Feature: Halfords Tour Series Starts May 24

The first round of the 2011 Halfords Tour Series is on May 24 in Durham and after talking to riders at the Canary Wharf photo call, this year’s series will be the best and most competitive yet.

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Since the Halfords Tour Series began a few years ago, it has become a central focal point for the top teams in the country and for sure has been responsible for improving the quality of the teams that compete in the UK and even those who don’t get to ride it, strengthen their squads to try and get a place in the event early season.

Because the series is televised on a channel that is widely available (ITV4) and the programme also goes live to air  quickly after the event (the following evening), there is little doubt that the Tour Series has almost single-handedly been responsible  for the improved quality of the teams that the sport now has racing week in, week out though out the country.

Halfords Tour Series Photocall (click here)

Teams now spend the first part of the year racing with one eye on the Tour Series and preparing their riders for that event. Even the structure of a team is created with the Tour Series in mind and so anyone who is a top crit rider is sure to find themselves a good ride by teams looking for such riders to help their chances of a victory in the Halfords Tour Series.

The knock on effect for cycling in Britain is those teams have helped strengthen the top level of cycling in this country and also given riders from the lower categories something attainable to aim for outside of being a pro in Europe. It really has transformed racing in Britain and will again be taking to the streets of major towns and cities in Britain in May and June.

Some teams will go for the individual wins because they know they don’t have the team to win the overall while others like Rapha, Motorpoint and Endura for example will be putting a lot of emphasis on the team win.

Men’s Halfords Tour Series Events

24th May Durham

26th May Aberystwyth
31st May Peterborough
2nd June Colchester
7th June Stoke-on-Trent
9th June Oldham
14th June Woking
16th June Canary Wharf

What the riders are saying

Magnus Backstedt (UK Youth)
There isn’t a rider in the series who has achieved what this man has and the UK Youth rider is sure to be a crowd favourite. A Tour de France stage win to his credit, second in Gent Wevelgem and that victory in Paris-Roubaix are but three stats that make him a marked man but he admits to really looking forward to the Halfords Tour Series.

“I grew up doing a lot of circuit racing in Sweden and there is still a healthy crit scene there. Anything that is fast, has sprints and a little bit of argy bargy and goes around corners quickly, I’m always going to be happy.”

The series will also be fantastic for their sponsor, UK Youth, says Magnus. “This is what we set out to achieve and hopefully we‘ll be able to raise the awareness of UK Youth even more. The support we have had so far has been fantastic and they love everything we do.”

“In Durham, we have a few Youth clubs coming out to watch us and Bike Club which is part of UK Youth and do work in various locations around the country, are coming for a ride with us in the morning of the Durham stage which will be great. Pretty much through out the Tour Series, we will have young people coming out to see us and hopefully we’ll be able to motivate them to follow their dreams.”

The key stage for Magnus and his team though is Canary Wharf. “Our offices are over there” he said pointing, “150 metres away, so I’m looking forward to pulling the victory off for that round.”

“I feel like I am climbing better than I have done in quite some time, even in the latter years of my professional career when I don’t feel I was climbing as well as I am now. I am though looking forward to the flatter courses and getting stuck in with lots of bunch kicks.”

“I am also keen to see what my boys can do. We’ve been practicing an awful lot to get our lead outs sorted, and I’m also looking forward to seeing what young Greg Mansell can do. So far I can’t hold him in the sprints!“

Dean Downing  (Rapha Condor Sharp)
Whilst Backstedt is the big man of the series, the most experienced crit rider in the field, probably, is former National Champion Dean Downing. The man in black has individual wins in the series to his name but as yet, Dean and his team have yet to win overall and that doesn’t sit well on their shoulders.

Rapha certainly want to make amends after the last two near misses and who better to lead them than a rider who says “I love the crits!”

“It is a major part of the calendar” Dean explains “and you can see that looking at the strength of our squad. We have three new riders in the team, James McCallum (former national crit champion), Ed Clancy (current Crit champion) and Andy Tennant.  The latter two have both won this event the last two years running in different teams so hopefully that will bode well for our team.”

“At the start of this year, I had one goal and that is to win the Tour Series as a team. I have won a few race individually and been told off for winning them as well by Mr Herety but hey ho. Winning is great but this series was a new concept and you can win a race without winning the event as a team which is what it is all about.”

“So I can understand where John was coming from.  It’s the team win that you get the points for, not the individual wins. Last year, we won a lot of individual rounds and had team wins as well but we had some disastrous rounds where things were out of our control that we couldn’t deal with, punctures and crashes for example“.

Dean will miss the first two rounds as he goes to Ireland for the RAS to get in some important ‘training’ before returning for the final six rounds where he hopes the men in black will finally win the series overall. Having strength in depth says Dean is important and Rapha have that and a manager, John Herety, who like a football manager, can make the decisions on who races which round, managing his ‘players’ to get the best out of them through out the series.

“I was gutted the first year when we didn’t win it when it went down to the last round. Last year, after our really bad round, we didn’t expect to win it but we clawed our way back and again we didn’t win  and were disappointed to have got so close.”

“It is a massive part of all our sponsor’s goals for the year, for Rapha, Condor and Sharp. It is a huge goal and there is so much publicity to be gained from it.”

It also takes a special type of rider as Dean explained. “You need the skills, a lot of different skills and I’m quite sad Exeter is not in it this year as that is quite a skilful circuit with some tight corners. Cornering is the biggest skill you need for criteriums and I am little bit crazy when it comes to them. I just love going round them fast and when you do that, you get an instant gap coming out of the apex.”

