Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Interesting report from the Guardian that suggests, despite years of marginalisation, we were right all along!

Win gives cyclists momentum to move into the mainstream

The spotlight afforded cycling by the Sports Personality Of The Year could propel the sport firmly into the public consciousness

Members of the Great Britain Cycling Men's Pursuit Team train at Newport Velodrome. Sunday night was the first time this year Chris Hoy has not started a race as favourite, but it made no difference. Hoy thoroughly deserved his win in what he termed "the big one", for his attributes as an all-round human being as well as for being a great champion.

Watching Britain's Olympic track team at work day after day in the Beijing velodrome, it was obvious that he had assumed the role of moral leadership. Occupying the same seats at every session, he and Victoria Pendleton shared jokes and, when necessary, silences with the rest of their colleagues as they prepared to go out and conquer the world.

But Rebecca Romero would have deserved it too, for her astonishing and sometimes almost spine-chilling focus on the ambition of going one better than the silver she had earned as a rower in Athens. So would Nicole Cooke, whose Olympic gold was followed by victory in the world championship road race a few weeks later, a double that no cyclist, man or woman, had ever achieved. It was she, after all, who struck the first blow in a campaign that made this a year of unprecedented success for the sport in Britain.

When the entire squad won the team award, and their performance director, Dave Brailsford, was named coach of the year, no one could be left in any doubt of the scale of their achievement. But will cycling, which has always struggled for mass acceptance in Britain, reap the rewards of the publicity, or will it go the way of curling, which won the hearts of the nation for about five minutes when a quintet of Scotswomen performed amazing feats during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City? Six years later, you don't see kids racing out of the house on a Saturday morning for training at the local rink.

For cycling, there ought to be some encouragement in the identity of the man who finished runner-up. Lewis Hamilton trailed Hoy by a sizeable margin - 283,630 votes for the cyclist against 163,864 for the new grand prix world champion - and even allowing for the fact that this was an Olympic year, that the Olympics are covered by the BBC, that the formula one season was broadcast by the rival terrestrial network, and that the audience perhaps acted on the understanding that Hamilton will have further chances, it was easy to conclude that a message was being sent.

At the end of last week British Cycling, the biggest of the sport's governing bodies in the UK, announced that its membership has reached 25,000 for the first time, and that 13,000 cyclists now possess racing licences - increases over the past five years from 15,000 and 8,500 respectively. All sorts of events now encourage people to take part, from races for folding bikes around the grounds of Beaulieu to the large British participation in the annual Etape du Tour, when amateurs take on a mountain stage of the Tour de France. On the roads of British cities, more and more cycling commuters are challenging the assumption that cars and lorries rule, with pathetically little support from central or local government.

And for the internal combustion engine, the current global financial crisis looks like a death sentence. A US government bailout for Detroit's big three automobile makers, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote last week, is the equivalent of putting money into an improved typewriter on the eve of the invention of the personal computer, in CD manufacturing just as the iPod was being dreamed up, or in the mail-order catalogue business at the time of the birth of eBay. What they ought to be doing, he suggested, is investing in the inventor of a new electric car network, whose vision might just represent the future.

This doesn't devalue Hamilton's success in the slightest. In 10 years' time, he might be winning world titles at the wheel of an electric car. In the meantime, with luck, more and more people will be following the example of a group of self-propelled sportsmen and women who looked pretty good in Sunday's spotlight.


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