British charity UK Youth will receive a significant boost in exposure this year through a new Elite-level cycling team, backed by the organisation's president, former Formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell.
Team UK Youth has been formed to increase awareness of the charity's work – helping young people cope with social issues and assisting their transition into adulthood.
The team will be led by 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt, who has come out of a two-year retirement to act as a rider-manager. "I think UK Youth is one of the best kept secrets in the United Kingdom," Backstedt told BikeRadar.
"They engage with 750,000 young people around the country in any given year. It's such a big organisation that keeps growing and growing every year, but no-one has really heard about it. For us the main focus is to get the name UK Youth out there in Britain and make people aware of the work the charity does."
The cycling team has grown out of a 13-day, 1,300-mile charity ride organised by Mansell last year to raise awareness of UK Youth's centenary, which it will celebrate this year. Although the organisation's programmes extend beyond sport, its nation-wide Bike Club programme – run in conjunction with CTC and ContinYou – and Mansell's love of cycling have made the team a natural fit for the charity.
British Formula 1 star Nigel Mansell is providing financial backing for the new team
"The whole team has come about because of the amount of exposure the charity ride brought to the organisation," said Backstedt, whose involvement in the charity event has inspired his return to competition. "They wanted to continue doing something with cycling because it's such a big part of the charity already.
"They have a number of Bike Clubs around the country which focus on getting young people onto bikes; using them for transportation, for recreation or even competitive riding. Nigel asked me if I wouldn't mind managing the team, but I said ideally, I should ride as well."
The team will compete in Britain's Premier Calendar cycling events and Backstedt said they're hoping to secure invitations to the Halfords Tour Series criteriums – which would ensure valuable television exposure for the charity. The 11-rider squad includes Backstedt, Olympic bronze medallist Steven Burke, Niklas Gustavsson, Fredrik Johansson, Gruff Lewis, David McGowan, Filip Rudenstam, Chris Seviour and James Stewart, as well as Mansell's two sons, Leo and Greg.
The UK Youth squad will compete in Premier Calendar events, and hopefully the Tour Series too
Mansell's commitment is such that the 1992 F1 world champion is providing financial backing for the team, ensuring attention is focussed solely on UK Youth. "The charity isn't putting any money into it," said Backstedt. "This is all coming from Nigel himself and the equipment sponsors we've managed to round up. Our main goal is exposure for the charity, but if we can raise some money for it as well, that would obviously be fantastic."
The team will operate as an Elite amateur squad in 2011, but expansion could be on the cards for 2012. "It would be great to be a [UCI] Continental team and have the possibility of getting into the Tour of Britain or something like that," said Backstedt. "But to pull together the money to register as Continental just to race the Tour of Britain didn't seem right this year. We'll look to expand for 2012 and 2013, while obviously maintaining a grassroots team. But if everything goes to plan we should get bigger and better in the future."
Asked whether a return to the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix could be on the cards, the 36-year-old was surprisingly coy. "Never say never," he said. "But if I'm going to get to that level again, it'll have to be with this team." To learn more about UK Youth's programmes and initiatives, visit www.ukyouth.org. You can watch an interview with Magnus Backstedt below: