Saturday, 21 April 2018

Why the government continues to ignore Cycing UK on road safety


ESTABLISHED wisdom has it that we need to study our history if we are to make any sense of the present to plan successfully for the future.

Not that humankind ever seems to understand this lesson!

This applies to the world of cycle campaigning as much as anything else.

I write this in response to Cycling UK’s latest efforts to get the government off its arse to improve road conditions.

The cycling world needs to wise up and ask how is that successive governments continue to fail to make the roads safer.

If we pay close study to Britain’s haphazard transport development this past century we might begin to understand the current impasse.

But very few people know the facts.

In the recent issue of the national cycling organisation Cycling UK’s flagship magazine, Cycle, chief executive Paul Tuohy worries that bicycle use remains very low.
He says “I don’t want to come across all doom and gloom but the number of people in the UK using any kind of bicycle is still stubbornly low, despite the clear benefits to society on so many levels.”

He says “more has to be done, by government and not just us, if we are to succeed in our mission.”

Strange, isn’t?  Cycling is enjoying its greatest boom for decades, evidence the tens of thousands taking up leisure cycling while in many cities, thousands more people have turned to cycling.

The explanation, we were told a few years ago, was that while cycling use has risen in town and cities it has fallen in rural areas.

As Tuohy says in Cycle, he doesn’t do doom and gloom which is why, I suspect, campaigning news has all but disappeared from the pages of that title, under his watch, and is now generally confined to the website.

But surely it’s not doom and gloom to attempt to figure out what’s wrong and to publish such stories. That is being positive. Cycling needs to understand how we got here.

And in my view, Cycling UK should start the ball rolling by informing their membership.

And then we might figure a way to put it right.

So for Tuohy to admit that the government is doing nothing much to improve cycling conditions must have taken some doing.



I wish him and Cycling UK luck. They are the standard bearers for cycling, always have been. They have run faultless campaigns and published many reports of the benefits of cycling (when they went by the name of Cyclists’ Touring Club). They have won praise for this work from government - but that's all -  and  from those few politicians who badger ministers to have cycling conditions improved.

Through their work, ministers know the basics, that 70 per cent of all journeys are less than five miles and many of them are ideal for cycling. That many people would take up cycling if the roads were made safer for them; that if only 10 per cent of all journeys were made by bike congestion and pollution would ease. The health of the nation would improve, on and on. It’s a win, win situation, as transport journalist, author and cyclists Christian Wolmer would say.

But as we know, this faultless presentation of the facts which few will dispute, has led us up only badly designed cycle paths. Despite successive governments agreeing with Cycling UK’s case at every level, nothing much as ever come of any of it in the past half-a-century.

 I recall when serious campaigning kicked off, in the mid-1970s with Friends of the Earth’s Reclaim the Road rally in Trafalgar Square. That changed nothing and the pattern continues.  

In my view there is nothing Cycling UK can do unless there is a fundamental change in the way the establishment runs this country.



I think a great many people are unaware of the transport cock ups which are the hall mark of successive British governments these past 200 years, from the canal age to the present.  

Every major transport development has taken shape without government imposing a strategic plan to get the best out of it for both the country and the people.

Insofar as cycling development goes, the powerful influence of the motoring lobby has and still does hold back cycling development.





But another important factor is that British government has always maintained a policy of non-involvement – unless it suited them. 
I came across another example of this laissez faire  thinking recently, in Mike Royden’s excellent and  most recent book, entitled “Tracing your Liverpool  ancestors” in which he documents the fascinating the history  of every facet of Liverpool’s development.

In one chapter he refers to the late 18th and early 19th century when streets were allowed to be constructed without any attempt by the town council “to control the character or direction” so as to make the town “healthy or beautiful”.

This policy of non-involvement runs deep. And where they have got involved you might wish they hadn’t. Such as the two greatest cock-ups in the name of transport development surely ever perpetuated. 


The closure of 4000 miles of the national rail network – the infamous Dr. Beeching cuts in the 1960s –   widely acknowledged to encourage car use.

While it is true that the railway network needed to lose some fat, Beeching was overkill.  
For it paved the way for the next trick, plans to run motorways into the every town and city centre in the country.

I haven’t the foggiest idea how Cycling UK is to change attitudes when it is clear Ministerial minds are only ever exercised by huge projects such as these two whoppers.

Except to say that is my belief that if we at least understand the history and make people angry, we can then, perhaps, find away.

