A word from a cycling fan about a vital vote
I started cycling in early 1990. I was 12 years old.
I rode a bike when I was younger, like pretty much everyone. But early 1990 was when I joined a cycling club.
A mate of my brother was visiting our house. He had a really lovely MBK road bike that I was insanely jealous of. He was a member of the local cycling club and said that I should join up if I liked riding my bike so much. That following weekend I did my first club ride.
Over the following eight or so years I trained, raced and rode my bike. A lot. I missed underage drinking with school friends on a Saturday night. I woke regularly at 5am on Sunday mornings to be driven to races in far-flung corners of the county, and country – thanks dad.
Back then cycling was not the massively popular sport it is now – in the UK at least. It was niche. A sport made up of old-timers and mis-fits with a tiny trickle of youngster like myself joining clubs. It was not cool. But I loved it.
I managed to thrash my body into reasonable enough shape to race at international level. I rode the Junior Tour of Ireland in 1995 – the year that Charly Wegelius (ex pro) and David Millar (current pro) rode it. I rode the Junior Tour of Wales and the National 10 and 25 mile time trial championships. I didn’t win any of these events. But I didn’t disgrace myself either.
I don’t have an awful lot to show for my time as a racing cyclist, tangibly at least. A couple of Lincolnshire and Humberside divisional championship road race and criterium silver medals and a bunch of trophies from various time trial and hill climb(!) events at my club.
But it’s not the tangible things that cycling has given me.
It’s given me life-long friendships and really happy memories and continues to do so. It’s provided me with stories of suffering and visiting dark places in races that I’ll dine out on for the rest of my life. ‘You weren’t there man…’ And countless feelings of personal achievement that make me a bit emotional when I think back.
Over that period I’d like to think I drove myself close to the limits of my talent. Maybe I could have done an extra hour here and there instead of sitting in a cafe on a training ride. But hey, I was young and stupid.
As my achievements were relatively modest, I never sampled life in continental Europe as a racing cyclist in the mid-late 90s. I didn’t have my dreams shattered when I realised that the reason those pros could perform those seemingly heroic feats up those Alpine passes was because they were well ‘prepared’. My career wasn’t robbed due to not wanting to conform, or my life taken when I decided to ‘fit in’ but mis-judged the preparation.
Cycling has been through some dark places in the last 15 years - just like a rider does in a race. But, as I’ve found out, you don’t die. With the correct treatment and care you just get stronger.
Tomorrow, the 42 delegates from the 179 national cycling federations will vote to decide the next president of the UCI.
I’m not a fan of change for change’s sake. But I believe that a change at the top of the sport won’t be change for its own sake. This is needed, boy is it needed.
It’s needed for every aspiring young cyclist joining a club now to know that they are entering a sport that is fair and just.
It’s needed for us fans who love the sport so very much and have made it part of our lives. I don’t want to have to suspend my disbelief any more. I want to trust every performance I witness.
It’s vital to bring cycling out of the darkness once and for all and to nurture it into a stronger, fitter, healthier place for it to thrive.