Tuesday, 26 September 2017

£40k to save the Good Friday International Track Meet

Anyone got £35,000 to spare?

Can you stretch that to £40,000?

That’s what it will take to save the 115th edition of Britain’s most famous track meeting from being consigned to history. 

The Good Friday Meet, host to World and Olympic champions across the last century, “will not be held in 2018”,  it was announced last  week.

And yet promoter Graham Bristow, organiser since 1984, tells me he still has an option on booking the velodrome for Good Friday 2018.

If he can find a backer with £40,000 he can still put the event on, but time is moving on.

Otherwise, the SCCU simply can’t continue to incur the substantial losses of recent years.

It costs a few thousand to hire the track!

This is the longest running international track meeting in the land, the Southern Counties Cycling Union (SCCU) Good Friday meeting at London’s Lea Valley indoor track.

The event, established in 1903 and until a few years ago held at the outdoor track at Herne Hill in South London, has traditionally been funded by spectator receipts.

But the expense has outrun the income, and Bristow and the SCCU have pockets only so deep.

How ironic that this event be forced to close, with British cycling now the UK’s top Olympic sport. Britain has so many Olympic and World champions – Tour de France champions – all of them punching above their weight in the world’s biggest races.

It is especially ironic because at the Good Friday meeting, once considered the pinnacle of the British track racing calendar, National and local stars always got their chance alongside World and Olympic champions.

In fact, the Good Friday was for years ranked among the most important sporting events on the British calendar, always getting space in the quality national newspapers. The Press Agency (PA) would order copy from whoever was reporting the meeting for Cycling Weekly.

The website - http://veloism.co.uk/the-good-friday-meeting/ - provides an illustrious list of  some of the world’s greatest track riders who have raced the Good Friday.  

They include, from France, Daniel Morelon, Florian Rousseau, Arnaud Tournant; from Germany, Michael Hubner, also Britain’s double hour record breaker and World pursuit champion, Graeme Obree. Also Tony Doyle, double Professional World pursuit champion, and Colin Sturgess, famed also for taking the World pursuit crown.  

National, World and Olympic champions include Germany’s Robert Forstermann, Christian Grassman, Lief Lampater and Nico Hesslich.
There was Australia's Stuart O'Grady Top home riders included Becky James, Jody Cundy, Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton Andy Tennant and Ed Clancy, Jason Queally plus

Sean Yates and the King of British short-distance time trialling, Alf Engers.

Although the introduction of the indoor velodrome to Britain revolutionised how riders train and prepare, and have been key to Britain’s success this new Millennium,they came with a mixed blessing for outdoor track promoters like Bristow.

 “The Good Friday Meet suffered from the advent of 250m indoor velodromes, as the vast open spaces of Herne Hill appeared to be irrelevant to the development of the British Cycling squads who in earlier times would have attended.” explained Bristow, adding.  “Paradoxically there was never any problem with contracting foreign based stars to appear.”

For many top riders, Good Friday’s varied programme of events freed them from the pressure of conforming to the more rigid programme of the World Cup events, tailored as they are around Olympic qualifying races. 

And so released, they would delight the fans as they rose to the occasion in a medley of races, not just their particular disciplines.

But there was another problem for Bristow. Ironically, the transformation of Herne Hill from a rundown dilapidated facility to a fresh new

locally based community hub also created difficulties for the Meeting. 

The ongoing works rendered much of the site inaccessible to spectators and, with no end date in sight, the Meeting moved to the Lee Valley Velodrome in 2014.

The hope was that the event would return to its spiritual home.

But this was not be, Bristow told me.

“When the Herne Hill renovation was completed the committee considered returning to Herne Hill, but sadly, although it has new club house, the venue is no longer suitable for holding meetings with more than a few hundred spectators.  This, coupled with the ever present Easter weather uncertainties, means that such a return to South London is not an option.”

But times change, says Bristow wistfully. The huge rise in popularity of cycling has come with a twist. He reckons that many of today’s new fans who snap up the tickets come to only to see the Tour and Olympic celebrities and show little interest in the rest of the racing programme.

“They watch Wiggins race then disappear from the trackside.  Same when Hoy (both now retired) came on,  they’d come back in to watch him, then disappear again! They don’t appear to be interested in the racing itself.”

The Good Friday Meet has always been a big social occasion, where young and old acquaintances, fans and riders alike, renew friendships at the opening track meeting of the year.

Spectators were not only drawn by the promise of seeing both home and foreign internationals clash but also talented rising stars, both foreign and home grown, take on the names.  To thrill to the sound of big motors in the motor paced event, always a big draw.

And it would all come to the boil in the final event of the day, the Golden Wheel scratch race, a furiously paced bunched race carrying an eye watering £1000 first prize.

Tony Doyle, one of the Stars at the Good Friday International over the years, recalls some key moments for him.

“I first rode the Good Friday Track Meeting in 1975.  In the 10 minute pursuit I finished in 3rd place behind Alf Engers. I then rode & won the 10 minute Pursuit in 1978.