Instead of blindly thinking that by simply explaining the bleeding obvious benefits of cycling we are going to effect change.

 I first ran this topic in a review of Christian Wolmers fine book “Are Trams Socialist – why Britain has no transport policy.”

It’s all here, Wolmar’s explanation as to why cycling development has come off worst of all and has, in fact, never happened. But in that review I didn’t mention the chapter on the proposed motorway development of the 1960s, when plans were actually drawn up to run huge motorways smack into all our towns and cities!

So in this blog I’ll take this period as an example of the twisted thinking lying behind so-called transport policy back then which surely remains unsurpassed to this day.

The first thing to note about this is that when it came to private motoring,  government dropped their non-involvement policy by launching a massive “transport” plan; except it wasn’t a transport plan at all but a plan for cars.

Clearly they were currying favour with their voters.  

Nothing else got a look in.

It was a huge failure and it was abandoned, but not before it had done considerable damage.

And if this totally bonkers approach to solving transport issues doesn’t convince you that ministers and planners can't always be trusted to be sensible, nothing will.

Wolmar told me that when he first cast eyes on the archived  1960s plans for the wholesale destruction of town and city centres in the name of the car, he was shocked, flabbergasted.
At the centre of this was  Earnest Marples, Minister of Transport. When I researched this period recently, I discovered there were those in own conservative party who described as a “charmer” and a “rogue”.

However, he did face enormous challenges to solve the problems that came with the sudden and rapid growth in car ownership which was leading to gridlock in the age before motorways.

When Marples introduced parking controls and yellow lines as a means of trying to control road use,  it led to huge public outcry from drivers who have always had a tendency to blame everyone  but themselves for congestion.

There were the whitewashed signs “Marples must go” across road bridges.

His was a thankless task. Not that he did too badly out of it!

For he was the Marples in Marples and Ridgeway, and was a director of the construction company and although it is said they were not directly involved in the building of the M1, Britain’s first motorway, they certainly benefited.

The company built several major highway projects.

As Marples connection with the construction industry was a conflict of interest and in breach of House of Commons rules, he was required to cut his connections with the company. He did so, but it's reckoned he still kept a finger in.
It was Marples who commissioned the Beeching Report to review the railways, closing 4,000 miles of track and stations to make the railways “profitable”.

In France a different view held sway. There the railways contribution to the country’s economy was in facilitating the movement of people and goods, not to insist on every line turning a profit per say.  Of course they were to be accountable, but they would never lack the investment they needed.

But what goes on “over there” has never influenced thinking here.

The Beeching-Marples tandem (an unfortunate metaphor) was widely seen as a move to “injure” the rail system to the advantage of the private car.

Clearly, the country needed a big improvement in the highway infrastructure cross-country motorways fulfilled that need.

But Marples wanted to go much further.

And he followed his drastic rail surgery by commissioning the Buchanan report (1963), saying that the full motorisation of towns and cities was the way to go.  

Wolmar writes it was… “an attempt to adapt towns and cities to the ‘full motorisation’ that he (Buchanan) deemed inevitable...”

It called for a vast network of urban motorways, dual carriageways and feeder in every town and city.

The interesting thing about this is that Buchanan realised the immense damage the creation of such a network would do. Bu they (he and his supporters in Government) felt powerless to deter what was deemed to be the desire of everyone to own a car and to drive where and when they want.

This from Wikipedia:

They were appalled by idea, realising that they were feeding at huge cost a monster of great potential destructiveness, but because they were seduced by this very monster, they thought, we’d better accommodate it, that to refuse to do so would be an act of defeatism….

So, as crazy as it sounds, they felt they had no choice but to go the whole hog and attempt to build hell on earth.

Here’s what the fly on the wall heard (probably) at the Cabinet meeting.

Cabinet meeting: OK, gentlemen and ladies, here’s what we do. 
The car is king,  right? Yes, of course it is. And we need to make drivers happy if we are to stay in government.  Let them drive where they want when they want.

So let’s build motorways not just across the country from town to town, but run them through and around and into every town centre, too.

Cycling? No, no. Cycling is in decline. No money in cycling. Very last century. Everyone drives now.  Nothing needs to be done for cycling. Buggar cycling.

What about the pedestrians?

Buggar the pedestrians.

For London the idea went like this.

If I recall rightly, Tottenham Court Road was to be transformed into a motorway, which would probably have meant widening it and knocking down property. 

