Sunday, 16 December 2012

SPOTY: Another Big Night In British Cycling History?

Unless you have been locked in a cupboard for the last 2 months you will be aware that tonight is once again Sports Personality Of The Year night. This award has a bit of an unusual status - a good deal of the nation watches it, but the award itself is rarely taken as being a 'major' achievement in any sportsman's career, it's nice to win but doesn't really mean a great deal. However, tonight's award could confirm a massive shift in the publics perception of cycling and bring what has been a 'fringe' sport well and truly to the masses...

When Mark Cavendish won last years SPOTY award, cyclists around the country realised that something was changing. Britain has long been known for their performances on the track, the last few Olympics have served to prove that we dominate that side of the sport - road cycling though has remained on the back burner, it's popularity rarely changed since the early days of the milk race. Road cycling has had a stable, but mediocre support base for many years but an outstanding year for a certain rider from the Isle of Man in 2011 brought cycling to mainstream media attention.

Winning the green jersey and becoming World Champion cemented Cavendish's place in the sport as one of the greats and indeed landed him the Sports Personality Of The Year Award which at the time was a massive deal. For cycling to maintain its position within the mainstream media though, it needed to progress beyond Marks green jersey. Step up Mr Bradley Wiggins. If a green jersey and the World Champs was a good year, then Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandy, The Dauphine, the Tour de France and an Olympic Gold Medal truly is one of the greatest sporting years achieved by any British sportsperson, well, ever. And don't we know it...

The press got behind Bradley Wiggins like no cyclist has ever been supported in this Country before. His sideburns are now recognised by housewives and children across the nation - no longer is Bradley Wiggins merely the discussion of an ageing group of cyclists out on the Sunday morning club run, during the summer his name showed up at the breakfast table of just about anybody capable of reading and speech. He now stands as a firm favourite to take tonight's honours. But why is this so important and what does it mean for cycling?

Well first of all, Bradley Wiggins is not the only cyclist on tonight's list of possible winners. Sir Chris Hoy too makes the list and stand a pretty decent chance of winning, after all he is the most decorated Olympian of all time. Secondly, last year saw Mark Cavendish win and for a cyclist to win at all is somewhat of a rarity, so for a cyclist to win in consecutive years would mark a definite change in the sports popularity. Thirdly though, and most significantly: This is an Olympic Year, a Home Olympic year and usually in an Olympic year you can guarantee the winner of nearly every category will be an Olympian as all other sports get swept aside to make way for medallists, sob stories and the making of hero's.

Bradley Wiggins is an Olympic athlete though, I hear you say! And yes, he is. In fact he is a remarkably well decorated Olympian, and this year he won yet another Gold Medal in yet another discipline. But, and it's a big BUT: Bradley Wiggins will be remembered this year, not solely for his performance at the Olympics, but for his performance at the Tour de France, in his own arena, away from the millions and millions of London 2012 viewers, in this previously unrecognised, minor, insignificant 'fringe' sport. And while there are some astonishing stories emerging from the Olympic Games, the real story of Bradley Wiggins, the main narrative, was how he became the first ever Englishman to win the Tour de France, whilst winning gold at the Olympics was merely a sub-plot.

It only remains for me to say: Pick up the phone and make cycling Britains number 1 sport.

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