The British cycling team is one of the best funded, and best run sports teams in the world. Millions of pounds started to flood in to British sports after 1997 and the inception of national lottery funding, and now, following the deal with British Sky Broadcasting, there’s even more on offer.
British Cycling now has an embarrassment of riches but the real challenge has always been to spend that money correctly and turn it in to gold medals. Here’s how British Cycling went about doing just that.
We go back to 1996, when British Cycling was a very different place. Virtually broke and lacking equipment, but with a visionary man by the name of Peter Keen plotting the path to glory and with a state-of-the-art velodrome and base in Manchester to call home.
At the beginning of 1996, the plans for Lottery funding of sports were still in their infancy. It was Olympic year and national cycling coach Doug Dailey received a one off grant from the Foundation for Sports and Arts of £22,750; a share of a £300,000 package spent across all British sports.
Before the Olympics, the British team pursuit squad were training at 4-20 pace, aiming for 4-10 in Atlanta, they eventually qualified tenth with 4-15. Chris Boardman won a bronze medal in the road time trial and former Italian rider Max Sciandri won bronze in the road race.
Later in the year the world track championships were held at the new Manchester velodrome for the first time where Boardman set his hour record in the Superman position pioneered by Scotsman Graeme Obree. There was precious little else to shout about for the Brits.
Behind all this, the British Cycling Federation (BCF) was on the point of collapse following the Tony Doyle affair. The crippling cost of the associated legal battle had led to the BCF board being sacked.
At the beginning of the year the government announced a £40m funding package for all sports. The BCF had until March to submit an eight-year performance program. The required plans were complex and many sports struggled with the amount of paperwork. Without a plan or anyone to manage it BC put together a big list of riders who would receive funding.
Chris Boardman’s coach Peter Keen, was invited by the Sports Council to help governing bodies with their plans, but the BCF had missed the first crucial meeting and risked missing out altogether. They eventually submitted a one-year interim World Class Performance Plan.
At the world track championships in Perth, Australia, Yvonne McGregor won Britain’s only medal – a bronze – while the French won six golds. Writing for Cycling Weekly, Phil Liggett described Britain’s track champs as one embarrassing performance after another. Prophetically, he tagged two young sprinters, Chris Hoy and Craig MacLean as potential future medal winners, and said hopes were being pinned on funding and the appointment of a performance director.
On December 1, Peter Keen took up the position of Performance Director of cycling’s £900,000 World Class Performance Plan. He beat Steve Paulding and Paul Sherwen to the job. This was still interim funding and Keen still had an eight-year plan to formalise. He outlined the goals of ‘The Plan’ for the first time saying track racing would be a major target due to number of medals on offer.
The WCPP was introduced to the world at the Sea Otter Classic in America where funded riders wore the new lime green strip for the first time. In his Editorial, Cycling Weekly’s Robert Garbutt described it as a yellow-green monstrosity. It had however been Keen’s attempt to show everyone that this was a new start embodied by a completely new mentality.
In an interview in May, Peter Keen said; “We need a sea change in attitude….. The whole structure is in urgent need of revision….. the WCPP is bigger and broader than the BCF…..there’s no such thing as a national squad, only a WCPP squad.”
Team Brite Voice were dominating the British scene that had been given a boost by the Prutour stage race. Several Brite Voice riders made up the team pursuit squad that set a new British record of 4-11.189 minutes during the season. A former international water polo player, Jason Queally also set a British kilometre record of 1-04.153 minutes.
A young junior rider, Bradley Wiggins, won the junior pursuit world title in Cuba, although Britain won no medals at all at the senior world track champs. The home nation riders won six medals at the Commonwealth Games, although none of them were gold.
Keen spent most of 1998 in his office in the Manchester velodrome writing the performance plan and only went to one race all year. He was attempting to secure £2m of lottery funding and set the target of Britain moving to sixth in the world rankings. Simon Jones was appointed as sports scientist.
Keen was fighting for mountain bike downhill and BMX to be included in the funding plan despite them not being Olympic sports. Right from the start Keen argued that riders from these disciplines were true athletes and could have the ability to cross over. He listed four BMXers on the original funding list, including one called Jamie Staff.
Cycling’s lottery grant was announced early in January; It would receive funding for six years, and £2.5m in the first year. Riders were now being funded and had professional back-up for the first time. It was just one year before the Sydney Olympics and in-roads were being made very quickly.
Jason Queally won the kilo at the first World Cup of the year and Charly Wegelius rode impressively for the WCPP in the major under-23 road races across Europe under the management of road manager John Herety, eventually signing with the Italian Mapei squad at the end of the year. Few other young riders made the grade.
