124-year-old Twickenham CC has just announced the launch of TW1, an all-new women’s “club team” which will compete in 2018’s Women’s Team Series, the National Road Series and other races in the UK, as well as at the Tour of Malta overseas. The team currently consists of Gabriella Nordin (previously Sunsport Velo and Starley Racing), Victoria Strila (previously Sunsport Velo and PMR@Toachim House) and Claire Hammond (Twickenham CC and London Dynamo), with applications from new riders invited – see the bottom of the article for more details.
New teams appear in the months prior to the start of every road racing season, but teams of this type are an especially welcome sight – and one that may increasingly become the shape of women’s cycling in this country, where the sport has grown dramatically in popularity over just a few years: whereas not too long ago it was common for women’s races to draw only a tiny handful of spectators (most of whom would be team employees) it’s not unusual nowadays to find that the women’s race at events featuring races for men and women get the biggest crowd and most vocal support of the day. As a result, over the last two or three seasons we’ve seen a large number of new teams following the standard “trade team” model starting up, and on the surface this seemed to indicate that the sport must be in good shape; however, financial backing was not growing, due to a combination of two factors (firstly, the return of the funding cycle which always hits a low point following an Olympic year, but which didn’t hit UK women’s cycling quite as hard as it usually does in 2013 thanks to the “feel good” aura around British sport after the London Games; secondly, Brexit, which has left so many companies uncertain about the future and caused them to cut back on programs such as sports sponsorship). Quite simply, the sport as it’s been for the last two or three seasons, with such a large number of teams (and races) all after a piece of a very small sponsorship pie, is not sustainable: we’ve already seen several teams fall apart, and that does nobody any favours – it’s a pain for the riders who have to go through the process of finding a new squad, and it doesn’t look professional to any companies that are considering getting involved.
The alternative to winnning a place on a team is ride for a club. A club might not sound quite so impressive, but with British women’s cycling in its entirety operating on a budget probably comparable to what Team Sky spend on socks every year*, what can most teams actually offer riders other than a discount on a bike, cheaper coaching and kit (often discounted rather than supplied) all of which are offered by most clubs too? Indeed, it seems the only real advantage of a team is that training can be much more focused due to the same small group riding together all season and coming to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses as well as their own – but then, if those riders are from different parts of the country and aren’t rich, unless the team can support them financially that becomes impossible anyway. The obvious answer therefore is club teams, such as TW1, which can offer the best of both worlds – the club already has sponsors, the support structure is already in place so that costs are lower and the team won’t disappear after a season and leave the riders back at square one, there’s a wealth of racing experience and technical knowledge to draw upon and the riders tend to live in the same geographic area, meaning they can train together. Neutral Service is very much looking forward to seeing them in action in 2018, and we hope they’ll be successful – which ought to encourage more clubs to set up similar outfits, helping safeguard the future of women’s cycling in the UK during difficult times.
Twickenham CC will continue to support new and developing riders, with a view to building the skills and experience to race for TW1 Racing in future seasons and/or to guest for the team. However, as stated above, applications from riders interested in joining the team are welcome – you can contact manager Lisa West for further information by emailing TW1RacingTeam@gmail.com
*Or, some might say, Jiffy bags.
The TW1 squad so far (top to bottom): Gabriella Nordin, Victoria Strila, Claire Hammond