GB women's professional team launch, January 10, 2008
Halfords Bikehut has been revealed as the naming rights sponsor of the new British womens' professional team to be led by national champion Nicole Cooke. Cyclingnews' UK Editor Ben Atkins was at the team's presentation at London Zoo yesterday.
Introduced by Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's Performance Director, who is taking on the role of general manager, the rationale behind the new British women's team was laid out. The major force behind British Cycling's performance philosophy is the winning of Olympic medals; in Brailsford's words, "Our job is to convert opportunities into medals". The reason behind the team is to give Nicole Cooke - Britain's greatest woman cyclist - the best chance possible of winning Gold in Beijing, and beyond that give the best possible chance to Cooke - or any emerging talent - a similar opportunity to claim Gold on home soil at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Brailsford began by highlighting the success of British Cycling since the Performance Plan began receiving funding form the United Kingdom national lottery. Before this funding, Great Britain had only ever won one Gold - that of Chris Boardman in 1992 - and that was achieved almost single-handedly. Since funding has been available, the GB team has won eight medals; a haul that he referred to as 'okay'. Approaching the Beijing Olympic Games, the GB team, Brailsford says, should be competitive in 13 of the 18 events, by London that number will hopefully be up to at least 16.
The rationale behind this team therefore is to eliminate the conflict between a rider's professional team and their national team. Each of these two types of teams has entirely different aims, outlooks and expectations on a rider that rarely meet. For example, a professional trade team is driven by commercial pressures and the need for regular results, whereas a national team is more focussed on performance at a few specific occasions. The new Halfords Bikehut team has therefore been created to allow Cooke to prepare for targets - specifically the Olympic Games - without the pressure to win week in, week out. The race programme chosen will be tailored to allow riders to taper their condition in order to be at 100 percent for their chosen target, rather than having to maintain a top level for the whole season.
As well as this focussed approach to major events, the team brings with it the same ethical programme as British Cycling. This programme, like so many others being developed in such teams as Slipstream in the men's sport, focuses not so much on the catching of doping athletes, as prevention and the removal of temptation.
The entirely British squad of 10 women is dominated by younger riders. Cooke brings team-mate Tanja Slater with her from Raleigh-Lifeforce, but otherwise the roster is made up mostly of British Cycling's Academy members. Podium Programme - which Slater is also a member of - rider Wendy Houvenagel is joined by three members of the Olympic Academy Programme, who also rode as stagieres for Global Racing last year: Joanna Rowsell, Lizzie Armitstead and Katie Curtis. Completing the team are youngsters Emma Trott, Jessica Allen, Katie Colclough as well as former Rapha-Condor rider Catherine Hare. The team will be ably supported from the car by Directeur Spotfif, former British champion Julian Winn.
Despite being geared towards the Great Britain team, Brailsford was keen to emphasise that this would not disadvantage other elite women when it comes to selection for World Championships and Olympic games. This, says Brailsford, would not be a sensible course of action, and the best riders for the task would be selected. Specialized Designs for Women rider Emma Pooley was specifically mentioned as being an obvious choice for Beijing, as her climbing skills would suit the hilly course.
Boardman has been brought in to the project in more ways than one. His role within British Cycling involves him with the athletes in a performance environment, but he more obviously will be working with the team as a technical supplier: Boardman bikes - which are mostly sold through Halfords Bikehut stores - will be used by the team.
As well as the women's team, two men will also be wearing the distinctive black and orange strip this season. Multiple Olympic medallist Rob Hayles and Tom Southam will be riding a number of Premier Calendar races and the National Criterium Series as Halfords Bikehut riders. "I'm comfortable enough with my sexuality to be part of this [women's team]," jokes Hayles.
The majority of the team is currently training in Mallorca, so just four of the women and Hayles were present at the launch in London Zoo's Mappin Pavilion (opposite Bear Mountain!). Cooke herself was present, along with Allen, Rowsell and Trott. After the formal proceedings, the riders changed into their race kit and posed for pictures before braving the British January weather - and London traffic - for a quick spin for the cameras.
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