a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 27 November 2016

The past and the future?

The history of road cycling in Britain is closely linked with the Cyclists Touring Club, previous generations of cyclists were introduced to cycling through this organisation, and often then progressed to more specialist cycling clubs when they began to race. In his history of the sport Tim Hilton reminds us that during the 1950s when he was introduced to cycling there were hundreds of cycling clubs throughout the country which helped to foster what Hilton describes as a “fellowship of the road between cyclists who thought of themselves as set apart from the rest of the world” In the cycling era of the fifties and sixties which Hilton describes practically everyone raced occasionally, even if they did not compete every week, as a result cycling as recreation was closely intertwined with cycling as sport.

                                                                                  Training the everyday life of racing cyclists

Despite cycling’s popularity, as a country we had a relative lack of success prior to Bradley Wiggins victory in the 2012 Tour de France and Team GB’s success at the London Olympics in the same year. This is due in part to the almost total absence of bike racing in Britain until 1959 when the British Cycling Federation was formed. Bike racing on the road was effectively banned in 1890, a ban put in place by the then governing body of cycling the National Cyclists Union (NCU) and driven by increasing hostility towards racing on public roads (does this sounds familiar?).

Town centre criterium racing - its not the open road

The NCU in its wisdom had decided that cycling should be preserved as a gentleman’s leisure pursuit and they were concerned that the unpopularity of racing with the public, would lead to a total ban on cycling as a recreational activity. It was not until 1922 when the Road Racing Council (RRC) was formed that racing on public roads in Britain was officially sanctioned, and then only in the form of time trials against the clock. Other forms of racing were confined to racing circuits or purpose built cycle circuits (again this sounds quite familiar is history stealthily repeating itself?) 

                                                            Velodromes - they have their place but they are not for everyone

This situation remained until Percy Thornley Stallard a Wolverhampton bicycle shop owner, instigated the re-introduction of road racing by staging an ‘illegal' road race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton on 7th June 1942. The NCU promptly suspended all those involved, and in response Stallard founded the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) The BLRC re-introduced massed start road racing following the continental format by attracting sponsorship and publicity. This approach led to the first Tour of Britain in 1951 under the sponsorship of The Daily Express. Bike racing as a sport remained divided until 1959 when the two organisations ended their feud and merged and The BCF – British Cycling as we now know it today was born.      

                                                     British National Road Race Championships 2016- Stockton on Tees 

Against a backdrop of increasing difficulty in staging races on the public highway in the UK, due to road safety concerns and the associated cost of traffic management provision are we moving towards a situation where only the big races (with big budgets) are staged on the road and all other racing is confined to the new facilities in to which significant amounts of money are currently being invested across the country?

                                              Crit racing on purpose built circuits maybe the only option in the future. 

The increasing influence of Strava and other technological innovations will also affect racing on the road. Will events in the future may be staged as ‘segment races’ with participants competing over the same course individually at a time of their choice, against avatars and the performances of riders who they never have any physical contact with? The results decided by post-race analysis of GPS data – a bit of a stretch perhaps but things are changing that’s for sure, who knows what grass roots road racing will look like in ten years and will we all just be ‘Racing to the CafĂ©’ ? more on this in future blogs.


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