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The Heron rides again!

One of the great, household names of cycling with a massive road racing pedigree has returned to professional bike racing this season after an absence of several years. Raleigh UK, the famous, Nottingham-based cycle manufacturer, are behind a eleven-strong British women’s professional cycling team. Once the bike that carried Laurent Fignon to Tour glory and Jan Raas and the Ti-Raleigh super-squad of the seventies to countless Classics and other International race successes. They were heady days indeed.

They also had huge UK success in the Eighties with the likes of Malcolm Elliott (yes he’s that old and still winning?!). And how could we forget that once upon a time ‘Reg (Harris) rode a Raleigh’. However after the demise of Raleigh Special Products and with it the excellent frame building department which produced some market leading designs, the interest in the pro-road scene dwindled. Incredible that once their 753 frames were the envy of Italian builders – who used the Team replica as the ‘Benchmark’ design for the era.

So now with the road scene having a renaissance Raleigh are set to enter the Pro ranks again and have signed a comprehensive sponsorship package with the ERV Team and they have already registered three race wins. Captained by seasoned campaigner Michelle Bergstrand the team have signed World Class Performance Plan rider Sophie Johnson, former national junior champion Hazel Wakefield, Irish international Beth McCluskey and Scottish riders Ruth McGavigan and Caroline Wallace.

The other team signings are: Jenny Middlehurst who will concentrate on track racing; enduro specialist Nicola McLeod; and Caroline Jackson who will travel from Australia for the summer season. Hampshire’s Brenda Pennell has won two district round of the national Rudy Project Time Trial Series in the new Raleigh colours. New signing Siobhan Mullan provided the third win in her first ever road race at Thruxton over the weekend.

Making the most of Raleigh’s P&A department the team will be using Maxxis tyres, Crank Brothers pedals, Lake shoes, Axo apparel and Uvex helmets and sunglasses.Other suppliers will be supplying Magura forks and brakes, FSA, USE components and exclusive wheelsets from Cole Products. They won’t be hungry either as Jordans cereals will be handling the team’s nutrition.

Of course we wish them luck but we’d question the value of backing a predominantly mountain bike team after pulling out of the sport (presumably through lack of sales) six or so years ago. This is only a reaction to the news that the team’s main focus will be mountain biking and they will contest all the European World Cup rounds as well as the National Series. The team will ride white Raleigh Airlite Team Issue 7005 aluminium frames with the distinctive red, blue and yellow bands synonymous with the Raleigh race teams of the 1980s… But will this have any kudos with the Mountain Bike fraternity?

With Team Fat Birds Don’t Fly going from strength to strength and several UK based women road riders signing good deals with Continental race teams – surely this is the ideal opportunity for Raleigh to hit the road again rather than the dirt? What do you think?

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