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British racing scene is “a real struggle”, says Ineos Grenadiers manager Rod Ellingworth

“You look at British talent at the moment… it’s pretty strong, but the racing is a real struggle”

One of the architects of British cycling’s success on the elite stage over the past two decades, Rod Ellingworth, has become the latest high-profile figure to raise concerns about the current worrying state of the country’s racing scene.

The domestic scene in the UK has endured a troubling few months, with the challenging economic climate, and the pressures it has placed on potential sponsors, resulting this year in the collapse of several British Continental teams, while also placing strain on race organisers at all levels.

> "Continuing as we are remains unsafe": Calls for British Cycling action as rider airlifted to hospital after collision with car during race

This precarious situation for British bike racing was underlined by the announcement in late March that the Women’s Tour – one of the most important stage races in the women’s international calendar – has been cancelled for 2023, just weeks after organisers SweetSpot launched a crowdfunder in a bid to save the race, and months after the Tour Series, another SweetSpot event, was also put on temporary hiatus.

Ellingworth, the Ineos Grenadiers’ Deputy Team Principal, has told the BBC that he is concerned about the pressures currently being placed on both grassroots and international events, despite the continued success of British riders at the highest level.

> Women's Tour cancelled for 2023, organisers cite lack of financial backing

“It is a worry,” the 50-year-old said. “You look at British talent at the moment – it's not like there’s no young bike rider coming though, male and female. It’s pretty strong, but the racing is a real struggle.

“I am from clubs who put lots of races on, and I know they struggle to put on races. My dad put on races for years and he stopped because he couldn’t keep up with pressure from authorities, more and more money, and everything else.”

However, the former Bahrain-McLaren general manager remains optimistic about the broader condition of British cycling, beyond its presently debilitated racing scene.

"Yet if you look at some of the cycling facilities in the UK and some of activities that are going off, there’s some great coaching, really good activities in velodromes around the country,” he said.

“I’ve just taken my kid to the local BMX place and there’s some fantastic coaching going off.”

> How do we save UK bike racing? SweetSpot's PR Director on Women's Tour cancellation and staying positive for the future

Ellingworth’s recent comments echo the cautious optimism of SweetSpot’s PR director Peter Hodges, who told last month that – despite the Women’s Tour’s temporary hiatus for 2023 – the doom and gloom surrounding British domestic racing this year shouldn’t detract from the success of the events which are still being held.

“There is a lot of negativity around the domestic scene at the moment. But at the same time, there are loads of fantastic things going on at grassroots,” Hodges told the Podcast.

“Rather than dwelling on the negatives, let’s talk about all the positive and good things – and I’m sounding very evangelical – and that will hopefully create more growth. The bigger the cake is, the bigger the slice is for everyone.”

Ryan joined in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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Jimmy Ray Will | 11 months ago

The situation is pretty desperate now, and realistically unsalvageable without significant intervention, reform and innovation from British Cycling.

Alas there is currently no signs this is a priority or focus for the governing body.

If I hear one more person moan about the cost of entry, or cost of living crisis I think I'm going to start throwing punches! Its merely an excuse, a cop out to avoid looking at the real problems, of which there are many, including;

- Lack of viable sport for all but a tiny minority, primarily down to a broken licence category system

- A blinkered focus on youth development / performance pathways to professional sport - this does not reflect the vast majority of competitors / available rider pools

 - Lack of long term motivators / goals for the majority - if you aren't trying to turn pro then what is there? 

 - Poor racing experiences due to the 'lowest cost of entry / entries funded' event model used by the vast majority of event organisers 

To summarise, at a grass roots level, british road / circuit racing provides poor quality, pointless, unviable sporting experiences.  

peted76 | 11 months ago

Yes, but how can it be fixed? 

I would suggest more closed circuits be built for a start.

Unless you live close to a velodrome or closed circuit track, you have to be very motiviated to travel to ride competitivley which makes for a bit of an echo chamber and is not very inclusive. With access to those kind of facilities, comes kids clubs, skills clubs etc.. and reduces the obstacles to race. More people involved at lower levels means more people involved at higher levels. It does not always work from the top down (as being proven right now).

There's a lot of faff and time involved in putting on a road race and for a number of years we've looked at expanding our rolling road closure, mens 2/3/4 race to womens and or other categories.. but the maths simply don't add up. We're lucky if the race washes it's face. We're a non-profit club (like most clubs) so we're not chasing sponsors for funding.. we want the entries to pay for the race and a local bike shop to throw in some prizes (logical).. however it seems there is something fundementally wrong if a small club like ours simply can't run races for 'everyone' without loss. Specifically the issues for us are 'lack of closed road or circuit possibilities within our local area (trust me we've spent years contacting venues/looking at industrial estates/old airfields/race tracks).. general costs for running a rolling closure over multiple races (we'd ideally run three races; 2/3, 4 & womens race). 

We couldn't get enough BC accredited marshalls last year so had to cancel our race.. you have to be really committed to want to become a BC accredited marshal.. lowering the critera to become a marshall or official might help. 

It's not all doom and gloom, there are some circuits opening up, but if we really want to change things, it's not enough.

Jimmy Ray Will replied to peted76 | 11 months ago
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As mentioned in my other post, I fear the biggest barrier is not cost, or the challenges with organising, but simply that there aren't enough club level riders racing. 

Recently, when feeling particularly nostalgic, I went back over results from my peak. I came away somewhat underwhelmed as when I looked over the names I realised I hadn't been beating hardened elite athletes; fields were mainly comprised of average ability club riders. 

People of that level simply don't race these days. Without that chunk of 'full grown adult' participation, not only do you lose the numbers to generate sufficient funds to run events, you also reduce the potential volunteer pool, and, looking back to how things were 20 years ago, you also lose potential event / team sponsors. 

I see the key to resolving the decline is getting more people racing. I'm not talking about kids, I'm talking about adults. Grown men and women wanting to do competitive racing. 

I agree, dedicated facilities is key to this - manages costs, and provides a safe, controlled environment for racers. But, alongside that, you need to be able to offer viable sport. To me that means rewriting the classification system so that the entry level fitness is nearer weekend warrior than world tour pro (there is currently at least one 400w+ FTP rider in any 34 cat race these days), and providing compelling, overarching motivators to race.

Points and rankings used to be the key driver, but then BC ruined that, so now we need something else. 

dubwise | 11 months ago

No shit, Sherlock.

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