Brexit and cash strapped councils - Tour of Britain director responds to criticism of 'boring' race

SweetSpot’s Mick Bennett says social media criticism of the race being 'boring' has been 'hard to hear'

Tour of Britain peloton
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The organiser of the Tour of Britain has said Brexit is to blame for the small size of the peloton at this year's race.

Just 97 riders started the British .Pro race in 2023, down from 110 last year, and 125 in 2019, pre-Covid and before the official departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Mick Bennett, the race's director, explained to Cycling Weekly that the UK leaving the EU was largely behind the reduced peloton. 

“It's purely and simply Brexit,” he said.  “Just to give you an example, it took some teams that rode the World Champs five hours to get their vehicles, and technical teams through customs at Dover, and that was only three weeks ago. And they go, 'Hang on. You know what? It's not worth it'. So they didn't, but that's purely and simply down to Brexit.”

Bennett also hit back at critics who have labelled the eight-day stage race boring, saying they do not understand the difficulties of putting the event together this year.

Throughout the week, many disappointed cycling fans have taken to social media to voice their frustration at the choice of route which has led to the race largely being dominated by Dutch super team Jumbo-Visma.

The Dutch squad has won five of the seven stages so far with sprinter Olav Kooij winning the first four. Current race leader Wout van Aert then surprised the bunch with a late attack on the run in to Felixstowe to take the honours on stage five.

Nevertheless, many have still said that the race could have been better despite the late drama in the coastal town and an explosive stage seven in Gloucestershire.

Speaking to Cycling Weekly at the end of stage seven, race director Mick Bennett voiced his frustration at the lack of understanding behind the online criticism.

“It’s hard to hear,” Bennett said. “I can’t stand it because they don’t understand the bigger picture that we have had to deal with.”

Highlighting the extensive planning work that goes on behind the scenes, Bennett explained that amongst other issues, some local authorities had come on board “very very late” as partners to host stages in certain areas.

Rasmus Tiller

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He also said that other potential agreements with some fell through due to them needing to prioritise limited funds elsewhere. 

“Because the country is in such a difficult financial situation, we're in such a state now that local authorities are being bled of the funds from central and local government,” Bennett explained. “They don't have the funds to commit to closing the roads and lots of lots of these stages, Suffolk for example, put an amazing amount of resources in and you'd think you're on totally closed roads, but they're still rolling. 

“Because the country is in a situation where, you know, local authorities are prioritising spending elsewhere, they're going to say, well, that's our priority and we fully understand that.”

“We totally understand and appreciate it,” he added. “So when you then get a local authority that gives you a decision, right at the last minute, yes, we can do this and they sign an agreement and a contract, and they're their key stakeholders to us. You then think, well, hang on, we can't have a stage in Suffolk and then one in Cumbria, because there's a two-hour drive limit regulation for the teams.

“You can't just design the strategy of the race, as you would like it to be given the last-minute signature on the contracts. I was saying to colleagues last night, it would be perfect to have a sprint stage, a climbing stage, a sprint stage, a climbing stage, or two sprint stages and then two climbing stages so you can stop the so-called Twitterati from criticising you on social media.

“I've shut it off now, I just don't respond to it.”

As well as the difficulties with putting the route together, the race was also unable to find a title sponsor for the current edition. Previous naming partner AJ Bell withdrew its support after last year’s event and the race is also taking place without a sponsor for its leader's jersey. 

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Tom Thewlis

Tom is a News and Features Writer at Cycling Weekly, and previously worked in communications at Oxford Brookes University. He has reported from a wide range of races and events including the Tour de France and World Championships.