At the track Worlds, Queally, Hoy and MacLean won a silver medal in the Olympic sprint (now called the team sprint) behind the French. Queally was fifth in the kilo, a whole second behind Arnaud Tournant, while the team pursuit squad qualified sixth fastest.
The cover line on the November 13 issue of Cycling Weekly read ‘Is Britain on the verge of greatness?’ However, many of the old guard in cycling still didn’t understand why the focus was on track and not on higher-profile road racing. There was even criticism that it was ‘over the top’ for the national squad to go on a winter training camp in Australia at the end of the year.
One week into the Sydney Olympic Games and Britain’s cyclists were splashed all over the national papers with a gold, silver and two bronze medals won on the track. Jason Queally was the hero after winning the kilometre (Britain’s first gold) and then came a silver in the team sprint.
The team pursuit squad won bronze and had slashed the British record down to 4-01.979. The endurance riders had been riding a much-improved programme of road races throughout the season and had been winning stages in major races before preparing specifically for the track for several weeks.
It was also the first time that the British track riders had had the support of a professional back-up team. It hadn’t been all plain sailing though as sprinter Neil Campbell was sent home from the pre-Games training camp after returning a sample showing raised levels of Gonadotrophin, He was later banned.
Earlier in the season there had been problems when the GB team didn’t enter the Manx International road race. Keen defended the decision saying; “we have not been charged with producing national champions or supporting domestic events.” He was however arguing with UK Sport for a road programme, something they were suspicious of.
Keen started of talking about what it would take to become the world’s number one nation. The statement was met with astonishment by many, but what people didn’t know then was that Keen was a visionary and the Olympics were proof that the revolution had already started.
The World Track Championships were held in Manchester again, and for the first time the Brits were expected to win medals. They came away with five, including Yvonne McGregor taking her first world title in the individual pursuit.
Nicole Cooke won the junior world road race title in Plouay, France, and Chris Boardman retired.
With several of Britain’s top road riders on the track endurance programme many big names were absent from the traditional British season opening road races and time trials as the WCPP block-booked accommodation in Majorca allowing the riders to prepare in warm weather.
Rob Hayles had signed for Cofidis for the season, becoming the first of the track endurance riders to be placed with a pro squad in order to get the level of racing required to prepare for world-class track racing.
Jason Queally received an MBE after his Olympic performances but had given up his WCPP funding as he was classified as a professional now he was sponsored. The structure for this was initially unclear as pro riders couldn’t receive Lottery funding.
German Heiko Salzwedel is appointed National Track Manager after many successful years with the Australian AIS set up. Dave Brailsford is appointed as WCPP Programme Director. Brailsford had previously been working with the team as a consultant on procurement.
The road squad, made up of the track endurance riders, were getting more and more invites to international races. Bradley Wiggins won the Cinturion Ciclista in Majorca, Paul Manning won the Irish FDB Insurance Ras while Chris Newton won the Circuit des Mines stage race in France against high-quality opposition.
John Herety was now working with the senior riders as the development of under-23 riders stalled. The more talented riders who received funding were placed in foreign teams, receiving less interaction with the WCPP staff than the track-based riders.
On the track Chris Hoy won the kilometre at the Cali World Cup in Colombia while Wiggins won the European pursuit title in the Czech Republic. Having won a second stage race in Luxemberg Wiggins eventually signed for Francaise des Jeux.
Nicole Cooke won the junior mountain bike and road race world titles, while David Millar, who was in his fifth year as a professional with the Cofidis team, won silver behind Jan Ullrich in the time trial at the World Championships in Lisbon.
Peter Keen talks of his plans for a World Class Start programme to feed young riders in to the system. He also predicts cycling becoming a major sport funding wise due to the success in Sydney.
Nicole Cooke starts her career in the senior ranks, but there is immediately a problem as she refuses to sign the WCPP contract, being unhappy with the way it is worded. She eventually joins as an Elite Affiliate member and so is able to ride as a professional in Italy. It’s a matter of weeks before she is winning races.
The new GB kit is unveiled and has returned to the traditional red, white and blue. Iain Dyer is appointed as national sprint coach, and the sprinting pool is further strengthened by the return of Jamie Staff, a British born BMX world champion who has lived and raced in America for many years. The appeal of the WCPP for Staff outweighs the money on offer on the lucrative US BMX circuit.
Former school teacher Ian Drake launches BC’s Talent Team programme in July. It tests 2,000 children in more than 60 secondary schools and is an instant hit in many schools. It is later announced that the programme will receive £8m of funding over four years to help find future Olympians.
