IT has been a mixed 12 months for British cycling. Although it was one of Britain’s most successful sports at the Rio Olympics, with Team GB securing 12 medals, including six golds, these successes have been overshadowed by several problems away from the track.
Amidst the doping allegations surrounding eight-time Olympic medallist Bradley Wiggins and the ongoing sexism dispute between Jess Varnish and Shane Sutton, a recent survey revealed a 4% decrease in participation over the last 12 months, with 85,200 fewer people involved in the sport.
However, former Team GB cyclist Yanto Barker believes that cycling’s reputation has not been too seriously damaged by the recent controversies, and says that the figures are not a cause for concern.
He said, “It’s not realistic to think that growth will be linear and continuous, there will always be blips and plateaus. It’s the trend that matters and I don’t believe the UK is slowing yet.
“There is a kind of healthy disconnection between the professional sport and participation; this reduces the impact of negative stories in the sport effecting participation.”
The 36 year-old also highlighted that, while cycling has been surrounded by controversy this year, it is not the only sport to find itself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
“Cycling is not isolated in its bad press. In fact, far less has happened this year than in other sports,” he added.
“If you look at the timing around these stories, they coincide with some strong reports of corruption in tennis and notably athletics, which have gone through much more intense public scrutiny after the stories of state-sponsored Russian doping and positive tests within tennis.”
Although British Cycling has just had its funding cut by over £4 million for the Tokyo Olympics, Sport England is increasing its efforts to raise the number of ordinary people getting involved in cycling after revealing that the sport was struggling to attract those under the age of 25.
Sport England recently confirmed that cycling will receive £17 million in grassroots funding, and Barker believes that such investment will help to raise enthusiasm among young people.
He said: “They (young people) will benefit from the continued investment into infrastructure, tracks, private cycle parks, coaching, and organised training.
“These facilities are becoming more effective and reaching more young people all the time and that will feed through into the participation levels of that age group.”
The former Team GB cyclist competed in five World Championships, as well as two Commonwealth Games and six Tours of Britain. He retired in August to focus on his family and the running of his cycling apparel company, Le Col, which he founded in 2009.
“I started Le Col because I was looking to finish my racing career around 10 years ago; I was trying to find something I felt confident I could do. This business excited me.
“As I looked into it more, I truly believed I could produce something technically better than was already on the market,” the Welshman added.
Talking about his retirement from cycling, Barker said: “My decision to retire was as much about being content that my racing career had come to a natural end and it was time to move on.
“It also coincided with the birth of my little daughter Matilda and I could not manage family, business, and racing, so it was the natural one to be replaced,” he added.
Although Le Col already turns over around £1 million every year, the new father is not satisfied and is looking to use his retirement as an opportunity to continue his company’s rapid growth.
“To be honest I am never really satisfied with how well the business is received, it’s a combination of insecurity that it is never quite good enough, and the drive to improve everything from the product to the processes.
“It’s all about expansion, I will be proactively building new relationships in our international territories, helping recruit new staff to deliver and scale the business, and maintaining my work with product development – I see this as a busy time with plenty to do.”
Le Col is currently crowdfunding to raise £1 million, to get involved please visit the Crowdcube page here.
Images Provided by Le Col.