No-one can deny that in the UK cycling is more popular than it’s ever been.
Here in Lancashire even a rough head count tells you that there are more commuters, more weekend warriors, more wannabe racers, and more pro cycling fans than ever before. The turnout for the Tour de France in Yorkshire 2014 proved this last point beyond doubt, but in a way, the crowds lining the route of the Tour of Britain for the last few years, usually in torrential rain, and with distinctly less glamour than the extravaganza of Le Tour, are an even better barometer.
Having said all that, pro cycling is still very much a minority sport.
Put it this way, as the one-day racing got under way for another year the headline “Ian Stannard wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad” didn’t cause too many ripples through the mainstream UK media, or in general conversation beyond your full-on cycling fan. As far as I can tell the tabloid press here in the UK is still fixated on Brad Wiggins latest country-gent-with-a-beard outfit, and Chris Hoy’s thighs (not that I spend much time reading the tabloids if I can help it).
Chances are that if you are interested in the Omloop you knew it was coming, and you probably knew that Stannard also won it last year.
But in-between you also have the casual-proper cycling fan who knows plenty, but has too much of a life to track down reports and results from obscure corners of northern Europe. Like my wife, for example:
Me: “I see Stannard won Omloop het Nieuwsblad again, that man is an absolute powerhouse!”
Me: “Stannard. Wiggo’s mate from Sky…he won it last year too.”
Wife: “Right, but what did you call it. The Amloop hit…what?!”
Me: “The Omloop het Nieuwsblad”.
Wife: “Ok. But what do people call it?”
Me: “The Omloop”
Wife: “Oh, OK, the Omloop, yes I remember…Belgian race. Cobbles isn’t it?”
My wife is sensible like that; she just retains the bare minimum necessary (partly because she’s interested, but also to humour me. I like to be humoured). The Omloop. Belgian one-day race. Stannard wins it. Next!
The day after the Omloop came Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which sounds equally impenetrable to your average non-cycling fan on the street; apart from anything it sounds like it involves a visit to Brussels half way around (perhaps to sample the delights of moules-frites, waffles and strong beer brewed by monks, you might think), when in fact it doesn’t quite get that far before heading back to Kuurne. Quirky eh?
But these days another one-day Belgian race apparently means another British winner, and the finish in Kuurne saw Mark Cavendish out-sprinting Alexander Kristoff for the win.
Any more of this British success in the northern European springtime (Cavendish to win Milan-San Remo? Wiggins for Paris-Roubaix? Stannard for all the other unpronounceable ones?), and the appetite for pro-cycling here in the UK might begin to extend beyond the Tour de France, the Tour of Britain, and the one-day battles in Belgium, to take in some even more obscure events on the pro-cycling calendar.
Tour de Langkawi anyone?