Riders returning from track World Cups with gold medals is now a regular occurrence in both sprint and endurance events, but at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester the home nations are well and truly thrashed by Australia, who win eight golds on the track and two on the road. The performance prompts Peter Keen to send a letter to everyone involved with the WCPP saying that things must improve across the board in the two years before the Athens Olympics.
It doesn’t take long for the message to get through as the British team enjoy their most successful World Track Championships in Copenhagen winning three golds that places them second in the medal table. Among them is Chris Hoy’s first kilometre title.
At the Worlds the team rides their new Sports Institute bikes, designed and built in conjunction with former Greek sprinter Dimitris Katsanis. The bikes are part of Keen’s plan to cover every angle of performance. The development of their own equipment is slowly rolled out from this point.
David Millar visits Manchester velodrome to do some testing on the track and is gushing of the experience. Salzwedel resigns as track manager, after clashing with some of the riders and Keen announces the size of the squad will be shrunk in order to concentrate on the genuine medal contenders.
A former Aussie pro who raced in Britain and won the Milk Race, Shane Sutton, joins the WCPP in Manchester after previously working as the Welsh national coach. He is an instant hit with the sprinters with an intricate knowledge of tactics and a great ability to motivate riders.
Yvonne McGregor retires, Victoria Pendleton moves to the UCI headquarters to train under Frederic Magnien, and a young junior rider from the Isle of Man called Mark Cavendish finishes sixth in the Amsterdam Six junior Madison.
Bradley Wiggins wins his first pursuit world title in Stuttgart, although Chris Hoy took a step back after his Commonwealth Games and world championship wins of the previous year, admitting that his mental approach was wrong.
Towards the end of the year six young riders join the newly-formed Olympic Academy. Based in Manchester they are instantly put through their paces in a boot camp style training regime by coach Rod Ellingworth. Crucially they are taught how to fend for themselves before, during and after races. During some stage races they are purposely given virtually no assistance, having to maintain their own bikes and wash their own kit in their bedroom sinks.
The initial plan is for the riders to race track through the winter and on the road during the summer. Ellingworth’s proposal was that it would take four years for the riders to make an impact. Although one rider quit after just a few months, it didn’t take long before the others were competitive in major races
The Revolution series also begins at the end of the year. The four events at Manchester Velodrome that run through the winter are put on jointly by Face Partnership, British Cycling and Manchester Velodrome. The series is set up as much to give British riders good quality racing through the winter as it is to make money. It instantly proves popular with sprinters from France, Germany and the Netherlands as they experience quality racing without the pressure of World Cups where they have to score qualifying points.
A psychiatrist named Steve Peters had made some time available for the riders and had made quite an impression with some of the. Others are a little more reserved when it comes to working with a psychiatrist. He confirms he can go to Athens next year.
David Millar wins the gold medal in the time trial at the World Championships in Hamilton, Canada.
Peter Keen leaves to take up a senior post at UK Sport but agrees to work for BC in a consultancy capacity until the Athens Olympics. Dave Brailsford is promoted to the position of performance director after Keen’s departure.
Once again the cycling team is hailed as the heroes as they win two golds, a silver and bronze at the Athens Olympics. Wiggins takes one of each colour becoming the first Brit to do so in 40 years. The Australians are once again top dogs winning four gold medals on the track.
Dave Brailsford puts much of the improvement down to the influence of psychiatrist Steve Peters who has been working with the squad. He helped Chris Hoy to plan his mental preparation for the Kilo as he knew he would be last to ride, and expected others to go fast. They did, but Hoy went even faster.
This came after a successful World Championships in Melbourne where the team won two golds. Chris Hoy won the kilometre, Jamie Staff won the Keirin. Britain push Australia hard in the team pursuit and Rob Hayles took a silver in the individual pursuit. The team sprinters won bronze.
There was virtually no British media present – except Cycling Weekly – as none of them had yet realised what the cycling team would be capable of in Athens. Chris Boardman had come back to work with the squad, but was helping the coaches rather than having direct involvement with the riders
In June, just before the Tour de France, David Millar is arrested by French police investigating doping within the Cofidis team. Dave Brailsford is dining with Millar in the Biarritz restaurant when the arrest is made – a fact that didn’t make it into the public domain until years later. Millar eventually confesses to using EPO; he is given a two year ban and is stripped of his world title.
The success on the track continues, with the team sprinters back on top at the World Championships in Los Angeles.
