Are cheap road races a thing of the past? The recent cancellations of road races in Yorkshire (Cycling Weekly June 13, May 23) have highlighted the increasing demands being placed on race organisers by Police and Highways Authorities when it comes to ensuring the safe running of events.
Many are being asked to provide more trained and empowered marshals at their events. One solution to this is traffic management; hiring a private company to provide trained operatives to marshal junctions and enforce road closures.
This was requested by South Yorkshire Police for the recently cancelled Stannington road race (CW June 13), for which the organisers were quoted £800. ‘Traffic management’ can provide extra security on road races, but does it mean the end of affordable road racing?
“I don’t think it’s a sport these days for the low paid,” says Stannington organiser James Thompson. Even when additional races are added to help cover costs, “you’re looking at £30-£40 entry a race,” he added.
“I think riders need to get used to it,” says Giles Pidcock, organiser of the Otley Cycle Races and other road races across Yorkshire. “People are paying £40 to ride a sportive, but this culture of paying £10 or £15 to ride a road race is not sustainable.”
The long-term solution could be British Cycling’s accredited marshals scheme, where trained volunteers are allowed to stop traffic in regions where police forces sign up to the scheme. Using volunteer marshals reduces costs, but some event organisers say finding volunteers prepared to undergo training and attend the required number of events could be asking too much.
“Without a doubt [the scheme] is the future,” says Ivor Armstrong, organiser of a number of events in the
North-West where a pilot scheme of the accredited marshals is currently being trialled.
“The commitment is to sign up to do a number of events,” he added.
“I don’t think that really is a problem, but I think in the future there will have to be considered some sort of expenses, otherwise I don’t think you can really expect people to turn out week after week, which would be the case if we’re going to carry the scheme on.”
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Organisers and participants opt for safer, and dearer, races
When police and highways authorities aren’t happy with a road race being run with just volunteer marshals and National Escort Group (NEG) motorcyclists, employing a traffic management company is often the only choice for an event organiser – currently only around half of police forces in England and Wales have signed up to British Cycling’s accredited marshals scheme.
Such companies can offer trained operatives who are legally empowered to stop traffic, as well as helping out with signage, plans and paperwork. However, they don’t come cheap.
“A big company will charge £1,500 for a three-hour road race,” says British Cycling’s Pete Sutton, who uses a small company called Community Traffic Management Ltd for a number of road races in Yorkshire, including the divisional championships. Run by former police lead for road racing in North Yorkshire, Richard Houghton, the company employs nine other retired police officers trained to stop traffic.
“For 30 or 40-mile evening races, they work out at £300 to £400 per race,” says Giles Pidcock, event organiser in Yorkshire. “For a Sunday race it’s about £600, because they’re longer. The economics means you need 80-man fields and a bit of sponsorship to make road races work.”
“We try to be completely transparent,” says Houghton. “We have a fixed price policy so that event organisers can plan in advance.”
Yet with few companies operating in the country (“I’m not aware of any other traffic management company per se that would claim a specialisation in cycle racing in any degree,” adds Houghton), can they charge what they want? And in Yorkshire, where police have not taken up British Cycling’s accredited marshals scheme, is there a conflict of interest?
“It’s quite formal [the relationship with the police],” responded Houghton. “We’re all friends. But they are quite strict in terms of the fact that they don’t recommend us; we’ve got to jump through the same hoops as everybody else. We know them, but they are quite strictly impartial.”
This article was first published in the June 20 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!