2012 could be British cycling’s most successful year; 12 months in which, to quote Mark Cavendish, the sport goes mainstream.
With two realistic contenders for success in the Tour De France, and an Olympic squad that includes a dominant track team and the favourite for the road race, the nation’s elite performers are set to begin another lap of the virtuous circle that in the four years since Beijing has seen thousands of punters inspired to get on their bikes by the success of the nation’s cycling superstars.
We’ll be doing our bit to set the tone for a year of British cycling success by speaking to key figures from across the sport throughout January, asking them for their hopes, predictions, and advice for the year ahead.
We’re kicking things off with the thoughts of Russell Downing, one of Britain’s elite riders for a decade, a man who’s lived through the Brailsford revolution, facing down the collapse of the Linda McCartney squad, before gaining a ticket to the WorldTour big time with Team Sky by winning the 2009 Tour of Ireland with the modestly funded Candi TV – Marshalls Pasta team. After two years representing Sky at the world’s biggest races, winning the Tour De Wallonie and stages of the Tour of Quatar and Criterium International in 2010 and working tirelessly in support of teammates at WorldTour races including the Giro d’Italia in 2011, Downing will line-up in 2012 for Endura Racing, who, with Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Team IG-Simga Sport, Team Raleigh, and Node4-Giordana (formerly Motorpoint) represent a new breed of highly ambitious British teams.
Downing’s lead out for Cav at last year’s Olympic test event, the London-Surrey Classic, has not gone unnoticed – he’s on the long list of 16 riders competing for a place on Team GB’s five-man road squad for this year’s Games. And with brother Dean, who races for Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Downing runs the Out of the Saddle cycle club in a bid to give something back to the sport.
What are your goals for 2012?
I had a good two years with Sky, but last year was a little different. I was working for other guys, so the big objective this year will be getting back to the old style of racing, and to race to win, and to progress from there.
I’m on the long list of 16 riders for the Olympics, but there will only be five riders selected. It will be hard, but you never know. I’ll just keep working.
Is 2012 the year that cycling becomes mainstream?
I would hope so. Obviously, the success from the past couple of Olympics have raised the profile of cycling and now it’s just the Olympics, its the Tour De France and everything that goes with it. Cav is right – it is going mainstream and hopefully it will continue after the Olympics. There’s more and more interest.
Can Mark Cavendish win the Olympic road race?
I think he can. I was able to help down there in London for the Olympic test event. I did a big lead out for him, and he was good. The road race is a lot longer than the test event and with five riders, it’s quite a different race. With nine riders, it’s easier to control.
What advice would give to anyone bitten by the cycling bug in 2012?
My brother and I have just started a club – the Out of the Saddle cycling club. A few of the local guys have got kids and they’re really enthusiastic to ride with me and my brother. Ben Swift and me went out on a local ride for about three hours with some of the local guys. Everyone really loved it. It gets people interested.
One of the key things I would like to say is that it’s enjoyable and that’s what kids should be doing is to enjoy the sport. Buying a bike and the kit is expensive, but after that the open roads are free of charge and its great to go out and ride your bike.
What bridges does cycling still have to cross in 2012?
It’s moving in the right direction, but the one problem is that it can still be dangerous. Hopefully, now cycling is becoming mainstream, people might realise that some of the guys on the road might be the next Mark Cavendish!