Premier Calendar must change or die

Cycling Weekly asked recently what the future had in store for the Premier Calendar and heard that the series, down to just six events in 2013, was in dire straits. This week we ask: is it worth saving?

British Cycling’s six-figure annual investment in the series is proof that money isn’t the only answer to the Premier Calendar problem. Organisers face enough challenges to run a top-level road race before they even consider the consistent branding and ‘look and feel’ changes that BC encourages.

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The red tape and extra costs are a big disincentive for organisers of non-Premier Calendar National A level races to promote their events to the series. But put on a good quality National A at the right time in the season and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t attract a field of the ilk you would expect in the Premier Calendar.

This year’s Jef Schils Memorial, a National A race in Essex, attracted strong squads from Node4-Giordana and IG-Sigma Sport thanks to its position a week before the Tour of Britain.

“Some organisers think that unless they’re Premier Calendar, they’re not guaranteed the best riders,” BC’s cycle sport and membership director Jonny Clay said. “We need to work harder to help guarantee that if they’re a National A event, they can attract big names.”

Riders also want to win prestigious races with strong fields, whether they fall under the umbrella of the Premier Calendar or not.

“There are quite a lot of National A races that people want to win because they are good events,” explained former IG-Sigma Sport rider Tom Murray.

Youth development
Riders, teams, sponsors and organisers all want a well-run series of road races in the UK. But would National A level races alone satisfy demand?

“It’s important that there are the events on the calendar for our younger riders to race,” says James McCallum of Rapha-Condor, a team aiming to develop emerging talents. “It gives them an identified pathway for progression.”

But does the Premier Calendar provide enough of a platform for the potential of our most talented riders?

“I think I had to win above and beyond what a foreign rider would need just to get a pro contract,” says Jonathan Tiernan-Locke of his last two seasons with Rapha-Condor and Endura.

“At the moment, as a British rider, you join a team like Endura and do the [foreign] races that could get you noticed, or you go abroad, or you go on the [British Cycling Olympic] Academy. That’s it; there’s no domestic stepping stone. That’s always going to keep British cycling a bit suppressed, I think.”

A good quality Premier Calendar series has solid potential to fill that role. But it needs to change. Is it worth saving in its current form? That’s the question.

We asked… Is the Premier Calendar worth saving?

Anthony McCrossan
Premier Calendar Commentator
“Of course it’s worth saving. It’s got the history and the profile. For the British teams, too, it’s important because they need a programme that’s based here, no matter how many invites they’re
getting to race abroad.”

Ian Bibby
2011 Premier Calendar winner
“I’d say 100 per cent it needs saving. Something needs to be done to boost it back up to where it was: road racing in Britain seems to be dying at the moment. Especially for the young riders, it’s important that there is high-level racing in the UK otherwise they have
to go abroad.”

Matt Stephens
Former British champion and Premier Calendar runner-up
“Teams want quality road racing at home. If there was a time to reboot the Premier Calendar, it’s now. We’ve got the public awareness in cycling, and we’ve got the riders and teams. We need an aspirational road calendar as a first stepping stone for riders and it would balance the criteriums. It’s vitally important we get that right.”

Scott Thwaites
2012 Premier Calendar winner
“I enjoyed racing the Premier Calendar this year; I was going well and getting good results. It took me three years with Endura to get to a level where I was comfortable with what was on offer in Britain and was capable of winning races. However, I think I reached my limit, so changing my goals and looking at doing well in UCI races is a logical step up.”

A series stuck in the middle 

In October 2010, British Cycling membership sat at 33,000. Two years on, that number has doubled. This can largely be attributed to two things. First, the success that elite British riders have enjoyed on the road and track in the past two years.

Boosted by Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France win, 2,400 people joined in July alone. Second, the progress BC has made with recreational programmes – SkyRide, Social Cycling Groups, Breeze – has helped attract new members from the other end of the spectrum.

The Premier Calendar and domestic road racing is the squeezed middle. It will not produce immediate Olympic medals and cannot guarantee funds from UK Sport. Likewise, its appeal isn’t widespread and it involves a small number of members, both actual and potential. It’s therefore unlikely to play a large part in pushing BC to its core target of reaching 100,000 members.

The original version of this article appeared in the December 6 2012 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine.

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Is the Premier Calendar on borrowed time?