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A change of focus for Dame Sarah Storey and her eponymous team

Maria David
5 Jun 2019

'We want to help riders with the resilience and mental strength to cope in such a competitive environment'

Multiple World Para-cycling Champion Dame Sarah Storey spoke to Cyclist about how Storey Racing support young female cyclists in achieving their ambitions. Storey Racing, the eponymous team of Dame Sarah and Barney, are keen to help aspiring women cycle racers be the best version of themselves.

In a change of focus, the team - which is sponsored by Eisberg Alcohol-free wine - was previously UCI-registered but recently decided to concentrate on bringing more young riders into the team.

The idea was stay out of the UCI circuit, thus allowing them the resources to work closely on their riders’ progress and support them in making the transition to the senior ranks.

Team captain Dame Sarah explains: 'We decided not to register as a UCI team because the cost of doing that was just spiralling upwards and it wasn’t really helping riders progress because we weren’t getting into the races we wanted to do.

'You pay a lot of money to be a UCI-registered team and then you don’t get first pick on those races so some of the races we were hoping to do, we weren’t getting into them and then club teams from the local areas were having priority in Europe, so we decided to take a step back and see how we could support riders from juniors to U23 category, and from youth to juniors.'

In Storey Racing, although all of the team members compete in road races, each rider specialises in different aspects of cycle racing, meaning that the team is represented in a variety of races across the calendar. At the same time senior riders in the team lend their support to the young racers.

'Road racing is the central part of the programme,' Storey explains. 'Some riders will do cyclocross and track in the winter, other riders will have more of a time-trial focus, so we have the national time-trial champion from Ireland, Kelly Murphy, who was part of our development squad a few years ago. She has come back in to work with us on the time-trial.

'We still have Chanel Mason who is full-time training in the army, and Monica Dew who has been with us for four years and is a time-trial and criterium-focused rider,' says the seven-time Paralympic athlete.

'That gives us the chance to almost buddy up riders who are in the junior ranks like Caitlin Peters, who has always been a really strong time-trial rider, who is looking to develop her road skills and her criterium racing. So it gives us that opportunity to continue to support her with the time-trialling but also help her to find her way and gain skills in the newer disciplines to her.

'With two of our senior riders also being para-cyclists including myself, that gave us that option to support another para-cyclist, Katie Toft.'

As well as supporting team members Dame Sarah is currently involved in a selection process to identify five female riders aged 17-25 years to join the Skoda DSI Cycling Academy, in an attempt to develop the U23 category. Research by Skoda identified U23 as the age-group with the highest drop-out rate in cycle racing, and Dame Sarah is keen to lend her experience to women who could benefit from extra mentoring.

She explained that the idea behind supporting the 17-25 years age-group is because there isn’t a women’s U23 racing tier as there is in men’s racing. So it was important to help that age-group along the pathway to become a senior professional racer.

'You find women will come back into sport in their late 20s, and they’ll find it easier because they’ll have a career and some money behind them and they have that opportunity. But young girls tend to go into their exam period at A level age, and they focus on their education and rightly so, but that means that their sport is the thing that they sacrifice in many ways.

'So we wanted to try and create something that gives people a reason not to give up sport, and show that you can do them both alongside each other.

'I was racing at the [Paralympic] Games in Atlanta the same summer as I did my [A level] exams so I have a full understanding of the balancing act that is needed to do exams and to work and do education at the same time. I went to university when I came home from those games. So it is about showing people that you can do both if you have the right support.'

As well as mentoring and support, the five selected academy riders will ride one of the early stages of the Tour de France with the women’s team Donnons des Elles Au Vélo. They will also be at the Etape du Tour and RideLondon, as well as attending a training day around the time of the National Road Race Championships in Norfolk.

Because of the cost, Storey Racing have no plans to register as a UCI team under the upcoming two-tier system for women’s racing teams, but it is hoped that through their experience and assistance from Magnus Backstedt, whose daughters Zoe and Elynor compete for Storey Racing, riders will be equipped to deal with the challenges of top level racing.

'Even at the Continental level, you’re looking at £750,000 to £1 million. That’s with paid riders, paid staff and a proper service course that you need to run a team properly. You could try and operate for less, but you wouldn’t be doing the team or the riders justice,' says the Storey Racing team captain.

'Having had a UCI team before, we know what it’s like, so we can help them with that mentorship and resilience and the mental strength that is needed to cope in such a competitive environment, and give them those skills that will help them to move up the ladder as they progress as individuals.'

As for Dame Sarah, who, along with husband Barney, juggles team management with being mum to Louisa and Charlie, she is also preparing for the Para-cycling Road World Championships in September in Emmen, the Netherlands.

Shortly after the championships, she will hot foot it back to the UK to contest the Yorkshire 2019 inaugural Para-cycling International Road Race. Her race will be a 57km-loop from Tadcaster, the day before the Team Time Trial Championships.

Having a para-cycling race during the World Road Cycling Championships is welcome news for the 41-year old from Disley, Cheshire, and something she had been campaigning for.

'It’s brilliant. I asked if we could find a way to incorporate para-cycling. I’ve long believed that we need more integrated events. It [para-sport] has always been integrated into triathlon events and para-rowing has always been integrated. And it’s something I’ve been working on during the time I’ve been on the Para-cycling Commission. So it’s a really positive step, and it’s a stepping stone towards something that has already got better very quickly.

'As usual Great Britain puts the stepping stone there first for something that’s progressed. I’m really delighted to see it happening and I know that the crowds in Yorkshire will welcome the para-cyclists. For so many of the riders competing it could be the first time that they experience such big crowds on the road, and that will be really good ahead of the Tokyo games next year' - for which this is a qualifying event.

When furthering her sporting ambitions and those of her team riders, Dame Sarah is grateful for the support she receives from sponsors who help with the payment of entry fees and the other
housekeeping aspects of running a cycle racing team.

Furthermore, she is pleased to have the support of non-cycling brands, as they give the riders the opportunity to meet different people from outside of cycling.

'Eisberg is obviously a lifestyle brand, and to have the backing of a non-cycling sponsor is quite cool really as you get that chance to give the riders a different type of experience. They’re not meeting people that are bike geeks,' Dame Sarah jokes.

'The sponsors are just interested in sport and being healthy. So we can make sure that the riders get that opportunity to mix with different types of people at events, and that makes it enjoyable.'

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