Brendan Gallagher speaks to Rapha Condor JLT manager John Herety to look back on the 2014 Pearl Izumi Tour Series and title success

JOHN HERETY, the DS at Rapha Condor JLT, briefly took refuge in the team car in Gorey last week but was eventually found and summonsed to the podium where he was duly drenched in champagne by his celebrating riders. Victory was theirs and the old traditions have to be observed.

“I knew it was coming and the got me in the end so I took it like a man” admits Herety whose shrewd recruitment, man management and tactical input played such a big part in his team claiming the overall team prize in the Pearl Izumi Tour Series.

Rapha Condor JLT had taken the Series lead way back in Round Two  – as was always their intention – and then defended their position all the way through to the two rounds in Jersey where they actually clinched the title from Madison Genesis with a surprise win in the inaugural hill-climb which heralded a virtual lap of honour in the final race that evening. The champagne was on ice and waiting.

“There was a lot of hard work involved and we were much nearer our limit than some teams might have realised but it went very much to plan,” reflects Herety. “During the winter months I was asked by our sponsors to really concentrate on the Tour Series and to give us a big presence in the competition basically because it had become such a big event with a rapidly growing profile.

“The recruitment of Chris Opie [pictured below] and Graham Briggs to out squad was very much with that in mind, to build a squad capable of winning the main team event, and it basically worked even if Chris encountered a little bit of illness which restricted how much he could ride.

“We went out hard from the start in the first four rounds to try and take and consolidate a decent lead before Durham and Edinburgh which we thought might be our weaker rounds and that tactic served us well. We needed a bit of a cushion before we arrived at those two round where we were able to ride to limit our losses. Our approach possibly meant fewer individual race wins for us than the previous year but winning the team award is what it’s all about and what we found was that it is much easier to defend a lead than to make a slow start and spend the rest of the Series trying to attack and having to make things happen.

“All the lads rode well but Kristian House was my Man of the Match if you like, he was the gel for us throughout. On paper it might have looked like his least successful Tour Series but in terms of effectiveness for the team it was actually his best. We had a lot of sprinters in our team which mean it felt like he was doing 80% of the work at times before they finished it off at the end. He took on an incredible workload and his overall contribution was the highlight for me, followed by Graham Briggs great win in Barrow when he came from a long way back and Felix English’s fine win in the rain at Aberystwyth.

“It all went very well. Six team wins, two individual wins, four fastest laps and three points competitions on the night. The TTT in Stoke first up was a cracker as well but then again I’ve always loved a good TTT. It was really short and technical and a bit of mad three minutes or so but there was a lot of skilful riding required and I was particularly delighted with our win that night.

“It was a really solid team orientated effort and again I would emphasise that. It’s a bike race with a race winner but essentially it is a team event and that is what makes the Tour Series unique and takes a little bit of getting used to. Cyclists are well used to concept of team work to produce an individual winner – that’s at the very core of the sport – but teamwork to produce the best team result? That’s another kettle of fish.

“It was set up by SweetSpot to bring a new dynamic to the racing and it has succeeded brilliantly. It’s unique to the UK, I can’t think of a Series like it anywhere else in the world – and it just works.   Perhaps it takes a little time for the spectator to understand, or rather the old cycling fans,  because the new fans just sees a competition laid on in front of them and don’t really know or care that it hasn’t been done like this before. It’s up to us teams to make it easier to understand but we are nearly there. If people can understand American Football they will pick this up in two minutes flat.”

The recently concluded Pearl Izumi Tour Series was the sixth since the competition was set up and like cycling generally in this country it is evolving and maturing with every year but the vastly experienced Herety warns against tinkering too much going forward.

“There is a bit of debate going on at the moment as to whether there needs to be any change but I  don’t think so, the Tour Series doesn’t need any tinkering and I’m not just saying that as a wining DS! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Series doesn’t need any spicing up. The plays and tactics within a race are quite subtle and interesting. It might look like one team has dominated proceedings  this year but that won’t always be the case and actually as a team there were many occasions over the five weeks when we felt right on the back foot and up against it.

“A good few of those rounds we won could have gone the other way. I can assure you there were two or three occasions when one more attack and we would have been done for, we would have blown up completely. On paper it might look like Rapha Condor JLT won quite easily, the reality is that we were right on the very edge. If the other teams had known that they might have been even more aggressive and that is a lesson they will probably learn for next season. In many ways we were hanging on a bit in the final week and if it had been just a bit closer might have been a little vulnerable.”

“It’s a very tough and intense five weeks and the racing, with so much sprinting,  can really damage your legs. Within that five week period it is basically a case of race, recover, travel; race, recover travel and so on. There is very little opportunity for training and heading off for other races at the weekend can be very testing so I am glad to hear it seems that British Cycling in future is going to block off that period of time and not organise and other major domestic races during that window. The fact is that if you are forced to choose between events you and your sponsors will go for the TV event every time.”

Herety loved the mix of venues believing they bring the right balance to proceedings and help create the unique town centre feel of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series: “They all brought something good to the party. Redditch was terrific, the backdrop at Edinburgh was spectacular [below], the Jersey finale was beautiful and very classy although the possible downside was that the crowd wasn’t the biggest; Canary Wharf as ever was great and has become an iconic race in my opinion, to shut the roads down for the evening at a venue like that is quite something. It was incredible again this year. The mix overall was great, you have the ‘city’ crowd at Canary Wharf but then an equally big and enthusiastic, seemingly more working class crowd in Barrow. Durham is always special, Woking was tough and Aberystwyth was good although rather wet! Have I missed anybody out? The mix of venues is bang on.

“The Pearl Izumi Tour Series means a huge amount to our sponsors and that helps drive it the domestic scene in Britain.  The TV coverage is very good – ten one hour shows on ITV4 and those pictures go all round the world now in various packages which is an interesting development. We know from our own website figures just how big and successful it is becoming. Like everybody else we can record the hits and how long visitors to the site stay on it and that’s great data.  The existing sponsors can see their return and potential sponsors looking to come into the sport can get a very accurate feel as to what the results of their sponsorship will be for them.

“The organisers need a big ‘thank you’ for giving us and the other teams a focus and showcase for the domestic sport. It helps drive the teams and attracts the sponsors and that in turns gives us a thriving scene and industry.

“It is a terrific stand-alone ‘racing’ competition for riders who will basically operate at this level for the majority of their careers. You are not going to suddenly develop world class climbers or GC riders out of this environment but it is a very tough arena in its own right. It is a very decent grounding for sprinters and a very good environment for track riders looking to get outside and sniff the air for a few months. Now all I have got to do is work out how to retain the title next year!”