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A day in the life of Team Ford EcoBoost

Sam Challis
26 Jul 2016

It may not be the Tour, but domestic racing requires just as much grit. We spend the day with women’s team Ford EcoBoost.

A grey day in Stevenage is not quite in the same league as the Grand Départ at Mont St Michel, but you’d never guess it by judging how Team Ford EcoBoost prepare themselves for round four of The Matrix Fitness GP.

Uniformly dressed in distinctive orange polo shirts, the riders are easy to pick out among the other teams at the race briefing. It projects a level of professionalism in contrast to the more laissez-faire dress code and behaviour of their rivals. After being embedded within the team for the day, Cyclist discovers this is about far more than just making a first impression.

‘Right from the start we wanted to stand out from our rivals,’ says Nikki Juniper, Ford EcoBoost’s team captain. ‘We never advertised this team – we hand-selected riders who we thought would be a good fit. It was important for us to nurture talent and prove to young girls that there are other pathways into professional cycling aside from getting into Great Britain squads, so we picked a diverse mix of riders with the strengths to complement each other.’

the team’s willingness to understand and work for each other means we are progressing quickly

This selection policy appears to have paid off. ‘In the short time we’ve been together we have really gelled as a team,’ says Julie Erskine, one of the core members of the Ford EcoBoost squad. ‘It makes racing together so much easier as everyone is willing to work for each other. I’ve had mixed experiences on previous teams but I feel my performances are improving this season because I’ve been given the confidence to try things in races.’

All for one

That camaraderie on Team Ford EcoBoost is plain to see as the race preparation begins in earnest in Stevenage’s leisure centre car park, where a number of the teams’ convoys have based themselves pre-race. There are no Sky-style team buses, so the racers get changed in the back seat of the team car while team manager Nick Yarworth helps other support staff make sure everything is progressing smoothly. 

‘Our role is to deal with all the details that could create pressure for the riders,’ says Yarworth. ‘At this point pre-race we give the bikes a final check over, make sure the team has the right nutrition and the right equipment and liaise with the race organisation so everyone is in the right place at the right time. It’s a lot of stuff to get right.’

By taking on such responsibilities, Ford EcoBoost’s support staff allows the riders plenty of opportunity to relax and focus on the race. ‘At this level race organisation rarely runs like clockwork – problems always arise so you have to be adaptable and versatile. We have to expect the unexpected because we don’t want to allow any hiccups to compromise the team’s performance,’ says Yarworth.

The course is a simple 1km loop in the centre of Stevenage’s old town. While the team staff set up the Ford EcoBoost pit, the riders busy themselves by laying out rollers for their warm-up. Space is limited so anywhere flat enough will do: in the road, on the pavement. It makes for quite a stark contrast – bemused shoppers curiously brush past honed athletes as they complete specific warm-up protocols in front of a Perfect Pizza shopfront. 

As soon as the riders start pedalling, the chatting and breezy atmosphere immediately changes – it’s down to business. ‘The nerves start kicking in around now,’ says Erskine. ‘This is when we really start to focus. Everyone responds to nerves in different ways, but racing together day-in, day-out we get to understand each other’s routines and the team dynamic pre-race becomes that bit more congruent each time.’

The end of the warm-up segues naturally into a team talk, where Yarworth makes some final comments himself but also encourages input from all the riders. ‘We like to devise tactics well in advance,’ says Juniper. ‘This is more of a refresh to make sure everyone is crystal clear on their responsibilities in the race.’

‘Our tactics will always be determined by a lot of factors,’ Yarworth goes on to explain. ‘This course is less technical than we would have liked so doesn’t suit our riders perfectly. Consistency is key in this series and
as Nikki is already leading overall we won’t look to take too many risks.’

And they’re off!

The race is frenetic from the gun. ‘Once they’re racing it is a bit of a waiting game for the support staff,’ says Yarworth. ‘If one of the riders encounters a problem we have to make sure we can react as quickly as possible, so we are quite formulaic about where we place spare bikes, nutrition and tools.’

As well as staying on hand to fix problems, Yarworth assesses the race and relays instructions to the racers as they fly past. Juniper works herself into a good position early on, so Yarworth is vocal in his encouragement to the other riders. They look as though they are riding at their limit but their determination to support their team leader is obvious. The race is done in what seems like no time.

‘I was pleased with the performance put in by the team tonight,’ says Juniper during her cool-down as Ford EcoBoost’s camp is rapidly disassembled around her. ‘The simplicity of the course meant more riders were up there at the end so it was more hectic than normal, and crits are chaotic at the best of times, so we had stuff that didn’t go to plan but we met our objectives in spite of that. It’s such a learning curve but the team’s willingness to understand and work for each other means we are progressing quickly.’

Before too long the riders are hurriedly ushered off the race circuit – the men’s race is due to start soon. The women’s sport of cycling still has some way to go before it can command the same level of attention and investment as the men’s sport, but as Team Ford EcoBoost has just demonstrated, there is certainly no disparity in the level of professionalism on display or the determination of the riders out on the road.

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