Team Sky’s latest British recruit, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, believes the domestic racing scene needs a major overhaul if it is to survive, thrive and produce more riders capable of stepping up to WorldTour level.
Tiernan-Locke attracted the attention of the world’s number one ranked team after a superb season with UCI Continental outfit Endura Racing, racking up overall victories in the Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var and Tour Alsace.
Tiernan-Locke then went on to win the Tour of Britain in September – but while the country’s national tour has gone from strength to strength since its revival in 2004, the domestic calendar is barely keeping its head above water.
Last month British Cycling cut the number of races in the Premier Calendar series to six, a 50 per cent reduction from 2007, and down from 27 when the series was born in 1993, and Tiernan-Locke insists British-based teams like Endura Racing are being forced abroad to find racing of a high enough quality.
“It’s a shame, but the domestic scene in this country just isn’t there,” Tiernan-Locke told RoadCyclingUK. “You’ve got the [Tour Series and Elite Circuit Series] criteriums but I’ve only ever done a couple of those. It’s good for television and good for the sport, I suppose, but I hate it [criterium racing] to be honest.
“The Premier Calendar races are dying off and on the local road racing scene there’s not the quality because the culture’s not there compared to in Europe.
“Luckily I’ve had the chance to race outside the UK which has enabled me to step up and get a better contract, and do better races, and that’s not thanks to the UK, so I’ll be glad not to be racing [another domestic season] to be honest.”
The public’s appetite for road racing has never been higher on the back of a year in which Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France before claiming time trial gold at a home Olympic Games, while more than 200,000 new cyclists haven taken to the roads in the past 12 months, according to British Cycling.
But Plymouth-born Tiernan-Locke, who led Great Britain at September’s World Road Race Championships in the Netherlands, believes domestic racing needs a shake-up from top to bottom if it is to take advantage of cycling’s new-found popularity.
“It needs far more than a boost,” added Tiernan-Locke. “I think a lot of people have got their head in the sand and, in my mind, it’s totally disconnected to the success of Team Sky, the young riders who have found their way onto other WorldTour teams, and teams like NetApp-Endura [who have gained Pro Continental status for 2013].
“It’s totally disconnected from the domestic scene. All those guys have got results in European races or have come up through the track.”
Premier Calendar race organisers continue to face the logistical and financial barriers which have long suffocated the domestic racing scene and two races, the Tour Doon Hame and Dengie Marshes Tour, have paid the price having been removed from the series in 2013.
“The Premier Calendar [organisers] are almost apologising for holding a bike race,” said Tiernan-Locke.
“It’s not their fault because there’s legislation about racing on the roads, and stupid rules like the fact you can’t put up a gantry because you can’t get a double decker bus through it, so you’ve got two men and a dog watching it at the end, and no-one wants to watch it on television.
“It’s a bit of a mess really and it’s not down to one thing. The whole thing needs looking at. So while we’ve got a good national tour and the [RideLondon] legacy event next year, the amateur racing like you’ve got in France is just not part of the culture and I can’t see any way round it.
“I don’t think British Cycling have the resources and it’s not just up to them. It has to be a collaborative effort between the police, the local authority – I know the cost is ridiculous just to close the street for a crit – and then you’ve got to have the race where people are, and to have a finishing circuit in town centres so you can get some sponsorship money. It’s all these things.”