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Sky’s biggest achievement in cycling? Getting more Brits on bikes, says Brailsford

Today marks the end of broadcaster's backing of cycling, which lasted more than a decade...

Forget bankrolling a team that has won six of the last seven editions of the Tour de France; Sir Dave Brailsford says Sky’s biggest achievement in cycling has been getting more people riding bikes in Great Britain.

Besides sponsoring the UCI WorldTour outfit that Brailsford is team principal of, the broadcaster also backed British Cycling – where he was formerly performance director – from 2008-16, a period that saw the introduction of mass participation Sky Rides across the country.

Last year, British Cycling said that its membership had risen almost tenfold from 16,500 members in 2005 to 145,000, and is now  equally split between competitive and leisure riders.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Brailsford said that events such as those, which continue under the banner of successor sponsor HSBC, had helped encourage people to get in the saddle as well as increasing interest in cycling.

“The majority of the time people stop me and say – 'I never used to ride my bike and then I started riding' – some of them for fitness, some racing,” he said.

"As a youngster growing up in north Wales, trying to get into the sport of cycling was not easy. I ended up packing my bike up in a box and going off to France to pursue my dream.

"Now when I go back, there is a thriving cycling culture in that little area of north Wales with a fantastic club. For me, that signifies what has happened in the rest of the country.

"Despite the fact that we have been terrifically successful in the big races, I think what has happened from a participation point of view is actually what gives me the greatest pleasure and is the biggest achievement that Team Sky made."

He was speaking as he reflected on the team’s path over the past decade that saw it win the Tour de France six times in the past seven years, prior to petrochemicals group Ineos taking over sponsorship, and the UCI WorldTour outfit’s management company.

Officially, the change in ownership takes effect from tomorrow, but this afternoon Team Ineos made its debut at the Prologue of the Tour de Romandie, with the final race in Team Sky’s colours taking place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.

Geraint Thomas – fifth today – and his team-mates are racing in the Swiss one-week race in a one-off black kit with Ineos logos, but the jersey the team will wear for the rest of the season will be officially unveiled tomorrow ahead of the Tour de Yorkshire, which starts on Thursday.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Simon E | 5 years ago

Our club membership peaked at 400 the year after Wiggins' Tour-Olympic double. It has declined gradually since then, to under 300 for the last couple of years. The head coach at the club noted that there was no growth in interest after Geraint Thomas's Tour win last year. While G is a popular and likeable guy, and he did the rounds on telly etc, I'm sure Maindy Flyers will have been overwhelmed but it hasn't hit clubs like ours.

Time trialling participation is declining very gradually, according to a 'state of the nation' article in the Comic last week. Not sure about circuit race entries, though they seem to have declined (is Zwift to blame?) in the last couple of years and many organisers continue to struggling to attract women to compete. Cyclo-cross is booming and is the one discipline that is bucking the apparent trend. I'd certainly not want to give Team Sky the credit for its popularity.

But there are significantly more people riding socially. Quite how many I'd not like to say but, as pointed out above, the term MAMIL didn't exist before Sky and there are groups and individuals logging decent miles at weekends who wouldn't have been doing that 10 or more years ago.

But I don't believe that Brailsford really thinks that cycling participation - whether using BC membership numbers, LBS & online sales or whatever other metric you use - is the team's greatest achievement. If it was then surely he'd be on telly talking up the leisure cyclists, sportives and utility cycling. There would still be Sky-branded events or perhaps they'd address their fanbase directly. He would be talking about infrastructure and latent demand that definitely exists ("build it and they will come"). And he wouldn't be spending all of the team's £35 million budget, or whatever it is, solely on trying to win the biggest (male) cycle race in Europe.

Drinfinity | 5 years ago
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Agreed. Our kids did much more cycling through the local Go-Ride club, which was largely possible because of the Sky money through BC. They got into BC cyclocross and velodrome sessions, which then got me into competitive cycling (or entering races, I’m never going to trouble the podium).

Simon E replied to Drinfinity | 5 years ago

Drinfinity wrote:

Agreed. Our kids did much more cycling through the local Go-Ride club, which was largely possible because of the Sky money through BC. They got into BC cyclocross and velodrome sessions, which then got me into competitive cycling (or entering races, I’m never going to trouble the podium).

Is that due to the Sky money? Go-Ride had been going for some time before Sky arrived. There is a floodlit 1km track used for Go-Ride and and all-ability sessions, circuit races, cyclo-cross and even duathlon at Shrewsbury but it the sole reason it exists is due to the tireless efforts of a handful of people in an 'old-fashioned' traditional cycling club.

peted76 | 5 years ago
1 like

Yep ^ this.


Velovoyeur | 5 years ago

There will always be naysayers but, love it or loathe it, Sky's involvment in cycling has been beneficial.

Those of us who have been doing this sport for long enough can recall times when it was considered a geeky, niche sport. Back then, if you asked Joe Public to name a famous cyclist they might have said Eddy Merckx. Now if we use the same test, replies would include Wiggins, Kenny (both Laura and Jason), Cav, Storey, Thomas plus loads more. Sky's input has assisted this increase in profile of cyclists and cycling.

We have seen the introduction of new phrases such as MAMIL. Would all of those middle aged blokes have got on their bikes (mostly Pinarellos) if it wasn't a trendy acticvity or would they have carried on playing golf? Sky's support probably aided the factors that influenced the choices these people made.

The catrchphrase was inspiration to participation and it has been worthwhile. Undeniably, there is still work to do on urban planning, safety, rights and education but the increase in BC membership adds weight to the lobbying and advocacy that cycling in the UK needs. Sky's support enabled this.

The changes that have happened to cycling are down to many factors. Sky's involvement is one of these and for that we should be grateful.


Awavey | 5 years ago

The Sky rides target was a million people I think,which Im sure they claimed they'd achieved before handing over to HSBC.You can debate how they counted that,but for BC membership to have increased by 130,000ish, ok I do know a few people who joined and dont ride bikes (no I've no idea why either), but that's still alot of people inspired to start cycling and paying money yearly to be a member of a cycling focussed organisation.

Plus I'm sure Brailsford would argue overall numbers might now be static,or declining depending on your metric take,but without Team Skys existence that number would have declined a lot further & faster.

They combined together & essentially pushed cycling into the spotlight in the UK in such a way their riders became household names.

BehindTheBikesheds | 5 years ago

More people cycling, how many exactly, quoting more people to sign up to British cycling is not the same as getting more people cycling regularly. People turning out on Hi-Vis rides on closed roads does not and never will transfer to people getting out their cars in any significant way. 

As the stats showed recently, the UK as a whole cycles a bit more in distance but actually overall numbers have remained static.
post the last four olympics plus the TdF et al, we've seen no increases over the country as a whole.

Are more people interested in competitive riding, in some quarters yes, but that's not the cycling we really need/want to change the way things are, too make the roads safer giving vulnerable road users more/better protection and in the justice system, to make getting around more relaxing for those groups plus all the other upsides.



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