Despite Britain's triumph in Manchester, cycling remains an overlooked sport in this country. Yet many things are more important than sport, as a sad event reminds meby Geoffrey Wheatcroft / May 24, 2008 / Leave a comment
Britain’s cycling triumph
As winter turned into what passes for an English spring, sports lovers here had little to celebrate. Our footballers had already failed to qualify for the European Championship, our rugby team struggled and blundered through the Six Nations, our cricketers just about recovered after a pitiful start against the not very formidable New Zealanders.
Then came March, and the miracle of Manchester. I can’t remember the last time anything elated me so much as the magnificent performance of the British cyclists in the World Track Championships, with a haul of nine gold medals. Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, winning the madison with an impossibly daring final burst! Chris Hoy, caught napping by Theo Bos in one heat of the men’s sprint quarter-final, and then coming back to collar him in the next! Shanaze Reade and Victoria Pendleton in the women’s team sprint—what a pair of babes! And Rebecca Romero! When England managed to win the Ashes, the team blearily toured London in an an open bus and were fêted at Downing Street. The cyclists should have been taken to Windsor and garlanded with gongs.
Maybe we should think ourselves lucky that we were able to follow that triumph at all. Although cycling, including competitive racing, is actually one of the most popular participation sports in the country, cycle sport is treated by the media as if it were as recondite as croquet. Sheer national pride meant that Manchester was given the billing it deserved, but the cycling fan often looks in vain for basic information, as with the Ronde van Vlaanderen on the first Sunday in April.
One of the great one-day classics and an enthralling spectacle, this Tour of Flanders zigzags across what look deceptively like the plains of northern Belgium until the riders hit the “walls”—a succession of pretty villages where narrow cobbled streets run uphill at horrifyingly steep gradients. The race was won by the Stijn Devolder, the Belgian champion, a fine attacking ride in the course of an exhilarating afternoon of thrills and spills, if you could follow it at all.
For the London papers, the Ronde barely existed. Eurosport promised us a modest session in mid-afternoon, but then, in a way that was capricious even by the standards of satellite television, forgot all about it and showed motorbikes instead. They managed to show the highlights later, so at least we…