The sporting hierarchy is changing in Britain.
Until recent years our image of sport in Britain evoked visions of white-clad cricket players, football stars and rugby men.
But this stereotype is changing. While Britain remains with no doubt a force to be reckoned with on the cricket green, football pitch and rugby field, another sport has been seeping into the countryâ€™s sporting cultureâ€¦ cycling.
Mark Cavendishâ€™s world title in Copenhagen last month captured the imagination of a nation that over the last 10 years has been establishing a firm place for itself at the forefront of world cycling.
Great Britainâ€™s six medals in Copenhagen are no flash in the pan. They are the result of an in-depth and long-term campaign by British Cycling to boost the sport in a country that is bursting with talent, not only on the road but across all cycling disciplines.
Over recent years the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero have lifted Britain to the top of track cycling, while in the world of mountain biking, Steve Peat, Tracy Moseley and Rachel and Gee Atherton have taken the downhill discipline by storm. And let us not overlook Shanaze Reade, BMX World Champion in 2007, 2008 and 2010, and Nicole Cooke, Road World Champion in 2008 and Olympic Champion the same year.
Britainâ€™s press behind cycling
Britain is starting to realise that it has a new â€śnational sportâ€ť on its hands, and cycling has been getting good press, very good press.
After Cavendishâ€™s world title, the Guardian wrote: â€śHis triumph was yet more evidence of the slow, steady but apparently unstoppable progress made in the two decades since Chris Boardman won Olympic gold in the Barcelona velodrome.â€ť
The on-line cycling media Cycling News, quoted British Cycling President Brian Cookson: â€śItâ€™s almost unbelievable to go from where we were, which was also-rans in everything, to the success weâ€™ve had across the board â€“ in track, BMX, mountain biking.â€ť
Trade magazine BikeBiz reports that cycle events are the 2nd (Tour de France), 5th (Giro dâ€™Italia), and 6th (Vuelta a Espagna) most watched sports events on British Eurosport TV this year, with the French Tennis Open taking top spot.
Meanwhile the BBC reflects on whether cycling could overtake the likes of rugby, cricket and tennis to â€śclaim the silver medal in the British publicâ€™s affectionsâ€ť behind the unassailable football.
The Times went to great lengths to explain the selfless team work involved in Cavendishâ€™s victory: â€śSport is selfish. Sport is brutish. Sport is about winning at the expense of others. Except that in Copenhagen, it wasnâ€™t. This was sport as an exercise â€“ you might almost call it an allegory â€“ in altruism.â€ť
And Britainâ€™s relatively new-found enthusiasm for the sport of cycling is in no way restricted to the Elite competition sector. The British in general are getting into the cycling culture, with more and more of the population choosing cycling as a means of transport.
Benefits to the economy
The BBC is one of many media to pick up on a report by the London School of Economics that found that some 3.7 million cycles were sold in the country in 2010 â€“ a rise of 28% on the number of cycles sold in 2009. The report says that more than a million people started cycling last year, bringing the total number of cyclists in Britain to 13 million. Cycling generates nearly ÂŁ3bn a year for the UK economy
This is fantastic news for the â€śgreenâ€ť movement, and was also reported on the GreenWise website, which stated that cycling could save Britain ÂŁ278 million in traffic congestions and pollution costs by 2015.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine upholds the health benefits of this popular sport: in an article entitled â€śBicycling as the panacea for physical inactivity?â€ť the publication points to cyclingâ€™s low cost and potentially high population reach as a reason that â€śactive commuting and recreational cycling can theoretically meet a populationâ€™s need for health-enhancing physical activityâ€ť.
Even cyclingâ€™s work and progress in the fight against doping appears to have found its supporters, judging by the Telegraph headline: â€śCycling does not need to be lectured by other sports about doping.â€ť
We can safely say that Britain is behind the cycling movement. British Cycling has doubled its membership since 2007 to 40,000, and only yesterday, the Prime Minister David Cameron visited the Federation headquarters in Manchester.
Future of Britainâ€™s cycling
Next year Britain will host the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and British Cycling has clearly announced its wish to host a Road World Championships in the coming years. Cycling News aptly sums up the rise of cycling in Britain over the last 10 years:
â€śIt was a decade in which major cycling events increasingly visited the UK. From Track Cycling and Mountain Bike World Cup events to the World Track Championships and the Tour de France, seeing the best riders in the world in action was never easier.
â€śLooking ahead, the 2012 Olympics should take this to a new level and continue the sporting momentum which cyclingâ€¦ has gained in the last 10 years or so.â€ť
Photo from British Cycling
British Prime Minister David Cameron, British National Coach Grant White and BMX Rider Shanaze Reade