“In 1981 I rode a World Champions Revenge Match against Dutch rider Herman Ponsteen. I regularly rode the meeting during the 1980's and the meeting regularly featured many Pro Omniums with riders like Danny Clark and Stan Tourne. 

“In 1984 even Gary Wiggins (Bradley Wiggins’ father)  rode and I remember clearly meeting a young cheeky scoundrel, called Bradley.  I regularly used to get preview interviews with both Thames and BBC TV. I always got regular radio spots with Capital Radio and BBC.”

When the world’s best came for the Centenary Meeting

I still have my press pass from the biggest Herne Hill meeting of recent times, the SCCU’s Centenary Track Meeting on the 18th April, 2003.

It’s one of my valued souvenirs.

The place was packed out. British riders were beginning to make a big impact on the world scene.

This meeting boasted at least four current World champions, three of them British.

They was Chris Hoy, the World kilo and team sprint champion, his World team sprint champion teammate, Jamie Staff.

Chris Newton, World points champion; Sean Eadie, Australia’s World sprint champion.

There was Bradley Wiggins, a Herne Hill regular since he was eight years old, the 1997 junior world pursuit champion in his first season with a first division team, riding for the French outfit, Francaise Des Jeux. (A year later, Wiggo would stun us at the Athens Olympics, begin his march to greatness).

And there was multi-world medallist from Italy, stylish Roberto Chiappa,  another Good Friday regular.

Plus a host of talent to take them on. And it was a sunny, warm day, not a cloud in sight. A perfect day. Super racing. And fun, too, especially the celebration dinner that evening where I recall Wiggins the comic getting all tangled up in the coat hangers in the hotel lobby.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Dutch Heaven - UK Hell

ABOUT a month ago I was again reminded of Britain’s inadequate provision for cycling on the roads when I saw another great film celebrating Dutch cycling. It was provided by Cycling UK in their regular email to members.

Tens of thousands of people of all ages cycling on all manner of bikes, along superb cycling paths in towns and around. Cycling to work, to the shops, to school, cycling in pairs, hand in hand, with children perched on shoulders, or sat in trailers.

All going anywhere you care to mention and enjoying right of way across junctions. And not one cycle helmet in sight!
As for their cycle parking facilities at railway stations - well. It takes my breath away.

Brilliant, inspirational.

Utopia, whereas in Britain….Oh, GOD!

Other than some small well designed facilities, a few kilometres of segregated cycle route here and there, Britain’s roads are designed to process fast moving traffic with little thought of how vulnerable road users are to cope.  Let’s be blunt. The road system, especially at roundabouts, remains hellish.

The Dutch approach to providing safe conditions to encourage cycling is well known and I never tire of hearing about it.  Their work has become the benchmark by which transport planners in this country ought to at least try and emulate, but they don’t.  Instead, Britain’s lamentable progress to provide decent cycling conditions is a sad reflection of a very deep political and social divide.

There is simply not the political will to provide a decent integrated transport system in a country where the car is king/queen. 

Take the provision for cycle parking at main line railway stations, embarrassingly low compared to Holland.

Mind you, the Dutch are not without their problems! (I write with tongue in cheek.)  Provision for cycle parking at Utrecht, for example, simply can’t keep up with demand, according to The Guardian last month. 

Today at Utrecht’s railway station there are 6,500 parking spaces for cycles. How many? 6,500!

By the end of next year this will be an additional 6,500 spaces, doubling to 13,000!

How many?

It will be the biggest of its kind in the world.

Yet this huge provision for cycle parking – there is nothing like it in the UK - won’t be enough, say the Dutch cycling organisation Fietserbond.


13,000 bike parking spaces at one station not enough?

Correct. This is simply because so many more people are taking up cycling to get about town and country. In Utrecht cycle journeys have increased 40 per cent from five years ago.

In The Hague a bike park for 8,500 cycles is due to open next Spring. There is a 5000 bike park at Delft. Amsterdam plans to excavate a 7000 bike park beneath the waterfront.

There are a staggering 22.5 million bicycles in Holland – and 17.1 million people!

28 per cent of all journeys are by bike. In Britain, despite big increases in the numbers cycling, utility cycling remains at around *2 – 4 per cent.

You may wonder how it is cycle stats remain so low in the UK,  with such a big rise in numbers cycling in London and other cities, notably Cambridge. Well, according to a survey a few years ago the low overall percentage for the UK is due to a drop in cycling in rural areas.

However, cycle parking provision at UK rail stations is improving, but not fast enough, evidence all the “fly parking” – bikes left locked to railings all around the stations.

There was a “big” increase in cycle parking provision at some main line stations in Britain a decade ago, as a result of Labour Peer Lord Adonis promoting the idea.

I seem to recall transport minister Lord Adonis, himself a bike rider,  persuaded Leeds – with grand aid -  to put in a 300 space cycle parking hub at their main station.

