Cycling is not a huge professional sport in the UK, despite high participation rates and the fact two million bicycles are sold in Britain annually, and the days when British teams could seriously challenge for top honours are just a memory. But individually, British cyclists have much to celebrate in the 1990s, and it is hoped that new facilities will raise the profile of cycling and performances. The 1960s saw a strong British challenge for top honours, notably the Tour de France and the Tours of Italy and Spain, led by Tommy Simpson, but performances have since declined. In 1985 a British team did enter and complete the Tour de France (ANC-Halfords), but by the mid-1990s the chances of such a challenge happening again had become remote. However, this should not detract from the individual performances of Chris Boardman, Max Schiandri and Graeme Obree, who have won many important events during the 1990s. Boardman is the best-known British cyclist, with medals at the 1992 Olympics, a 1996 time trial and prestigious world pursuit victories to his name. Obree is best known for his technological advances. The design of bicycles and of cycling positions can be crucial, but Obree’s innovations have caused controversy, with some of his saddle designs and cycling positions banned at international competition. Schiandri won the bronze medal in the 1996 Olympic road race. Boardman has argued that cycling must establish characters that people can relate to and facilities to attract crowds, such as the £9m National Cycling Centre, if it is to develop. Opened in September 1994, the National Cycling Centre was originally part of Manchester’s bid to host the Olympic games; it was built despite the failure of that bid, going on to host national and international events. By 1996 the Velodrome had a six-month queue for bookings, and is considered a success. However, cycling is short of money, a situation not helped by the cancellation of top races: the prestigious Milk Race was last held in 1993, and in 1995 sponsors declined to support the Tour of Britain, which was likewise cancelled. The British Cycling Federation (BCF) has itself faced internal and media criticisms, struggling in 1996 to retain its Sports Council grant of £400,000, and accused of poor management, conflicts of interests and inefficiency. An eleven-strong emergency committee was set up in late 1996 to address these issues. There are fears that the future of cycling in the UK rests on the BCF’s ability to deal with these questions.
   See also: bicycles

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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