Good morning and welcome back to The Leadout. I’m currently writing this from Hamad International Airport in Qatar, where I’m stopping over on the way back from the Tour Down Under. Thoughts and prayers for my body clock to firstname.lastname@example.org, please, as well as any comments, suggestions, or general chat.
Standing at the top of Willunga Hill on Saturday, it was striking that the first two men across the line were British: Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich PostNL) then Stevie Williams (Israel-Premier Tech). Twenty-four hours later, at Mount Lofty, it was Williams who was first across the line first, while Onley’s race finished in disappointment - for him - with fourth. There was, in fact, another Briton in the top ten in Simon Yates, who finished seventh.
Yates, Onley and Williams are different riders at different stages of their career, but they are all part of the proof that British riders are doing better than ever at the highest level. There are 33 male WorldTour professionals with contracts currently, and 25 female Women’s WorldTour pros, both comprehensively more than ever. Those riders range from some all-time greats, like Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) or Lizzie Deignan (Lidl-Trek), through to the freshest, like Oliver Knight (Cofidis) or Cat Ferguson (Movistar).
The reason why the success of Britons at the TDU was so striking to me was not just because I am the news editor of Cycling Weekly, but because the results came in the same week in which the Tour of Britain and the Women’s Tour looked in as grave danger as ever. It’s an odd dichotomy to see British prosperity at the same time as bad news back home.
Last week, we broke the story that the organiser of both races, SweetSpot, had gone into liquidation, a move which puts the future of the premier British races into doubt, for this year at the very least. It seems inconceivable that Britain can’t sustain an international stage race, yet here we are.
Yates, Onley and Williams - and Knight, actually, who was also at the TDU - have been successful despite the domestic scene, not because of it. All four came into the WorldTour with international teams, and none have ever particularly relied on the likes of the Tour of Britain or British conti teams. All British riders have benefited from the boom in British cycling in the build-up and after London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France triumph, but also the growing internationalisation of the peloton, and English emerging as the main language of the pack.
We should be hopeful for the future of British cycling, especially with coming talents like Onley, Ferguson, and Knight around, but it is clear that something needs to be done to revive the domestic scene. British Cycling, the governing body in the UK, is soon to publish the findings of its road racing task force, and it will be interesting to see what concrete measures are actually suggested.
It is not the plight of the elite riders, who are usually talents at junior level, that we should be worried about here. It is the late developers, the riders who get a spot at one of the few British Continental teams left, shine at a race like the Tour of Britain, and then get a leg up to the next level. Doubts over the future of the race harm the whole ecosystem, even if it is not really clear to see yet.
It’s great to see British success on the world stage, and it doesn’t appear to be something which will be slowing down anytime soon. It would just be good to see British success in Britain, too. Over to you, BC.
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