Nikki Juniper doesn’t really need an introduction: she’s one of the best-known and most highly respected riders on the UK women’s cycling scene and has been for a few years now. Following a successful career in long distance running and triathlon (which took her as far as the World Championships, she decided to concentrate on cycling in 2009 after suffering knee injuries and immediately did well with a good result at the Bedford 3-Day and eight wins in her first season. That was followed by more success in the years since, and one of the highest tallies of podium finishes of any cyclist racing in Britain today, with many of them stood on the top step celebrating victory at the hardest, longest races on the calendar.
Over the last couple of seasons, Nikki set up her own team and ran it with the help of directeurs sportif Nick Yarworth (her partner) and Rick Lister. While the roster she put together was very strong, Nikki explained to Neutral Service that her primary concern had been to try to assemble a group of riders who would get on well together and support one another in racing and training. This proved a highly successful approach, and the team went from strength to strength regularly picking up victories along the way, including Nikki’s third National Road Series title when she won the Ryedale GP for the third consecutive year. 2017, though, would be tough – a broken collar bone sustained in a crash at the Tour of the Wolds wasn’t expected to impact too heavily on her season (broken collar bones are virtually par for the course among cyclists, after all) and her win at her first event back, the Banbury Star Road Race, followed by a 3rd place at the CiCLE Classic, made it look as though a fourth National Series victory might still be in reach – unfortunately, the injury would become infected and cut her season short.
Now fully recovered, Nikki’s back with an all-new team backed by new sponsors. Owned by her with the day-to-day running once again taken on by Yarworth and Lister, the team will be known as NJC-Biemme-Echelon: NJC is Nikki’s company Nikki Juniper Cycling, Biemme is the clothing supplier and Midlands bike shop Echelon, which has supported Nikki for several years, is equipment supplier.
When Nikki set up her previous team, asked how much of the day-to-day management she’d be taking on. “Little,” she told us, “my job is to ride bikes!” However, she’s well-known for her desire to put back into the sport and takes a close interest in her riders’ development, sharing her wealth of experience with them (as an example, she strongly encourages a balanced diet, arguing that “skinny is not always healthy… if there is less pressure on your diet you can focus better on racing,” as she explained to Cyclist). That’s one of the reasons she prefers not to create a huge team with a large number of riders: much bigger, and only the most exceptionally well-organised teams can offer so much support.
“We don’t have a massive team like others out there, but this is something we have always done,” she told us. “We want every rider to have the opportunity to show their full potential, and we want help them to deliver that! For that to work these riders need to be racing, not sat on the sidelines.”
Nikki’s preference is for hard races – fast crits and long, hilly events, which explains why she’s been National Road Race Series Champion three times. Although she missed a large part of the 2017 season due to injury, she was third at the infamously hard CiCLE Classic and won the Banbury Star Road Race with its three ascents of the notorious Edge Hill; in 2016 she achieved 19 podium places including victories at the Ryedale GP for the third consecutive year, the Curlew Cup and the Alexandra Tour of the Reservoir. That love for fast crits has also translated into success: she was National Circuit Race Champion in 2015 and came third two years later.
Jo’s another rider who needs no introduction – ever since her days with Matrix Pro Cycling, she’s been a regular sight at the front of the peloton (or, often, some way ahead of it) giving the opposing teams a hard time to pave the way for her own team’s leader. She’s one of the best in the business at doing that, but has also enjoyed her fair share of glory: a very close second at the Wallingford Town Centre Crit in 2017, victory at the John Hinksman Memorial and fourth at the Portsmouth round of the Matrix Tour Series in 2016, two victories and a total of seven podiums in 2015, four victories in 2014 and many more stretching back to 2011.
Adele also proved herself to be a strong team rider last season when she rode with Nikki, Jo, Jenny and Kelly, working hard to help the squad control races and prepare for their leader to make her bid for victory. She took some impressive results to add to her own palmares too – second at the Castle Combe Easter Classic and two fine wins at the Bristol South RR and the South-West Circuit Race Championships. In 2016, she took twelve podium finishes including eight wins.
Current Yorkshire Regional Champion Gabby got her first taste of big-time success back in 2014 when she was second at the London Nocturne. She’d already won numerous races at both Junior and U23 level prior to that year, and continued adding more – second overall at the Staffordshire Cycling Festival that same year, then victory at the Tickhill GP in 2015 followed by nine top ten finishes in 2016 (including sixth at the CiCLE Classic) and eight more, including seventh at the Lincoln GP, in 2017 with WNT.
The 2017 season has seen Jenny continue to build on the improvement she showed during the latter half of the previous season, developing into a rider capable of holding her own and supporting her team in the key domestic races. With a top ten finish at the HSBC National Circuit Championships and multiple top fifteen finishes in the Nationall Road Series, she’s proved she’s able to meet the challenges that the toughest courses offer. Watching Rutter ride 2017’s Banbury Star RR, we were able to see her physical development in action, helping her team control the peloton and enabling team leader Juniper to take the win in her come-back race following injury.
Like Jo and Jenny, Kelly rode with Nikki’s team in 2017 and worked hard for the squad, but also scored some good results for herself including fifth overall at the University of Birmingham 1-Day Stage Race (in its previous incarnation as a 2-day event in 2016, she won the prologue and the crit and took second in the TT, giving her first place overall) and – the season highlight – won the silver medal in the National Time Trial Championships at home in Ireland. Kelly tends to perform well in longer road races such as the Essex Giro and CiCLE Classic in 2016, where she was fourth and tenth respectively.
Emma joins the team from Vertex-Biemme, which was backed by NJC’s kit supplier Biemme. She’s had a relatively quiet couple of seasons but finished top ten eight times in 2015, and was second at the Houghton CC-North-East Truck Spares RR in 2017.
Definitely a rider marked out as “one to watch” ever since she took a string of victories on road and track whilst still a schoolgirl, Maddie left no doubt that she could hold her own in the biggest races on the road or in the mud of a cyclocross race and a sixth-place stage finish and 33rd overall at the Bedford 3-Day in 2016 proved she could also be a contender for wins. She followed this up in 2017, her last as a junior, when she took 2nd place in the Junior National Road Championships and won Stage 3 at the Junior Tour of Assen before finishing her road season with 20th place at the six-stage Ras na mBan.
Also formerly with Vertex-Biemme, Anna is better-known as a duathlete and trathlete than a cyclist, having won bronze medals at the European and World Duathlon Championships and the European Triathlon Championships – not at all bad considering she only began to compete seriously in 2014! A look at her palmares, which lists numerous good results including several top tens from the last three cycling seasons, suggests that with such a strong and supportive team, she may well add some more decent finishes in 2018.
In addition to the Matrix Tour Series, of which Nikki is a past winner, the team plans to compete at the Tour de Yorkshire as well as making a few forays into Belgium so that the team can experience the high level of competition over there.
Slightly surprisingly, that fourth National Road Series title doesn’t seem to be something Nikki’s particularly interested in chasing. “We’ll do some selected National Series, the ones the riders want to ride,” she says. Chances are you’ll see them at various other events too, either as a complete team, in smaller groups or as individuals at various other races around the country too – we should have a photo of the new kit design very soon.