Forget the new golf, is cycling in the UK the new football?


ImageI’ve noticed a shift in the way people in the UK view cycle racing over the past year as our sport has become ‘mainstream’ and it gives me cause for concern.

I’m a relative newbie, only taking up road racing in 2006, but I have a passion for the history of the sport and spend time watching old footage and reading about the exploits of legends such as Coppi, Merckx, Bartali, Bahamontes. It’s a sport with a rich heritage, grounded in the heartlands of Belgium, Italy and of course France.

Starting in the 80’s, the sport became increasingly anglicised, with first LeMond, then (dare I say the name) Armstrong taking on the best and winning. Or maybe not as it turned out in Lance’s case.

Fast forward 30 years and now GB is top dog. It’s remarkable really. We had a history of performing well on the track, and in the late 00s, Dave Brailsford announced what we’d all been waiting for, Team Sky! Laughably, or so we thought then, Sir Dave announced that Sky’s goal was to win the Tour within 5 years.

ImageTeam Sky launched with the same attention to detail and master planning that had delivered track success and it would be fair to say that the first season fell well below expectations. Told you so, you could almost hear the established teams saying, as they chortled. Sky had everything – the flash Jags for the DS, Pinarello bikes for the riders, the best of kit, and a team bus unlike anything seen before (David Millar christened it the Death Star). Everything then, apart from results.

However now, as I write this at the end of July 2013, amazingly they’ve won the Tour not once, but twice! And who would bet against Chris Froome repeating again next year?

As a Brit, it’s great to see. Particularly this year, where Froome rode with panache after the fairly dull procession last year.

All good then?

Not really, and this is what bothers me. You see, in the UK, we’re used to ‘supporting’ a team when it comes to sports. But that’s not how cycling has worked historically. You don’t have Rabobank corner on Alpe D’Huez, or BMC corner at Place de la Concorde. It’s Dutch / Norwegian corner, the fans there to support the riders from their nation, irrespective of who they ride for. As it should be.

ImageBut during this past Tour, particularly on twitter, it seemed that if you said anything that could at all be construed as negative regards Sky, there was an army ready to jump down your throat! This was stoked by the UK media, who report on the exploits of Team Sky and more often than not pay scant regard to great rides from others.

I love to watch good racing. I don’t support any team. I like to watch the Classics, and to see the best riders go head to head. Cancellara & Boonen. Sagan. Maybe, in the future, Stannard or G. Who they ride for makes no difference to me. But it seems I’m now in the minority.

ImageMaybe it’s some deep tribal thing – it’s how we’re conditioned here in Blighty? don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that Chris Froome, and Team Sky, won. But I’d have been just as pleased if Quintana or Contador had been on the top step of the podium, as both riders illuminated the race. I don’t think there’s a better racer in the peloton than Contador. He has a racers instinct – he doesn’t care what the power meter says. And for me that’s the essence of racing.

Maybe I’m just getting old, and too steeped in the past? Would love to know your thoughts.

12 thoughts on “Forget the new golf, is cycling in the UK the new football?

  1. Unfortunately, I think you are right. And it is absolutely driven by the media, and the confusion with Team GB being run by Sky as well. Sky aren’t even “that” british in terms of their road team. Norwegian, Belarussian, Australian, Austrian,…. and that is before you start an argument over the “Kenyan” or the “Belgian”. And with Cav/Millar/Martin(?) all on other teams makes it a bit strange. Unfortunately, I think the media are going to make it worse over the next few years.

  2. Hi Al,
    I don’t know how you can say Contador is the better racer when Froome whooped him, I also think Froome could have done the business last year.

    1. I didn’t say he is better Ray, but he does have a better race brain than almost anyone else in the peloton. The difference now, however, is that he’s not on the juice, so he’s off the pace….

  3. Hi Ali, You’re wrong 🙂 at least from what I’ve noticed. As someone who cycles, but doesn’t race I’ve been amazed by the endurance and performance of the individual. The teams? I’ve hardly noticed.

    My patients, most of whom aren’t “into cycling” have been talking about Froome, no mention of team sky.

    My boys both 10 and under, keen mountain bikers have picked a different person each day (on this and last years tdf, the nationals in Glasgow and the Olympic cycling as well). Again no teams mentioned.

    I saved my boys for last, as they are possibly the biggest example of why you’re wrong. They now want road bikes, They don’t want a team coloured bike, They want a “that” colour bike or that make bike, again not the colour or make is not related to a team. This should make you happy, because kids of this age are the future of cycling. They don’t spend their time pushing up hills going team sky is going to do it. They say wiggins or contador (or in the case of my youngest ice-cream).

    Teams don’t inspire the passion or the effort, the individual rider does and the individual rider will be the person to inspire the novice on their bike.

    1. Glad to hear it Daniel, especially the impact on your boys. I’ve definitely seen the opposite though, mainly with adults to be fair. I’ve unfollowed a couple of people on twitter because of their bias. There’s also been a few posts on Facebook that have surprised me from people who should know better.

      Let’s hope that your experience reflects the majority and not mine.

      1. Maybe the difference there is between people who were already into their cycling and people who are just finding it. It’s hard for the initiated to understand teams and their tactics. It’s not obvious like passing a ball. The team doesn’t shine only the rider(s)

  4. You said it Al, he’s not on the juice.
    When it mattered Froome could do it without team Sky – without the juice!
    I felt this Tour, Froome didn’t quite get the credit that Wiggins got.

    1. Totally agree Ray. Wiggo is the personality, and I suppose being the first Brit to win made it such a huge deal last year. Froome raced brilliantly this year and will be a force for years to come. I don’t think we’ll see Wiggo in a grand tour again

  5. I’m not a cyclist – or a football fan! – but I really enjoyed following Froome (and Wiggo last year) because they were Brits, in much the same way as I follow Andy Murray, Mo Farah, and several other Brits who are at the top of their sports. It’s always been individuals who have inspired me!

    1. Hi Beth, glad you enjoyed it! I suppose the difference is that cycle is a team sport, although not everyone realises or understands that. Chris Froome couldn’t have won the Tour without a strong team around him.

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