because all these pixels reside on a web server, technology sits at the gate and counts every pixel out, and every pixel back in again. that way, should i find myself unable to get to sleep at night, or i find myself with several days to fill, i can browse through graphs and columns of numbers relating to all those marching pixels. i can see how many of you got here via google, how many came from elsewhere, the ip addresses at which you all reside, and how often you make the post a part of your daily life. as one with an inherent dislike of numbers, i pretty much ignore most of that, but the one thing that these statistics do not tell me, even assuming i wanted to know, is whether you're male or female. it wouldn't change anything if i knew, but i have a sneaking suspicion that the fairer sex are in the minority, if only because that seems to be the general state of things in the world of bicycles; especially when it comes to racing.
it is, therefore, greatly encouraging to note that in 2011 the women's horizon fitness rt team are on one of those onwards and upwards trajectories, helped along the way by additional sponsorship from mick and andy at prendas ciclismo. the team's directeur sportif is stefan wyman, husband of prominent british rider helen wyman. the two of them met while racing for the same sponsor; "It was very clear to me that helen had a lot of talent, and over the following years, i actually sold my bikes to get some money to buy her some new equipment." did he ever long for his own racing days rather than those of ds? "i gave up racing quite a few years ago, but have since done a few races in belgium, which i have regretted each time."
the progression from former racer to directeur sportif is not an unusual one; many a retired cipollini has done just that. stefan started running teams between 2003 and 2004, but it seemed worthwhile asking why, despite the eminence of his wife at the top of women's uk racing, he decided to concentrate his talents on bringing on a women's racing team. "having seen the lack of opportunities for female riders with helen, i felt something needed to be done. i still feel that way now."
the team is based on the premise of being a development team, how does he intend to encourage and plan this development? "i feel i need to make sure female riders in the uk have opportunities. that's not just about making my team 'big', it's about contributing to the development of the sport in the uk. for example, the introduction
of a women's round of the tour series in 2010. we sponsored this event, the horizon fitness gp, to give teams the chance to step up, get on tv and reward their sponsors.
"hopefully it also gives new targets for riders, along with well organised, safe road-racing for all the keen riders out there."
cycle racing, whether male or female would be hard-pushed to exist without financial input from sponsors, either for commercial reasons or because someone at the top of the company has an obsession with cycle sport, and the wherewithal to support it. horizon fitness rt are no different. title sponsor, horizon fitness are manufacturers and purveyors of (surprise, surprise) fitness equipment, the sort of thing you'd find in gyms. however, for 2011, the good guys of cycling mick tarrant and andy storey of prendas ciclismo have stepped up to the metaphorical plate and supplied some snazzy new santini clothing. bearing in mind the foregoing, is the prendas name on the side panels of the horizon jerseys for commercial reasons, or are they just so in love with the sport?
"it's a combination of the two. there's no grand prendas marketing plan as such; we are just trying to get our name out there. it still amazes us that we get orders every day from people that have never heard from us, but are really happy when the product arrives. it's all about trying to widen our customer base. it would be easy to just advertise in a bunch of magazines, but team sponsorship is a positive thing to do. it's costly to do properly, but ultimately we are putting something back into the sport that has provided us with a living for a number of years. in addition, cycle sport has seen more women being involved in recent years and it seems that a lot of the 'tifosi' don't take them too seriously. we appreciate that it's tough for a women's team to attract sponsors and we hope that our involvement will add something to their credibility."
but which way round did the approach arrive? the new team kit is made by santini in italy, a company world-renowned for quality of product, and one with which prendas have been long associated. in which case, was it a case of santini being the nominated supplier, and prendas becoming involved through their being one of the principal uk distributors? "the kit is from santini, due to our long-term relationship with them. the jerseys, bib shorts, gilets, etc are all hand-made in italy, race proven and top quality, although in the world of retail, nowhere near the top of the pricing ladder. we've always based our business on quality clothing offering value for money.Êi think that also pretty much sums santini up." is clothing supply the sum total of prendas' commercial involvement? "yes. we are happy to do what we have expertise in. stef's a top bloke, honest, enthusiastic and knows his stuff. i really can't see mick doing a "signor squinzi" a la paris-roubaix in the team car!"
