Who would you say are the most influential people in British road cycling today? You’ll probably think of an athlete or two, maybe some of the better-known coaches, perhaps a politician. The truth is, there are many people having an influence on our sport in the UK, and any list will inevitably be debated and added to by others.
With that in mind, Cycling Plus magazine has come up with its list of the 15 individuals who hold great sway on road cycling in the UK. Anyone missing? Have your say in the comments…
15. Stefan Barden
The June 2016 announcement of the Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles merger to become WiggleCRC – a single retail brand with an estimated €253 million revenue – is the latest string to the bow of Wiggle CEO Stefan Barden.
Operating in up to 120 countries, the firm reported a 16.7 percent jump in full-year profits in June 2016 and an 11.5 percent lift in sales to £179m. UK sales of bikes, accessories and apparel such as dhb still account for around half of Wiggle’s revenue.
“We were in the right place at the right time and have been caught in the cycling zeitgeist” Barden tells us. “I recall back in 2001 discussing ways the internet could supply products to customers but the technology, bandwidth and payment gateways weren’t up to speed then.
“Fast-forward 15 years and the world has changed. We now have the infrastructure to offer a wide range of products at ‘never beaten’ prices.
“The shift in cycling culture has been pivotal – men like myself, who have a passion for sport and are looking to feed a low-impact hobby with increasingly innovative bits of kit, are key. We’re focused on customer feedback and meeting the increasingly refined demands of cyclists and runners. I can’t say where the next ‘big thing’ will come from, although I do think gravel bikes will become more popular as cyclists look at ways to combine road and off-road adventures.”
14. Hugh Brasher
When the UCI awarded the RideLondon-Surrey Classic men’s race WorldTour status in August 2016, the move was widely applauded as being deserved recognition for a marquee event. Perhaps even more importantly, the accompanying sportive has inspired thousands to take to two wheels and raised millions for UK charities.
To secure a spot in the top echelon of professional men’s cycling – after just four years – owes much to event director Hugh Brasher. Brasher was charged with creating a 2012 Olympics legacy event and brought together the London & Surrey Cycling Partnership, local authorities, the highways agency, sponsors such as Prudential and media partner the BBC to create a commemoration ride that’s gone on to become a weekend festival featuring over 100,000 riders and including the world’s richest one-day race, now Britain’s only UCI WorldTour event.
“RideLondon has inspired thousands of cyclists, raised millions for UK charities and now features Britain’s only UCI WorldTour race”
13. Isla Rowntree
As a former three-time national cyclocross champion and British veteran cross-country mountain bike champion, Isla Rowntree knows a thing or two about bike-handling. But it’s as the creator of her own line of children’s bicycles – Islabikes – in 2005 that she has had her greatest impact, encouraging children to adopt those skills early in life.
Today there is a whole generation of kids extremely glad that she did. With a reputation for producing children’s bikes with a modern, adult specification – paying specific attention to child development and bike-fit – she’s led the way in ensuring the next wave of Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendletons have discerning standards.
“My motivation was to create a better cycling experience for children, ” she says, and she’s proud of the impact her creation has had. “Islabikes have touched more lives than anything else I have done so that’s definitely my greatest achievement – but if we are talking on a personal level my three National cyclocross titles are up there.”
For someone whose focus is on developing future cyclists, she sees the next big developments coming in the shape of ultra-low-maintenance cycles. “Routine but daunting maintenance tasks prevent so many everyday cyclists from riding and result in bikes languishing unused in sheds.”
12. Mick Bennett
Re-established in the cycling calendar in 2004, the Tour of Britain has become a leading UCI race and the country’s largest annual free-to-spectate sporting event, and that is largely thanks to its race director Mick Bennett.
Bennett only took up cycling as a remedy for an inflamed knee problem when in his teens, before going on to represent Great Britain in the team pursuit at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Having also directed the Prudential RideLondon and worked as creative director of The Cycle Show, Bennett’s reputation as a ‘can-do man’ gained prominence when he devised London’s hosting of the 2007 Tour de France Grand Départ in London
However, he’s possibly most recently remembered as being the man Lizzie Deignan crashed into after the first stage of the 2015 Women’s Tour, which he also organises and which has quickly become one of the most prestigious events on the women’s professional calendar.
11. Sir Gary Verity
Head of ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ and credited with leading the successful campaign that brought the Tour de France to the north of England, Verity enlisted support from the public and private sector to help secure the Grand Départ in 2014, bringing the world’s largest annual sporting event to Yorkshire ahead of Florence, Barcelona and Berlin.
