Riding high... with world’s elite riders

Rewind 12 months and Tom Barras was watching in awe at the Tour de France roadshow rolling by his doorstep like the rest of us.

By Jonathan Brown
Tuesday, 21st April 2015, 1:50 pm
Riders from three of the British Pro teams, Tom Barras NFTO, Pete Williams, One Pro Cycling, and Tobyn Horton, Madison Genesis,  riding the Tour of Yorkshire ride past the Cow and Calf from Ilkley.  Picture by Bruce Rollinson
Riders from three of the British Pro teams, Tom Barras NFTO, Pete Williams, One Pro Cycling, and Tobyn Horton, Madison Genesis, riding the Tour of Yorkshire ride past the Cow and Calf from Ilkley. Picture by Bruce Rollinson

As the peloton zoomed through Arthington, the 36-year-old web designer embraced the French fanfare and cycled back to his Headingley home exhilarated – but unaware that he could yet experience a similar atmosphere as a rider.

Following a colourful 15-year career in cycling which had seen him rack up more than 100 race wins across the world, Barras was riding part-time with Wheelbase Altura in 2014.

Seemingly with his biggest races behind him, the Keighley-born rider’s performances managed to catch the eye of UCI Continental team NFTO however. He signed to once again become a full-time pro for 2015.

Tom Barras. Picture by Larry Hickmott.

Now with just weeks to go until the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire rolls into action, he is well-placed to make the team’s eight-man lineup for the highly anticipated spectacle which is expected to attract a crowd of more than a million from May 1 to 3.

“It’s not something I ever thought I would compete in. This time last year I was riding for Wheelbase and building two little businesses,” he said.

“I’m the only Yorkshireman in the team and it goes through Laycock where I was born and where I live now in Leeds. I literally know every road – those are the roads I’ve trained on all my life. I used to train on the roads around Whitby with my dad.”

Hailing from a Yorkshire cycling family, his father is none other than three-time British national champion Sid Barras.

He won 380 races in a distinguished career.

Growing up during Sid’s heyday, Tom witnessed a golden time for British road racing – a climate he feels eluded his own generation of cyclists.

“My dad’s era was when cycling was in a boom and road racing was a growing sport and dad was fortunate he was able to make a nice living from it – you couldn’t do that in the 1990s,” he said. “Cycling in Britain is totally different to what it was.

“We are sort of respected now as athletes alongside footballers, rugby players and cricketers. As a kid, people didn’t get it – I was seen as a kid doing a bit of a weird sport.”

Tom, like many other aspiring British road racers, felt they needed to leave the UK to pursue a career in professional cycling.

After graduating from Loughborough University in 2000, he spent several years racing full-time in Belgium before returning to England in 2006.

“After six years I realised I was never going to be a world beater,” he said. “I set up my web design company in 2007 and started building my empire.”

Cycling suddenly had to make room for a small business and a coaching sideline soon also developed but Tom’s passion for two wheels remained.

Several contracts with professional and amateur cycling teams since his return to England followed, as did 27 race wins during a changing time for the sport.

“I wish I was 15 years younger,” he exclaimed. “I’m about to ride the Tour de Yorkshire, that’s basically three stages of the Tour de France, and that just wasn’t there when I was 20.

“Cycling in Britain is massive – you can’t emphasise that enough.

“You have got Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky, we are leaders of track racing and British riders are winning the Tour de France – that wasn’t happening 10 years ago.”

A milestone late in his career, NFTO is Tom’s 10th UCI professional team, and the pull of potentially riding in front an anticipated one million Yorkshire spectators could prove the icing on the cake to his achievements.

Having carefully studied the routes, he has already ridden the full Tour de Yorkshire distance three times over, creating GPS maps to help inform his teammates, which include former World Tour rider and Australian national champion Steele Von Hoff. Nevertheless, going wheel to wheel with the likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Marcel Kittel and Team Sky is an immense task but one Tom is relishing, well aware of his role as a support rider, or domestique, to his team’s big hitter.

“I get to race alongside them [cycling’s elite] now and again but I know my position in the sport,” he said. “They are putting a British continental team in that peloton in a month’s time. I don’t see myself as a Tour de France rider but on my day, if all the stars line up and we pull together, there is a chance one of us can get a result.”

Cycling fans will be out in their thousands cheering on the big names who are gunning for the podium from May 1 to 3, but for some of those riders it will be the love of cycling and pride of doing it in their own backyard that proves the highlight.

“It’s one of the biggest races in the world which is finishing a mile from my house - it’s massive,” Tom added. “If this is it and Tom Barras stops racing on May 3 and I race that, 
I finish on a high.”