After 37 long years, Britain once more played host to the premier road cycling event, this time taking place in Yorkshire. A major sporting occasion and a centrepiece moment on the annual cycling calendar, the event drew all the eyes of the global cycling community to Yorkshire – and rightfully so.
The UK’s largest county has long stood as a sporting powerhouse. Let’s not forget that if Yorkshire was a country, it would have finished 16th in the overall medals tally of the 2016 Rio Olympics, ahead of New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, amongst others. The county is no stranger to sporting success. But now it’s receiving particular recognition for its cycling prowess.
What has led to Yorkshire’s success in the world of cycling, and it becoming one of the preeminent regions for the sport? Some would first point to 2014, when the famed Tour de France hosted two stages in the region, leading to the spin-off event that has since become central to the cycling sporting calendar – the Tour de Yorkshire. This has helped cement the status of the region – both domestically and internationally – as a leader in road cycling, and ultimately helping to instigate the growth of cycling in the UK more broadly.
But it takes more than hosting an international event to achieve such recognition. Yorkshire’s success story has many key components that have led to it ultimately shining on a global stage.
To start with, we can’t look beyond the funding and support received from local government – a crucial element in developing and sustaining growth across the region. Since starting the Tour, Yorkshire has been injected with funding to provide and maintain the delivery of its annual event. More recently, the region was the recipient of a £9m government funding for the delivery of the Championships, ensuring that Yorkshire was able to create and improve on the conditions for cycling in the area.
Infrastructure sits at the heart of the effort, and has arguably been the most important asset enabling the region to scale cycling at the rate it has done – both for professionals and as a leisure activity.
Over the last decade, Yorkshire has invested over £20m into cycling infrastructure, developing new roads, bridges and improving popular routes. This has corresponded with the appointment of cycling tsars, such as Dame Sarah Storey in Sheffield, which spotlights the enhanced attention for the sport and is critical to it receiving dedicated funding and backing.
Improved and fit for purpose infrastructure leads to greater uptake in cycling. According to Strava data, between 2012 and 2018 cycling in the region has increased by nearly 800 per cent.
But funding is only part of the equation. Government having the necessary resource is key – as long as that is then channelled correctly, which can happen efficiently and proactively with the help of the private sector.
Collaboration is at the heart of the effort to ensure that urban routes are planned and developed for riders, creating the environment cyclists seek.
For all the progress, however, and enhanced investment to improve the experience, there is still work to be done in increasing cyclist confidence surrounding safety. Cycling UK data shows that 61 per cent of adults over 18 consider cycling as dangerous. We must do better in changing this trend around. However, it’s important to remember that the same data also shows that per billion miles travelled, it’s pedestrians, not cyclists, who are more likely to be in danger. Ultimately, it’s perceived danger that is the threat, and in order to combat it we must invest more in safe infrastructure, and raise awareness of the efforts to create safer cycling conditions.
Yorkshire has a come a long way in placing itself, and Britain as a whole, on the world cycling map. We’ve clearly seen the transformational impact funding has had – and other cities and counties should be thinking about how they deploy their resources. Yorkshire has rightfully become the pride of the nation in cycling – let’s make sure other counties follow suit.
Gareth Mills is UK country manager for running and cycling app Strava.