Sunday 22 July 2012

Have we fallen in love with cycling?

It's the last day of the Tour de France today. For the first time in the Tour's 99 year history, we have a British winner in Bradley Wiggins.

Rather than ending 99 'years of hurt' it's more a case of 'wow we're actually pretty good at this cycling game!'

Bradley Wiggins explains what winning the Tour de France means to him

I've become a bit obsessed with the Tour de France in recent years. I was always aware of it, but probably like a lot of people I didn't really get it.

Last year I decided to make an effort to understand what it was all about. I spent an entire afternoon watching it until it all started to make sense.

Within a few days I was hooked, and I couldn't wait to get home after work for ITV4's highlights show at 7:00.

Now if anyone mentions peletons, prologues, time trials, and major journes it all make sense to me.

Cycling isn't traditionally a sport we really do in Britain. It's all very continental, a sport dominated by the French, Spanish and Belgium.

But perhaps things are changing. With Bradley Wiggins Tour victory, Britain's cycling track dominance in the last Olympic Games and more people cycling on the roads - maybe cycling is becoming a major sport in this country?

After watching last year's Tour de France I developed a new found respect for cyclists.

They're without doubt some of the toughest and hardest athletes around. This helps explain why I have so much respect and admiration for what Bradley Wiggins has achieved.

Watching this year's Tour, I've found him a compelling character. Forthright in his opinions during press conferences, outspoken against drug users, a bit of a neo Mod, and he speaks fluent French - he's become one of my favourite sport stars.

Sir Chris Hoy who won 3 Olympic gold in Beijing said Wiggins winning the Tour de France would be one of the greatest achievements of all time by a British sportsmen.

He's probably right, but Wiggins success is just part of the latest chapter in the growth of British cycling.

Britain dominated track cycling during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but this wasn't some bizarre one off success; it was the result of years of development in the sport aided by lottery funding to push British cycling to the forefront of world cycling.

That track success was used as a springboard to launch Team Sky with the aim of delivering a British winner of the Tour de France which has now been achieved.

It's going to be fascinating to see what Wiggins success will mean for cycling in the future. Cycling's been growing for a number of years now, and the likes of Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Victoria Pendleton have become household names. There's a real opportunity for cycling to develop in a way we've never seen before in this country.

Anyone who spends time in central London will know just how many people are cycling. Whether it's for leisure or as their main mode of transport, cycling is booming.

It's a great way to stay fit, it's economical, environmentally friendly and it's become fashionable to ride a bike.

There are downsides, particularly in London with the number of cyclists injured or killed on the roads. This is probably something which puts me off riding a bike in the city.

Despite this, cycling is enjoying a golden age both as a pastime and a professional sport in the UK, we'll have to see if it's just a passing phase or a breakthrough for the sport.

I'm now looking forward to the Olympics next week, with the Olympic road race taking place next Saturday. I'll think I'll pop down to the Mall to show my support for the likes of Cavendish and Wiggins.

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