If I’d been asked the old “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question back in 2011, I don’t think I’d have said “sponsoring a women’s cycling team“, but that’s where I find myself now and I’d have to say I couldn’t be happier being involved in this way.

Since leaving British Cycling in 2013 I’ve been struggling with my health, but by spring of 2015 I was well enough to think about working again and there was really only one thing I wanted to do.

I have a passion for bikes and making my own brand had been a dream since childhood and it was now time to take the plunge. Maybe it wasn’t that bigger plunge though as I had started, in a small way, to make my own bikes (Estrella Bikes) since 2009 but now it was time to make a living from it rather than just enjoying creating something special.

Together with my lifelong friend Rob, who’s handily a very experienced engineer, we started planning the business and set out our goals. Throughout my BC career any monies I’d earnt over my Lottery funding I had donated to charity, I’d got a lot of pleasure from being able to do this and we’d both agreed that we wanted the business to carry this on in some way.

We also wanted to put something back into the sport that we were trying to make living from. Finding where our limited resources could make the most difference while doing the most for the company was a no-brainer. Women’s cycling just jumps out at you as giving such value for money in terms of marketing, and being good friends with Barney and Dame Sarah Storey we made the call.

They told us of their plans for a fully inclusive, nationwide club that anyone can join, and contained within this there would be a women’s developement team, the Podium Ambition scholars. On top of this the club’s main focus would be to raise funds and awareness for the charity Boot out Breast Cancer, it was as if they’d made it especially for us!

Around December time we travelled out to Lanzarote to meet up with the girls that had been choosen as scholars, and to measure them up for the road and TT bikes that we had agreed to kit them out with, along with Salice helmets and sunglasses.

Lanzarote seems like a long way to go to meet up with riders from the UK but having them all in one place, and with their current bikes did make things much easier for us, and who wouldn’t want to ride their bike in Lanzarote instead of the UK in December!

We did get to ride with them a bit. Well, we started the rides, but we didn’t quite finish with them. They were a great team though, each of them having different talents, and we couldn’t wait for the racing to start. The team was made up of youth and experience with Nik Matthews, Monica Hope Dew, Kelly Murphy, Bethany Crumpton, Ruth Taylor and Bethany Taylor (no relation) filling the roaster.

Early season went well and the results kept coming in but it wasn’t until the Tour series that we would get the chance to watch them race, we’d been to the Tour de Yorkshire but had missed all the racing, the Tour series was going to be televised too. Redditch was my first ever Tour series and we were lucky to have local rider Beth Crumpton‘s family there to show us around, unfortunately Beth was away busy qualifying herself for the World U23 XC mountain bike championships, a very valid excuse to miss her home round.

I’ve always watched women’s races on TV and have always enjoyed them, I enjoyed seeing races that weren’t shut down by big teams, more like the road races I was used to doing.

Being there was even better, we got a great sense of just how good some of the riders are, seeing some real talent smashing the race to pieces. This is the level our riders are working towards and they all put up really promising performances with one making it into the small front group. They’d all ridden hard in the various groups after the race had been blown apart and we couldn’t wait to see this on TV a couple of days later.

I spent the first part of the programme looking hard to pick out their distinctive Salice helmets, catching the odd glance, and as it went to the adverts I felt a little disappointed that the cameras hadn’t seemed interested in them. Back from the break though and I nearly screamed the house down as we had a full screen side on shot of our Kelly attacking the group, you couldn’t miss the bike and it was on screen for what seemed like ages, it was a truly emotional moment that I won’t forget. That’s just one moment though, and taken from a development team not one of the top teams- that to me is why sponsoring a women’s team is such a bargain. I can’t understand why companies aren’t falling over themselves to be involved.

As he who can’t be named once said though, it’s not (just) about the bike, seeing and helping the girls develop is just as important to us as any TV time. It’s hard not to take a personal interest in how they do and watching them race is one of the most nerve racking things I’ve ever done within cycling. Sometimes everything goes great and sometimes not, and with 6 riders it’s a never ending roller-coaster, the sort that you queue up for another go as soon as one ride finishes.

They’ll always be our first riders and it’s 100% down to them that we intend to carry on being involved in the coming years, their enthusiasm and their commitment to progressing is so contagious that I sometimes think about making a comeback myself – we couldn’t be prouder of them.

We are only halfway through our first year of support but we couldn’t be happier with how things have gone so far, it’s not something I ever imagined myself doing but sometimes you have to just go with what feels right and see where it takes you.

I’ve no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in another five years time but I hope it will be as rewarding as where I am now.

 

Darren KennyAbout the Author: Darren Kenny has 10 Paralympic medals (6 x gold, 3 x silver and 1 x bronze) and 25 x World championship medalist (17 x gold, 5 x silver and 3 x bronze). He´s held world records at every distance and still hold both the aero and athletes hour record. Darren is the founder of Estrella Bikes and he´s trying to help bring new talent through by sponsoring/supporting the scholarship riders of the Boot out Breast Cancer cycling club started by Dame Sarah Storey.

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