Chris Boardman has reaffirmed his interest in becoming the UK’s cycling champion, saying he was ready to sacrifice other commitments to make us a healthier, happier nation of bike riders.
The statement of intent reinforces the former Olympic individual pursuit champion and three-time hour record breaker’s status as the country’s most high-profile cycling campaigner.
At the launch of 25 new bikes bearing his name earlier this week, Boardman told BikeRadar: “I’ve been interested in it for a long time…I would do it and I would give up other things to do it because it’s worthwhile.”
If the will is apparent, Boardman’s capacity is growing too. In April, he stepped down as British Cycling’s R&D director, where he helped Team GB collect 12 cycling medals at the London Olympics. It crowned nine years in managerial and technical roles at the federation.
The handover to his successor, F1 aerodynamics guru Tony Purnell is now almost complete too. “That’s happened much more quickly than I could even have hoped,” said Bordman.
What has remained is his status as a British Cycling policy advisor. And over the course of the summer, as the federation’s voice as a lobbying group has grown, Boardman’s not shied from chiming in. He’s given evidence before Parliamentary committees, fought against calls for mandatory helmet use and appeared any number of media appointments defending the right for people to cycle safely.
It’s a role he loves and the bit of the job he wants to keep.
Chris Boardman has attended numerous media calls to promote cycling, such as the 2011 Team Green Britain Bike Week
So what does Boardman make of the past few months, when cycling’s stars aligned for a second summer? Lest we forget, Britain got the roadmap and accompanying political rhetoric to put pedal power closer to the centre of transport policy; Prime Minister David Cameron announced extra millions for cycling improvements in eight cities and four national parks, and in an unprecedented step, London was practically shut down for the Prudential RideLondon weekend. Just last week, Wales passed cycle friendly legislation too. On the periphery, but making a massive feel-good factor contribution, Chris Froome became Britain’s second Tour de France winner.
Boardman reflected he had liked what he heard, but disliked what he saw as the stubborn absence of meaningful government funding and the grindingly slow pace of change.
“When you can actually get your Prime Minister to say out loud we’re going to put cycling at the heart of our transport policy, that we’re going to cycle-proof roads and you have a debate on the floor of the House – they’re all good things.
“But when you look at the numbers and there are eight demonstration cities that can bid for 160 million quid, and there’s a £150 billion set aside for the Highways Agency, it doesn’t add up.
“There’s lots of really good stuff happening but it’s annoyingly slow. It’s more that we can’t afford not to do it and that’s what makes me feel like screaming.”
Boardman’s words are fine ones and he’s in the luxurious position of being able to say he would take the role without fear of having to make an actual commitment. The Government says it has no plans to introduce the big-hitting cycling champion role the Get Britain Cycling report called for – one with power to co-ordinate cycling policy across Whitehall and knock heads when needed.
In fact the current Tory-led government claims they already have a cycling champion: Norman Baker, a junior Liberal Democrat minister in the Department for Transport. Boardman lampooned the Government’s claim. “Whey, champion?!” he scoffed while waving an invisible miniature flag.
But a couple of years down the line after the next general election, Boardman might have to act. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have laid out pledges to attract the cyclists’ vote and its hard to imagine the Conservatives wouldn’t make an offering too. Both parties’ core pledges come from the GBC report and the sheer breadth of their ambition implicitly demands some sort of co-ordinating power. With teeth.
Could Boardman be the person?
“It might sound cheesy, but it’s meaningful,” said Boardman. “You have kids and the further you step away the more perspective you have, and it just seems ludicrous that you spend a chunk of your life trying to ride around in circles faster than other people. But this bit – transport, health – if you could actually help [develop that], that’s big.”
Yes, right now, the scenarios are fantasies and questions hypothetical. But if the post existed post 2015, Boardman would surely be in with a good shout.