British cycling is going great … just not in Britain
Mark Cavendish is being hailed as one of the greatest, if not already the greatest, British cyclist ever in the wake of his remarkable victory in last weekend’s Milan-San Remo classic.
In its 100 editions, only two men, including Eddy Merckx, have won the race at a younger age than 23-year-old Cavendish, who stamped his credentials in emphatic fashion last year when he won four stages of the Tour de France.
Last weekend’s race also came down to a superb sprint finish as he overhauled German Heinrich Haussler by a less than a centimetre — but his trademark explosive finale came after almost 300k of gruelling pedalling in a race that included some hefty climbs.
Cavendish is only the second Briton to win one of the one-day classics, following in the cleats of Tommy Simpson, who chalked up a hat-trick of wins in the early 1960s.
Cavendish’s achievement was lauded throughout Europe, apart from in Britain, where his victory merited little more than a few sentences in most national newspapers in the wake of the Six Nations finale and an action-packed weekend in the Premier League.
With Britain’s track team still basking in the glory of the Beijing Olympics, with Nicole Cooke a proud world champion on the road, with a British Tour de France team under development and with unprecedented levels of sponsorship and funding pouring in, it should be the golden age for the sport.
Yet as Cavendish was blasting his way to glory in Italy, British cycling was coming to terms with the third cancellation of a Premier Calendar road race after just a few weeks of the season.
The Police stepped in to order 120 riders to stop the Bikeline race in north Wales after concerns about safety. Two previous landmark races had been cancelled after protests by police or local authorities.
For all the continental success, Cycling Weekly magazine said on Thursday that road racing in Britain is “under attack and on the ropes”.
Cycling officials have asked for Government help to save the sport from over-zealous officialdom. If they don’t get it, where will the next Cavendish come from?
PHOTO: Mark Cavendish of Britain celebrates on the podium at the end of the Milan-San Remo Classic road race in San Remo March 21, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo