Andrea Parish

Declining numbers, diversity, and funding – An interview with Cycling Time Trials chair, Andrea Parish 

Andrea Parish was recently appointed as chair of Cycling Time Trials. She recently told Alex Ballinger about her plans to bring British time trialling into the 21st century

This piece first appeared in the March edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

The time trial scene in the UK may be niche, but it has been a mainstay in the British cycling landscape and has helped generate some of the best-known talents from these isles. But time trialling has been at a crossroads in recent times, as rider numbers tailed off dramatically in 2022, forcing the time trialling governing body, Cycling Time Trials (CTT), to adapt the way it operates. Andrea Parish, the new chair of CTT appointed in December, already has sweeping plans to bring time trialling to a wider, more diverse audience. 

BikeBiz recently sat down with Parish to hear more about her plans.

“I’ve been on the board now for just over a year,” said Parish, speaking from her home just north of Abergavenny in the Brecon Beacons.

 “I was elected as the director in December 2021, and then was elected as chair at the AGM in December just gone. 

“It’s quite an interesting proposition because of course we’re a 100-year-old institution, but we’re a volunteer-led grassroots institution, and in a modern world that comes with some not inconsiderable challenges.” 

The history

To many, time trialling may just be a niche pursuit consisting of strange helmets and skinsuits, as riders gather in dual carriageway lay-bys around the country, but it is in fact a discipline with a long and bizarre history in the UK. The origins of time trials date back to the 1890s, when the National Cyclists’ Union (a precursor to British Cycling) banned racing on public roads, over fear of a backlash from authorities. 

Time trialling has a long history in the UK

As a result of the ban, racers began to compete in clandestine events, against the clock on public roads, and so time trialling was born. Following the popularity of these races, an official body, the Road Racing Council, was established in 1922, eventually transforming into the Road Time Trials Council, and finally CTT was established as a non-profit company in 2002. But with such a long and rich history, also come plenty of challenges when operating in the 21st century – including the ever-present question of diversity.

Time trialling has been a discipline dominated by that traditional cycling demographic, the white middle-aged man. During our conversation, Parish revealed that in 2017, 87% of all CTT Open events were ridden by men, and just 13% by women. 

“There is a huge amount of work to do to encourage women”, said Parish.

 “We should be attracting people from across the spectrum. Given that we are a grassroots, volunteer-led organisation, albeit the national governing body in an amateur sport, we’ve backed ourselves into a real niche, elite corner with some of the things we’ve done. 

“I’m really hoping that in addition to some other work that we will have going on very soon, that we can definitely attract more women into the sport.”

Parish said her own experience of time trialling has been welcoming, friendly, and helpful, but that she realises that may not be everyone’s experience: “I think we need more specific information and education pieces, just to try and reach out to women.”

And of course, like many other cycling disciplines, time trialling is also predominantly white, so CTT has engaged with grassroots organisations like Evolve – a cycling network of Muslim women, that has been branching into promoting time trialling through its platforms. 

Crunch time

Part of the reason for CTT’s hard look in the mirror, is the significant tail-off in rider numbers in Open events last year. 

Entrants in 2022 were down by 45% in 2022, when compared with 2017, and rider numbers have been trending downward year on year. When one of CTT’s two sources of income is a levy applied to each rider entering an Open event, this has serious implications for the future of the sport (the other source of income is money paid by cycling clubs for CTT affiliation, which gives club members access to CTT events). 

While hangover from Covid lockdowns could have contributed to these lower rider numbers – with foreign holidays back on the cards last year, or lingering Covid illness impacting rider fitness, or even the return to busy life following interrupted years – Parish has identified a number of ways to entice more riders back to the sport.

 “Our main objective, really, is getting more people to ride time trials,” she said. 

“We don’t have a direct relationship [with riders], because it’s through our clubs. So there is a lot of planning and strategy involved to try and provide a lot more value to our riders in a way that the current structure is not designed to do.” 

One major obstacle Parish has identified is the so-called ‘arms race’ – the rapidly escalating pursuit of aerodynamic gains for time trial riders, and the associated costs, which may make competition unaffordable for many.

With the proliferation of carbon and 3D-printed components, wind-tunnel testing, and very expensive bikes, even at amateur level, the podium in time trials may now have a price tag attached, so to combat this trend CTT has been turning its eye to road bike-only competitions, giving more riders a chance to compete at the pointy end.

Parish said the organisation is also looking at ranking systems, offering riders an alternative to racing purely for PBs, and in theory boosting the popularity of events with more varied terrain. CTT also carried out a survey of its riders in 2022 to identify the causes of the decline in rider numbers. Parish said that a number of riders indicated that they would prefer to pay membership directly to CTT. 

Under the current setup, riders must join an established cycling club or team with CTT affiliation in order to be able to compete in time trials.

“I have a working group that I set up last year just to connect with people and find people with some good skills that we could work with. 

“We’re looking at different kinds of competitions, based on performance, not necessarily fastest time. It means people won’t have to leave their district, their performance on a hilly course can be expressed just as easily as on a faster course. 

“That mean’s people think ‘wow, okay I don’t need to think about the arms race, I don’t need to think about getting a fast bike or equipment, I can be competitive because it’s my points based on my performance within a race that counts towards this competition.’ 

“So what I’m trying to do is turn time trialling on its head, frankly.”

The money question

Of course to help support its renewed efforts, CTT will need income. 

As previously mentioned, the organisation currently makes money through two ways – a levy charged to all riders competing in Open events, and affiliation fees paid by cycling clubs and teams. 

But Parish is aware that this may not be enough to sustain the organisation in the long term: “The challenge for us is making us really relevant again and getting the message out. We need to find alternative revenue streams, so we can actually do better work. We can provide more support, we can start going into the development phase of how we take time trialling into the 21st century.” 

With better funding, CTT can look to offer a better service to its riders, including potential electronic timing systems (even on open roads), and live results.

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On all these plans for the historic organisation, Parish said: “For me personally it’s about taking time trial back to our grassroots, back to any every-person’s sport, the democratisation of it. 

“If you’ve got a road bike, ride your road bike. I’m really hoping that in addition to some other work that we will have ongoing very soon, we can definitely attract more women into the sport.” 

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