The British Cycling academy programme that gave birth to the careers of Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas as well as joint record Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish has seen its race programme drastically cut back.
However, while British Cycling will continue to support riders via its hugely successful track programme in 2023, riders who until recently were part of the full time road programme have been encouraged to find other road teams next year.
As a result of the academy needing to “evolve”, the Great Britain Cycling team will still follow a race programme, although the calendar will be cut back to just the Nations Cups as well as the Tour of Rwanda, and other yet to be decided races in 2023. This represents a large drop in race days after the academy fielded road teams at the Tour of Britain, Tour de l’Avenir, Tour d’Eure et Loire and Kreiz Breizh in 2022.
Across the years British Cycling has tasted incredible success with riders that have graduated from both its track and road academy programmes. Started by Ineos Grenadiers deputy team principal Rod Ellingworth and most recently led by Matt Brammeier, the academy has produced riders who have not only won grand tours, but also a plethora of Olympic medals.
That comes in response to a “changing landscape” of road racing that has more pro teams with sister development arms than in the past.
Tom Stanton, head of performance pathways on the Great Britain cycling team told Cycling Weekly that coaches at British Cycling recognise a need to “evolve with the times.”
“The landscape of road racing has changed significantly in the past few years, and we are seeing more and more of our talented academy riders being recruited onto pro teams, while also maintaining a desire to represent their country as part of the Great Britain Cycling Team,” Stanton said.
One source close to the team, who asked to remain anonymous, said the decision to reduce the road programme came as a shock.
“Everyone was a bit shaken up as it was very unexpected. We were all told that we should find road teams due to the decision but there would still be a track programme,” they said. “The opportunity to race national races wasn’t ever used. I don’t think we needed high level races, just more race days to gain experience,” they added.
Riders were all told of the decision to adjust the road programme, and encouraged to find trade teams by head coach Matt Brammeier in August. When speaking to CW, Brammeier was quick to highlight the benefits to his young charges of working with a road team alongside the academy and that he believes that in the long run, it was a situation that benefits all.
Brammeier said: “Importantly it will give our young riders more race days as well as the indepence factor of them going off, doing their own thing and learning to crack on by themselves.
“Before now we had ambitions of our own trade team, but with the changes over the years to the development structure in top tier teams it only makes sense to work together with them so that we can help each other to the same goals,” he added.
BRITISH CYCLING "EVOLVES WITH THE TIMES"
In addition Nations Cups squads will become not just a selection of riders from the Great Britain academy, but increasingly a selection of the best riders in the under 23 category in the United Kingdom.
Brammeier said: “Obviously now with this there will be less race days that we go to on the road. The money saved in that area of the budget will now be spent resourcing the events that we compete in to a much higher standard, this includes races like the Nations Cups.”
“We’re going out to the Tour of Rwanda in February with a pure academy team too, so it’s not for one minute like everything is going. There will still be races involving the academy on the road,” he added.
Brammeier made clear that the decision making around the issue at the top level of the team had “nothing to do with money” but was just a different use of those resources.
“When you’re racing in Europe you’ve got a million and one things to think about including learning a language, and gaining a bit of independence. So this is a benefit to them and will help them in the long run,” he added.
New direction for academy makes sense - Tom Thewlis
It would be easy to dismiss this as a bad move for British Cycling, and it's sad that a programme with its illustrious legacy is being scaled back but when you look deeper it's clear that it's a step forward.
Cycling is changing all the time, and there are a multitude of development teams out there that serve to benefit riders looking to make a breakthrough. Coaches like Brammeier are right, with yet more teams now having development arms then why would British Cycling not work with them? With BC having the same aims as the teams it makes clear and perfect sense.
It’s obvious that getting exposure to racing in Europe is key to any young rider's development. Not just for cycling but also for learning to adapt to new environments including other cultural & lifestyle differences that are far removed from Manchester.
As well as this, the academy now opening its doors to other riders outside its walls can only benefit British racing in the long term.
In recent years, riders such as Groupama FDJ’s Sam Watson have been involved with the Great Britain academy as well as a trade team. Watson was recently given a WorldTour contract with the senior Groupama FDJ squad.
The change in road academy format will enable more young talent to gain access to the academy set up including coaching, and help encourage more riders in the mould of Watson to develop, something that Brammeier sees as a step forward from his days as a rider himself.
“If you look back to 10-15 years ago when I was a rider myself in the academy, there were no other development teams out there and we were the only team that provided a route through,” Brammeier said.
“Compared to back then we’ve now got a handful of really strong development teams who are essentially doing the same as we are on the road side of things. So it makes perfect sense for us to all work together as we’re essentially fighting the same battle really,” he added.
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