TalkingShop: British Champ Graham Briggs

Winning the British Circuit race championship is always going to bring a rider some extra rewards when it comes to signing a new contract and for Graham Briggs, his reward was a two year contract from Raleigh-GAC to give them some firepower in the Halfords Tour Series and the other top British races.

By Larry Hickmott

Graham was part of the all-conquering Rapha Condor Sharp team last year but with Rapha’s different team strategy for 2012, Graham was given the freedom by the men in black’s shrewd team boss John Herety to make the most of having the champions jersey and Graham’s done that by signing with an iconic British brand; Raleigh. Graham had at least three of the biggest teams in Britain chasing his signature and the South Yorkshire rider decided that Raleigh would be his best bet as he’d be given more responsibility to chase the victories. When you look at the other team line-ups, that does seem like a sensible choice by the circuit race champion.

Most of the Raleigh team at the launch including British Circuit Race Champion Graham Briggs and his bike for 2012.

Over the years, he’s been happy to be the team player but by taking on more of a leadership role will mean he’ll have to become more ruthless when it comes to going for the victories that Raleigh are obviously so keen to see their riders taking. That can only be a good thing for Graham as he has certainly shown he has the speed to win the top bike races. Now he has a strong team to back him up.

At the company’s headquarters in Nottinghamshire, day 1 of the Raleigh-GAC Team launch saw the very first get together for the UCI team and whilst there were some young riders Graham is yet to ride and race with, many of the riders in the team have been part of the same peloton as Graham has for the last six or seven years. As the team lined up on stage, in the centre was the man in the stripey jersey, Graham Briggs.

For Graham, winning the Circuit Race title was always a good one to win as it gives a rider plenty of opportunity in the many crits held throughout the British season to wear the stripes with pride. No-one should under estimate the extra confidence having that jersey brings to a rider.

Graham Briggs outsprinting a Tour de France stage winner Magnus Backstedt and new Team Sky rider Luke Rowe at Dengie Marshes in 2011.

That same jersey though has also become a real prize for riders since the Halfords Tour Series came along as it gives the team’s sponsors that little bit of extra coverage on TV and that for Raleigh is a big prize in their 125th Anniversary year. The modern day British Raleigh team is far removed from the Dutch TI-Raleigh team of the 70’s and 80’s. That one had the budget to have the World superstars of the day and with them they won so many of the World’s top races. The brand is still just as iconic today even though the British team has different aims to its counterpart of 40 years ago.

The goals now are winning the top British races as well as events in Europe and further afield. To do that, the team has signed other top riders such as Bernie Sulzberger and Russell Hampton. Some have said they are up there as one of the top three teams in Britain along with Endura Racing at number one and Rapha Condor Sharp at number 2. As always, I’d prefer to see how things pan out on the roads before making any judgements as that is always the true test of a team’s firepower but Raleigh certainly look to have a great line up on paper.

Graham Briggs wearing the champion’s jersey with pride at a circuit race in Preston.

Well before he’d even won the crit title last year, Graham Briggs was up there fighting for the wins in many a road race and it was obvious at the launch to see he’s pleased to be riding for a company with a name as well known as Raleigh. “It’s going to be an exciting year” Graham said smiling. “There have been a lot of changes throughout different teams so that was always going to make it an interesting season.”  Asked what challenges a rider faces when changing teams, Graham replied “The first thing is the new motivation you get by having to prove yourself all over again. Then there’s getting to know all your teammates and taking on more of a leadership role with this team to help guide the youngsters to have their own success.”

Being a team leader though means leading from the front and so Graham has been getting in plenty of miles with the Rotherham chain gang during the winter. “I’ve had a pretty good winter” he says. “The weather has been kind to us this year compared to the previous two years so I have had plenty of training here and abroad. I’ve just come back from Lanzorate so I can’t complain about the miles I have got in.”

Graham had his end of season break in early October with a delayed honeymoon to Hawaii with wife Sam. “It was the first time I have been on holiday that early in October so that was good as it allowed me to concentrate on my training from November onwards” he explained. “I probably had three weeks off in all whilst on holiday which gave me time to do a bit of surfing, ride bikes along the sea front and it was a really good break which is always good for the head.”

With the season not far away now, we talked about last year where Graham was one of the riders hitting the podiums in the top early season races on a regular basis. Asked why he managed to have such great form so early on, Graham replied “I think riding on the front in the stage race in South Africa helped bring me on a lot when we (Rapha) were defending the jersey (for Kristian House).  After that, I kind of stepped up a level and then I had some good top 10 performances in Normandy. When I returned to Britain, I found myself up there in Dengie Marshes and the CiCLE Classic and helped Zak (Dempster) out in DoonHame. I’m certainly hoping for the same form this year!”

This is what teams want from their riders, not just the victory as Graham Briggs celebrates in Peterborough but also the numbers up front and Rapha (in orange) that day certainly managed that.

Graham starts his season in a Dutch race and then travels to Singapore to compete against the likes of his former teammate Dean Downing in an international criterium. “I did that race in 2009 with Pinarello so I know what to expect. It’s a race I’m looking forward to it as it’s on a motor racing circuit and is pretty flat and very fast.” As it’s a crit, he may also get to ride in his champion’s jersey which again, would be great for Raleigh.

The crits that dominate the racing scene in this country though are the ones in the Halfords Tour Series and success in those is so important to teams. I think it’s safe to say the strength of the teams in this country today is all down to the Tour Series and to a lesser extent, the Tour of Britain. Not only are they on ITV4 which opens up the TV coverage to a lot more people than races shown on Sky or Eurosport, the Tour Series events are also held in front of big crowds with all the pomp and ceremony that comes with the Halfords Tour Series. Graham says that with the team line up they have, Raleigh won’t only be looking to win races but to go for the overall as well.

“We’ll try and get as many guys across the line as we can in the best positions” he explained. “We have a lot of fast finishers so that bodes well for us I think. Being a team competition, sometimes the racing can be a bit negative and then some times, riders will go out and race it from the front without thinking too much about the team competition.  If you do go up the road, its then about hoping the rest of your team can deliver behind you. That’s what we tried to do last year and what we’ll try this year. But whether individually or the team, any publicity we get from that series is good publicity.”

“Having the champion’s jerseys for the (Halfords) Tour Series is also going to be really good publicity for myself so the aim is to do the jersey proud there. Then, after that the Tour Series, I’ll take stock of things and the next aim will be to get in the Tour of Britain team.”

A season of two halves as ever for Graham and the other British riders in UCI teams and it all kicks off in a few weeks. Raleigh-GAC have a training camp in early February and then start the season in Holland and are then back here in Britain. VeloUK will follow their progress and that of the other teams too. Thanks to Graham for the chat.

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