Our sports correspondent Jen Offord isn’t the only woman who wants to ride her bicycle. We’re in the midst of a cycling revolution – and the wheels have been in motion for a while.
Cycling: the domain of the bearded Hackneyite, the middle-aged man in Lycra and, to a lesser extent, my dad with his right corduroyed-trouser leg tucked into his sock, wobbling his way back from the Tour de Tendring, after a 30-mile circuit of real ale pubs. Yes, cycling, like many other sports, is the pursuit of chaps and children living in semi-rural Essex. But wait, what’s that I hear you cry? “We’re in the midst of a cycling revolution!”?
The times they are a-changing, and cycling is a sport with an increasingly high number of women participating in the UK, thanks, at least in part, to the exponential success of Great Britain’s cycling teams over the last 15 years. We’ve come from a mere four medals across all the cycling disciplines back in the 2000 Olympics to almost completely dominating (at least the track) for the last two summer Games.
“Beryl Burton is said to have caught up with and overtaken men’s champion Mike McNamara, passing him a liquorice allsort as she did so.”
Laura Trott, part of our success story in 2012, has just won her 10th European Track title, marking herself out as the competition’s most successful rider, and it’s exciting to think what the already two-time Olympic-gold medallist might achieve at the Rio Games next year. What’s more, she’s certainly not on her own, with Lizzie Armitstead representing on the road, and Dame Sarah Storey continuing as a force to be reckoned with in the para-cycling track and road world championships. Add a fresh new crop of talent, such as 18-year-old Manon Lloyd, and there could be many more great results ahead.
But let’s not forget there were many great results in the past, too, and I’m talking way before Victoria Pendleton hung up her cleats. Beryl Burton was breaking records across three decades, including setting a 12-hour time trial record in 1967 that surpassed the then men’s record and remained unbeaten by a man for another two years. In fact, she’s actually said to have caught up with and overtaken men’s champion Mike McNamara, passing him a liquorice allsort as she did so.
Burton’s 12-hour record (277.25 miles FYI) has yet to be beaten by a woman. She’d undoubtedly have won twelvety Olympic golds over the course of her career, had the IOC permitted women to participate in cycling events before 1984, when she was 47 (even though she’d set one of her many records as late as 1981).
Of course there was also Eileen Sheridan, who in 1954 set the record time for cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats in two days, 11 hours and seven minutes. And what about Billie Fleming, who set the woman’s record for the greatest distance cycled in a year all the way back in 1938. It was 29,603.7 miles, in case you’re interested, which certainly shits all over my little American Adventure, earlier this year.
If ever there has been proof that if you book them, they will come or indeed, if you put them on telly, people will be vaguely interested, it’s in the indomitable rise of women’s cycling. Alongside increasing coverage of women’s pro cycling – such as the televising of the Women’s Tour for the last two years – women’s participation at grassroots level has also increased. Overall there are more than 200,000 fewer women participating in sport in England and Wales once a week now than there were in October 2012, BUT, according to British Cycling, there are 254,000 MORE women cycling than there were in March 2013.
This is big business now. As well as sponsorship deals for professionals, the UK’s first female-specific independent bike shop opened its doors in Surbiton last year, and online brands such as Velo Vixen and Total Women’s Cycling continue to grow, proving the point that Women in Sport has consistently battled to make: there is a solid case for commercial investment in women’s sport and that investment is beneficial across every level of participation.2789 Views
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen