Britain arguably rules the world when it comes to cycling across a host of disciplines and both genders, we have the fastest sprinter in the world, the best grand tour riders, gold medals and world champions galore at track cycling and we are no slouches when it comes to mountain biking and bmx as well. These current successes have been hugely publicised and the likes of Wiggins and Cavendish are household names but how did we get to this position? after all it’s easy to forget that this rampant success was not always how it was.
Back in the deep mists of time (the early 80’s) growing up in South Wales as well as my rugby and footy hero’s I also had a cycling one – Robert Millar, the now reclusive/elusive Scot had, until very recently, the best record of any Britain in the Grand Tours (which are in road cycling terms the top of the tree – win them and cycling immortality beckons). Millar was in cycling terms a climber and could be seen battling at the front on the alpine roads as they snaked upwards and I used to go out on my bike and attack the climbs of South Wales imagining that I too could wear the polka dot jersey as the top climber. I’m now built for comfort not speed or climbing but back then I was whippet thin – about half the weight I am now but with a lot more hair! I doubt many people who do not follow cycling will have heard of Robert Millar and at the time it appeared that he was just a blip, a one off maverick in the best sense of the word. Perhaps this was the way it was always going to be and always had been, the occasional one off cycling genius emerging once in a generation to tackle the continental greats while the general public shrugged their collective shoulders with indifference.
After Millar though ambitious plans started to be made concentrating more on track cycling with the aim of getting an Olympic medal, setting up talent identification programmes to try and build on and sustain this success and eventually transport this success across to the road with an assault on the world championships and the grand tours. In the late 80’s and early 90’s another fantastically maverick Scot, Graeme Obree battled it out with Chris Boardman for track glory culminating in world hour records and Boardman winning Gold at the Barcelona Olympic games. Lottery money began to flow into the sport enabling the ambitious and meticulous plans to be put into effect. Golds flowed on the track and then in 2010 Team Sky was launched to capitalise on the track success and ensure a smooth and symbiotic relationship between the track and the road. To much smirking in the press the stated aim at the launch was to win the Tour de France with a British winner within 5 years, some aim seeing as this had never happened before. The rest as they say is history with two British winners within 4 years and with many of the same personnel both on and off the road masterminding a world championship win for Cavendish.
These are just the headlines though, how did this actually happen? many sports have grand ambitions to be the best but very few can pull it off. Two men who know all about it will be telling all at what is bound to be a fascinating and fun event at Morley Town Hall on 12 October as part of Morley Literature Festival. Rod Ellingworth is the performance manager at Team Sky overseeing the sports directors and race coaches, prior to which he masterminded Cavendish’s world championship win and nurtured many of today’s top riders in his earlier role as coach of the British Cycling U23 squad.
When Ned Boulting first went to cover the Tour de France for ITV a little over 10 years ago he knew next to nothing about cycling, nor the magnitude of the Tour and made the almost criminal error of referring to the leaders sacred maillot jaune as the Yellow Jumper. Slowly though Ned fell in love with cycling in all it’s incredible complexities and took up on two wheels himself as his love turned to obsession and he turned his journalistic skills to hunting down the key figures in British cycling to try to understand what makes them tick.
It’s a real coup for Morley to get Rod and Ned sharing the stage as between them they know the key figures, the plans, the plots and the stories of how Britain has come to rule on two wheels and how more and more of us are following the sport and turning the pedals over ourselves. Tickets to what is bound to be a fun and informative event also include bike valet parking for those who come by bike. If for whatever reason you can’t make it (and I can’t think of one) then I’ll be live tweeting from the event via @ianstreet67
Event / Ticket Details:
The event is on Saturday 12 October 2013, 4.30-5.30 at Morley Town Hall
Tickets are £6.00 and include free valet parking for cyclists, free pedal powered drink, a bike surgery and information to browse about cycling clubs and groups in the area.