Jon Miles is perhaps one of the most passionate advocates of women’s cycling I have ever met. So passionate in fact once you get him started on the topic of women’s cycling, be prepared not to get a word in edgeways for several minutes. He is fantastic and just what the sport needs.
In addition to managing the Shutt Squadra Donne team, Jon is also the man responsible for the Team Series which he started in order to raise awareness of women’s cycling in the UK. Established in the 2000, the inaugural Team Series attracted a total of 37 riders, this number has grown to 90 this year. The Series is a place where young riders can gain experience and has been the launching pad for almost all of the UK’s professional riders with the exception of Emma Pooley.
“If you go back to the era of Beryl Burton, women in Britain have won more titles than the men," exclaims Jon. “Yet just the other week we saw a junior race offering £220 prize money for the boys and just £100 for the girls, it is disgraceful," he says.
His passion is for women’s cycling is also evident in his role as manager for the Shutt Squadra Donne Team: “We are a well-known team. We do things properly so we have riders approaching us to join the team," Jon says. “We make sure they have the ability but also that they will fit in to the team, that is very important," he continues.
There is no denying that Jon runs a tight but fair ship. The girls chastise him fondly about his ‘rules’ which include white socks only, clean shoes and un-scratched water bottles. The girls clearly think this is hilarious but toe the line all the same.
The team includes a wide range of ages, the youngest is just 15 right up to 50 years of age. “Our team is so much bigger than the individuals," says Tracy, the oldest member of the team who has just announced her retirement.
While the team do not train together, they meet regularly between races, often for training camps at ‘Mum’ of the team Tracy’s house in Worcestershire. “I try to get the team together to not only train for a weekend but also to do core exercises and weights. I also make the girls cook food for everyone.
"It is so important that the younger girls on the team learn to cook healthy meals so they can look after themselves when they are away from home," she explains.
This so accurately defines the ethos of the team. It is about so much more than getting results. It's about nurturing young girls and preparing them for the big bad world. Their support is not exclusive to the youngest members of the team though.
“I lost my Dad earlier in the year," team member Jenni explains. “I don’t think I would still be riding my bike if it wasn’t for the support of the team, they got me back on the bike and have been an absolutely fantastic support. Jon too told me to relax, not worry about my performance and just focus on riding the bike. It really helped me," she continues.
Sitting drinking tea, devouring large slabs of honey cake in the team sponsor’s head office it is clear to see that this team is about so much more than winning races.
Pete Bragg, the owner of the Shutt Velo Rapide explains why he was attracted to supporting the team in the era before “sponsoring a women’s team was fashionable": “I met with Jon in a hotel and I really liked what he had to say," explains Pete with regard to the brand’s initial involvement. “We had similar views and I agreed to sponsor the team, we have been involved with the team ever since."
The relationship between Shutt and Squandra Donne is clearly a very unique one. “What other team gets a picnic from the sponsors at the end of a race?" team member Saskia giggles.
“We are not just interested in results, we genuinely want to see a growth of equality in women’s cycling," explains Pete. “We also prefer dealing with a women’s team as opposed to a men’s one, there are no prima donnas!" he exclaims.
“It also gives us a testing zone for our gear so we can identify improvements that need to be made. If the gear has been used in the most extreme circumstance of racing, then we know it will stand up to the mark," says Pete.
While British brand Shutt Velo Rapide has been around for some time it has only been in the hands of Pete since 2009. His first encounter with the brand was when purchasing a jersey for himself and some bespoke kit for his brother. At the time, the company consisted of two men and a dog in Yorkshire. Meanwhile Pete was working in a finance job commuting six hours per day to his office in Cambridge. “It was frustrating to see a decent British brand who had the potential to do so much better." And so Pete quit his job and joined Shutt Velo Rapide taking the reigns over completely in 2010.
Since then the business has moved to Oxfordshire, to an office set in the grounds of a working farm. It is now home to two men, a woman and a dog, and has processes in place that ensure the brand delivers high quality cycling clothing with exceptional service. “We pack and send out every item ourselves," explains Lauren, Pete’s left hand woman. “People are surprised that we know who they are when they phone up to ask a question," she says.
While the Shutt Velo Rapide range is not huge, it offers flattering cycling clothing with impressive attention to detail. New products are not rushed and thrown onto the factory line.
The newest addition to the range, the Isobel women's cycling jersey for example has taken a year and a half to produce, ensuring that every last detail has been considered. And when you put the jersey on, you will understand what this means. The material, an exceptionally soft lycra sits on the body so comfortably, while touches such as a polka dot lined collar and 360 degree reflective piping on the bottom of the jersey set it apart from others on the market. The brand is also all-encompassing, catering for ladies up to a size UK18 which again is refreshing to see and will cater for a wide range of riders.
As we enter an era where women’s cycling is on the up and races such as La Course and the Women’s Tour are now giving the sport the platform it deserves, we have no doubt that we will see a lot more of the Shutt Squadra Donne girls in their eye catching Shutt Velo Rapide purple skinsuits.
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