Feature Interview: Ian Watson (Brother UK-LDN)

Part 1 of a chat with Ian ‘Watto’ Watson, founder of the Brother UK-LDN teams for men and women. In this part we talk about the women’s squad for 2021 and its aims next season

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Feature Interview: Ian Watson (Brother UK-LDN)

Part 1 of a chat with Ian ‘Watto’ Watson, founder of the Brother UK-LDN teams for men and women. In this part we talk about the women’s squad for 2021 and its aims next season

Photo: Vicky Creer

A new team based in London is the one founded by Ian Watson; Brother UK-LDN. Ian is a self-confessed lifelong cyclist (49) who has been involved in the sport since he was nine years old. “I have raced since I was nine and been through the mill up north where you get used to getting a lot of teaching by the elders”.

“There was a big club network but that seems to have disappeared in the noughties (2000 +), certainly in London, so I set up my own cycling club (CC London) because I could not find one that did what I wanted it to do. We did quite well and had good discipline within it with the club runs and I was able to teach those being introduced to racing on how to do it properly (men and women).”

“The women did amazing and they started moving onto bigger teams, riders like Molly Patch and Alicia Speake, and while some of them had better experiences than others on their chosen team, at least they were moving up.”

“I started to get a few more riders wanting to do that at the end of the 2018 season and instead of taking a chance and sending them to another team where they may or may not be good in that set up, I thought I could do it myself and create the kind of team that was a step up from club level and could help them race all the way to a national level and from there, they could move onto a UCI squad.”

“So the team Brother UK-LDN is not about giving them loads of free stuff and having loads of sponsors getting them bikes. The team is about giving them support, nurturing them and giving them guidance on racing properly. With my riders who were going onto teams before I set up Brother UK-LDN, we’d talk about this and that and I’d say ‘if you want to go to a team, you need to go to them with a shopping list’ of what the team will provide for you and one of the big things is a race programme because that is where some teams don’t give them as much support”.

Photo: Vicky Creer

“They might get jerseys and free stuff but it’s like ‘go and race and tell us how you get on’ where as I want to be giving them a professional approach of how they do it and providing them with a race programme where they know what they are doing week in, week out. How we are getting to the race, where we are staying and so on. That’s the type of support we give.”

The Brother UK-LDN team has two teams, one for men and one for the women and they have quite different race programmes because of the differences between the two levels of racing.

“Our first season was 2019 and for this year, I had strengthened the team but this year has seen little racing” explains Ian. “I set this team up to help riders on the team to get better and progress. This team will never be the pinnacle of anyone’s career but then my job as a coach is to get riders to progress.”

In 2019, the women’s teams sponsored by Brother UK did very well indeed. Asked how important the support from a huge company like Brother UK is for a small team like his, Ian replied “it is massive.” The financial support is big because as much as some companies will give you discounts and some free products, and that is great to have, without the financial support, a team can’t run because we have to get here, there and everywhere. So that part of the sponsorship is massive and so invaluable to a small team like us with a small budget.”

“Over and above that though, what I have found to be just as good is to be in that ‘Brother UK family’ because it is well respected within the cycling community and their Managing Director – Phil Jones – doesn’t sponsor teams lightly. Having their sponsorship is almost like a seal of approval.”

“And Phil too has offered his own personal support. I’ve had some really interesting chats with him and he’s been very helpful. It is great that he brings that business professionalism to the sport.”

Managing director of Brother UK, Phil Jones MBE, is impressed with Ian’s approach to helping the women in his team. “One thing that impressed me about Ian was his passion to coach riders through an entire journey from group-riding, to racing skills, first races, then elite if the rider appetite and capability is there” explained Phil.

“It’s essential that the talent pipeline keeps moving and – in particular – more women are encouraged to start racing to populate the sport in the future. When we sat down to discuss a potential sponsorship, that whole end to end lifecycle really appealed to me as it creates a really sustainable model as it’s also about building skills, confidence and experience in new riders or those wanting to know how to begin racing.”

With the city of London in its title (LDN), I asked Ian was the team restricted to riders from the London area? “It was a London club but now it’s more London and the home counties & the South East. Stevenage to Eastbourne for example. I want to try and keep it like that because one of the big plus points of what I like to do but can’t do all the time, is to bring the women together to train with each other which is important.”

“If you’re in a team based all-round the country, it’s fine and they can race really well but they don’t get to ride together unless it’s a training camp or in a race. We have a good advantage in that once a month or so, we can meet up and have team rides or meet go up and go for coffee and we enjoy that.”

The Women’s team numbers nine riders. The idea, says Ian, was to have ten but he says “I’m not going to put someone in there just to make up the numbers and I am happy with the team I have.”

Photo: Vicky Creer

The key for the team is the same as it is for any team. The race programme. I’ve known pros who will take a lower wage and go to a team with a better race programme because the racing is better and the chance of moving up to a bigger team may be on offer if they do well.

“We will do the national road series races” explains Ian. “They are the big targets of ours, not just to ride them but properly compete in them next year. We want to do well as a team and individually.”

So the national road series, Tour Series and British Team Cup are goals for Ian and his team of women. “We have a lot of weekends covered with them but what I also want to do because my job is to help them step up, is to take them abroad.”

“We had a taste of that briefly in 2019 when we rode a race in Holland that Alicia (Speake) won. There were 130 riders in it and a few UCI teams too so it was a great result for us. We want to go back to Belgium and Holland and do some of the kermesses as well as some lower category UCI races (1.2s &2.2s) to give the riders a big race experience”.

The final question to Ian was the selection process for the riders in his Women’s team. “To be of a standard to race nationally” replied Ian. “Riders who have out grown their club structure and are showing talent that needs the extra support we can provide or they may get frustrated and stop riding/racing.”

“A lot of women find the sport late because they may for instance cross over from other sports and they may have a real talent for cycling so we are not just looking at under 23s or Juniors, but the team has a good cross section of riders with three under 23s, then the rest over that age. It’s about championing women’s cycling whatever their age” Ian added.

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