It would be fair to say that Drops Cycling Team have surpassed their initial expectations, and those of onlookers who saw the new UCI Team launch in February this year.
The team is a project for bespoke cycling wallpaper and event stand designers, Drops. The company launched in 2014 as an offshoot from a family owned printing business that’s been in operation since 1973.
Manager Bob Varney, who first ran the business with his father, and now his son, is a cycling enthusiast and the team is without shadow of a doubt as much a mission to provide riders with a stable platform to showcase their talent, as it is a very labour intensive marketing strategy.
“We think that 70 to 80 per cent of the peloton are not paid... We like to look after our girls."
Whilst currently Drops are proud to be performing on the World stage with an amateur squad, the goal for the fledging operation is to pay a living wage next year or the year after. Manager Bob Varney told us: “We think that 70 to 80 per cent of the peloton are not paid... We like to look after our girls."
Varney has received positive feedback from race organisers wherever the girls have been – he told us: “We’ve been told by race organisers ‘you’re bringing a breath of fresh air’. The organiser at one race emailed me two or three days after we got back and thanked us for coming to his race, and said it was ‘incredible the amount of respect we had for our riders’. How sad is that? We’re just treating people how we’d like to be treated."
The roster of 15 riders includes GB Development rider Alice Barnes [sister to Hannah Barnes of Canyon//SRAM], multiple Junior Duathlon World Champ Sophie Coleman and UK race names such as Laura Massey and Karla Boddy.
Speaking to Varney on the final day of the Aviva Women’s Tour – where the squad finished tenth on team classification just behind established teams Cervelo-Bigla and Hitec Products, he tells me: “It’s hard for me to talk about time lines. When we started the team up, 4 to 5 months ago, we wanted to be here [at the Women’s Tour] in 3 years. We’re here in such a short space of time."
Not only were the team there, they did well on the team rankings against all odds and had their star rider Alice Barnes ranked 26 overall of 73 finishers, just 5 minutes 14 seconds down on overall winner Lizzie Armitstead after five days of racing. Not bad for an amateur team.
“I’m really happy, we’ve massively exceeded our own expectations, and I think the expectations of the organisers."
Varney told me: “I’m really happy, we’ve massively exceeded our own expectations, and I think the expectations of the organisers. Obviously they have discretion to give two Wild Cards and we were honoured to be one of them. But along with that comes pressure to perform, to earn the right to be here at a World Tour race."
He added: “We had a plan, we wanted to get all six to the finish – and barring any disaster that’s going to happen. We always like to do well in the team classification, because we think that brings everyone together as a team. Especially as a new team. The domestiques do the work, and we have Alice [Barnes] who is the number one leader, and we wanted Massey [Laura] with her as long as possible, and that’s largely worked."
The team have some high standards and ambitions for themselves. At TWC, we were thrilled to see them take the team lead at every Matrix Fitness GP Pearl Izumi Tour Series Criterium round until the last one, as well as taking a 1-2-3 in Stevenage. However, it turns out the taste of success meant the team wanted much more and losing the Team Lead at the last round in Portsmouth was ‘heartbreaking’ – Varney tells me: “We were more than upset, we were absolutely gutted, we were in bits, no one spoke on the way back – we were heartbroken. We’d been up on the podium as Team Leaders at every round. We have huge respect for Podium Ambition – [Team Manager's multiple Paralymic champion, Dame] Sarah and Barney Storey and the riders – we get on well with them. But clearly there’s going to be a professional rivalry – we want to beat them, they want to beat us! That’s bike racing, that’s sport. But we sent them our good wishes immediately. And we’ll beat them next year!"
"We want to pay a living wage, we want to do it properly. We’re already talking to big, global corporations."
The team might be thrilled with what they’ve achieved so far – but they’re certainly not stopping there. Most of the riders work and Varney wants to be able to provide more support in coming years – he said: “We are ambitious; we’re not hiding the fact. We’re already talking to sponsors for next year. It’s widely documented that we’re an amateur team, which we’ve possibly played on a bit too much, we don’t want to be hypocritical – we think that 70 to 80 per cent of the peloton are not paid, and we like to look after our girls, they have the best equipment [notably Trek Emonda and Domane bikes in Miami Green], we stay in the best places, they all get a massage every evening – we like to do things properly. We have a nutritionalist, we have six staff here and you can see how that’s worked. But we’d like to be a true professional team one day – maybe next year, maybe the year after. We want to pay a living wage, we want to do it properly. We’re already talking to big, global corporations."
The story the team have to tell means that they genuinely drew crowds at their warm up tent at the Women’s Tour, where they proudly displayed their strapline Colour The Road. Varney told me: “The level of support we’ve had has been incredible. I think probably down to the fact that we’ve got a story to tell, and people like a story. We use the words ‘it ain't rocket science’ a lot – but it ain't rocket science, people like a story they want to engage with personalities – whether it’s race organisers, sponsors, they want a bit of originality."