“Another skill is sticking together as a team. The Halfords Tour Series is all about team riding so each team tends to try and ride together. We have seen rounds where the winning team hasn’t had the first rider across the line like you could finish 2nd, 3rd and 4th so tactics come into it a lot”

“I have also been working on my sprints recently so hopefully that will put me in good stead for the sprinting in these events. I think the Halfords Tour Series this year will be more competitive. It was over unsubscribed and a few of those who missed the cut will guest at certain rounds.”

“There are also new teams like UK Youth and Magnus Backstedt and they have impressed me this year as has Twenty3C-Orbea. Myself and Graham Briggs did a crit a few weeks ago and Marcel Six (Twenty3C Orbea) and one of the other guys was giving it to us and we had to be on our toes so every team is going to be mixing it up in the Tour Series this year.”

“That is exciting for the public who watch it.”

Yanto Barker (Pendragon Le Col Colnago)
Another experienced rider who started out guesting for Sigma Sport the first year and for the last two years, has ridden for a team that he part sponsors, Pendragon-Le Col-Colnago.

“The atmosphere is a big attraction for teams and riders” he says “It reminds me of World Championships where you can hear the banging of the boards and people shouting your name which is exciting to be part of.”

“The other attraction is you have all the best guys turning up on the night and those of us at the top level, we want to pit ourselves against the best; it’s the whole point of racing and the Halfords Tour Series is an exciting venue to do that in.”

“The scene in the UK is really strong and we have got international riders coming here now rather than UK riders going abroad which is a good indication of how attractive the Halfords Tour Series is  to be part of.”

Getting selected is also important for two reasons says Yanto.  “As a rider, you want to be in the big races because its exhilarating and fun and if you can compete rather than just participate, then it is a fantastic place to be.”

“As a sponsor, Le Col, with the series being televised and also a lot of people turning up at the event both behind the barriers as well as other sponsors turning up in the VIP area to have a look the event,   its really important for us (Le Col) to be seen in these events.”

Asked for key riders in his team, he says, we have rides like Jon Mozeley who is very strong in the crits and Jake Martin. Chris Opie who can sprint and Rhys Lloyd who  has a very all round approach to races where he  is a quite bold and will have a go at anything. I think we’ll do better than last year and I’m excited by the team we have.”

“I have two roles. One is making decisions on the road and telling everyone when we need to be present on the front or when its right to sit back and watch what’s  happening. These races are very tactical and if you have a guy up the road, he may be the right or wrong guy and you have to make a call on that as you go along.”

Dave Clarke (Endura Racing)
One of the ‘engines’ in the series will be Endura Racing rider Dave Clarke. He says that his team are well up for the series this year. “Endura racing for sure want to do well. It’s a big show case in the home country and we’re setting out to win it as we’re certainly capable of doing.”

“The atmosphere of the racing at the series is what is memorable for me” he says when asked for a highlight from last year. Dave was 3rd in the Durham round last year which he didn’t expect after a shaky start.

“I think we all crashed in the neutralised zone and it wasn’t the best way we wanted to start it. I’d been on the floor in two rounds of the Tour series so it started badly but it got better as I got stronger and rode through the field. I then ended up in the break to finish 3rd.”

Hugh Wilson (Wilier/GoSelfDrive )
From Wilier/GoSelfDrive comes a rookie to the Tour Series but a rider who has his share of crit wins, Hugh Wilson. His team were gutted last year not to make the series and so are understandably pleased  at getting selected.

“We’re excited at  the opportunity“ says Hugh. “I quite like crits and am not too bad at sprinting so it’s going to be great racing with these guys week in, week out.”

“The whole team is looking forward to this. The main target for this year was to get the team into the Tour Series and we’re chuffed to bits to have been selected.”

Marcel Six (Twenty3c-Orbea)
Another rookie is Twenty3C Orbea rider Marcel Six who Dean Downing mentioned in his interview. He too admits he’s very much looking forward to the opportunity. “We have very much built our season around the Tour Series and Premier Calendar. It’s televised and good for British cycling” he explained.

“I am training as much as I can around my part time job for the series and the form is good. I’m sure we’ll be ready. You have to be a certain type of rider for the crits and a rider with a good kick so it should suit me.”

“I’ll certainly try my best to get a win out of it. We have tried to build a team around the Tour Series and its up to the guys to make sure they are ready. It is certainly going to be hard against the established teams like Rapha Condor who have one hell of a team but after four or five top 10’s in the Prems, I think we should do okay”.

The final rider at the photo call was Sigma Sport’s Russell Hampton. He too is hoping to get a ride in the latter rounds. He currently has a knee injury which will keep him out of the early rounds and is one of a few riders in the Sigma team who have been hit by injuries this year which will make it difficult for them to rotate riders around across all eight rounds.

But they, like the other teams, do have a strong squad and will be ones to watch as will the men’s Motorpoint squad who were not at the photocall but are one of the favourites.

The ten participating teams in the 2011 Halfords Tour Series are CyclePremier.com – Metaltek; Endura Racing; defending champions Motorpoint; Pendragon Le Col Colnago; Rapha Condor Sharp, who include Olympic Gold medallist Ed Clancy in their line-up; Sigma Sport – Specialized; Team Raleigh, Team UK Youth, who include Olympic Bronze medallist Steven Burke and former Tour de France stage winner Magnus Backstedt amongst their roster; Twenty3c – Orbea; and Wilier – GoSelfDrive.com.

There will also be guest teams at certain rounds; Felt Colbournes, Herbalife Wheelbase, Corley Cycles and Qoroz.

Coming next, Feature: The Johnson Health Tech Women’s Tour Series

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