Simon Burney is a former GB mountain bike and cyclo-cross team manager, UCI technical delegate and author of the definitive book on the subject: Cyclocross: Training and Technique.
Richard Duffill has decades of experience in the bike trade, working for the likes of Raleigh and Peugeot, and is now cycling development officer for Milton Keynes council.
Rouleur: Who had the bright idea in the first place?
Simon Burney: It was my bright idea to have a World Cup in the UK, because we had never had anything decent and everybody kept talking about it but never did anything. Originally I was looking at Donnington Park in Leicestershire – the motor racing circuit – just because I knew it and it was an ideal location, but it’s a commercial venue, so it’s expensive to rent and you’d need commercial sponsorship to run it.
There isn’t that money available in sponsorship for new events. It needs €250,000 upwards – a reasonable chunk of money. So you really need local council backing. It seems like a lot of cycle sport in Britain, like the Tour of Britain, the Tour in Yorkshire and [mountain bike location] Dalby Forest are funded by regions and cities, and the tourist industry.
Rouleur: It seems a more sustainable business model. Big business tends to back something once or twice then pull the plug.
SB: I was talking to the UCI about it, because I wanted to know what kind of deal I could get from them, bearing in mind they are always talking about getting new countries involved in cyclo-cross. Peter Van den Abeele, the off-road boss at the UCI, mentioned in an interview with the Belgian media that he was having talks with the USA and Britain, and Richard read that interview.
Rouleur: When was that?
SB: About 15 months ago. So Richard dropped me a line and asked if this was serious and, if so, how do we do it.
Richard Duffill: Me and Simon go a long way back. When I moved from Raleigh to become marketing manager at Peugeot, we created the mountain bike team with Tim Baker and David Gould. And we have kept in touch ever since.
Like Simon said, I get approached by Sweetspot, and we have hosted the Tour of Britain starts and the Tour Series, and they want huge amounts of money from those type of events. Your return is minimal, because you are only getting a short period of time when you are actually getting the cyclists. Most local authorities have got this mandate of promoting cycling in general terms, as do we.
We’ve got two mandates: one is to get cycling out into the wider Milton Keynes network, but also we’ve got this aspiration of bringing major international events into the city. We’ve got the rugby World Cup coming, so the cyclo-cross World Cup seemed to fit in with that idea of hosting major events in the city. And knowing something about the background of cyclo-cross, that’s why I phoned Simon and found out what we were talking about.
Rouleur: Isn’t cyclo-cross a hard sell to a council who probably don’t know what it is?
RD: Yes and no. The key for me is that it’s a world-class event. The people I talk to in Milton Keynes, if I went to them with an ordinary ‘cross, mountain bike or road race, they’d go ‘yeah, but what does Milton Keynes get from that?’ You put ‘world’ in front of that, and suddenly that ticks a lot of boxes so far as the council is concerned. Plus you have them in the city for the whole weekend.
SB: Which is why we went down the route of doing the World Cup on the Saturday and the National Trophy the following day. People will come for the weekend: Friday night after work, watch the World Cup on Saturday and race on Sunday.
RD: I can’t think of many locations where you could host an event of this size within 100 yards of the main shipping centre. That’s the beauty of it. MK is famous for having the bowl, where we host concerts for 65,000 people. This park gave us a different opportunity.
It’s a compact area. To bring a major sporting event to the middle of the city is, we think, a major draw to bring in spectators. It will be busy anyway.
Rouleur: What is your breakeven point? How many people do you need through the gates?
RD: It’s not a case of that, to be honest. If we were doing that, we probably wouldn’t have held it. It’s about that investment we are making. I don’t want this to be a one-year event.
Rouleur: So how far down the line do you look?
RD: Well, the UCI won’t commit beyond a year, unfortunately…
SB: It needs to go well for three groups of people: Richard and the city, with the investment they have made in year one – there will be less of an investment in year two, because there will be some infrastructure stuff that will already have been paid for.
Second is the UCI, to see if it’s worthwhile from their point of view.
And the third one is the support it gets within the UK cycling community; to see if they are enthusiastic about it. From the time this was first mentioned, you can tell people are excited about it.
RD: Our advantage is that we have some of the biggest companies in the country based in Milton Keynes – Mercedes, Red Bull, Volkswagen, Santander, Network Rail – we have a core of around 100 major companies. We haven’t offered the event to them yet, but we will be giving them a chance to come to it and see what they are missing. Companies I deal with on a regular basis are saying: ‘Do you know what? That is a really great day out. I’m fed up with going to see football matches’.
This is an opportunity to offer them something different as a sporting package.
For us, it’s about putting Milton Keynes on the map as a host of major international sporting events.
SB: For me, three years would be ideal. Year one, you are never going to get it right. Year two will be better, and then year three is the icing on the cake. That’s probably the time to let somebody else have a go.
Tickets for the cyclo-cross world cup Milton Keynes are available here.