Making A Difference As A Team Of Equals | Tofauti Everyone Active
Why did you decide to set up Tofauti Everyone Active?
I and a number of other parents had known each other for years through the youth and junior cycling scene and had come to realise that there was another way of running a junior team. A way that went beyond race results, that focused on riders as people. They’re people of 16, 17, 18 – a formative stage of their lives when they are surrounded by dozens of different pressures. We’d seen rider after rider fall out of love for the sport at this age and we wanted our riders to get more support, on a personal as well as a sporting level, to ensure cycling remained a love and not an obligation. We all work as a team; we are open and we treat our riders as equals. Surprisingly, that seems to be a new approach in junior cycling. Unsurprisingly, it works. For the riders, for the team management and, I hope, for our partners too.
And why partner with The Tofauti Foundation?
There have been some inspiring innovations at the top World Tour level of cycling, none more so than the involvement in the pro peloton of the Qubeka charity, which was a title partner of the MTN Qhubeka team a few years ago. This seemed to me a perfect marriage – using the profile of a pro team to further the cause of an excellent charity. Through Qhubeka’s programmes, people in Africa earn bicycles, improving their access to schools, clinics and jobs.
We firmly believe in using the presence and profile of a team for good and feel passionate about bringing this approach to the world of junior cycling, again a first at this level in the UK.
The team is about empowering riders to take control of their own cycling development and, at such a crucial time in their lives, we help them to build resilience and determination to achieve that. Those goals seemed to really chime with the approach and ethos of The Tofauti Foundation, so we started off with so much common ground in approach. Crista Cullen is very obviously driven by impact the Foundation can have and I think recognised we had the same drive to make a difference in our area of sport.
Making a difference can often involve making a noise – we’re not shy about that, so we hoped we could use that noise to bring some good, through widening the audience of the Foundation and bringing attention to the amazing work it does.
Where did you launch the team and why?
Our launch event was at Look Mum No Hands! in East London. We wanted the evening to be a great night out for everyone, rather than just a chance for the team to stand on stage and be introduced to the sponsors. Look Mum No Hands! is a venue that’s completely based around a love of cycling, celebrating its history and its idiosyncrasies. That seemed to fit us perfectly! We packed the place, had a DJ, had great goody bags thanks to some of our sponsors and achieved just what we wanted – for everyone to have a good time and to associate that good time with the team and with its partners. I’m already looking forward to next year’s!
How is the team structured?
We are totally committed to having an equal number of junior men and junior women. Everyone on the team is treated equally, resources are put equally behind the boys and the girls. That was so important for us. Joint male/female junior teams are rare in the UK and I think we are the only one which has an equal split of young men and women. It’s just the right thing to do.
In terms of the team management, there are about six of us who pick up the main roles, though all riders’ parents are encouraged to take an active part. We have a chair, a secretary and a treasurer, as you’d expect in any cycling organisation, and they do an awful lot. On top of that, others pick up a lot of the logistics while two of us fulfil the role of team manager with me as the point person for all our partnerships.
Have you got any budding superstars in the team?
Every team has superstars. Does that mean they’re potential future world champions? Maybe. They’re superstars nonetheless and every single one of them brings something hugely valuable to the team.
How did you find your sponsors?
We started reaching out to sponsors quite late in 2019 for this season – it would have been early autumn, which was a point at which most sponsorship decisions had been made. That said, we were reaching out with a story, an approach and an ethos that seemed to be unlike any other in junior cycling. People bought into what we were trying to do and wanted to be part of a team that was doing something different, something for some greater good beyond the team itself. So, in spite the lateness of our approach, we had a lot of success in getting people to back the team. If I’m honest, we were amazed by the enthusiasm in the cycling industry and beyond for what we were trying to do.
So, despite the partnership process taking countless conversations, pitches, ideas, emails, follow ups and decisions, it always felt as if we were pushing against an open door to a degree. It seemed to be a classic case of have the right ethos, do everything for the right reason, tell the right story, identify brands with the same ideals as you, talk their language, understand their drivers – and they will want to come on the journey with you.
What notable competitions have you been involved in so far?
Well, before COVID-19 hit western Europe, our season was shaping up amazingly. The innovative team approach that worked for sponsors, also worked for race organisers. As with everything else, we never though that “oh, that race is too big, they won’t invite us” or “it’s just such a lot of work and cajoling to try to get an invite”. We were focused and we were persistent.
Before the season, we hoped that we would get an invite to a UCI race (the highest level of racing for juniors) during the year. Two would have been amazing.
Before the lockdown hit, we had a race calendar with 8 UCI races across Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as big races in France and elsewhere. I suspect that’s something of a record for a new team in its debut season. At the moment, we’re hopeful that one of those will still be held this year – the Watersley Challenge in the Netherlands, where our junior women are due to race in September.
Aside from road racing, which is our focus of course, we wanted our riders to do some other events which kept up their wider enjoyment of the sport and challenged them in different ways. Two of our riders, for example, were due to ride the TransEngland event, where riders set off from Morecombe at 11pm on a Friday, follow their own route taking in a number of checkpoints to arrive in Scarborough the following day. Are there medals for things like that? No, but the achievement in completing it would be huge. Unfortunately, like so much else this year, this is going to have to wait until 2021 now.
How did you cope with lockdown?
We’ve been trying to support our riders as well as we can. We have two performance coaches, Nikki Juniper and Russell Hampton, who have been amazing. They’ve been working closely with the team to keep them fit and motivated through what has obviously been an unsettling time for everyone. We also partner with Planet K2, a performance psychology company with a history in elite sport. They’ve been great with the riders, leading Zoom meetings and seminars and sharing a wealth of their resources online.
Beyond that, we really wanted riders to have some chance to race – virtually. One of our partners is RGT Cycling, who have an amazingly realistic platform for virtual cycling. We’ve worked closely with them to launch our Junior Lockdown Race Series – races for junior men and women on courses based on some of the cancelled British Cycling Junior National Series. We were the first organisation to create virtual races for junior riders.
Through our connections with race organisers and teams across Europe, we’ve reached out and found the response quite staggering. We’ve had some of Europe’s top junior riders taking part, with races comprising about 80 riders, from countries including Belgium, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Austria, Denmark, Norway, South Africa, the UK….
The feedback has been amazing and we have just announced three more series for junior riders with RGT.
What does 2021 look like for Tofauti Everyone Active?
I hope we’ll get the opportunity to do what we should have done this year. Already, the calendar is looking strong, with a number of UCI invites already received. We’re just looking forward to being able to take the team out to race in Europe – it’s such a fantastic experience for them – and I won’t be alone in missing the thrill of an early morning Eurotunnel crossing. Nor in missing the chance to put so many opportunities in front of our riders.
Again, we’ll look to mix that up with some more unusual events, hopefully ones that can bring sponsors and riders together.
On that note, one thing we’ve learned from the lockdown is the power of virtual cycling. I’m sure that’s going to play a big part in the future in how the team connects with its partners. From the pro peloton down, virtual riding is here to stay and it’s going to change how teams engage with their supporters. We’re very much up for that and we’re looking forward to building ever-stronger links with everyone we work with.
Visit http://tofautieveryoneactive.com for more details.
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