Tom Southam

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Tom Southam

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By all accounts, apart from that of Eamonn Holmes - who was so tragically made late for an appearance at a dog show - the Olympic games test event on Sunday was a huge success.

Putting a road race on in one of the most crowded and sizeable cities in Europe is no small feat. It was great to hear then from my team-mates who rode the race, that it was up to scratch, and not just by UK standards, but by the standards of the top continental professionals who came over to compete in it.

Cycling in Britain has come a long, long way, in a short space of time. At the moment as the world sees it, British cycling is probably 60% Mark Cavendish, 25% team Sky and 15% Bradley Wiggins.

This is about right; the feats that these guys have achieved in the international arena deserve to define British cycling at the current time (I am talking just road racing here).

What would be great if it could happen, and it already is slowly, would be if we could get more of this international racing in this country. For many years top flight racing in the UK has been hampered by a lack of understanding.

Not only from the irate drivers (like pudgy old Holmes) who were potentially delayed by the race's use of the public highway, but also the police and marshals in a country that just isn't used to bike races on the roads.

When I rode the first edition of the newly branded Tour of Britain in 2004, one of my stand out memories was Roger Hammond having to go between riders and organisers pleading for some sort of agreement to make the race continue.

We had just ridden through the centre of Blackpool into oncoming traffic; I think that the motorbike marshalls had been sent the wrong way, and we were left racing at 45km/h unprotected into unknowing traffic.

This was the kind of general chaos that English riders might have casually expected, but to the European professionals it was akin to breaking the Geneva Convention.

Thanks to Roger, and Tim Harris' swift intervention, the race did continue, and apart from 40 or so riders being sent 'the wrong way' with a kilometre to go on the same stage, all kind of ended well.

They even managed to close down the centre of London for us to ride the final stage past Big Ben.

At the time this was amazing to me, I had raced abroad since I was 12 due to the fact that pretty much no one cared about cycling in the UK. Back then races tended to finish high up on a moor with two men and not even a dog watching.

Getting to race on the streets of our capital was quite something. At the time Charly Wegelius and I, who both lived and raced in Italy, were beside ourselves with excitement. I remember us saying to each other all week "Imagine if we could race in the UK and it was like this all the time".

On Sunday, Dan Craven told me that the crowds were so thick he suffered from sensory overload.

Reports claimed that there wasn't a single part of the course that didn't have spectators lining it. What's more there was a British winner, riding for the British team, who will undoubtedly be the favourite for the real thing in a year's time - most likely as reigning world champion at the head of a British Pro team.

The interest from fans is clearly there, and after a few years of mixed efforts there seems to be organisers capable of putting on good safe races in this country (if you can do it in London, you can do it anywhere else) so now would be a good a time as any to capitalise on this and start getting some more decent races happening in Britain.

The enormous amount of public money that has gone into British Cycling has been well spent. We've got the top end of the sport covered, we have the most bankable star in the sport, and we have one of the richest teams. But if the sport as a whole is going to benefit, we need a stronger programme of races on our doorstep.

This would not only offer a wider spectrum of British riders the opportunity to race at a higher level, thus bringing the standard up for everyone, (while also offering sponsors better platform for exposure) but also to give the many thousands of fans who clearly relish the opportunity to go and see our new bona-fide superstars race at home.

There is obviously a lot more to it than that, rider interest for one — a lot of new races struggle because they simply don't mean anything to the riders. But what can make an average race a good race isn't just the tradition or the circuits, but also the passion of the fans, something that Britain is clearly not short of at the moment.

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