Barras duo get back in tandem in ambitious bid to reach summit

Tom Barras of NFTO climbs up Scapegoat Hill out of Slaithwaite on stage three of the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Tom Barras of NFTO climbs up Scapegoat Hill out of Slaithwaite on stage three of the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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Long before Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Hoy elevated their sport into the mainstream, the name of Barras was one that resonated just as loudly within British cycling.

Sid Barras, from Middlesbrough, was a three-time national champion across road and circuit disciplines, and a cyclist of enormous repute in this country throughout the 70s and 80s.

Sid and Tom Barras out training together.

Sid and Tom Barras out training together.

He was also a proud family man, taking his wife and two sons with him to every race.

It was an impressionable upbringing for one of those boys, Tom, who would wedge his head between the barriers to watch as his father and the peloton breezed past.

When he was old enough, young Tom quickly discovered that the Barras name would follow him to junior races.

“I’d hear other dads saying to their lads ‘just follow Barras because his dad was good’,” recalls Tom, who was brought up in Keighley and is now 37.

“I’ve grown up with all my dad’s knowledge on hand and I only had to ask, and still to this day it’s like that.”

If anything, the present day father-son relationship is more intertwined than ever.

The two are effectively joint managers of British team NFTO Pro Cycling, a Yorkshire-based squad who burst onto the scene in a blaze of finances two years ago, only to slow their growth to a more sustainable and pragmatic level.

Tom and Sid Barras are the two director-sportifs of the team, but in deference to his father, Tom cannot bring himself to say who has the final say in the partnership. It would probably be Sid, after all he is in the third decade of his career now as a trainer rather than a cyclist.

Tom, by contrast, is entering his fourth month in the job.

His life as a cyclist did not require the same mantlepiece-extension his father’s required, but was still notable.

He was a professional for 15 years, the first six of those spent in Belgium, before he returned home to further his career in his father’s tracks.

“I was aware through him that it was a very hard game to make a living from,” says Tom, who had 11 professional teams and a smattering of amtaeur contracts in a hand-to-mouth existence.

“That’s why I got a degree to give myself something to fall back on, and in the years where I didn’t earn so much I had a coaching company and a web design company to keep my head above water.

“I had my fair share of tough challenges. Cycling is a tough game, especially if you’ve got to pay a mortgage and support a family.

“One bad year and that’s it, you don’t have a contract for the year after. But it’s a sport we all love and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“And one thing the uncertainty does do is it makes you very hungry to win.”

The highlights came in the early 2000s when he lined up against Tour de France superstars Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani in criteriums in Belgium, races that made him realise why the grind was worthwhile.

His final year as a rider came last year with NFTO. Approaching his late thirties, he was not yet ready to address the crossroads of what next, until all of a sudden, he was fast-tracked to the fork in the road.

“If I’m totally honest, I was really enjoying my time as a rider with NFTO. I’d had a win, which at 37 was nice, I managed to lift my game and stay as a full-time porfessional,” he says.

“A job like this wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing but the opportunity came up in September and I thought long and hard about it.

“First of all, it was an honour to be asked because it means the boss recognises I have the attributes for the job but looking at my age, it was just something I couldn’t say ‘no’ to.”

In the blink of an eye, Barras went from thinking only about himself and his family, to a team of 13 riders, plus all their support staff, from team bus driver to masseuse. “I’m entering races, picking teams, booking hotels, anything to do with performance or getting lads on the start line, that’s my job,” he says.

“My ambition has got to be the best DS I can be and, hopefully, pass my recent experience on to the riders I’m looking after. I was never physically gifted, but what I did have was a good race craft and a good knowledge of the sport and, hopefully, I can pass that on.”

One of his first acts was throwing a lifeline in the direction of Leeds cyclist Josh Edmondson, a 23-year-old thought so highly of in his amateur days that he was given his first professional job with Team Sky.

“It’s fair to say he lost his way,” continues Barras, of a close friend who struggled to such an extent at Sky that he nearly quit the sport.

“Going into a big pro team like Sky straight out of the amateur circuit, it has its pressures. It pays well and you’re looked after, but you have to deliver.

“Josh oozes talent, he is one of the most gifted riders to come out of Britain in the last decade and that’s not an exaggeration. You only have to look at the power he produces on a training ride and it’s easy to see how Sky discovered him. He really is a gifted athlete.”

NFTO’s job this year is to give Edmondson the chance to resurrect his career, just as they did with Sheffield sprinter Adam Blythe, who was chewed up and spat out of BMC before a year with NFTO – including a win at the RideLondon Classic – earned him a contract with World Tour team Orica GreenEdge.

NFTO have the ambition to one day reach that top level where Sky and the big hitters reside. Pro-continental level would bridge that gap. Backed by Wakefield’s John Wood, an ex-military man who has the financial clout to fund his passion, NFTO have the potential to move up but are wary of not taking the step until they are absolutely ready.

“We’ll continue at this level until we are absolutely adament we have the infrastructure and the security to move up in one big bang,” says Barras.

“Sustainability is the key.”

One suspects, with so much race craft at NFTO through the Barras name, they will get it right.