Reuters - Thu, 01 Apr 17:31:00 2010
In the week when it was confirmed that a British team would contest the Tour de France for the first time in nine years, British Cycling has been forced to launch a campaign to save road racing in the country.
Under increasing pressure from over-zealous policing and petty officialdom, the traditional road race is struggling with several high-profile events cancelled in recent seasons.
In a bid to turn things round BC have launched their "Keep Racing On The Roads" campaign to ensure that there will be a next generation to follow in the tyre tracks of the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.
"One of the reasons that track cycling has got its own momentum is that you've got all those heroes, those medallists who young people look up to," said BC's policy and legal affairs director Martin Gibbs.
"That's starting to happen on the road now with people like Wiggins and Cavendish and young people will want to emulate that. But it's now harder to find a road race to do than it was 20 years ago so there is this absence of opportunities that we absolutely have to address.
"It's getting harder and harder to put on races and we are losing them."
While mass road races are part and parcel of life in much of continental Europe, they are still seen as something of an obstruction to traffic in Britain, with rules and regulations controlling them subject to the whim of local police forces.
BC has launched a three-pronged campaign to reverse the decline. They want tighter controls on money charged for policing the event, they want race marshals to be given legal powers to halt traffic and they want a change to the laws governing "racing on the highway" -- described by Gibbs as "a horrible piece of 1960s secondary legislation."
"It allows police to add any further conditions they like," he said. "We don't want any problems with safety, obviously, but that legislation means that if police are hostile they can effectively "condition" the races off the roads.
"We've been working on this for a long time and with the election coming up we thought it was the right time to press on with it. We are aware that there are many bodies all trying to get their various interests heard so getting that changed will be hardest.
"But the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have been helpful and we are working with the Department of Transport, so we are hopeful."
With Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson both high-profile cyclists, a change of government could accelerate progress but BC is banking on the increased exposure, whatever the result of the general election, helping their case.
"We've got a real opportunity with Team Sky and the Olympics coming up," Gibbs said. "It's a performance issue and a grass roots sports issue and of course it's free. We're not asking for people to give us a load of money, just a bit of help."
The campaign will be helped by Team Sky's appearance in this year's Tour de France, the first British assault on the race since Linda McCartney's team collapsed in chaos in 2001.
Wiggins, who matched Robert Millar's best-ever finish by a Briton with his fourth-place last year, leads a squad packed with talent and backed to the hilt with finance and personnel.
Team Principal Dave Brailsford, the mastermind behind Britain's astonishing cycling success at the Beijing Olympics, has said from the start that unlike his medal-targeted track programme, Team Sky has a much broader remit.
"We want to make heroes, persuade a generation to pull on Team Sky colours and simply inspire people to ride," he said.
Wiggins, who like most of his team mates learned his trade in the very races that are now under threat in the UK, has a similar outlook.
"Team Sky has huge ambitions," he said. "Not just for the team but for cycling and inspiring the public to get out and ride."