The British-based Dave Rayner Fund has announced that it will be backing 27 riders this season, supporting each of them in chasing their dream of a professional career in the sport by racing abroad. Among those who will receive backing are Tao Geoghegan-Hart, who rode as a stagiaire with Team Sky towards the end of last season, and Andy Leigh, who won the Lewis "Spadger" Barry Award of the fund's rider of the year in 2015 and will be racing in the colours of the Colna Superano Ham Belgian continental team.
Set up by the family and friends of British pro Dave Rayner following his death in 1994 when he was just 27, the fund has supported more than 250 riders over the subsequent 21 years. David Millar and Charly Wegelius were two of its early successes, while more recent graduates who have gone on to bigger things include Adam Yates, Dan Martin, Dan McLay, Mark McNally, Matt Brammeier and Nikki Harris.
The fund has become well established as a vital resource for British riders who have either failed to gain selection for the GB Academy or prefer to follow a more road-based route towards the pro ranks, as Dave Rayner did when he raced in Italy for two seasons before taking the step up. Of this year's 27 recipients of funding, five will be racing in Italy, 11 in Belgium and four in both the United States and France. The three other riders will receive summer bursaries to race in Europe.
The only woman to receive funding this year is Sheffield's Jessie Walker, who was a member of the British team that helped Lizzie Armitstead to the world title in Richmond last summer. The daughter of Dave Rayner's friend and teammate Chris Walker, Jessie Walker is returning to Italy to race with the Servetto-Footon team, with which she finished leading Briton at last year's Giro Rosa.
The other four riders heading to Italy to race for Zappis Racing Team are Scott Auld, Jack Billyard, Louis Modell and Callum Ferguson, who spent the 2015 season with Zappis and has been promoted to road captain this year.
Along with Geoghegan-Hart, who will be back in the States for a third season with the Axeon team, Dan Gardner and Oliver Moors are also heading across the Atlantic to join the Astellas Cycling Team. Gardner was with the American squad last season, appearing in the World Team Time Trial Championship in their colours. Yorkshireman Leon Gledhill will also be in the US with Team Cycle Sport Specialized.
Tinkoff DS Sean Yates' son Jesse Yates is one of a quartet of riders who will be supported by the fund in France. Yates, a second year U23 rider, will be with UCL Hennebont.
As has traditionally been the case, most of the Rayner-backed riders will be heading to Belgium to gain further experience of the road scene. Among more than a dozen likely to race there are Alex Braybrooke and James Shaw, who will be with the prestigious Lotto-Soudal U23 team. Jacob Scott and Daniel Stewart will also see a good deal of Belgium as they join the An Post-Chain Reaction continental team.
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