Aside from the economic boost, the Tour’s visit to Yorkshire inspired organiser ASO to return annually with the Tour de Yorkshire stage race and thousands to take to the hills and dales with a legacy that includes new cycling clubs, school cycling teams, GoRide! initiatives and cycle-focused local business forums.
According to Sport England’s figures, Yorkshire now has 12,000 cycling club members and the second highest percentage of its population cycling at least once a week in England. That’s up from seventh before Verity and Le Tour arrived. He was knighted in 2015 for services to tourism.
10. Bob Howden
Alongside Chris Froome among the cycling dignitaries recognised in the 2016 New Year’s honours list is the current president and chairman of British Cycling, Bob Howden. The founder of the Yorkshire Festival of Cycling and one-time organiser of the British Cycling National Road Championships, Howden heads up one of the world’s leading national governing bodies – with over 120,000 members – which has responsibility for promoting cycling at a grassroots level while also managing the continuously growing domestic cycling sports calendar.
As chair he’s tasked with ensuring British Cycling continues to develop cycling across all disciplines while also lobbying local and national government to prioritise cycling. Challenging enough, but Howden was also forced to act swiftly to counter allegations of a culture of bullying within the Great Britain Cycling Team in light of the Shane Sutton affair in March 2016.
“He’s tasked with ensuring British Cycling continues to develop while also lobbying local and national government”
9. Sadiq Khan
When it comes to promoting cycling, some would say Khan has a hard act to follow. In 2010 his predecessor as mayor of London, Boris Johnson, led the expansion of a cycle hire scheme originally unveiled by Ken Livingstone in 2008 – and the term ‘Boris bikes’ passed into British public parlance.
To his credit Khan has already backed up his words with actions – approving a controversial new Cycle Superhighway in the capital (CS11 Swiss Cottage-Oxford Street), and within 100 days of being elected to office he pushed through an £11 million fund to tackle the capital’s most polluted boroughs with an emphasis on improving cycle routes.
8. Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead)
One of the most successful female professional cyclists racing today entered 2016 as the reigning World, Commonwealth and National road race champion with her focus on the Rio Olympics and matching or improving upon the silver medal she won in the London 2012 road race.
The former track cyclist from Otley in West Yorkshire looked on course to do so as she began the year with a string of victories in UCI WorldTour events, including the Strade Bianche in Italy, Belgium’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as well as the Tour of Flanders and Britain’s Women’s Tour.
But on the eve of the women’s road race in Rio her status as a ‘clean’ athlete was brought into question with the revelation that she faced suspension following three missed drugs tests within a 12-month period.
Deignan successfully avoided a ban when the Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted that one of the tests was void, but she ultimately missed out on a medal in Rio.
With a higher profile than any other female British road cyclist, and a reputation to restore, we can expect Deignan to embrace her position as an ambassador for the sport going forwards. If her victories can inspire the next generation of female riders, Britain should emerge stronger than ever.
7. Davina McCall
The Sky Ride ambassador and ‘veteran’ of Comic Relief charity rides, Davina McCall only took cycling up in her 40s. Since then the TV presenter has completed a number of impressive cycling challenges, urging others to take to the saddle in the process.
Now 48, she campaigns for increased opportunities for women cyclists, runs her own annual Sussex ride for the charity Action Medical Research for Children, and is credited with having done for the Mumsnet generation what Bradley Wiggins did for the rise of the MAMIL – all hail the OWLs (Older Women in Lycra!).
6. Chris Froome
“I’ve won three and I can’t say the novelty is wearing off,” announced the Team Sky rider following his triple success in the Tour de France.
“I will keep coming back for the next five or six years to give it my best shot.” Those best shots have seen him reach stellar heights since ‘Froomey’ first shot to prominence by finishing runner up at the 2011 Vuelta, followed by a one-two triumph for Team Sky behind Bradley Wiggins at the 2012 Tour.
His 2013 campaign saw him take over from Wiggins as team leader and win three stages en route to his first Tour de France success. The following year, a series of crashes and injury forced him to abandon his defence. But his 2015 victory in the face of adversity – including having urine thrown at him – and this year’s win have been greeted with acclaim. In Rio he matched the bronze medal he won in the time trial at London 2012 and his presence at the front of the world’s biggest race helps maintain cycling’s profile in the UK.
5. Chris Boardman
The former Olympic gold medallist and three-time world champion cyclist continues to campaign for improvements to the nation’s roadways, planning and mindset in a bid to emulate model cycling cities such as Utrecht and Groningen in the Netherlands.