 I think a few other stations may have followed suit.

Dave Holladay, an Independent Transport Specialist working for Transportation Management Solutions, who also advises Cycling UK (formerly CTC), provided me with latest information on cycle parking at London’s main line termini.

Back in 2002 there were 30 spaces on two platforms at London Waterloo, the busiest station in the UK.

 By 2010 cycle parking at London Waterloo had increased to 300 in 2-tier racks. Today there are 650 spaces. Not many when you consider Waterloo has close on 100 million people a year rushing through.

There were also 124 docking points issuing 500 Santander hire bikes every morning. The hire bike system is one of the truly successful cycle projects to date.

A number of years ago the total number of cycle parking spaces across all of London’s main line termini was put at about 1000. Holladay tells me this has since improved with some individual stations boasting 1000 spaces.

However, none of this parking is secure.

“No one has yet delivered secure parking, although with modern phone apps, q/r patches, or RFID cards the public are equipped to engage with automated systems,” says Holladay.

And yet there is a system available, he says, citing the one used in 1996 for the Portsmouth hire bikes. This is an unmanned secure entrance enabling user’s access to the bicycle storage area. -  http://www.meesons.com/securityproducts/the-bike-guardian/ 

He tells me there has been a long promised bike hub at Waterloo.  Caverns exist under the station, including a massive and empty car park vacant since Eurostar services moved to St Pancras.

But he also tells me of poorly audited waste of public money on cycle parking at stations by some Train Operating Companies (TOCs)

It seems that just as Local Authority highway planners often engage with local cycling campaigners in their preparatory work, when they come to making final decisions they generally go their own sweet way, paying little attention to guidelines and building sub-standard facilities with limited appeal.

In providing for station cycle parking there is, I understand, often poor project preparation, resulting in building either the wrong thing or failing to properly survey the site. I know a man who can give me chapter & verse on the missing/misspent money.

Here follows the latest cycle parking scenario for London’s other mainline stations, besides London Waterloo, already detailed.

Euston is probably close to Waterloo’s provision, with some 600 spaces across five locations. 

At Paddington there is a compound for 400 bikes on Platform nine/10.  

Marylebone has just over 400, all on Platform four.

Victoria has cycle parking by a taxi rank and the bus station, also in nearby Hudson Place. 

At Liverpool Street, there are maybe spaces for between 100 and 200 bikes near the taxi road between One Bishopsgate and the station.  

London Bridge is being rebuilt and is chaotic at present

Fenchurch Street has minimal provision.

St Pancras has between 200 – 300 spaces in the car park, considered to be the wrong place!

Kings Cross has perhaps a couple of hundred on platforms one and eight.

There is also Brompton cycle hire. 

Santander provides 500 plus hire bikes at Kings Cross, as they do also at Waterloo, in addition to many locations across the West End and, I think, a few outside the central area.


According to figures provided by Cycling UK, a European Commission survey found

 only 4 per cent of UK respondents cycled daily, the lowest percentage of all EU 28 countries – with the exception of Cyprus, 2 per cent, and Malta, 1 per cent.

The figure is 43 per cent in the Netherlands; 30 per cent in Denmark and 28 per cent in Finland.

Some UK cities buck the trend. London has seen big increases in the numbers cycling. In 2015, there were 610,000 cycle journeys a day, or 23 million per year.

Other cities recording substantial increases in numbers of people cycling include Cambridge where 29 per cent of working residents cycled. Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield have also showed substantial increases.

Typically, the increase in cycling is more often than not due to personal reasons, such as avoiding costly public transport and/or disruption to services, rather than to any notion of improvements to infrastructure. 

AND FINALLY… funny quip of the week from Eurosport TV:

Scene: Tour of Spain. As one of Alberto Contador’s many valiant escape bids comes to a premature end, he looks back down the road to see the Team Sky express once again bearing down on him. Cue for Eurosport TV commentator Carlton Kirby to remark:  “The Sky train is now approaching….stand well back from the platform edge.”

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pothole story scoops Ride London Surrey Classic in local press

IT’s a week since I joined the throng on West Street to watch the best pros in the world hurtle past the end of my road. This was the fifth annual Prudential Ride London Surrey Classic which this year was awarded the top rating, UCI World Cup status.

You may recall that the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff snatched the victory in a bunch sprint on The Mall after one of the most exciting road races we have seen, full of action and attacking riding throughout.

The pro race was the climax to a day which began with 25,000 charity riders in the Prudential Ride London 100 warming up the course for the pros, albeit taking a slightly shorter route through the Surrey Hills before rushing – some struggling -  back to the capital, ahead of the race.

The pro race hit my town at around 3.20 in the afternoon, lapping the town four times. So how did my local paper, the Dorking Advertiser, report this unique event?  

