While you’re on your morning commute, take a minute and look around you. I promise you that in central London you’ll notice hordes of cyclists dressed in lycra buzzing around cars and busses. They’re not hard to miss either in the week, commuting to their own jobs or at weekends riding in groups just for the sheer fun of it.
But let’s go back to the early nineties when this wasn’t the case. There were significantly less bicycles on the road and professional cycling was a predominantly European sport dominated by the French, Belgians and Italians. They have their races, The Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France which are globally renowned but also their many one day races such as Milan – San Remo and Paris – Roubaix. So what changed?
It all began when a lad from the Wirral named Christopher Boardman won a gold medal for the individual pursuit at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Back then British Cycling was a small fish in a big pond. Nobody predicted Boardman’s win but it was the start of something special. Since Chris Boardman’s initial success, more and more has been invested into British Cycling. The emergence of riders such as David Millar, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, inspired by Boardman, riding for Team GB and winning Olympic medals, have really brought British Cycling to the fore.
In 2009, frustrated by the recent doping scandals that had plagued European cycling, the British Cycling Team performance director David Brailsford decided to start his own UCI cycling team, a team that held a strong anti-doping stance and was proudly British. 7 years later, Team Sky has won 3 grand tours, 15 one day races, 37 stage races and a total of 130 stage wins; an outstanding achievement for a team only 7 years old.
This British success in cycling has had a huge impact on both the sport itself and the public perception of the sport. The Tour of Britain has grown hugely and the opening stage “Grand Départ” of the Tour de France in 2014 was held in Yorkshire, both drawing in large crowds of the public. Six day racing now has events in Britain, attracting a large crowd making veledrome racing both accessible and a huge party for the spectators. No longer are the decent races being held exclusively in Italy, France and Belgium, they are happening right here in Britain.
Public cycling “sportives” (mass participation cycling events open to the public) have sprung up every weekend, all four seasons of the year, offering members of the public the chance to challenge themselves and race their bikes on closed roads in a safe environment. Marathons used to dominate mass participation sport but cycling events have given marathons a real run for their money. In 2015, the Prudential Ride 100, a 100 mile bicycle race that starts and finishes in London, taking in the countryside of Surrey attracted a record number of public participants. Over 25,000 riders rode the course.
Never has cycling been more popular in Britain than it is right now, with the British public increasingly becoming both riders and spectators.
Expect to see a lot more lycra during your morning commute. Marathons, watch your back!