FOR quite some time, Bob Lyons has been cultivating the idea of a women’s professional road cycling team in Scotland

The brutal nature of road racing, plus the fact such a project had never been undertaken before did little to discourage him from what he was convinced was both an exciting and a valuable venture. 

So, after years of the thought swirling around in his head, Lyons’ idea has finally come to fruition. 

The creation of the Alba Road Team is ambitious and intriguing but most of all, groundbreaking. 

Never before has Scotland had a women’s professional road team but Alba are here to do more than merely make up the numbers. 

Lyons’ plan is, and always has been, to use Alba to develop Scottish riders who can make it at the very highest level of road racing and he is in a rush to start producing riders with that capability. 

“I’ve had the idea of starting up a team for quite a while but I had a bit more thinking time during the pandemic and I decided this was the time to go for it,” the 58-year-old says. 

“With Alba, the aim is to develop riders, in particular to getting them onto the World Tour; we‘re absolutely not just turning up at races to make up the numbers.  

“There will be success in races but the big success will be to see them move onto the next level.” 

The act of developing riders is integral to Alba; in fact, it is its entire raison d’etra. 

This season’s roster consists of eight riders, six of which are Scots; Sophie Lankford, Vicky Smith, Beth Maciver, Kate Richardson, Arianne Holland and Erin Murphy, and they will be joined by Sophie Enever from England and Emma Smith from Northern Ireland. 

With a mix of both youth and experience, Lyons is confident his squad has the perfect balance to ensure all riders will grow and improve as the season progresses. 

Already, the riders have worn Alba colours in a number of track outings, including Richardson winning individual pursuit bronze at the British Track Nationals last month, but it is on the road Lyons hopes he will see the team make their most significant impact. 

Tomorrow, Team Alba begins its assault on the Tour Series, which is a series of races around Britain and will, Lyons believes, provide the riders with the perfect starting point to what will hopefully be long and successful careers. 

While it is the likes of Tour de France Femmes that generate the most media coverage for female road racers, Lyons has developed a very deliberate plan to ensure the sole focus is on what is best for his riders and not capitulate to the pressure to attend the biggest races before they are ready. 

So, round one today in Guisborough, is the ideal launch pad for the team. 

“Because of all the pressures, it’s easy for the development of the riders to become secondary; there’s pressure on results and pressure from sponsors so it can be easy to lose sight of the rides’ development,” he says. 

“And there’s the challenge of funding so it can be difficult for teams to keep their focus because you’ve got to go to the sexy races and often, you get the situation where riders are at the wrong races for them or races that don’t match their stage of development. 

“So we have a plan; the British National Series is a very high standard and that’s where we’ve pegged it because this will develop these riders fantastically and it’ll put them in the shop window for teams.” 

Lyons, whose background included three decades in elite coaching and sports science, is originally from south of the border but is quick to point out he is an adopted Scot having lived here since the 80s. 

He has worked with Scottish Cycling for eight years but it is this project which has the potential to make a real difference to the cycling landscape in this country. 

While the likes of Katie Archibald, Neah Evans and Anna Shackley have all been phenomenally successful in recent years, Lyons believes the impact on young riders of having a place in a pro team within their reach could inspire an entire generation. 

“In recent years, women’s cycling has taken massive strides forward and some of the most entertaining races you can see are women’s races at World Tour level,” he says. 

“It’s very important to show young girls what’s possible and one of the main objectives when we started thinking about this was we wanted to inspire the next generation of cyclists.  

“We want the younger generation of cyclists to look at our riders and think yes, that’s possible and we want to engage with the female cycling community to try to raise the profile of the sport too.” 

With a number of sponsors and partners already on-board, the budget for Alba’s first season is, says Lyons, “pretty big” but with every penny directed towards the riders, he undertakes around half a dozen jobs, including Team Manager and Performance Director, while his wife, Elaine, is Logistics and Admin manager, both on an unpaid basis, with the pair joined by the mechanic Matt Betts and Sports Scientist, physiotherapist and Soigneur Rebecca Betts. 

The riders, however, have everything provided for them and already, Lyons is looking to expand the operation next season. 

“We’ve got a small team – that was always the plan for the first year and ideally, we’ll go to more riders next year and at some point in the future there will be an U23 development team too,” he says. 

“I think once people see us in action, even more people will really buy into us as a team, see what we’re trying to do and want to be involved.”