Last week British Cycling published its outline plan for the next four years and nobody could accuse the organisation of lacking in ambition. Among the goals set were: producing a British winner of the Tour de France within 5 years; getting a million more people cycling; boosting its membership to 100,000; and going beyond being a sporting body to embrace cycling “in the broadest sense… under one British Cycling umbrella". Oh, and they need to win a load of gold medals in 2012.
That's a lot to do in four years and it raises questions about just how you go about winning the Tour from scratch while also ensuring you don't take your eye off the Olympic ball, then there's the relationships with Sky, and the other national cycling organisations such as the CTC..
To get the answers we spoke to Ian Drake, British Cycling CEO, and to representatives of the CTC, Sustrans and Cycling England.
road.cc: Where is the talent to do this going to come from - no-one doubts that Britain road cycling's strength in depth at the top level of road cycling is probably at an all time high, but with the best will in the world none of our top rider's looks like a Tour winner – and these guys don't just come from nowhere… so what's the plan?
Ian Drake: Our goal is ambitious but achievable, just look where we were as a cycling nation in 1997. We have some fantastic British talent emerging from our clubs, the go-ride programme and our talent and academy programmes and it’s about developing this talent in the right environment. We are confident that this talent will go on to future Olympic and Tour success now that Team Sky is in place. It is a bold move but the legacy the excitement of Team Sky will generate is as much about getting kids on the bike as riders on the podium.
road.cc: BC's statement identifies this as one of its goals and yet Team Sky belongs to Sky rather than British Cycling which suggests a blurring of boundaries that some BC members may find unsettling. Where does BC end and Sky begin?
Ian Drake: Team Sky is a professional British road cycling team that will be operated entirely by Sky but managed by Dave Brailsford CBE. Dave led the Great Britain Cycling Team to success in Beijing 2008 and will continue his work as Performance Director of British Cycling. Even though there is a clear distinction between Team Sky and British Cycling in business terms, they will share the same performance philosophy and together aim to inspire one million more people to cycle by 2013. Our partnership with Sky is about supporting cycling from grass roots to elite level, so this makes total sense.
road.cc: Leading on from the last question, what is the exact nature of the relationship, and given the differences in scale and resources between the two isn't there a danger that Sky could cease its involvement with cycling as quickly as it has taken it up – does BC have a contingency plan for such an event?
Ian Drake: The partnership with Sky is unique in the world of sport. Our vision is their vision and this is the start of a long-term journey to change people's lives in local communities through cycling. We have substantial support in place from our funding partnership in UK Sport and Sport England already and Sky's partnership is entirely complementary to those objectives and outcomes. Its a long term partnership which I am confident will flourish.
road.cc: We know this is really a question for Sky, but what's in it for them? Top level continental cycling is on free to view satellite, cable, or online, the Tour is on free to view digital as is the ToB, and track cycling is on the BBC.
Ian Drake: Sky’s sponsorship of British Cycling is not about TV rights, it is about promoting cycling from the grass roots to elite level, not the other way round. It is about inspiring and encouraging people to ride at whatever age or ability they are and whichever kind of riding they enjoy. Sky want to get more people participating in our sport we have a shared goal to get one million more people cycling by 2013. As for broadcasting cycling coverage, Sky offer a wealth of cycling programming spread across a number of channels, such as the Tour de France on Eurosport, World Track events on BBC channels and through interactive, mountain biking and BMX on Extreme or Rush. There is also strong interest in cycling on Sky Sports News and some cycling programming on Sky Sports.
"The plan embraces cycling in the broadest sense, from grass roots to the elite level, from track and road to BMX and mountain biking, from leisure to cycling as a form of sustainable transport, under one British Cycling umbrella".
road.cc: There is already an umbrella organisation charged with growing the numbers of cyclists in England - Cycling England, is British Cycling seeking to fill a vacancy that does not exist.
Ian Drake: Cycling England uses funding from the Department for Transport to support a range of organisations such as local authorities, towns, cities and British Cycling to deliver activities designed to get more people cycling. We see our plans as entirely complementary and are in liaison with Cycling England about the Skyride programme. We are looking forward to engaging with the organisation further as the programme expands and gathers momentum.
road.cc: There also large, well-funded membership organisations already working in the areas of leisure cycling and cycling as transport, namely the CTC and Sustrans? What makes British Cycling think it can do better than organisations already acknowledged to be doing good jobs in their particular fields?
Ian Drake: There is a huge latent demand for cycling and we are all working towards the same goal. As identified through the Sport England Active People survey, over 1.9 million adults who are not currently active say that cycling is the one activity they would like to pursue, so we need to ensure that there are enough appropriate activities delivered by a whole range of partners to make this happen.
British Cycling’s remit has always been across cycling as a sport and a pastime but it is only now that we are finally resourced to deliver on both. We are growing faster than any other cycling organisation and we want to use our international success to inspire people to ride their bikes for sport, recreation and travel. What we are doing is entirely complementary to other organisations and will benefit everyone who wants cycling to do well in this country. It will also provide British Cycling with the platform to really grow competitive sport at a rate never seen before.
road.cc: How is British Cycling going to manage its relationships with these organisations (and others) so that cycling doesn't end up with a situation where all its leading organisations are working at cross purposes, and potentially against each other?