horizon fitness rt originated in 2009, competing throughout the 2010 season. for the 2011 season, sponsorship and team kit is all in place, the women will be riding dolan hercules bicycles, and the roster is now set, a roster that has an impressive strength and depth; "there is no age limit on the riders in our team. it's about taking riders that fit in with the existing squad, and have the talent to move forward in the sport. we have claire thomas who's 38, and a fantastic rider (a member of team scotland in the 2010 commonwealth games), and we also have riders like ruby miller and penny rowson who are 18. it may be putting the cart well before the horse to ask, but if the current team provides the hoped for degree of success, does wyman hope to keep the team together for 2012. or is it a measure of the success of a development team that others come a knocking and pick off the best performers?
"it's my aim to be able to move the team forward as fast as the riders can develop. so for sure i'd like to keep them together, however if a big, well structured team came in for a rider and offered them a good path in cycling, i would be really proud that we've been part of their development.
"i think that's the great thing about the group of partners we have on the team (horizon fitness, cnp professional nutrition and prendas), they'd actually agree with that. it would great, however, if riders can move onto some of the world's top teams."
sound infrastructure is a rather obvious necessity for any team planning to take to the uk roads in the name of competition. with the financial and personal demands, to say little of responsibility to those sponsors decorating the jerseys, shorts and team vehicles, there's the not inconsiderable negotiations with the uci and race organisers. all this before even one pedal has been turned in competitive effort. though sponsors and riders are keen to see their names in race results, surely there's the obligatory pre-season training camp followed by the real reason for the team; racing?
"we'll have a very varied year. for the road, we'll start with a training camp in italy and the mpire cycling centre. this is run by former pro jamie burrow, and he's working with us in 2011 as a race consultant, passing on his knowledge to our riders.
"from there the team will split; one team with start in the uk, and the other will take part in the gp roeselare in belgium (uci 1.1). june is going to be about getting the best prep for the nationals, as we have some really strong U23 riders.
"so a bit of everything, to ensure each rider gets the races they need. before the road even gets under way for women, we hope to have some of the riders taking part in the world track championships, and maybe even the manchester world cup."
"the uk is going to key to us into the first half of the season with the bedford two day race, the tour series, smithfield nocturne, and the national championship. on top of this there are various key tt events in the uk that riders will target.
"the second half of the season will involve a lot more racing in europe, including some professional stage races along with professional one day events."
with many a team sponsored by those involved in the cycling business, for some the actual race results may almost be an incidental. have prendas plans to take development benefits of a different kind from their association with the team? "yes. we'll be working with the riders to develop new products. female specific summer gloves is the first project on the list." is it possible, therefore, that 2011 might presage the formation of a prendas ciclismo road team for 2012, with them taking on the role of title sponsor?
"no. we just don't have the will, the time, the budget or the ego."
this isn't the first outing for the prendas name on the front of a cycle jersey. in 2010 they held co-sponsor status with the big maggies, prendas, wilier team. does the name on the horizon jerseys mean that they are spreading themselves across more lycra for the coming season? "the big maggie's, wilier team will continue in some shape or form in 2011, but we will not be involved. i would say that we achieved most things out of the relationship that we wanted to, but as with everything in life, things don't always turn out as you expected. we admit it was a big disappointment that the team did not make the tour series, but some of the product photos that we received of the guys using the kit during the season to illustrate the website were excellent and are still being viewed by visitors to our site every day. we supported some of the guys for a long time (ben, mark, grant) prior to the team's existence and we still remain friends."
everytime things look up slightly with regard to british cycling teams, male or female, the media at large start talking about a new golden age of british cycling. on the grounds of being less than fully informed, i excuse myself from this classification. with constant reference to the current economic situation hanging in the air, commerciality is keener on hanging onto its money than spending it on allowing folks to go cycle racing. however, the relatively recent realisation that women are from venus, and men are from mars, has led to prominent players in all strata of cycling, providing more women specific clothing, cycles and general awareness that it's not all blokes on skinny wheels. the existence of horizon fitness rt as a specifically women's development team is encouraging to say the least.
maybe james brown's 'it's a man's world' will receive less airplay in 2011.
the team horizon rt santini clothing will be available direct from the prendas ciclismo website.
posted wednesday 26th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................