Dame Sarah Storey launches new team with husband to back British talent
Dame Sarah Storey and her husband Barney are hoping their new women's cycling team Storey Racing will give the next wave of British talent the best chance of success without having to leave these shores.
The Cheshire-based couple, who have 17 Paralympic gold medals between them, launched the team at the Manchester Bike Expo on Saturday.
The Storeys have run teams before but hope that by putting their name to this one they can attract more sponsors and fund their long-term ambition to create a British-based team that competes at the highest level across several disciplines.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, Dame Sarah said: "Our founding principle is '#bestversionofyou' and that is the same ethos Barney and I based our careers on. We want to encourage everyone to give their best performances from a platform in the UK.
"Traditionally, it's almost been a prerequisite in women's cycling that you have to live abroad if you want to race full time.
"That can be a stretch and it is not for everyone. It's basic things like not being able to continue their education or perhaps not having a GP.
"It will take time to build, perhaps two Olympic cycles, but I think we can help British riders make that leap to the WorldTour."
British-based teams have tried something similar before but have struggled to deliver the short-term success most sponsors want, a problem exacerbated by the lack of finance in women's cycling and wide gap between national level racing and the WorldTour.
Storey said many British riders lack the experience of racing on closed roads because it happens so rarely here and she also pointed out women's cycling, unlike men's, does not have the halfway house of under-23 competition to help riders make the transition from the juniors.
Another difference between men's and women's cycling is the absence of a middle, continental tier of racing between national and world level. With women's cycling growing fast, Storey is convinced "the depth is there" to fill these gaps and give talented riders more options and time to reach the top.
Development is at the heart of Storey Racing, as Barney and Sarah will continue to run the Boot Out Breast Cancer Cycling Club they launched last year as a grassroots branch of their former elite team, Podium Ambition.
Most of the riders from that team - Bethany Crumpton, Monica Dew, Hannah Dines, Neah Evans, Ejay Harris and Katie Prankerd - have moved to Storey Racing, where they will be joined by new faces Laura Cameron, Jennifer George, Dannielle Khan, Chanel Mason and junior Mercy Webb.
Dame Sarah - who became Britain's most successful female Paralympian at Rio 2016 with her 12th, 13th and 14th golds - said she will be "the mum of the group" and will be happy to pace anybody with a puncture back to the group, fetch bottles from the team car or get in a late break for the win.
But real success for her and Barney, who has won three Paralympic titles as a tandem pilot for blind or partially-sighted riders, will be when British women are as established on the world scene as the Americans, Dutch or Germans.
She noted that the Netherlands has eight women in the International Cycling Union's (UCI) top 30; to find the eighth best British woman you have to go to 178th in the world.
This will, of course, take money, and when you can spend £1,000 to attend a British race as a team before paying any wages, the need for a commercial partner with patience is clear.
" We want to get out there to see if anyone is willing to commit - it's like an advert," she said.
"You could easily spend £10million a year on wages at a men's team. That would see our project through to the end."
Team Sky were able to attract that kind of budget from the moment they started racing in 2010 but Dame Sarah is realistic enough to know financial comparisons with the giants of the men's peloton are pointless.
" We won't have a logistical hub in Belgium, the team will be based at our house!" she joked, although the Storeys have already secured equipment, kit and nutrition deals with leading suppliers.
The Storey Racing story will start in the national time trial series, with a first road race at next month's Tour of the Wolds and a UCI race debut at the Tour de Yorkshire later in April. Goals later in the season will be the British Nationals, track cycling's Revolution Series, six-day racing and even cyclo-cross events.