If 2012 was the “year of the bike”, cycling in 2013 has a tough act to follow.
We’re confident the sport can meet the challenge, and we’ll be exploring its opportunities to do so in a host of articles this month in our series, ‘Follow that…how 2013 can top 2012.’
A glorious three months of athletic achievement, begun in July with Bradley Wiggins’ historic victory in the Tour de France, came to be known as “Britain’s golden summer”, and received an unexpected extension with a home victory in the Tour of Britain.
If cynics had considered the race a victory lap for Team Sky’s returning heroes, Wiggins and world road race champion, Mark Cavendish, among them, they didn’t tell Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, then leader of Endura Racing.
Mick Bennett, race director of the 2012 Tour of Britain, told RoadCyclingUK that the Devonian’s accession to the leader’s jersey the day before the race entered his home county had been considered a “double whammy success” by the race organisers.
“We obviously realised that following the success of the Olympics with Cav, and Bradley, and a lot of the riders that rode the Olympics actually riding the Tour of Britain helped enormously,” he said, “and then Tiernan-Locke, wearing the leader’s jersey going into Devon on the penultimate day, was just fantastic.”
The Scottish squad had been planning victory in their home race since January, when team manager, Brian Smith, unveiled the team at the London Bike Show by announcing his intention to win the Tour of Britain.
Tiernan-Locke duly delivered. If the thousands who lined the streets, from Scotland to Surrey, did so in the expectation of further success to follow the superb achievements of the Olympic Games, they weren’t disappointed. The rider in the gold jersey was not Bradley Wiggins (although it had been, briefly, Mark Cavendish), but that hardly mattered. Tiernan-Locke’s sudden prominence was, if anything, more exciting to the man and woman at the road side. Just how many world class riders did Britain have tucked away?
Asked if Team GB’s Olympic success fuelled the public’s appetite for the Tour of Britain, Bennett is emphatic. “Undoubtedly.”
“People were inquisitive. They must have seen the Olympics on television, and thought, ‘What is this thing, professional bike racing? Oh, it’s coming our way in September, let’s go and have a look at it,’ so there’s a curiosity, fuelled by the Olympics, but also the fact that we had these Olympic stars in the event helped enormously,” he said.
So how important is a home winner of the national tour to cycling’s continued popularity in Britain? The Grand Tours are so emphatically established, staples on the international calendar and so linked with national identity that a domestic victory hardly matters. France is a greater player in La Grande Boucle than any rider; Claudio Salomoni, international sales manager at Wilier, told RCUK last year that while football commanded greater column inches in Italy, the Giro was the sporting event most loved by the Italian people.
Bennett said he was unable to judge the importance of a home victory to the Tour of Britain. “That’s a good question,” he laughed, “and how can I answer that because I can’t get inside the minds of the public!”
“The fact we had, in Devon for the first time, the leader of the Tour of Britain being a Devonian – it was rather strange how it all happened. I can tell you it wasn’t planned that way!”
To describe Endura Racing as plucky underdogs would be to miscast them, as well as to afford them considerably less than their due after a season that had already brought international success at the Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var, and Tour d’Alsace, but it would be an equal injustice not to applaud the magnitude of their achievement on home soil in overcoming the challenge of the luminaries of cycling’s elite WorldTour.
Beyond the certainty that the race will be staged again this year, from September 15 to 22, the immediate future of the Tour of Britain has been clouded by British Cycling’s unexpected announcement in December that it was putting out to tender the right to stage the 2013 edition. The Sweetspot organisation, of which Bennett is technical director, and which has staged the Tour of Britain since 2004, will be among those bidding to host it again.
Bennett told RCUK that he had “absolutely no idea” about the latest developments in the tender process, adding that while Sweetspot had yet to receive documentation, he expected the organisation would do so in the coming weeks.
“I’m confident that we’ll put in a very detailed tender and a very qualified tender. Whether it’s successful or not, I can’t say. I’m confident in our ability to present the best tender; whether other people see it that way, I can’t comment on,” he said.