Tour de France: has Britain become a nation of cyclists?

Jul 8, 2014
Jonathan Harwood

Millions turned out to watch the opening stages of the race in England, but cyclists still lack acceptance

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

After the "grandest" of Grand Departs through Yorkshire and south to London, the Tour de France has now returned home to the Continent, but the impact of the race on this side of the Channel will not quickly be forgotten.

As many as five million people are said to have watched the race over the two stages in Yorkshire, while the third instalment from Cambridge to London yesterday attracted bigger crowds in the capital than the 2012 Olympic road race.

"The British public have demonstrated their huge passion for cycling over the last three days and we'd love to see the Tour back in Britain," said race director Christian Prudhomme, and there is talk of starting the race in Edinburgh in the next few years.

The absence of Mark Cavendish, injured on day one, and Bradley Wiggins, left out of the Sky team, did not deter the spectators, who saw German Marcel Kittel win the third stage in The Mall.

The popularity of the Tour is "terrific news", writes Jonathan Liew in the Daily Telegraph. "Especially for those who remember a time not so long ago when cycling was unloved, derided as something eccentrics and Liberal Democrats did."

It's very different today. "On this evidence, there is a rampant thirst for British cycling on the roadsides of this country. Team Sky replica jerseys were legion; the hills were alive with the sound of Froomey."

But it was not just the die-hards who turned out. The number of non-cyclists who bought into the event was a real plus, says Pete Muir, editor of Cyclist magazine. The route in Yorkshire was lined with "families and group of friends who just wanted to be part of something special," he told The Week. "If the excitement of the Tour spectacle has encouraged even a fraction of them to pull their old bikes out of the shed and start pedalling, then it has all been worth it. The more people who cycle, the more attitudes in Britain will change towards cyclists."

Change does seem to be in the air. Writing in The Guardian, Sean Ingle notes that London, like Yorkshire, was "smitten" by the Tour, which generated "a gasp of excitement, a vibrant cheer, and sustained awe," among the spectators.

But he adds: "Those in their Sunday best lycra can only hope that the love shown to cyclists on Monday will one day last 365 days a year. Those who organise road races in the UK know that attitudes to cycling are still far behind much of Europe."

Things are improving, says Glenn Moore in The Independent. "There was a time when cyclists who dared race on English roads did it in disguise, not lycra... Now the countryside is ablaze on weekend mornings with the florid faces and day-glo colouring of Mamils."

However, he does not agree with Sky principle Dave Brailsford’s assertion that Britain is now the world's "number one cycling nation". It will take time for road users to "co-exist peacefully", but "days like these will accelerate the process", he says.

In the meantime Britain can relax in the knowledge that it is "a nation of great sports watchers".

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There is certainly a novelty about the tour,but there is this sizable minority of cyclist who believe the highway code doesn't affect them and insurance should be mandatory.Just today I saw a cyclist with a tailer containing a young child turn up a one wsy street the wrong way and give abuse to several drivers and pedestrians who pointed this out to him,but if he'd been killed the motorist would have been blamed.