes to policing. After that it?s prize money.

What are your relationships with the local police and authorities like?

Our relationship with Lancashire Constabulary is excellent, one that goes back 30 years. They don?t charge for planning meetings, just the costs on the day [of the race]. They provide us with the accepted minimum level of cover, which is 18 motorbikes, two command cars and static officers on the course.

What single thing could be done to make your job as an organiser easier?

I would like more administrative assistance from BC. Online entry, for example, and a dedicated team to assist the organisers with any problems.

Chas Messenger stage race

Ian Chatfield

How much does it cost to run your event?

It costs between £10,000 and £12,000 to run the event. I didn?t pay for policing last year, we did pay £2,000 for national escort group motorbike riders, cars and commissaires. It all adds up and without sponsorship, we just can?t afford to run the event.

What are your relationships with the local police and authorities like?

I?m the regional competition administrator, so I don?t have any problems with the police.

What single thing could be done to make your job as an organiser easier?

Organising a race is as easy as you make it. Delegation is the key, but we really do need financial backing.

Tour of the Reservoir

Mike Hodgson

How much does it cost to run your event?

£16,000 each year to run.

What percentage of that is policing costs?

Nothing spent on policing but road closures cost us £8,500.

What are your relationships with the local police and authorities like?

We get on very well with the local authorities but we have to because they?re in a stronger position than us.

What single thing could be done to make your job as an organiser easier?

Durham won?t allow racing without a total road closure. We have to apply to have a traffic management risk assessment. I wish there was continuity between the different policing forces, because in half of the race we only need a rolling road closure, until we cross the border into Durham and it gets dangerous. Road racing is important, because without it, we won?t have any athletes at 2012.


Feature: What next for the Premier Calendar