They didn’t! Their front page scoop was about a pothole. Nothing about the pro race at all!
Yes, they majored on the danger of pothole and how marshals had to warn  the charity riders to beware it. Gave this the front page.
This was on a par with a recent front page story of a driver given a £60 parking ticket for leaving a front wheel sticking millimetres out of a parking bay! Ah, good parochial stories.

The passage of the biggest single day professional road race in Britain, featuring many of the top teams from the Tour de France and including points champion Michael Matthews, was of no consequence.

The “preview” the week before – a few paragraphs in the things worth seeing section – gave the charity ride a brief mention But nothing about the race passing through town four times, no time table, nothing about the technical hilly course through the hills above the town. Nothing about the star riders.  In the past they gave the race a decent showing. This time, zilch.  
Unless the big race story got lost at the printers! Doubt it. They simply didn't run it!

So how did they fill four pages?  

Curiously, the Dorking Ad contrived to write up the charity ride, without once mentioning anything at all about the pro race following hot on the heels of the amateurs!

Imagine a major pop concert and the music press failing to write up the headline act!

But clearly that’s not how the editorial team saw it. They decided that the charity ride was the exclusive story of the day, giving that a good write up, it must be said.  But they studiously avoided the other thing.

It’s a bit like reporting on a swimming gala and saying nothing about the GB Olympic swimming team doing a few lengths!

I’m left wondering how they achieved this.

There was plenty of scope for their reporters and photographers, plenty of action on the tough hilly course through the Surrey Hills all around - and where Team Sky tore the peloton to pieces – before the race headed one more time through the town centre and back to London via Box Hill.

The race came into town on the slightly downhill A25 from Westcott.  It hit the town at such speed you caught your breath. It was like an avalanche.  There were whoops of delight from spectators lining the kerbsides.

The three pubs on West Street were doing good business and the pavements outside were crowded with spectators agog at the action. Many were perhaps hoping for a glimpse of the likes of Andre Greipel, a name they would be familiar with from his sprinting exploits in Le Tour, although not this year when he failed to win one stage.

Even now, after decades of reporting the races from the inside, the spectacle of seeing a race going full tilt still excites.  The wow factor as 150 pairs of wheels rush by,  whipping dust and paper into the air,  the roar of the following team cars - looking like toast racks with expensive bikes slotted in them someone said -  and the beat of chopper blades overhead.

For just over an hour this controlled mayhem delighted the senses. That’s what people enjoyed. The town given over to sporting spectacle.

 The Kings Arms pub added to the carnival by showing live TV coverage in the bar so you could follow the action and dart outside again just before the breakaway came belting through with the field  right on their tail.

We could have been anywhere - Belgium, Holland, France, Italy. It seemed professional road racing has made its mark in Britain, too.

But not in my local paper!

This is how the Dorking Ad reported race day. The “race” for them was all about the charity ride. Oh, and a pothole.

They devoted the front page to the pothole and three inside pages to this “race”, and the moaners, just for balance!

The front page headline took some beating: “Why wasn’t pothole fixed before race?”

This was in inch-high thick Times Bold. And it took two reporters to put the story together

about how anxious marshals pointed out a hole in the road on West Street helping thousands of charity riders avoid disaster.

Well, clearly it’s a story, but front page?

They illustrated their story with probably the most undramatic picture ever, of a lone rider successfully avoiding the hole. In fact, not one of the 25,000 riders was reported to have hit it. Neither did the pros, I must presume.

Clearly, Surrey Council deserves a rocket.  And the marshals the riders thanks.

But the paper didn’t actually mention the Pro race once!

Not once. Not once in four pages. There were lots of pictures of the charity ride and one pic which 
looked as if might be the pro bunch – that unmistakable relaxed style. But there was caption to say so.

The front page was taken up with the hole.  Of course, we should be grateful to the newspaper for shaming Surrey Council’s highways department.

So that was the front page. What did they write about on the three inside pages given over to the event?

Well, it was good spread all about the charity ride and how many good causes will benefit, and how the event organisers will donate big sums to a local charity. They reported how those turning out to watch thoroughly enjoyed cheering on riders of all ages.  
One woman bystander said that as she gets locked in by this event and can’t do a thing about it she might as well be positive and come out and cheer the them on.  Surrey Hills residents take note!

The report noted that last year’s bike jam had been avoided by reducing the number of entrants to 25,000. The event went off smoothly, it said, although sadly one participant died – Maris Ozols, 67 -   who suffered a cardiac arrest on the shorter 46-mile route.

So what was on fourth and final page of the Advertiser's coverage of this great event? 

The fourth page was their piece de resistance, surpassing their front cover pothole scoop. It carried the following headline in big black letters: “County roads are being shut illegally during bike race”.

This told how residents of Surrey Hills have complained that the road closures are illegal. They have been complaining about this ever since the 2012 Olympic road races, saying that there are no alternative routes for them to use during the lengthy road closure.

Hugh Brasher, event director of Prudential RideLondon, replied saying that the road closures are “fully compliant with the law and the event has all the necessary permissions.”