The north and south circular road through the suburbs was another for development . In the West End the aim was to destroy Covent Garden to widen The Strand.
I recall the huge opposition to this when I first came to London.
Earlier they actually did take a  swathe of Hyde Park to widen Park Lane.  But by far the biggest idea was to run a inner-city motorway on stilts via Charing Cross smack in the centre.  These plans would require the demolition of 20,000 houses!

This was the general idea for every single town and city!

I discovered that where I live they had proposed knocking down the famous antiques quarter on narrow and beautiful 17th century West Street to widen the A25 which passes through the town.

Sanity prevailed when it was realised that building motorways into town centres would destroy so many homes it would cost then votes in the next general election.  
And then there was undisputed logic which struck home, that providing more roads in many cases simply generates more traffic.  Not always, but usually!

In Liverpool the M62 motorway carved a path through leafy suburbs aiming for the city centre, only to come up short at Broadgreen, by the Rocket, where it met the ring road.  By then the motorway circus suddenly realised the big problem,

They would need to to rip out the hearts of those places people have come to see. It was realised that  our city centres were never designed to accommodate motor traffic on anything like the scale they had envisaged.

So they quietly dropped the idea, but not before work had begun in several towns and cities, as roads were widened and ring roads begun.  They let it slide. Nothing was done for the cars on the scale envisaged.  

It was, it turns out, the only time a “national transport policy” – albeit for just one form of transport only – had ever been discussed in the history of transport planning in the UK.

And it was so it was they realised it wouldn’t work. It was back to piece meal development.  For they had no other ideas, no integrated strategy to get the best  out of all modes -  nothing for buses, nothing for cycling, nothing for pedestrians, although eventually we did see the beginnings of pedestrianised areas in the centres of many towns and cities.

As for Marples,  the bright boy of the conservative party, he fell out of favour and ended up doing a runner on the Night Ferry train to France to avoid prosecution for tax fraud.

How ironic that the Night Ferry was a rail service which Beeching had not closed down!

And he literally did do a runner.  There are stories saying he left his home in such a rush,  clothes and all sorts were left scattered about. His dash took him to Monaco.

Currently, the only change of direction in transport planning is that government is doing a lot more to promote and invest in rail travel, although the vastly expensive HS2 is coming under heavy criticism as being a waste of money.

It does, however, fit the picture of what former transport minister for London, a friend of cycling, Steve Norris, described as “Big Projectitus”…ministers are seduced by big projects.

Wolmar’s book provides a fresh perspective into successive government’s laissez-faire attitude to transport, the unwritten policy of non-interference.

Basically, governments have for decades been under the influence of the motoring lobby and will do nothing to upset them. That means they do not want to see any transport development perceived as a threat to car driving.

That means no integrated transport, no national cycling strategy, whatever they may say to the contrary. 
Wolmar’s book describes in detail the shambolic approach to transport issues by British governments. 

There’s a good chapter on cycling.  Wolmar, who was on the Cycling England board, which created small but effective town cycling development until it was disbanded by the Conservatives, says:  “Nowhere is the failure of coherent thinking on transport more apparent than in relation to cycling.” 

He provides a clear explanation of this. It is entertainingly written but grim reading all the same. And he spells out why British transport policy has been, still is, a mess.

One reviewer says Wolmar “captures the intellectual bankruptcy” of British transport policy. Another calls the book a clarion call for change; for proper funding of cycle networks and describes it as “required reading for any transport minister.”

(Although it should be noted that the only Secretary of State for Transport to plan for an integrated transport policy which reduced the dependency on cars -  Labour’s John Prescott - was swiftly removed from the post.)

Once it is understand what cycling is up against, the Cycling UK will need to recalibrate and expose the great transport lie.

They really ought to inform their membership!  They will need to tackle the PM head on and then go public!

However, doing anger has never been Cycling UK’s style. Even less so, now I suspect, since becoming a charity eligible for government funding for their work promoting cycling.

In which case, it’s back to going round and round in circles, trying to impress on government all the benefits that a healthier cycling nation will bring.

They know all this.  Individual MPs, the good guys, they care.  But they don’t care at Cabinet level.

Here endeth “Doom and Gloom.”

Over to you, Paul.

ARE TRAMS SOCIALIST – WHY BRITAIN HAS NO TRANSPORT POLICY.

