Looking back to the rise of British Cycling’s international success, they cleverly targeted a relatively underfunded area of cycle sport, threw all their eggs in the ‘track’ basket & gained multiple medals on the world stage as a result. This focus on track racing eventually made this area of cycle sport harder for ‘Team GB’ to win medals once everybody else started to catch up, but they reaped the rewards before others also invested heavily after seeing how big an impact the UK made. Many other nations now also see it as a pathway, it gets more resources (although nowhere near mens road cycling) & track racing is now a different sport after the nineties & noughties. There are still some potential opportunities in different area of cycle sport for some smaller forward-thinking national governing bodies, with smaller budgets to make a similar impact on a smaller scale, but get great results & help their riders progress through an alternative pathway.
So lets look at the options for Scottish Cycling, currently the primary performance path being pursued is to feed the British Cycling Olympic development team, which generally focusses on Olympic disciplines of track & mountain biking, with those riders feeding into the road programme. This is looking very good so far, with some Scottish stars emerging & plenty of young talented Scottish riders performing at a very high level to secure places in the development teams.
Perhaps there’s another route we could be considering in addition to the above, it may involve directing some resources away from ring-fenced ‘Olympic’ disciplines, onto the spectator-friendly format of cyclo-cross, it may even attract some sponsors if handled correctly. Scotland is ideal for pursuing this niche, we have crappy weather, plenty of poorly surfaced tracks, mud, a park in almost every village & town & our public like drinking beer while watching sport. But more importantly for sports development, the fundamentals are already in place, a highly motivated, idea-rich & well organised group of clubs & individuals who are growing the sport & promoting cyclo-cross events all winter (and now a summer league is planned).
Scottish Cycling haven’t exactly jumped on the bandwagon here, Scottish CycloCross have sorted themselves out quite impressively. They now provide regular race opportunities for the broadest demographic to be found in Scottish cycle sport, all compressed into one-day events suitable for the whole family. As spectator cycle events go, it also can’t be beaten, warm velodrome spectator opportunities with any atmosphere are few & far between at Glasgow, the thrill of seeing folks suffering & covered in mud while you can quite legally shout abuse at them is likely going to be a winner, once the wider public realise what’s going on.
The Gist Of It
I’m absolutely no expert in cyclo-cross (my lack of knowledge on ‘cross tub fitting strategy displaying my off-road knowledge deficit to full effect on twitter), so the issue is really between the stakeholders in their self-engineered highly successful discipline, and the governing body. Whether these two can, or want, to come to any agreement is up to them. The benefits to cyclo-cross could be better funding & a higher profile, while for Scottish Cycling they could find talent to push towards their Olympic disciplines, so both win. Cyclo-Cross being a bigger sport may start a slow progression towards Scottish riders being more successful on the international stage, there’s no reason a popular & flourishing sport can’t create a number of world-class riders, we just need it to get the recognition it deserves, to attract the talent & allow them to progress.
Cross can offer huge opportunities within the sport itself, or from the riders that will emerge & transfer into other disciplines. If we want to find the riders of the future, we need something that’s fun, easy to access & doesn’t require a huge investment in facilities, but with a little more support from the governing body, who I think are missing a trick here. As far as I can see, there’s nothing better than cyclo-cross for Scotland to look at developing.
Note: @owenp on twitter is now hosting some Scottish cycling podcasts, well worth a listen, the first couple deal specifically with cyclo-cross. It’s available on his website & i-tunes, search on your pod catcher for ‘The Drum Up Scottish cycling podcast’.