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hoy's plea saves £43m funding.. but British Cycling give way to allow England's Regions a place on Board

Last Saturday a lively and controversial Extraordinary General Meeting of British Cycling in Warrington finally approved changes to the constitution as demanded by UK Sport’s proposals for Olympic funded sports.

But only after the governing body gave way to allow a crucial amendment to allow the 10 English Regions a place on the Board.

In a statement on British Cycling’s website, Julie Harrington, Chief Executive Officer of British Cycling, said:

“Today, British Cycling’s National Council voted in favour of changes to our constitution in order to ensure that we are compliant with the Code for Sports Governance. Our membership also voted for an amendment to create the role of a director nominated by the English regions to go alongside those nominated by Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling. We have heard the concerns of our National Councillors and we will actively work with our membership to ensure that the voice of the enthusiast remains central to our purpose.

“Securing funding for elite and grassroots participation through these changes will enable us to inspire more people on to two wheels across communities the length of the country. Without secured funding we will not be able to share our love of the sport and enable others to try it. Our sport is growing and growing up. Today’s vote is the start of an exciting new chapter for British Cycling and our sport.”

But it was anything but straight forward.

The following  story is gleaned from officials representing South East Region and Central Region who were at the forefront of the opposition to some of the proposals.

They faced a weekend of intense lobbying and debate. It ended with British Cycling succeeding in keeping its £43 government funding as National Council voted to accept the controversial new code of governance demanded by UK Sport and Sport England.

Bringing in Sir Chris  Hoy late last week to make an emotive plea to support the vote appears to have swung waverers. Hoy claimed that without funding he could never have achieved his six Olympic gold medals – a British record.

His intervention appears to have saved the Federation’s bacon – their jobs and funding!

British Cycling had feared their proposals would be rejected by National Council which had judged them to be too severe, that the changes would make National Council obsolete.

It became apparent to some on the eve of the EGM that BC management had underestimated the strength of feeling and as a result they climbed down on some of the points.

Crucially, this led to the acceptance of an amendment to the proposal by South East Region to allow the 10 English Regions representation on the new board to preserve National Council’s influence in board decisions.

That was the crux of the matter to most of  those opposed, including the South East’s Peter King.  The former CEO of British Cycling  had warned that National Council would likely reject British Cycling/UK Sports controversial changes to the organisation if National Council lost its voice.

However, Tony Doyle, former president of the British Cycling Federation, wanted the proposals rejected and to use the three month deadline he says was provided to negotiate a better deal. Funding would have been frozen during that period, not lost, he told me.

Doyle described those Regions which voted against their mandate as “Turncoats”.

 “I'm staggered by yesterday's outcome. Integrity is seriously in short supply amongst our National Councillors. Shame on them,” he said.

He says National Councillors were bullied into submission when they were told that 225 British Cycling staff would lose their jobs, and that the redundancy payments alone would cost the Federation £2.1 million.

Peter King didn’t take kindly to be called a “turncoat”, and neither, he ventured, will his fellow South East Region Councillors.  

King also objected to what he called a “challenge to my integrity” and called for perspective into the whole affair.

He and his fellow South East delegation had not disregarded their mandate, he says.

“The view of my colleagues, taken right at the end of the meeting when almost all of our proposals had succeeded, was that we were mandated to vote against the key proposal if it was not amended but that a view should be taken once the outcome of the amendment process was known.” 

But he added that even if all SE Region votes had been against, the proposals would still have succeeded. He added he cannot speak for the Central and South Votes.

King said his position at the EGM was exactly what it had been all the way through this, since his first discussion with Doyle.  “We agreed that modernisation was overdue and that we expected the proposals to be passed by the EGM.  We also agreed that if the proposals were to succeed then we needed to try to get them amended to mitigate the primacy of the Board and the authority of National Council.  In both respects those aims were achieved,” says King.

Doyle had wanted to bring to account those members of the Board and others he felt had brought the Federation into dispute in the recent past, while King’s intention, he says, was to “contribute to the necessary improvements in governance, direction and management going forward.”

However, the EGM is just the start of the affair! King says he has spoken to people at Regional meetings who don’t think the proposals go far enough. There is a sense of “an increasing disconnect between the Board and senior staff and the sport as we know it at local level.  These concerns now need to be addressed urgently. The question is, what do we do now?”

Central Region’s Stuart Benstead paid tribute to Peter King for the way he formulated the many amendments that re-shaped the documents into an acceptable form to National Council.

Benstead said it was recognised that further modernisation of the documents will be necessary. He said the task now was to elect the right people to what is likely to be an all-new national Board.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brailsford and his gymnastics stunt at the Rayner dinner

When I read about Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford bawling out

a cycling reporter on the Tour’s rest day for writing “S...” about him, it sounded very much like a Trump moment.

But it also reminded me of the time when I crossed swords – or words – with the great man.  Brailsford, that is. Not the American  President. 

My comments had been harmless but he didn’t take kindly to them, I learned. He politely chastised me when we next met. He gave me a steely smile. But there was no outburst.

