Cycling: Big time on the small screen

Cycling takes over Britain’s television schedules

There seemed to be only cycling on the TV last Sunday. Some three hours of live coverage from the Tour of Britain on ITV1 on Sunday afternoon, followed by hour-long highlights shows from both the Vuelta a Espana and the ToB in the evening — it doesn’t get much better than that.

New Forest residents must be livid. Bike racing has become commonplace in our living rooms these days but it’s a far cry from the bad old days of 40 years ago.

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In the 1970s you were lucky to get a five-minute glimpse of cycling on Saturday afternoon’s World of Sport. It was usually on the condition that there was absolutely nothing else that could be shown.

There was no home for bike racing until the launch of Channel 4 in the early Eighties. First came the Kellogg’s City Centre Series in 1983 with a primetime 7pm slot followed by the Tour de France three years later and the Kellogg’s Tour of Britain 12 months after that.

Without this commitment we would never had heard Phil Liggett cry, “That looks like Stephen Roche… it’s Stephen Roche!” and seen Ireland’s finest collapse on the finish line with the effort of winning the 1987 Tour. It triggered a mini boom in cycling interest, nothing on the scale of 2012’s outbreak of Wiggomania but massively important at the time.

When Channel 4 decided it preferred cricket at the beginning of the Nineties it was a pretty big blow but by now Eurosport had been launched and we aimed our dishes at the sky to receive words of wisdom from David Duffield.

Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly