It sounds wrong, but we're delighted to have lost a rider, Clover Murray, writes Pat Hayes of AWOL, the women's under-23 cycling team of which he is directeur sportif, as well as managing director at developer BeFirst. The reason we're pleased is that she has been signed to UCI team, Cams Tifosi, as a late replacement. As a development team, you have done your job when a rider can move on to the top flight.
For her former colleagues, the cyclo cross season is now only a memory and the road season is starting to build. Traditionally, the road season started in mid-March but now, with more off-road circuits, it never really ends. There are lots of races in February for those who don’t mind the cold or, this year, the wind.
The team got off on the right foot. New recruit Lydia Watts has had a great start to the season: winning one, placing second twice and fifth once in the winter series. The win came at Abingdon Airfield after a particularly impressive 30-minute solo escape into the teeth of storm Desmond, in one of the few races not cancelled that day.
Connie Hayes was a tyre-width away from beating the Cyclo Cross National Trophy champion in a tough road race on the Hog Hill circuit, where the first three riders lapped the rest of the field. A week later, Hannah Bayes won the Croft Road Race in Yorkshire
For the final race of the series at Abingdon, the plan had been to work on some team tactics , something you don’t often get to practice in regional races where you usually only have one or two riders.
With two local riders, Lydia and Libby Smithson, the plan was for them to be joined by three Londoners - Eva Callinan, Connie Hayes and Elizabeth Marvelly - and our two Hampshire riders, Victoria Lovett and Freya Richardson, to practice breakaways, bunch control and sprint lead-outs.
Unfortunately, viral infections meant one rider didn’t make the start, one wisely didn’t start and another abandoned feeling ill. That still left four riders for the finale: a break by Victoria Lovetts and Eva Callinan was brought back, before first-year junior Eva clipped off on her own in pursuit of a solo escapee. Ultimately, Victoria won the bunch sprint to give us second and third, with Lydia fifth. Lydia had enough saved in her legs to go on to win the brutally tough Banbury Star Hard Riders time trial the next day.
Hard Riders are a class of early-season time trials usually run on hilly courses, at a time of year when the weather is often horrible; hence the name. British time trailing is culturally very much as it was in the 1950s, despite the huge advances in equipment. The kit is even more outlandish than at major pro races, as UCI rules do not apply in events governed by the National Time Trial Council’s (even the name has a post-war ring to it).
For the AWOL organisation its been a busy few weeks preparing for our April UCI races: channel crossings, accommodation and schedules; ordering kit, nutrition and other products; and the ongoing search for sponsors. We have been approached by a New Zealand company looking to get into the European market, offering to supply us with nutrition products. A sports clothing supplier has offered us a good deal on pre- and post-race clothing as well.
At our level of cycling, the best we can usually hope for is supplies at trade price. That's usually fair enough: most companies interested in exposure at this level are themselves small businesses, often start-ups. Sadly, some teams are so keen to present the illusion that they are well-supported that their jerseys are emblazoned with the names of companies that have not even discounted the gear.
So it's not easy. But, with our riders progressing so well, you get a sense that it's worthwhile.
- Readers of the Velocity #4 cyclocross feature (if you'd like to buy a copy, call 020 7978 6840) will recognise Pat Hayes, AWOL DS, managing director of developer BeFirst, and Velocity partner. Pat is providing regular updates on AWOL's progress at www.velocitymagazine.co.uk.