Nevertheless, he had been clearly irritated by what I had written.  And I was very surprised, for I thought his stock had risen considerably by my observations. But no. Whoa, I thought.

The incident in question had occurred during that celebrated annual social occasion, the Dave Rayner Fund Raising Dinner. This must have been 2003 and I think it was held in Harrogate. Or was it Bradford?

No matter. I was covering the event for Cycling Weekly and Brailsford was there with several members of the World Class Performance team, some of whom may have benefited from Rayner funding in the past. At that stage in his career I think he was in a managerial role and had yet to be elevated to the top job of Performance Director prior to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Anyway, after the dinner and just before the auction of cycling memorabilia was to begin, many guests had repaired to the lounge bar. Everyone was in high spirits, as they usually are at a Rayner dinner – it’s a huge laugh, just as the late Dave Rayner himself was. Rayner was a charismatic and talented professional bike rider who died tragically young and whose name lives on by the inspired  creation of the Rayner Fund which has since provided countless youngsters with a springboard to the pro ranks.

So when I spotted Brailsford doing side to side cartwheels in the crowded hotel lounge, to the cheers of those around him who clearly appreciated this demonstration of kinesthetic awareness and flexibility - which it seems has been passed on to ace descender Froome  - I naturally included his excellent gymnastic stunt in my story.

A story intended as a light-hearted sketch of the proceedings and which perfectly reflected the nature of the event. Or so I thought.

Dave thought otherwise, I discovered a while later when reporting the opening gala night of the newly built Newport Velodrome in South Wales.

As I walked into the building someone tipped me off. Ooooh. He didn’t like what you had written about him. I should not have written about him doing cartwheels!

Mystified, I sought him out in the track centre and asked him if that was true. He said yes, he’d taken a dim view to my reporting him doing cartwheels.

They were perfect cartwheels, I told him. He smiled thinly. He’d rather I hadn’t written it.

Oh dear, come on Dave, lighten up! I remember saying. He grinned at that.

And that was that. We met on several press occasions after that and clearly the matter had been forgotten. 

But it left me surprised and disappointed. I could only surmise that he considered that such antics reported in the cycling press would not do his job prospects any good when in fact it can’t have done him any harm at all!

In fact! Well, not in fact, I am making this bit up. But I like to think that his boss, Peter Keen, who created the World Class Performance Plan in the first place,  thought that if he made Brailsford Performance Director, he might then “perform cartwheels”  around the opposition? 

(Or run circles around them, as the saying goes)

And so it has proved!

I mean, just look at him. Leaving out all the controversy of the recent past, here is the Mastermind behind the greatest haul of Olympic medals of any sport in Britain; he is the creator of Team Sky, top team in Le Tour.

And he does perfect cartwheels. 


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Can King save British Cycling - again?

WITH the cycling world in thrall to the Tour de France as it builds to its climax this weekend,  few will be aware of a battle of a different order this side of the Channel on Saturday (July 22). This is the race to save British Cycling from itself at an Extraordinary General Meeting organised in unseemly haste to make controversial changes to the constitution.

Both Peter King, the former CEO who created the new-look British Cycling 20 years ago, and Tony Doyle, a past president, have now gone public because they are profoundly concerned that the membership remains largely unaware of the controversy threatening to derail Britain's top Olympic sport.  

They and at least two of BC’s Regions (Central Region and South Eastern) fear that National Council – the voice of the 130,000 grass roots members – will be rendered almost obsolete as a consequence of satisfying British Cycling’s funding partners, UK Sport and Sport England, and their new code of governance.

Another likely consequence, if the grass roots sport suffers, is a  mass exodus of riders to other cycling organisations and the negative impact that will have for the sport.

According to British Cycling, the changes are all about improving Britain’s most successful Olympic sport. In reality they are being forced by the government to make changes to show they are fit for purpose after the spate of scandals lowered cycling’s esteem.

But if they don’t do what UK Sport want,  British Cycling risks losing £millions in government funding! And with it, also lose a fair number of the 300 or so jobs at British Cycling HQ.

Some call this blackmail.  Certainly, British Cycling is at the mercy of government quangos.

No one wants this. We’ve all enjoyed the unprecedented rise in popularity of cycling and cycle sport and the huge international successes by British riders. We want this to continue, for BC to move forward.

But not like this, not under a new and divisive constitution being rushed through without proper discussion by a board some say cannot be trusted.

It has been noted there are several omissions from the agenda; most notably there is no mention of the place of National Council!

Perhaps that’s because it is to become obsolete?

There is also concern that many problems have arisen because BC admin staff are having too much say in matters and their proposals are being accepted without being given proper scrutiny. It’s an authoritarian streak which crops up from time to time and National Council could always be relied upon to take the wind out of HQ’s sails!

It all points to a heated debate in Warrington next Saturday.

