As normal people's thoughts turn to the year ahead, at the Liv AWOL service course there are more pressing issues to deal with, writes Pat Hayes, Velocity columnist and directeur sportif of the under-23 amateur women's cycle racing team.
Firstly, seeking more sponsors for next season to better cover the cost of kit, bikes, transport and accommodation. And, secondly, trying to get the team entered into more major European races (their invitations usually go out in December).
In the world of women’s cycling, sponsorship is hard to find. The UK bike industry is hard-pressed by the internet retail giants, low margins and a very weak pound. It is hard to get cash sponsorship from anyone in the business. An offer like "helmets at cost" is good to have, but there is still a cost attached. And women’s cycling doesn’t get the media coverage that would make it easier to entice non-bike industry businesses to dip into their marketing budgets.
Meanwhile, the costs add up very fast. The price of race entry varies hugely: Tour Series crits are £1,000 per team, British Cycling National Series races cost about £25 per rider in teams of up to eight, UCI races are usually free but accommodation costs about £2,000 a race. For other races, a budget hotel for riders and staff will be about £700 a night. To get there, we'll spend £700 a month on fuel for the van. But the big costs are kit (about £5,000 a year) and bikes (£2,500 each - we can only afford to add to, rather than replace, our fleet). Our team budget is about £30,000 a year and our funding gap for next year is about £10,000.
A lot of teams charge their riders for kit and other elements but, as we try to encourage more young women to take up cycle racing, this doesn’t seem right to us at Liv AWOL. So the hunt for sponsors continues.
Meanwhile, securing race invitations for next year is particularly challenging (and important) as the governing body, the UCI, has a new rule that only UCI-registered teams can ride UCI races. Presumably they are well-intentioned reasons but, unless we can find the £25,000 bond and £6,000 fee to register as a UCI team, we are blocked from UCI races. There seems to be some element of, as yet not fully understood, discretion for race organisers in the highly likely circumstances that there aren’t enough UCI teams to fill a lot of the races. So we are spending a lot of time composing and sending emails, trying to contact people who may have some leverage with race organisers. Getting into cycling races is as much about who you know as how good the team is.
It will be a real shame if we can’t race any UCI events next season. We had a torrid baptism of fire in the Healthy Ageing Tour, where our whole team was eliminated by end of day two. But some of our riders showed later in the season that they could survive at UCI level, and could definitely improve next year.
Away from all that administration, the Cyclocross season is reaching its finale: the regional championships were last weekend (covered in the next post - ed) and the final round of the National Trophy follows this week.
In the regionals we achieved 1st Senior and 1st junior in the South East Region and 3rd Senior and 3rd Junior in the Eastern region. In the South East race, two of our riders dominated the race. In the eastern race, our two riders would have preferred a muddier course and did slightly less well on a fairly easy circuit. But we're pleased to be on the podium.
Now it’s on to York and, traditionally, a really tough, muddy course for the final round of the trophy. In the three previous rounds we have placed riders in the top 20 overall. Could we end the year on a high with two or three in the points?