IN just 100 days time, we’ll be proudly raising the curtain on the 2019 UCI Road World Championships – the first time the event has been held in Britain since 1982 and its very first visit to Yorkshire.
Though Yorkshire riders have punctuated British cycling’s story since its formative years, from Brian Robinson to Ben Swift and Beryl Burton to Lizzie Deignan, the county’s blossoming love affair with the sport since the 2014 Tour de France Grand Départ has been nothing short of remarkable.
Returning for its fourth edition this year, the Tour de Yorkshire is now a mainstay of the British sporting summer, showcasing the best of the county’s scenery, hospitality and spirit – not least the hardy crowds defying the driving rain on the Yorkshire Coast for a glimpse of the peloton last month.
Yet, while September’s championships give us an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the past five years, this is by no means the summit of our ambitions.
It is no secret that significant obstacles still stand in the way of Britain becoming a truly great cycling nation. While we have excelled at winning medals on the road, track and trails, far too many of us still don’t feel safe while riding on Britain’s roads, and millions of children are growing up without the ability or opportunity to ride. But we believe that September’s championships present us with a real opportunity to re-focus minds and be a true catalyst for change, both in Yorkshire and beyond.
Through hosting the event, we have been able to secure £15m to fund grassroots cycling facilities across Britain, which will be delivered by British Cycling in partnership with Sport England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Yorkshire is already blessed with some wonderful cycling facilities, such as the Leeds Urban Bike Park, which has welcomed over 300,000 riders since it opened its doors less than two years ago. While facilities like these can be the training grounds of the next generation of elite riders, they also provide a safe, welcoming environment for those looking to learn to ride for the first time. I am pleased to say that the first facility to be part-funded through the scheme will open in Doncaster later this year.
We want children to be at the very heart of the championships’ legacy, and we are committed to ensuring that every child in Britain has the opportunity to ride a bike. Our popular closed-road HSCB UK Let’s Ride events will return this summer to Sheffield (July 14) and Leeds (September 1), enabling thousands of local families to reclaim their streets for the day, while our monthly pop-up cycling festivals at parks and community sports facilities are helping thousands more to cycle more often.
For so many families, cycling starts at home, which is why we have invested so heavily in our free, interactive learn-to-ride platform, HSBC UK Ready Set Ride. The fun and engaging games are perfect for playtime and break the process down into easy to follow steps. Through our partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, we will also be taking the programme into primary schools across the county this year.
While these children will begin their cycling journeys in the garden or playground, there remains an enormous amount of work to do and are proud to be supporting Dame Sarah Storey in her new role as Active Travel Commissioner for the Sheffield City Region, alongside Mayor Dan Jarvis, and also the work of our city partners in Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford.
The success of the new CityConnect Cycle Superhighway between Bradford and Leeds, which has carried almost a million trips since its completion in July 2016, speaks volumes about the appetite for travelling by bike if we make it easy and efficient to do so.
However we can only fund schemes like these with a significant uplift in the funding allocated for walking and cycling by the Government in Westminster, by decentralising power in a way which enables the towns and cities of Yorkshire to develop, fund and deliver plans which work for their local communities, and by uniting Britain behind a clear vision to change the way we move around in the interests of both our health and the environment.
Only then can we hope to see a true cycling revolution in this country; whereby the bicycle becomes the go-to choice for short journeys and Governments of all colours begin to fully acknowledge its unique capacity to reduce congestion, clean up our air and tackle the mounting crisis of childhood obesity.
As the final rider crosses the line in Harrogate this September, the race to deliver a fitting legacy for the championships goes on. This is a once in a generation opportunity for Yorkshire and for Britain – we cannot afford to it slip.
Julie Harrington is the chief executive of British Cycling.