Both Peter King CBE, the former CEO who 20 years ago laid the foundations for British Cycling’s historic rise to fame and Tony Doyle, the former BC president whose ideas inspired the changes King brought about,  are appalled at the prospect of National Council being silenced.

If those two major players are flagging this up surely they must be listened to?

King, a chartered secretary and accountant, and member  of Redhill CC, was appointed CEO of the British Cycling Federation 20 years ago, called in to rescue the governing body from financial ruin and a crisis of their own making.

He carried out a root and branch reorganisation with the aim of making cycling Britain’s most successful Olympic sport and was awarded the CBE for doing so. The crisis of their own making was created when the board refused to work with newly elected President Tony Doyle MBE, the former World Professional Pursuit Champion who was chosen by the members to replace Ian Emmerson.

In doing so, the board were in breach of their own constitution and chaos followed resulting in an EGM and legal action which cost the Federation dear. The board was sacked and King set up a completely new team with the express intention of developing Doyle’s ideas for modernising the sport.

King says that “this EGM is all about making National Council a largely impotent and perhaps even pointless gathering.” ….

“My aim,” he said earlier this month, “is to ensure that all of those who represent the membership/clubs/regions at the EGM are aware of exactly what they are voting for or against – i.e. the transfer of ultimate authority from National Council to a Board where 6 out of 12 members, including the Chair with a casting vote, are not elected or appointed from within the sport.

“At the very least, the England Regions should have the right to elect the four members who will be elected by National Council.”

He is especially concerned that the Chair will have a casting vote on any contentious issue…and that the balance of power will sit with the independent appointed directors.”

For these so called independent directors  might not necessarily have much experience of the sport, but still be able to wield undue influence!

Last week King and Doyle shared their views at the Pedal Club luncheon in London, whose members include many top Regional and national officials.

On the table are proposals for wholesale changes to the management structure and board.

It is a serious matter.

To a certain extent it is felt that British cycling have brought much of this upon themselves following their failure to act on the King Report of 2012. It was Peter King’s Review, commissioned by British Cycling, which revealed how some elite athletes had been subject to bullying and sexism in the drive for medals.  This so shocked British Cycling they failed to do anything about it. And nothing of the report was made public until  recently.

The affair only became public knowledge last year when Jess Varnish, dropped from the Olympic team, broke her silence.   She was followed by other riders claiming similar experiences.

As we know, the whole sorry tale has since been paraded before a Parliamentary Committee when matters were made much worse by British Cycling top brass failing to provide adequate explanations. 
No wonder UK Sport want BC to put their house in order if they are to be seen fit to continue to receive £millions in public money.

But why is it necessary to make National Council all but obsolete? That’s the argument.

Should National Council pass all proposals as they stand the balance of power will shift from National Council – representing the Regional members -  to British Cycling’s new style  management which it  is feared will be under the thumb of UK Sport.

Any other organisation proposing major changes to its operation would spell out the pros and cons for its shareholders to consider.

Have BC done this with members?

Doesn’t look like it. They fear losing the money. Who wouldn’t?

So they’ve sweet talked the whole thing which leads some to conclude they want members kept in the dark about the down side.

This is akin to changing the locks to the building while everyone is out - watching Le Tour, for instance.

Except that both South East and Central Regions have rumbled them. They have recognised the issues and on Saturday will debate and vote accordingly in the hope of preserving National Council’s democratic right to have a say in the running the sport.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

CLASH OF THE CENTURY - British Cycling EGM V Le Tour

HOW do we alert British Cycling’s 133,000 membership to a great wrong to be committed in their name at July’s Extraordinary General Meeting? The warning came first from two former top British Cycling executives earlier this month and has since been taken up by various Regional officials.

Strangely, the EGM is timed at the height of summer holiday season when it is likely many members will be on  holiday, not to mention it also clashes with something else that weekend,  the final weekend of the Tour de France.

At stake, I understand, is the memberships’ democratic right to hold the Board to account if the balance of power shifts from National Council to the Board.

The EGM is to approve UK Sport’s new code of governance which is being rushed out and, in cycling’s case, with too little time for informed discussion. The new code is being applied to all Olympic sports. 

For British Cycling this means changing the constitution and the makeup of the Board, to make everyone more accountable in the aftermath of the scandal of sexism and bullying of top riders which rocked the sport last year, 

BC will be required to show they are operating a duty of care  to all their elite riders and staff, especially those under pressure, striving to push the boundaries of physical and mental endeavour in the quest to satisfy British Cycling’s and UK Sport’s “results driven ethic” - as one newspaper writer has called it. 

However, those who read between the lines say this is all very well, but it comes with a cost.  If all the pieces of UK Sports jigsaw fall into place, National Council - the voice of the rank and file members– will have been muted, perhaps silenced for the first time in 60 years.

Concerns over local racing, the bread and butter events of the rank and file, may go unheeded, especially if the four new “independent” board members have little knowledge of grass roots sport and have undue influence.  The hope has to be they are cyclists, not government puppets.