The team pursuit quartet of Steve Cummings, Rob Hayles, Paul Manning and Chris Newton win World Championship gold for Britain for the first time.
Victoria Pendleton is beginning to make huge strides. Fifth in the 500m time trial, she wins gold in the sprint, as do the team pursuiters for the first time at World Championship level.
Queally and Hoy take silver and bronze in the kilo, but it has already been confirmed the event will not be part of the Beijing Olympics. Hoy announces his plans to refocus on the sprint and Keirin. Mark Cavendish is fourth in the scratch race and wins the Madison with Rob Hayles. Britain can justifiably claim to be among the best track cycling nations in the world.
The British team win just one gold medal at the world track championships in Bordeaux, but a host of good performances leaves the coaching staff satisfied. They had in fact peaked for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne just weeks before where they beat the Aussies in their own back yard in the team pursuit for the first time.
In both competitions several young riders begin to break in to the senior squad. Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish and Matt Crampton all do well, taking the bigger occasion comfortably in their stride.
Chris Boardman starts his quest to turn the team into the most technologically advanced in the world. With generous back-up from UK Sport and many aerodynamic and engineering experts he starts redesigning kit and clothing from the ground up.
Cavendish keeps winning amateur races on the Olympic Academy and finishes the season riding as a stagiaire for T-Mobile. Unsurprisingly he then signs a full contract with the German team.
Simon Jones leaves the team after turning the team pursuit squad into world beaters. Matt Parker who had worked with Jones in his role with the English Institute of sport takes his place.
After successfully appealing, David Millar had his two-year ban back-dated and is allowed to race from July first. This change sees him return to racing at the Tour de France prologue in Strasbourg. Millar is welcomed back to the British team and competes again in red white and
blue at the world championships in Salzburg.
Britain’s track squad is now the best in the world, without any room for dispute. They make another giant leap forward by winning seven world titles at the World Track Championships in Majorca. The tally equals that of the French team in Berlin in 1999.
One of the standout performances was that of Rebecca Romero. Romero won a silver medal in rowing at the Athens Olympics but then made the switch to cycling where in just over a year, with the help of BC’s Olympic Podium Programme, she turned herself in to a world-class pursuiter, winning a silver medal.
Chris Hoy wins the Keirin, completing his own transformation from kilo rider to bona fide sprinter. On the road Mark Cavendish takes 11 wins in his debut year with T-Mobile, instantly becoming the most successful graduate of the Olympic Academy. His friend and former Academy team-mate Geraint Thomas is the youngest rider to start the Tour de France in London and makes it all the way to Paris. In all, five British riders started the Tour de France, the most to have done so in years.
Dave Brailsford signs a deal with Halfords Bikehut for a British professional women’s team to be built around Nicole Cooke. The set up means Cooke can focus entirely on the 2008 Olympic Games road race. Halfords also become a Team GB partner.
At the road World Championships in Stuttgart, Jonny Belis takes bronze in the under-23 road race and gains the attention of CSC, the world’s number one road team. A former triathlete, Emma Pooley finishes in the top ten in both the women’s road race and time trial, putting herself in the frame for next year’s Olympics.
The British track squad win an unprecedented nine gold medals at the World Track Championships in Manchester, with the promise of more to come at the Olympics. The medal haul was bordering on embarrassing and there was almost nothing the other nations could do stop them.
There were many standout performances, among them the British team pursuit squad setting a new world record of 3-56.322 minutes, Chris Hoy becoming the first British sprint world champion since Reg Harris in 1954, and Rebecca Romero completing her transformation from rower to cyclist by winning the women’s pursuit title.
Media interest in the British team reaches a frenzy as papers who have never covered the sport at any level realise where the Olympic medals are likely to come from and send their reporters to the Manchester velodrome in their droves.
The Worlds almost got off to a disastrous start when Rob Hayles failed a haematocrit test on the eve of the individual pursuit qualifying round. BC backed Hayles and mounted a challenge to the 50 per cent rule which, the team’s medical staff argued, could be exceeded by a track rider Hayles tapering prior to a major event. Hayles’s blood and urine dope tests were all negative and he is later cleared.
Mark Cavendish hits the big time with two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and four at the Tour de France, becoming the most respected bunch sprinter in the peloton.
Dave Brailsford announces his plans to have a pro road team up and running for the 2010 season, built with predominantly British riders. When it happens, British Cycling will have the most complete chain of progression – from school playing field to Olympic champion – in existence.
Sky signs a multi-million pound sponsorship package with British Cycling to promote grass routes cycling. No one will confirm or deny whether or not the media company will be the main backers of the pro team.
To be continued……