‘It’s about looking forward, not looking back’ - British Cycling’s strategy for Tour of Britain success

The two WorldTour road races now sit with British Cycling after SweetSpot went into administration last year. But what does the future look like for both races? Rouleur spoke to British Cycling’s chief executive to find out

It’s been a few weeks now since it was announced that the Tour of Britain and the Women’s Tour would be taken over by British Cycling after the collapse of SweetSpot, the event’s previous organisers. Since the announcement, there has been no further information regarding either of the races’ stages or locations, but, the UK’s governing body for cycling has announced the hiring of Rod Ellingworth as race director and the fact that the women’s race will be four days instead of six, albeit more than the 2023 edition after the race was cancelled altogether. But despite the enormous time pressure to put on two of the UK’s largest road races, this is the start of a new and exciting future for the British cycling scene. 

“It’s about looking forward, not looking back,” Jon Dutton, chief executive of British Cycling, told Rouleur. “We have aspirations to grow both these races, and we have some really exciting ideas, and we think there are opportunities out there, but 2024 is about us, hopefully, delivering them in a sustainable way and looking to the future.” 

The two events will now form part of British Cycling’s new multi-discipline model titled ‘British Cycling Events’, which supports future growth, sustainability and success of races. But while the organisation and those working on the events are looking ahead, they’ve not shaken the race’s whole past, with Dutton adding that British Cycling has “inherited some legacy issues”. These issues likely stem from when British Cycling terminated its agreement with SweetSpot in the second half of 2023 after a financial dispute with SweetSpot reportedly owing £700,000 in unpaid instalments, dating back to 2022. 

However, instead of dwelling on what has already happened, Dutton is keen to “draw a line and move forward”, especially as both the Tour of Britain events are approaching quickly, in particular, the women’s race, which remains in its original June spot. The Women’s Tour, now named the Tour of Britain Women, has previously been a six-stage race and has seen the world’s best riders win on British soil, including Marianne Vos, Lizzie Deignan, Kasia Niewiadoma, Demi Vollering and Elisa Longo Borghini. It was a stage race that paved the way for other stage races in the Women’s WorldTour, however, in 2023, the Women’s Tour was cancelled due to a lack of sponsorship and funding. Most significantly, it lost its title sponsor Škoda. It was a disappointing announcement during a year that saw the Tour de France Femmes reach a record number of viewing hours, and the UAE hosted its inaugural four-stage race. Those working behind the scenes at SweetSpot were keen to ensure the race was to happen in 2024, but while it will now go ahead, it will not be with SweetSpot. 

The women's race this year has been shortened to four stages, but Dutton and the team at British Cycling are keen to ensure that it returns to its original format in 2025. “Equality,” Dutton firmly said regarding the importance of seeing the race return to six stages. “We strive for absolute equality, and we’re determined to do that very quickly. We will talk about what we will do for next year as it is so important from an equality perspective, but this year is just about re-establishing, and then growth thereafter.” 

Having the women’s race back on the calendar is a step forward from 2023, but Jo Rowsell, gold Olympic cyclist and partnerships manager at Women in Sport, said that “downsizing the women’s race not only limits opportunities for female cyclists on the world stage but also deprives audiences of watching these incredible athletes at the top of their game, not least the hundreds of school children who line the route.” 

She continued: “It is imperative that organisers of all such events recognise that this is about more than the event itself, it speaks to gender equality in cycling as a whole and sport as a whole. It even speaks to the ability of girls to dream. Women in Sport’s latest dream deficit report found that 51% of girls aged 13-24 say that more celebration of women's achievements in sport would encourage them to become more involved. Visibility matters to women and girls, and it should be considered very carefully.” 

It’s understood that with such time pressures, organising the women’s event is a challenge, more challenging than the men’s race, which will remain in its September position on the UCI calendar, taking place from September 1 to 8. But reducing the women’s race still raises questions about the inequality women’s cycling faces, and this is not entirely down to British Cycling, also sponsors. 

The team at British Cycling appreciate that partners, sponsors, riders, teams and fans may be uncertain about both the men's and women's races given its past and recent turbulence, however, they hope that there is also a sense of excitement amongst people, be that of the riders themselves or those who line the streets to see the sport’s biggest stars. 

Dutton said that there is an “enormous amount of willingness” from local councils whom the team have approached to discuss hosting stages for either of the races, but he added: “The amount of goodwill is incredible. I would suggest that for 2025 already we have probably more commitments than we potentially can manage, which is a really great place to be in. For 2024, it’s just such a harsh timeline, and when a lot of people have already budgeted, a lot of them step forward saying they would have loved to have done something, but it’s just not possible for 2024. There’s also a lot of uncertainty from the political environment, but we’re solutions-focused, and we just keep addressing each challenge.”  

One person who has been brought in to help with the time pressures is Rod Ellingworth, who was announced in early March as the new race director. Ellingworth has a long history with British Cycling, alongside a wealth of knowledge and experience, having been the team race director to Team Sky, now Ineos Grenadiers, for several years. He’s fiercely passionate about helping these races grow, according to Dutton, who added: “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Rod so far. He’s come in with such positivity and is already talking about 2025, 2026, and 2027, and the hard thing is keeping up with him and staying focused on 2024. He is invested in making these races a success.”

Finding the right person to bring into the fold was key, and Dutton touched upon Ellingworth’s breadth of contacts and popularity within the teams in the WorldTour that will help make these events come to fruition. “It’s always good too to have someone full of energy, determination and passion,” Dutton said about working with Ellingworth.

The former racing director of the Ineos Grenadiers will work alongside Andy Hawes (route director), Mark Layland (start director), Paul Knight (finish director) and Lucy Jones (major events consultant), whose combined years of experience working on events such as the Tour of Britain reach over four decades. 

The 2024 routes have not yet been released for both the men’s and women’s races, but Dutton said that they’ll be announced after the Easter break in the UK in early April. In the meantime, there is “good progress” with both events, he reassured. 

Dutton himself, CEO of British Cycling since 2023, is an advocate for major sporting events and the long-lasting effects it can have on those spectating and those taking part. His career has seen him work on rugby events, but also plenty of cycling ones, too, with the Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire in 2014 and the UCI's Glasgow World Championships last year.  

"I think those events show how important any event can be in bringing people together and I think we're more than capable of doing that," Dutton said. "From a personal perspective, it's an absolute privilege to run these events, especially in the year of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I feel a sense of optimism, determination, and positivity. It's a really important moment for British Cycling, and an exciting one as well."

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