1904rt in 2021: Q+A with founder and manager Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

After a strange 2020 season, and with the 2021 season still looking uncertain, we settled down with 1904rt founder, manager – and rider – Michelle Arthurs-Brennan, to hear about the team’s origins, and plans for the coming year…

Tell us about how 1904rt came about…

MAB: The team is entering its third year as ‘1904rt’, but it goes back further.

In 2017, I raced for Norwood Paragon. I’d been racing for some time, but always as a lone female, because there were never any racing women in my club. And that’s just not how road racing should be.

I knew several other women in Surrey who were the “only woman” in their club.. it seemed a bit pointless us all racing alone when geographically our clubs were hardly worlds apart. Having gained unanimous support at the Paragon AGM, in 2018 I reached out to a few women and suggested we join forces under the “Norwood Paragonella” umbrella, aided by funding from the club.

We still have a lot of that Paragonella kit around… if any female riders around Surrey/Reigate want to join Norwood Paragon it’s ready and waiting! You won’t find a better local club for rider development, in my opinion.

After a successful first year, I asked the bike shop Maison du Velo – where Paragon meets for its Sunday rides – to come on board as a sponsor, as well as Norwood Paragon. We took on the name of ‘1904rt’ – 1904 being Norwood Paragon’s founding year. MDV got a kit design sorted, actually they got us four designs, and we voted for the winner. In 2019 we were a team of 10 women and nine men.

The kit vote was tense…

As well as racing, we organised a ‘1904rt training weekend’, for team, club and shop riders to attend – the idea being to give back to the community, it was so much fun!

By the end of the year, the women’s team had really gelled – we were organised, attended events together – largely thanks to a monster Excel spreadsheet. A few of the men put in some amazing performances – including Chris Moores representing us in the Yorkshire World Championships Para-Cycling race and Andy Critchlow collecting more wins than hot dinners. However, the women’s team amassed ~75% of the British Cycling points gained by the whole team. So for 2020 the Norwood Paragon committee chose to return 1904rt to being a women’s only outfit.

What was the plan for the 2020 season?

In 2020, we picked up some more sponsors on top of Norwood Paragon and MDV: InGear, which had been bought my Masion du Velo, NamedSport nutrition and Target Velo. The year’s team kit came from Rapha.

The year began as planned – with our second training camp in Denia, hosted by Cafe Ciclista. The team was raring to go.

The planned race calendar was made up of British Women’s Cup races, as well as a few British Cycling National Series rounds.

What actually happened?

Well, the first British Cup race went ahead, but was canned before its finish due to a multitude of crashes resulting from a wet and greasy surface… there’s a reason they keep the gates closed at Milton Keynes Bowl at the sniff of rain. New team member Lea had a short stay in hospital and I needed stitches.. it wasn’t ideal. Then Covid happened.

Some riders did race where possible, despite working hard in hospitals during the crisis, Mathilde Pauls won a few time trials, Jenny Andrews got stuck into some 15-minute crits at Abingdon as well as cyclocross, and Kate Palmer scooped up some hill climb podiums.

But of course, it was not the year we had planned. It was important to pivot and focus on supporting each other through a difficult year. We managed a few team rides, when restrictions allowed, as well as Zoom calls and virtual rides. What I love most about this team is that we’re just as much a group of friends as we are team mates now. We can be each others leads outs in life, as well as on the race track.

Who is on the team for 2021?

The team remains largely unchanged.

Sadly we have lost Katherine Broadbent, who has been with us from the start. She’s moved to Aberdeen – but will be flying the flag up there I hope. She has been, and will continue to be, a close personal friend of mine. Lea Bonnefous, who joined us in 2020, had to return to France due to the pandemic, though we continue to watch her progress there.

Staying on the roster are two cat 1 riders – World Championship winning ex-rower Mathilde Pauls and [little voice] myself, plus Pip Jenkins, the Duracell bunny who was third in the 2018 National 24hr TT, hill climber Kate Palmer, grass track expert turned crit racer Jenny Andrews, Helen Bridgman, who rode the entire Tour de France as part of Internationelles in 2019, runner turned cyclist Carolyn Swan, sprinter Anna Marie-Hughes plus time trialist and crit racer Gemma Hayes.

A few perspective guests have got in touch, and we do have space for more riders should the year go ahead – interested parties can get in touch with me [michelle.arthurs @ gmail.com]. We don’t intend to re-order kit, but if there is enough interest this would be possible.

The sponsors remain unchanged, with all continuing to support the team.

What are the plans for the 2021 season?

The year ahead remains uncertain – but I’ve planned it just like any other, to ensure that if and when racing becomes possible, we’re ready. We’re registered with British Cycling and the CTT as per any other year. The British Women’s Cup races have been announced and are in the calendar. Now we just have to wait and see what happens.

The riders are motivated and desperate to race, so if the flag drops (and it’s safe, obviously) we’ll be there.

If not, we’re setting aside some cash for “team adventures” – and whatever they may end up being, one thing’s for sure: they’ll be a lot of (possibly Type 2) fun.

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