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Wilkinson assessing life after Mansell
CONSIDER the situation.
You are the second best team in the country, boasting a number of key players and have enjoyed a season of unprecedented success.
Yet the team sponsor opts not to renew its deal and suddenly the wheels come off, there is no team, people are facing the prospect of losing their jobs and all that success counts for nothing.
It wouldn’t happen to a Premier League football team but that is exactly the quandary Barnoldswick cyclist Ian Wilkinson finds himself in.
The 34-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season riding for Team UK Youth but the financial muscle, flexed by former Formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell, is being withdrawn and the team instantly has an uncertain future.
Wilkinson is caught between wanting to show loyalty to his team should a new sponsor be found, and the necessity to guarantee his income for 2014.
“Ideally you want the team to be sported out before the winter and know what you are going to be doing next year,” said Wilkinson.
“At the end of the day I want to stay here.
“I think that is the preference.
“I have really enjoyed this season.
“The team have been fantastic and it is a great bunch of people.
“My preference would be to stay but obviously it all depends on the sponsorship.
“There are still a couple of weeks to get something sorted and hopefully that will be the case.
“But I have to look around for other options and see what else is there because I need to find a team. You have to do that.
“I just want to give racing for this team again every opportunity.”
Mansell has funded the team, for which his son Greg rides, for the past four years and has used it as a vehicle to promote the UK Youth charity of which he is a patron.
But the 1991 Formula One world champion has elected not to continue backing the squad, leaving its 12 riders in limbo.
Not that Wilkinson points the finger of blame at Mansell.
“There has to be enormous thanks to Nigel for funding the team for the past four years,” said Wilkinson.
“There comes a time when you have to look for a return on something you put money into, whether it is an investment or a hobby, and he has decided to do that.
“He has been fantastic for the team since he came in.”
And Wilkinson believes that the publicity of the team’s plight could actually work in its favour in finding a backer for next season.
He added: “There is still some big potential for something to come off.
“It has raised a lot of publicity around the team and hopefully something can be sorted out.
“The thing for an investor is that they are buying a ready made project with strong riders who are already producing results.
“It is not a project which needs work doing.
“We’ve had a really successful year and I have had a few good results as well so it has been a good season.
“Hopefully there can be something out in place for next year.”
Wilkinson is right about that.
He himself clocked up two victories claiming the honours at the Stockton Velo29-Altura Grand Prix in July and the Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic in April.
He was on the podium a further four times and had a string of top 10 finishes all of which he finished the year ranked seventh in the national rankings.
His team-mate Yanto Barker was top of the pile and there were two other Team UK Youth riders in the top 10. No other team had more than two.
The squad won the national Tour Series in the summer and performed creditably in the Tour of Britain last month where Wilkinson came close to claiming a career-defining stage win.
He said: “In the Tour of Britain we were the second ranked British squad behind Team Sky. We did well on a number of stages.
“I really enjoyed it. It was the toughest course and the toughest field and we did well as a team.
“I got into a couple of breaks and almost stayed away in a stage to Llanberis where I felt I would have won.
“I was riding strongly and still came 12th in the end even after we were caught and I had been in the break all day.
“I was in another break as well and felt good. It was a successful race for us. We supported Chris Opie on a couple of stages and he got a fifth and a seventh so I think everyone was pretty pleased.”
And Wilkinson believes the number of spectators out on the route combined with the increasing popularity in the sport, is another positive in the search for a financial backer to sustain his team for next year.
He added: “I would say there was more people on the roads of each stage than go to Premier League football matches so the interest in cycling is certainly there.
“The sport is growing and growing in this country and the opportunity is there for someone to invest in a team that has done well so hopefully the right person comes along.”
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