Words: Simon Powers
Published:13 July 2012
We are all familiar with many of the riders and coaches responsible for the great performances of the Great Britain Cycling Team. But in the lead up to this summer’s Olympic Games, we’re taking the opportunity to have a look at some of the staff who support the Great Britain Cycling team who tend to go unnoticed but without whom, the team couldn’t functional optimally.
Dave Parsons is the Purchasing Manager for the Great Britain Cycling Team. He is responsible for looking after all programmes right from promising young hopefuls selected for the Talent Team all the way to the Podium Programme athletes such as Victoria Pendleton or Mark Cavendish.
Dave lets us in on what his role entails: “There’s no typical day for me really. My responsibility is the provision of all material goods to all programmes. This includes all clothing, bikes, wheels and nutrition right across all the Olympic disciplines within which we compete. This means making sure that the store room is always full. I work alongside a team of two others who make sure that everything is where it should be so that we can allocate it efficiently when the athletes come to the stores. With around 200 athletes and 120 staff members each with their own individual requirements, this really is a lot of people to cover.”
In addition to having a well-stocked storeroom, Dave is also responsible for making sure that all required items are sent to the various events and training camps which the team attend all over the globe, year-round. These includes items such as clothing, bike spares as well as the vast array of CNP and Gatorade nutrition products which form a crucial part of riders’ pre and post training and racing rituals.
"Once the Games start, if we haven’t done what we need to do, then it will almost certainly be too late."
Cycling has never been a cheap sport and when you have around 200 athletes needing to be catered for, someone has to keep an eye on budget as Dave explains: “I am the direct liaison with our major suppliers such as Adidas and Pinarello. We have a certain amount of money which can be spent on clothing so part of my job is making sure that this is spent properly. The same goes with our bikes from Pinarello, we get a certain amount of value in kind there and I have to make sure that it is distributed properly across all programmes. In an ideal world, everyone would be riding the best kit all of the time but there isn’t a bottomless pit of money so we have to work alongside the coaches to assess what each rider actually needs.”
Dave’s role also extends to making sure that the kit the team receives is fit for purpose and doesn’t contravene any UCI design regulations. “I am involved in helping Adidas, for example, in understanding the UCI regulations with regards to clothing layout and telling them what parameters the goods need to be made to.”
As this summer’s main event approaches, all hands are on deck to make sure that athletes are able to focus solely on the job at hand, namely performance. This also goes for other members of the team such as coaches, mechanics and soigneurs who all rely on Dave and his team to have everything they may need right, from a simple plastic water bottle to the very smallest of components that may need replacing on any rider’s bike at any time.
Dave explains: “We are really here as planners. Once the Games start, if we haven’t done what we need to do, then it will almost certainly be too late. We aren’t needed to be on hand at the specific venues during Games time, we just need to make sure that the athletes and staff on the ground are catered for as well as they can be before things kick off in London. Every time an athlete or one of the mechanics comes to the hatch we always make sure we are well stocked enough to have everything they could possibly need.”
Dave and his team won’t be at the various venues during Games time but were heavily involved in things such as the kitting out days held in Loughborough last month due to their comprehensive database of each athlete’s every dimension. They will also be prepared should any emergency items be required at any of the cycling venues during the Games.
“We will check meticulously that every possible item needed is packed and sent down to London, hopefully nothing unexpected happens, but if it does, we will always be on hand to jump in a van and head down the M1 at a moment’s notice.”
Having a purchasing department was unheard of before Dave started work with the team a little over six years ago. Back then the Great Britain team was a much different ‘beast’ than the post Beijing example we have today. Winning a total of 14 medals in Beijing was not only a source of great national pride but was also the beginning of a new era. British Cycling and its team of record breaking riders were now well known not only to avid cycling enthusiasts but to those outside of the sport as well. From being labelled as ‘the most successful Olympic Team in history’ came a great deal of commercial interest which obviously needed to be managed correctly.
“I used to work in a tiny room under the track no bigger than a cupboard. As time went on, it became very apparent that this was simply not going to be enough. After the success of Beijing, with a lot of commercial sponsorships that came off the back of that, I have also had to become much savvier with regard to commercial contracts and have learned a lot from that.”
Dave elaborates further on how the role has assisted the team during his time at British Cycling: “we have also taken on two new staff in the department. This has meant that other support staff have now been liberated from a lot of tasks that they had to perform previously. Mechanics, for example, can now concentrate on the things really they need to get in place pre major events rather than constantly worrying about having enough stock of key consumables such as tyres or tub glue. I’d like to think for the programme as a whole, it hasn’t contributed an insignificant amount to our overall successes.”