British cycling is having a moment. A moment that’s been more than two decades in the making. A moment that is now bringing home the silverware.
When Simon Yates finished the gruelling mountain stage of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana in Andorra on Saturday, he sealed his first Grand Tour win.
Now, as he prepares for the processional last leg in Madrid, the 26-year-old cyclist from Bury, Greater Manchester, hasn’t just pulled off a remarkable victory, he’s made history.
His success means a clean sweep in this year’s Grand Tours by three British riders after Chris Froome’s win at the Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas brought home the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. It’s unprecedented. And it’s the 5th consecutive Grand Tour win for Britain. An unthinkable prospect until perhaps now.
“The development programmes that we were able to put in place because of lottery funding over the last 20 years, that’s channelled an enormous amount of talent into the system,” says Brian Cookson, the former president of British Cycling and UCI president.
“When we adopted that kind of basic strategy 20 years ago, people laughed. People said ‘that’ll never happen, cycling is a sport that’s dominated by mainland European nations’. And so it was.
“But I think we’ve shown that we can compete with the best and certainly in terms of the road races this year, the three big Grand Tour races, we’ve shown that it can be done, and we’ve thrown the gauntlet down to the other nations to try and do the same.”
Not only would this have been a fantasy for Britain a few years ago. This success is inspiring the next generation of cyclists to dream big.
We joined Simon Yates’s former youth club at the Manchester velodrome. He and his twin brother and teammate, Adam, trained here from the age of 12. The pair have become known as “four-legged Yates” in Spain during the Vuelta.
“I could never tell them apart until Simon started wearing a blue helmet and Adam a red. Or maybe the other way round,” says Brian Ormerod who coached the brothers for around six years in the Eastlands Velo Club.
When I ask him if having the velodrome made a difference, he’s clear in his response. “We nicknamed the place the medal factory. It was very important and it was only because of the success of riders at Manchester velodrome that they started building other velodromes around the country.”
Manchester was the first of the country’s five covered velodromes. Before it opened in 1994 youth clubs would have to make do and train outside. Now, many say, what we’re seeing is the investment of this infrastructure paying off in British wins and British medals.
The Yates’s brothers former youth club now has nearly 150 members and is growing year on year. It’s clear their success is inspiring children to join the sport. And strive.
“It’s weird to look at them and think they were once small kids who did cycling for the first time but then they’re like incredible now,” says 16-year-old Ellie. “It’s weird because any one of us could be like one of them. I think that’s weird but cool.”
While the success of British cycling has brought much scrutiny surrounding doping and tests, it’s clear competitors now regard Britain’s domination as a serious threat. And it’s perhaps a template that could be looked to by other sports to inspire the next generation.
“I want to be a world champion,” says 12-year-old Archer. “And an Olympic champion,” he adds. That’ll do.