Q&A with young organiser James Hawkins

Not only does James Hawkins race his Moda bike with an Elite team (Cycling Sheffield), but he has been organising races the last few years. VeloUK quizes James about being a teenage race organiser

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Q&A with young organiser James Hawkins

Q: What was the inspiration to you and your crew to put on races in the first place?
JAMES: The inspiration to organise races was very simple; we’re racing cyclists who wanted more races so took it upon ourselves to put something together. The local crit track that I grew up training and racing on hadn’t had an event on it for ages, and we decided to put together a crit series in 2021 under the club we had started earlier in the year. We saw great success over the series and since then our motivation to organise bigger and better races has only grown.

Q: How many of you banded together to start putting on races?
JAMES: There are a few people who come together to help put on races under the Yomp Bonk Crew banner, but the main organising guys are myself, Will Foster, Sam Smith and more recently Eugene Cross. We tend to focus on different things and work well as a team allowing us to produce some really good events for the UK scene.

Q: The races at Forge Valley (Sheffield), (circuit ones); is that quite simple to do organisation wise? IE, does it take a lot of time and has it got easier once you’ve done it a few times?
JAMES: Yeah, closed circuit races are really quite simple to organise. To be honest, by the end of the first night of our 2021 crit series, I was pretty surprised at the relatively low amount of work it had taken for us to carry out a night of racing.

We put it altogether over the month or two leading up to it, and looking back, it all ran really smoothly. We had an initial call with our Regional Events Officer from British Cycling (now called Cycle Sport Developers) in June who ran through with us what needed to be done, and by August we had our series ready to go. Matt Gott (our Cycle Sport Developer) provided really good guidance and helped us get everything right. The first one is definitely the hardest, but with crits, once you’ve done a couple, you can get them on the calendar pretty easily providing there are no barriers like facility booking issues etc.

Q: Having done the ones at Forge Valley, do you now feel more people could jump on board and put on races at the circuits that now exist around the country to help fill up the racing calendar?
JAMES: 100%. As I mentioned before, putting a crit on a local closed circuit is pretty simple. The support from British Cycling is there to help organisers put events on and we need new organisers now more than ever. As many race organisers retire, we aren’t really seeing any new ones come through. It’s no secret that our calendar is lacking events this year, and this will not change until we see more organisers put their hands up to help out and get stuck in. If you are interested in bike racing or take part in events yourself, I would encourage you to think about organising an event. You don’t have to pick between being a bike racer or a race organiser, we need more people to be both.

Q: How much more difficult was it to put on National B road races with risk assessments etc and was it more costly to put on such races (requiring sponsorship perhaps)?
JAMES: It’s more difficult and complicated to get a road race on the calendar. There’s more to think about outside of the bike racing and can be a little daunting if you’re doing it for the first time. Having said that though, the premise is the same as a crit to a degree. If you haven’t got a local crit track to get a bit of experience organising first, that doesn’t mean you can’t put on a road race. It takes more time, planning and staff but as I said before, the support is there from British Cycling to help you get the events on the calendar. British Cycling will provide accredited marshals that are trained to be able to stop traffic as well as the commissaires to run the actual racing and manage the convoy. So although you do have to put more work in than a crit to make the event happen, there is support to do so and seeing everything come together on the day is a great feeling!

With races that are National B and below, you can often make them work financially just off of entry fees. I would recommend predicting how many entrants you are likely to have and then your predicted event costs which you can run through with your Regional Cycle Sport Developer. I’d recommend making the entry fee as low as you can in order to make it accessible for as many people as possible but obviously enough that you can afford to cover event costs. This year, The Peaks 2 Day is sponsored by Giant Sheffield which is a huge help and will definitely put more money in the prize pot, but it is certainly doable without sponsorship, especially as a single day event.

Q: Is it easier to choose existing courses, like Denby for example, than new courses?
JAMES: Getting a new course risk assessed is something you have to do quite a long time before you start organising the event itself. If I have a course in mind, I go to my Cycle Sport Developer who will give it a look and if he thinks it will get through risk assessment, then it goes to the regional risk assessor from British Cycling. By that point, it’s out of my hands whether it passes or not. It’s often tricky to find a course that actually works for racing.

There might be five roads that form a circuit, four of which are perfect but then it only takes that 5th road to be too narrow or windy or has traffic lights or something for the whole thing to go out the window. So it’s basically a whole other process outside of the actual event organisation to get the event on a new course. It is definitely doable, and once the course is passed the organisational process is the same. It can just be a time consuming process so you have to account for that to make sure you can get the course you have in mind risk assessed in time to start organising a race on it.

Q: What has been the most difficult challenge in organising races?
JAMES: For me, the biggest challenge every single time is getting enough volunteers. It doesn’t matter how many entries you’ve got, how good the weather is, or how great the course is – if you haven’t got enough staff, you can’t run the race. The sport relies on volunteers and finding enough people to staff the event can often prove tricky, especially on events like The Peaks 2 Day where you’ve got three stages to think about staffing. But in the end, people tend to come out of the woodwork to make the event happen, and it’s really nice to look at the officials sign on sheet and see so many people giving up their time to help put on some bike racing.

Q:. Have there been people in the region able to help you in the process
JAMES: We’ve been really lucky with the help we’ve received from experienced people in the sport over the last couple of years. British Cycling Yorkshire is filled with staff and volunteers that pour a lot of their time and effort into making events happen. People like Marc Etches (organiser of Sheffield GP and a National Commissaire) have been instrumental in guiding us through getting events on the calendar.

I often see people complaining about the fact that all the big events are around Yorkshire – there’s a misconception that British Cycling organise these events and that they just choose to keep them in the North. This is not the case. British Cycling do not organise events, volunteers do. All the way up to the National Series events, it is down to individual organisers and teams of volunteers to make the event happen. The reason we see so many great events in the North and especially around Yorkshire is because this is where people are willing to get stuck in and put the events on.

Everyone is aware of the fact there’s only four National series rounds this year; this is because there aren’t enough people coming through to help put on more and it is for that reason I would encourage anyone interested in bike racing to think about organising or volunteering.

Q: Were your races like The Peaks 2 Day and others a success for you in 2022?
JAMES: 2022 was a really successful year for us. The Peaks 2 Day was fantastic and drew in a lot of attention, quickly becoming the biggest early season event on the UK calendar. Our crit series was great once again and we also ran Nick’s Big Race at the end of the year, a two day Yorkshire stage race in memory of Nick Clayton. We also ran some single day events like a stand alone cyclocross race in January, a Yorkshire Cyclocross Series round in November and some stand alone crit racing days at Forge Valley. It was a great year for us and I personally really found my feet organising events and getting stuck into the sport. I also became a member of the British Cycling Yorkshire board in September which has been great so far and I hope it will allow me to make positive changes in the sport.

Q: What races in 2023 are you planning on putting on for riders?
JAMES: Between myself, Will Foster and the rest of the organising crew, there is a lot in the works for 2023! We’re kicking off with The Peaks 2 Day p/b Giant Sheffield in March and will be promoting a range of road and closed circuit events throughout the year for all categories (and maybe even some off road stuff..). There is still a fair few to be finalised, but right now you can enter:
The Peaks 2 Day p/b Giant Sheffield – 18th/19th March
YBC Spring Crits – 25th March and 29th April
YBC Bradfield Bash 2/3/4 Road Race – 16th April
BUCS Road Race Championships – 21st May

Follow the Yomp Bonk Crew on Instagram @yompbonkcrew to find out about new events!

Good luck to James and his crew and thank you James for the Q&A – awesome insights



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