Ian Drake: I cannot see how we will be working at cross purposes when all of us want the best for the sport. We are very clearly putting in a participation pathway that will lead people to the sport if they want or help them ride their bike for leisure or travel for life. With so many people out there who want to get involved in cycling, we need a range of diverse programmes and all organisations linked to cycling to help people find a way to our sport.
road.cc: Is this plan an indication that BC is looking to re-position itself for post 2012 when lottery funding is cut and its current membership base will not be sufficient to sustain the organisation at its current size?
Ian Drake: We have grown our membership by over 75 per cent in the last four years and we are currently growing at a rate of 23 per cent per annum. The bigger we grow, the more we can invest in the people who make cycle sport happen in the UK from our members, event organisers and clubs to volunteers and event officials. Everyone will benefit as a consequence of our growth, as there will be more opportunities to participate at all levels.
road.cc: How does BC respond to those, like one of the commenters on our orgingal story, who say that BC should confine itself to looking after cycling as a sport - particularly given that the sporting goals it has set itself are extremely tough?
Ian Drake: Elite sport and participation go hand in hand and will contribute equally to the growth of cycling. The next four years are about linking the two activities and replicating our medal success in the context of more people enjoying the sport. What is driving us is the desire to secure a great future for our sport by linking all the elements that make it happen.
So how do other national cycling organisations view British Cycling's new outline plan?
Cycling England welcomes it, Cycling England Programme Manger, Steve Garidis echoed Ian Drake's comments “British Cycling sits on the board of Cycling England and we wholeheartedly support their plans. Any plans to increase levels of cycling are mutually beneficial to Cycling England.”
Representatives of both British Cycling and the CTC sit on the board of Cycling England, which is essentially a body of experts set up by the government and fully funded by the Departments of Health and Transport – it doesn't have to compete for members. So what about Cycling's two other big membership organisations?
Sustrans has 40,000 supporters who give monthly donations by direct debit. They also have 2,500 volunteer rangers helping to look after the National Cycle Network, and promote cycling and Sustrans.
“We welcome British Cycling's plan to inspire more people to cycle as means of sustainable transport, recreation and sport.
“Sustrans has developed a network of over 12,000 miles of nationwide traffic-free facilities which can be enjoyed for sport and recreational purposes as well as everyday journeys. A third of the National Cycle Network is traffic-free and 75% of the population live within two miles of it.
“We are also working to get more people on their bikes. In 2008 we helped nearly 89,000 children to cycle more often to school, on average doubling regular levels of cycling in schools where we work. 78% of National Cycle Network users say that it has helped them to increase the amount of physical activity they regularly take.
“Sport has an important role to play in getting people on their bikes. Sustrans 'Bike It' officers will be using top ultra cyclist Jim Rees's 'Race Across America' as the theme for one of their annual 'virtual' bike races in schools. This year's race generated a staggering 94,000 extra journeys to school by bike and involved 123 schools.
“We look forward to working with British Cycling to deliver its vision, which very much compliments our own.”
Sustrans Policy Adviser Allan Williams, told us.
And the CTC? They have more members than any other cycling organisation and British Cycling's planned move to “embrace all aspects of cycling” is a significant move into CTC territory. Ian Darke may say that British already embrace those areas, but if they do it's a light embrace.
The CTC didn't want to comment on the record, but a senior official did talk to us off the record. If we were the sort of website that liked to get all tabloid about this sort of thing we'd say his attitude could be summed up as “bring it on”. Luckily we're not.
The CTC was “in a good place, but not complacent” he went on to point out that last month it had recorded it's largest membership since 1895 with 61,500 paying members a fact he contrasted with what he said were the number of discounted and free memberships given away by British Cycling's and its off-shoot Everyday Cycling.
His reading of British Cycling's outline plan was that BC had been handed £26m to win four medals at the 2012 Olympics and that the organisation was trying to justify that sum by doing other things too particularly as winning those medal, in his opinion, was not going to be the formality assumed by many.
According to our source the CTC while the organisation had enormous respect for the work done by British Cycling and Dave Brailsford in particular they had noticed a distinct change in the language used by British Cycling in recent months and at the grassroots CTC Cycling Champions and local officials had also noticed a marked change in attiutdes to them from their British Cycling counterparts of late.
“In a way this is a good thing for us… In the past there has been a sort of gentleman's agreement between the organisations: British Cycling had its £26m to win medals; Sustrans £50m to build infrastructure; and the CTC took care of campaigning and other forms of cycling… British Cycling are taking a totally aggressive commercial approach which will sharpen up our attitudes and free us up to expand into areas such as sportive cycling and for our training division to target performance road bike owners.” He went on to point out that the CTC already had 21,000 members who were performance cyclists.
“The next few years will be pretty interesting” was his summing up of the situation. We'll say if British Cycling manages to achieve even half of the targets it has set itself cycling in Britain will be in a much better state.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.