Clearly,   BC is under a lot of pressure from UK Sport and Sport England who provide them £millions in funding.

And the pressure was turned up high once again  last week when the Independent Review Panel’s final and damning report on British Cycling was published  - a whitewash many call it, because it’s a toned down version of the early draft leaked a few months before.

Nevertheless, its publication means cycling’s dirty washing was  once again on display, reminding us all of how the most successful British Olympic sport this Millennium  became the laughing stock of the nation,  the subject of an MP’s enquiry into bullying and sexism and a culture of fear at the National governing body.

And now there are calls for the board to be sacked, for the chairman to stand down.

There are so many threads to this story, perhaps none more important than this. It is understand BC knew  of such issues five years ago, revealed in the King Report of 2012. But did nothing about them.  This was on Brian Cookson’s watch, who was then president and is now UCI chief. 

Peter King, CBE, the former CEO, had been commissioned to carry out an internal review by the man who succeeded him as chief executive, Ian Drake who resigned earlier this year.

King interviewed 40 personnel on an agreement of anonymity.

The story goes that only two, perhaps three people at BC saw the full King report.   And they were so shocked by it they sat on it, covered it up. The full contents were never fully shared with others on the board. 
Even UK Sport were only shown a watered down version of the report when it was published in 2016.

It is this torrid complicated affair which has led UK Sport to call for stricter controls at BC.

And this brings us back to what this  may mean for the rank and file.  Why, in order to address these concerns, should it be necessary to strip away the fundamental right of members to have their say at National Council?  

The worry, says a former top BC executive, is that members will only read BC’s happy clappy presentation of the proposals before them, and will not see the hidden cost to them!

Although most of the proposals appear sensible in principle, the Devil is in the detail, say critics.  For instance, it is feared less attention will be paid to grass roots racing as more emphasis is placed on elite competition, something BC deny.

Members are urged to attend their local Regional meetings over the coming few weeks, in order to decide how to mandate their representatives to vote at the EGM on Saturday, July 22. 

The hope is that the active members of the Regions, those that sit on the boards and committees, get to grips with this before the EGM meeting where the vote will be taken.

One Regional official said that a constitutional change will require a two thirds majority to pass. So it’s by no means certain the vote will go the Board’s way. 

The BC South East Regional Meeting is on July 10, to discuss the agenda of the EGM and to mandate their National Councillors to vote the way the members have chosen).

BC top brass: ‘all will be well’

British Cycling President Bob Howden promises all will be well, that the changes will benefit all, from elite to grass roots.  

Here’s Bob, quoted from BC’s website:

These changes to our constitution are necessary and timely. Every member of the National Council is intent on making British Cycling a world-class governing body. It is our belief that by ensuring that our organisation has professional, balanced governance, the whole of our sport will benefit – from the grassroots to the podium.”

And here’s BC Chairman Jonathan Browning, who similarly reassures members that the sport will see improved benefits:

“Since becoming Chair in February, we have quickly steered through widespread changes to British Cycling’s leadership and governance, some of which still require final approval at our EGM on 22 July. Our proposals to alter the Board and the recruitment of new senior executives, demonstrates our commitment to professionalise and significantly improve the governance, transparency and strength of our sport – for the good of all involved.”
Read more at https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/about/article/20170614-about-bc-news-British-Cycling-publishes-the-cycling-independent-review-0#zv86Hob3V6q83vJP.99

 Regional critics:  members will quit

However, in the Regions the feeling is that EGM could spell disaster for the sport.

Here’s what they are saying:

*Looks as if the needs of grass roots are a very much lower priority. 

*We cannot trust the BC members on the Board so what confidence will we have if the Board is effectively controlled by the Independent members.

*Forecast:  mass migration to other cycling organisations …a disaster as loss of grass root members will affect the funding of the Elite Riders and we all want our international success to long continue.

*Remember, the Surrey League opted out of BC control for a period number of years ago.

*Solution?: British Cycling split into two, the present Board with overall control but with a sub organisation driven by the members who will complete control of the grass roots sport. 

*The board are the biggest part of the problem.

*Complete lack of transparency, poor communication.

The clash: EGM V Le Tour

Who worked that out? Yes, JULY 22, the day of the EGM is also the final weekend of Le Tour. The EGM is in Warrington on the same day as the penultimate stage of the Tour de France in Marseille. This is a time trial which a certain triple British Tour winner, Chris Froome will be hoping to win. It which almost certainly decide the overall outcome in Paris the following day. 

Where to go? Warrington versus Marseille/Paris? 

Clearly, Regional Officers with a conscious will be wrestling with that one. But those with holidays booked, what do they do? Pull out of the family holiday?

Would the Football Association schedule an EGM on the same day as the FA Cup final? Or on the day England (a dream) were playing in the final of the World Cup?

I mean, what was BC thinking? Perhaps they mean to hire a big screen for the afternoon's live broadcast of the TT and hold the EGM in the evening.