Alan Rushton has been something of a lifeline for professional bike racing in the UK for decades now. The keen amateur cyclist and former PR man has long been the biggest promoter of top level pro racing in the UK. Despite various wrangling and changes within the national federation his perseverance and commitment to the sport has outlasted his counterparts.
The last time the Tour de France hit British, and also Irish shores, Rushton was the guru responsible, yet he is not involved with this years London grand depart.
We caught up with him in Malaysia, where he was brought in to bring life back to another of his babies – the Tour de Langkawi.
RCUK: For the past two years you’ve not been involved with the TDL, and things have really fallen apart, to the point that the race almost didn’t happen. What is the situation?
AR: The Malaysian government have stepped in and given the race a lifeline, guaranteeing it for a year, and have appointed the Malaysian National Cycling Federation as organisers. I’m here as a consultant, it took 9 years to build the reputation of the event, and the difficulties of the last 2 years have really damaged things. I think the future of the race will depend on how well things go this year, and so far so good!
RCUK: You have the track World Cup happening soon in Manchester, how are things looking, and has the Revolution series impacted the event?
AR: Compared to a stage race organising a track race is easy, as it’s a controlled environment. Last time we made a loss on the event, but it’s looking better this year – we have great BBC coverage and have promoted well. We’ve always tried to space things well with the Revolution series, and I don’t think it harms us; they are one night of entertainment, which is very different to 3 days of world-class competition.
RCUK: Contrary to beliefs, very few people get rich from bike racing. You have had something of a roller coaster ride, and taken some big risks – has it been worth it?
AR: We make a decent living, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever be rich. It has it’s great moments, I think the 2000 track World Cup was probably one of the most satisfying moments, we did things that had never been done before – track centre dining and entertainments etc. For any of us to get rich we need a big sponsor on board.
RCUK: Does the drugs issue make it more difficult these days to find sponsors?
AR: It’s always been an issue, even ten years ago it was a problem, I think I probably just didn’t realise how much of an issue it was. I think it is changing, and although we have bad press it’s also clear that the UCI are very much on the case, which sponsors will notice. They have employed a very prominent Australian lady to head the anti doping initiative, that repute will show sponsors that cycling is very anti drugs, and help encourage them back in,
RCUK: You’re not involved with the London Tour depart, yet we know you are very well linked to ASO?
AR: Yes, it’s all a bit strange. London Transport put the bid out to tender, and we didn’t get it, despite out relationship with ASO and our experience.
RCUK: We hear there may be some major developments in Ireland soon – anything like the Tour of Ireland returning?
AR: Sometime in the next few weeks I think I will be able to make an announcement – so, watch this space!
RCUK: You were not involved in the Tour of Britain either?
AR: No, we simply could not put on the standard of race I would like with the available budget.
RCUK: You have done a great deal for the sport in the UK over the years, if British Cycling came to you and said sort road racing out in the UK, would you? And what would you do?
AR: Umm, yes! Well, we do have a cultural issue, cycling is just not in our blood. I used to be in PR, and know that you can change cultures, but it’s not easy, it takes a long time and lots of hard work and money. You need to have heroes for people to follow, and you need a stage for them to perform on – and that is TV. If we could develop a hero then that would lead to TV exposure and more of a following.
As for the domestic racing; we cannot afford to get driven off the roads. Because of the cultural issues it’s too expensive to police races efficiently. I think there are ways to work smarter; then we would not be driven on to industrial estates and on to closed circuits, which is paramount to the future of road racing in the country.