Miles, smiles and relentless forward progress
Bianchi Dama is one of best run and friendliest cycling teams in the UK. Cycling Legends visited its pre-2018 season training camp.
Words and photos:
Rain is leaking from a leaden sky, while a lazy wind blows last year’s leaves around the National Forest Youth Hostel car park. It’s a dark day in an English January, but brightened by a splash of colour from a sunnier country. According to which legend you like best it’s the colour of an Italian princess’s eyes, or the azimuth blue in a Milan sunset, or a cheap job-lot of ex-army paint. The colour is celeste, and it’s the colour of Bianchi bikes.
I’m in south Derbyshire, where the team that finished seventh in British Cycling’s team series in 2017 are meeting to welcome new members, and talk about doing even better this year. Bianchi Dama has been nurtured by David Walters, and nurture is the only word to describe his care and commitment. Walters is a facilitator, he creates environments where people flourish.
He's run men’s teams but found Bianchi-Dama and women’s racing far more rewarding. The team is Walters' project, he’s never over-stretched his riders or his budget, but he’s seen consistent development and improvement every year. What’s more, new riders have joined but nobody has ever left Bianchi-Dama, and that says more than I can write. He’s also had rock-solid support from Bianchi UK
The 2018 team is the strongest ever. “I think we have as good a group as any in the UK now, and our goal as ever is to do better than we have. With Becky Womersley, a rider with WorldTour team experience, able to help guide some of the less experienced riders, I think we can realistically finish fifth in the team series this year,” Walters says.
Bianchi-Dama already had plenty of raw talent. Georgie Panchaud, for example, who is still finding out how good she is. Like all the team she works full time in a demanding job. Panchaud is a vet, but she scored a terrific third place in the 2017 National Series Curlew Cup race. One of six top tens the team achieved at that level in 2017.
“The Curlew Cup was special,” Walters says. “Georgie was alone in the lead for ten of the last 13 kilometres. When the winning break hit the last climb, the Ryals, the road is dead straight up there, so in the team car we could see her up ahead. She really comes into her own in hard hilly races like that, and she just rode off the front of the group. She didn’t attack, she just went through and rode away. It was incredible. Unfortunately the series leader, Chanel Mason was one of the front group of four that Georgie left, and she towed the other three up to her. But third was good, and it shows what Georgie is capable of.”
Team car talk
Once the riders get going I join Walters, and team mechanic and assistant sports director Caroline Stewart, in the team car. “We had a get together here last year, so we know the roads a bit. I just told them to do three-hours easy, and the main thing I want is everybody talking. For example it would be nice to see Emma (Cockroft) and Becky (Womersley) get comfortable together, because they can work well together, and it’s important they get to know each other,” Walters says.
Bianchi-Dama is a good place for Becky Womersley. She was laid low in the middle of 2017 with glandular fever, and the relaxed but ready to race spirit of this team will help her find her way again. “Becky was a bit frustrated riding for what was supposed to be a pro team. She got a good job with a fashion company, and when she approached us she explained why, saying “You guys are often doing as well or better than us, why really struggle with a pro lifestyle?” Walters says.
Bianchi-Dama is a team with a solid past and a good future. It’s an attractive team too, “We didn’t ask for applicants at the end of 2017, but we had 35 enquiries from riders,” Walters points out.
Bianchi UK has agreed to support the next three years, which is a long time in cycling sponsorship, and the team has attracted new sponsors, like Charles James of Harley Street, a skin care company. It all means Bianchi Dama now has security and numbers to add to its talent, and that will make it a real force in UK races.
“We’ve got nine riders now, so instead of four in races we’ll have six or seven, enough to assign different roles. Plus we’ll be able to rotate the riders and pick ones that suit a particular race. We will definitely be a factor in 2018, as a prominent UK rider said to me recently; “We’ll be watching you this year.” We’ll be able to go in to races with a plan and dictate tactics rather than react,” Caroline Stewart points out.
There will be plenty of people watching Binachi Dama this year. Emma Cockcroft’s tactical nous and prodigious strength, and Georgie Panchaud’s climbing talent helped Bianchi-Dama punch results well above their weight last year. Now, with numbers on their side and Becky Womersley’s class and experience, they should be able to deliver some knock-out blows in 2018.
Bianchi Dama 2018
Sarah King, team captain.