Meet the Team: Drops
How do you go from printing wallpaper to launching a women’s cycling team? Beth Hodge chats to Drops Cycling Team Director Bob Varney to find out
If someone told you that a wallpaper company from Milton Keynes was going to launch a cycling team, you’d probably laugh. If they then told you that in a matter of months, this team would cause waves in the world of women’s racing, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the plot of a Hollywood movie, probably starring Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page.
But this is no fictional scenario. Bob Varney may be the co-founder of a bespoke wallpaper company, but it’s the all-British Drops Cycling Team he’s pulled together that’s making all the headlines. Sponsored by Trek, Prendas, OTE Sports, Skechers, Continental and Dread, Drops Cycling Team boasts a group of super-talented riders, including Alice Barnes (two-time U23 British Road Race Champion), Laura Massey (Masters Road Race Champion) and Jennifer George, who came seventh at the hotly contested Tour de Yorkshire 2016.
So Bob, what does racing have to do with wallpaper?
Absolutely nothing! You’d probably like a smart answer; that we’d sat down and made a devious plan for world domination in the wallpaper business, but nothing could be further from the truth. We love racing and this is a great way for us to do what we love and get our name out there.
How did the Drops Cycling Team start?
I’d been involved in racing for a while, from running a kids’ club to a development racing team a few years ago. Last year we co-sponsored a local team, Corley Cycles Drops Racing Team, and got involved with running the women’s team. We then decided that we wanted to do things our own way because we loved it so much. I wanted an adventure and this was going to be it.
What’s the grand plan, Bob?
We wanted to do the Aviva Women’s Tour within the first three years and we did it in the first, which is crazy. Our ultimate dream is to run a fully professional team where all the riders and staff are paid a wage. Legally, we’re a UCI professional team, but morally we’re an amateur team. We believe that the definition of a “professional” is when you get paid to do your job. We don’t pay our riders to do their jobs, so we feel uncomfortable calling ourselves professionals. That’s why we dreamed up the phrase “the most professional amateur women’s team in the world”. I can’t come up with a crazy plan as to what we’re going to do next because we’re at the ceiling. We now need to improve, learn from what we’ve done, get better and try to win these races.
Have you recognised a change in women’s racing in the last few years?
It’s certainly an incredibly exciting time and seems to be soaring. We’ve noticed a massive engagement with the sport through social media. The domestic calendar has a really high standard now and I’m seeing a good number of teams trying to emulate what they see the professionals doing.
We don’t see ourselves as speaking for women’s cycling; we run a women’s cycling team. But the whole process has opened my eyes to general inequalities in terms of race distances and prize money. These are issues that people raised way before we came around and we respect that. I’m just glad that we can now contribute to the conversation.
The Drops Cycling Team kit looks great. How did it come about?
We put a lot of time and thought into the kit. We wanted to create something that would be super cool, reasonably gender neutral and didn’t involve pink. My son [Drops wallpaper company co-founder] Tom worked on the colours, which came quite early on in the process.
We then worked with that colour palette to find a dominant colour. We wanted a colour for the helmets that would be easy to spot in the feed zone and in the peloton. Bontrager (who sponsor the helmets) had the Miami green colour in their range, which matched one of the Drops Cycling Team colours. We had a lot of fun and a lot of arguments for weeks to get the final design, followed by millimetre tweaks to get it how we wanted it.
The girls are very proud to wear the kit and it makes them all feel 10ft tall. It’s a basic life principle. If you feel good in the clothes you’re wearing, you’re going to perform well.