“Sister teams” and “French exchanges” for bikes – one of my theories

I should be transcribing right now, but I want to outline an idea that’s been buzzing around my head for a while, about how to develop British women’s cycling.  It started with a conversation with Colin Bachelor of Team 22 WRT, and I’ve been thinking about it more since my recent interview with Wiggle High5 DS Egon van Kessel, which included the need for British riders to get the bike skills for Dutch-style-racing, and so I want to blog it and put it out into the ether.

When I was at school, the thing to do when learning a language was go on the school’s French Exchange, where pupils were paired with penpals in France, who’d come and stay in our houses, and we’d stay in theirs for a week, for language immersion.  And I’m wondering if this would be possible for bike riders too.

How I think it could work:  British domestic teams who don’t have the cash for racing blocks abroad, or want to add more opportunities, could find Dutch or Belgian club teams, and become ‘sister teams’.  They’d then offer to put up a couple of, eg, the Dutch riders for a block of racing – I’m thinking the month(ish) of the Matrix Fitness GPs at the Tour Series, for example – and the Dutch rider would guest-ride for their team.  The British team would find her somewhere to stay, and sort her out getting to the races, and at the races she’d be part of the team.  She’d have to pay for her travel, but maybe there could be crowd-funding to help with that, that the teams could help with too, or sponsors help, and it would be a chance for her to race elsewhere, and get some language immersion.  And then the Dutch team would do the same for British riders, for a block of full-on crit racing, so the British rider could get that full-on experience.

The reason I think the Matrix GP series would be perfect is that it’s so intensive, 5 races for women over 4-6 weeks, and SweetSpot is such an excellent race organiser.  The Series includes some fantastic places to race in, so the rider could also take a day after the race to do some touristing in places like Bath, Edinburgh etc etc, and they’re really varied courses.  And they’re on TV, on ITV4!

As Dutch riders grow up riding insane crits, there’s a really good chance of them getting good results for their rider CV, and even if people don’t know what the Tour Series is abroad, “organised by SweetSpot, who run the Aviva Women’s Tour and the Tour of Britain” has a cachet that says “these are good races” (not to mention their media is superb!).

So, that’s my idea.  Everyone knows that more racing in Europe makes British riders better, but it’s expensive, and with young riders facing Catch-22 situations (the wonderful Dave Rayner Fund, eg, will support riders if they’re not pro, and will be racing overseas… but it’s very hard for young women to get the cash TO live overseas, as even a lot of UCI-ranked women’s teams don’t pay riders, so they don’t qualify for the Fund) and not everyone able to pop across the Channel to race in Belgium, or to commit to a full season abroad due to study or work commitments, so ideas like this could be an interesting solution.

Of course, I say this about Dutch/Belgian teams and racing, because they’re so unique and important to the sport, and about British teams because I think a lot about the sport in this country, but this could also count for other countries too – sister teams and exchanges for the USA Crit Series, especially the USA Speed Week, with 5 crits in a week, and the chance to win high paying lap PREEEEEEMS! or their wonderful stage races, for example, or the superb Aussie January of racing.  That’s more expensive, but all the more reason why fledgling riders from Aus and USA need inventive solutions, if they can’t make the National Team, or if, like Heather Fischer racing with Matrix Procycling last year, their National Team is going home.  I know pro rider Martine Bras, for example, did wonderful work setting up foreign riders with Dutch teams in the past, and maybe teams could take a leaf out of her book and to work together to do similar things.

What do you think?  And what ideas have you seen, or thought of, to help British riders get that full-on Dutch/Belgian racing experience?  Let me know in the comments, or on twitter, as always.


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