“Key to making it work is to make the space for cycling, with priorities on cycling when planning roads and redeveloping areas of the city,” Boardman tells us.
In the build-up to the London mayoral election, Boardman tore into the manifestos of both leading candidates – calling Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith’s purported pro-cycling credentials ‘dubious’ and telling Labour’s Sadiq Khan to put his money where his mouth is on taking office.
In May 2016 Boardman, now British Cycling’s policy adviser, also took members of the government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling to task over the government’s draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which comes in at just £1 per head.
“If I were presenting the government’s cycling investment strategy as a workable proposal I would be laughed out of the room,” he says. Boardman is being supported by the #ChooseCycling Network – a group of 40 businesses and organisations that would like to see nearer £10 per head invested in cycling. “Greater spending on cycling is something that 70 percent of people in Britain agree with, and increasingly businesses across all sectors.”
4. Brian Cookson
The UCI president has used his media commitments in 2016 to launch a subtle bid for re-election next year with a series of manifesto announcements and discussion points he feels the sport needs to address.
For 16 years Cookson, as president of British Cycling, oversaw and nurtured the sport towards becoming a national source of pride and success on the world stage, drastically increasing participation at the same time. He describes his role as a combination of ‘fire-fighter and long-term planner’.
On his watch the highest strand of the sport has had to tackle the phenomenon of both riders and bikes having been performance-enhanced. While in his strategist role he has taken moves to expand the WorldTour, and continued to develop women’s cycling with additional events and its own WorldTour programme. He has also been proposing possible changes to team sizes, along with a potential future for ‘safer’ disc brakes.
3. Sir David Brailsford
There’s nothing marginal about the gains Team Sky has made since ‘Sir Dave’ quit as performance director at British Cycling in 2014 to focus solely on the professional outfit.
This year has been a testament to that. Team Sky’s Chris Froome was crowned the winner of the 2016 Tour de France, taking his third victory under Brailsford’s management.
Still championing the minutiae of sports science, the two-time BBC Sports Coach of the Year has also used his high profile to lead calls for greater rider safety.
Brailsford flexed his muscles during the 2016 Tour to lobby for an extension to the current 3km rule – whereby riders who suffer a fall, puncture or mechanical in the last 3km are credited with the same finishing time as those they were with at the time of the incident. He’s urging for it to be lengthened to 5km in a bid to protect general classification riders in the final hectic sprints.
2. Laura Kenny (née Trott)
The most inspirational British female cyclist riding today continues to ignite the imagination of amateur riders to take to the road or track and follow in her wake.
Kenny is an unlikely cycling champion — born with a collapsed lung, she suffers from asthma — but her persistence has won through and it’s that determination to succeed that she’s keen to share with others.
Her support for the #LikeAGirl campaign in 2016 is a move to encourage more young girls to stick to sports during school and beyond and stems from the realisation that her London 2012 success — winning the hearts of the British public with two gold medals — instantly made her one of the most popular, recognisable and inspirational athletes in the sport today.
That she successfully repeated that double gold medal display in Rio has only strengthened her hold on the nation’s heartstrings. Honours, and a legion of budding female cyclists, will surely follow as the higher profile half of cycling’s power couple — she is engaged to six-time Olympic gold medallist Jason Kenny — continues to extend her reach.
1. Sir Bradley Wiggins
Britain’s best-ever cyclist – as peers such as Sir Chris Hoy acknowledge – leads our Power List based not only on his achievements, profile and status but the influence ‘Wiggo fever’ continues to have upon cyclists four years after he became the first Brit to win the Tour and the Olympic time trial.
His common-touch persona and Mod style not only gave the mainstream media a 21st century Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, but more crucially endeared him to a new wave of aspiring amateur cyclists for whom he’s become a talisman.
From the co-creation of the women’s Wiggle-High 5 team, and his own WIGGINS team, through to the range of Fred Perry leisurewear, four books and multifarious media appearances on everything from Desert Island Discs to Radio 4’s Today programme, his influence is omnipotent.
Yet his focus in the run-up to Rio 2016 remained – he claimed medals at the track World Championships at the start of the year and delivering in Rio the fifth gold medal that made him Britain’s most decorated Olympian, with eight medals spanning 16 years.
Cycling didn’t begin in 2012, nor with Wiggo, of course. The rise in rider numbers, bike brands, navigation technology and the culture of cycling was well on the way. But more than any other cyclist before or since, Sir Bradley Wiggins has led a peloton of fans and admirers that continues to grow by the day.
What do you think, who’s missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below…