£8.99 (including free P&P within UK)

Published by London Publishing Partnership,

Unit 212, Bon Marche Centre, 241-251 Ferndale Road, London SW9 8BJ.



Footnote: Doom and Gloom continued….this last week Paul Tuohy emailed every Cycling UK member with this message:

Cycling UK has told the Government how to make cycling safer, and now they want to hear from you. The Department for Transport also wants to hear your ideas about what will make you feel safer while cycling, because that’s what’s needed to remove the deterrents which put many people off cycling. 

They’ve done this before, many times, asked  cycling what is required and nothing happens.

Remember the excellent Get Britain Cycling report in 2013, sponsored by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group?

Praised to the heavens by the prime minister of the time, David Cameron, he nevertheless declined to give it cabinet backing.

Nothing happened.

This what the government does, it pretends to be interested but bounces the ball back into our court to distract and when we respond, telling them again exactly what cycling needs, they will again do nothing.

But we’ve no choice. Support Cycling UK, back Tuohy.

And read Wolmar’s book. You will then realise what cycling is up against.








Wednesday, 7 March 2018

A COWARDLY ATTACK ON WIGGINS AND TEAM SKY



The department for culture, media and sport select committee (DCMS) have this week, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, issued a damning indictment of Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins, by suggesting they used performance enhancing drugs under the guise of treating a legitimate medical condition in order to win the 2012 Tour de France.

Wiggins immediately described the findings as “malicious” and claims he was 100 per cent clean.

This is the latest development in the long running government investigation begun in 2016 looking into how Team Sky - who professed not to use forbidden drugs - came to allow Wiggins the use of the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone to treat his allergies.

Clearly, no matter badly things are stacking up against Wiggins and Team Sky, this latest and most serious allegation sprung on us by the Select Committee begs the question, have they overstepped the mark?

Except no news report I have seen is asking.

To criticise the team’s ethics over the sanctioned use of a known performance enhancing drug to treat an allergy while competing is one thing.

To now accuse them – on the basis of  “evidence from an anonymous source” -of using this medication for the “express purpose of allowing Wiggins, and possibly support riders, to take powerful corticosteroids to prepare for the Tour de France,”   is different, far more serious, matter entirely.

It is clear that Sky have dug themselves into a deep hole over their handling of this investigation, claiming, for instance, that riders’ medical records were lost. Team boss Sir Dave Brailsford’s holier than thou attitude got up a lot of noses.

As for Shane Sutton, Wiggins coach at the time, by admitting on television they would consider a TUE if it provided a marginal gain did their case no good at all.

It is perfectly understandable to think the worst of them.

But surely, until that anonymous person is revealed and the evidence they provided the Select Committee is presented for the “defence” to respond to, it cannot be right for the select committee to go public with such serious accusations?

I sought the opinion of  a legal acquaintance, a respected  cycling official, and he described the DCMS as: “amateurs passing judgement on a professional sport where the rules and practice are alien to them.”

He reminds us that Wiggins and Sky were acting within the rules of the sport and although those rules may be ethically dubious, they applied equally to Wiggins' fellow competitors in the TdF peloton who may have been competing on the same basis, that is, some of them perhaps, also on TUEs.  



He suggests that the DCMS slant on the facts is intended to create controversy - since it is quite clear that morally the UCI’s rules are almost impossible to morally justify.  



However they are the rules under which the sport is governed and therefore legally define the correct practice, he told me.  

“In over 50 years of legal experience I have found countless examples of the law being contrary to ethics or morals. However the law always prevails no matter how morally unjustifiable it may be.”



He makes the point that the DCMS are powerless to intervene as the law relating to the UCI and the Grand Tours is that of the country where the events take place and not within their jurisdiction.  

“In those circumstances,” he says, “it seems to me downright cowardly to use their parliamentary privilege to libel people when they are otherwise powerless to intervene.”



How did we get here?

In case you missed it, this is the Team Sky TUES story which came to light in 2016 when confidential medical information was hacked and leaked to the world by the so-called Fancy Bears - thought to be Russian.

TUES (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) permit an athlete to take, for medicinal purposes, a banned drug he would otherwise not be permitted to take. 

I share the view, as do a number of professional riders,  that anyone who needs a powerful drug to treat allergies in order to enable them to continue competing should not be competing, they should be resting. But the rules allow it.

In Wiggins case the drug was a powerful steroid known to enhance performance.  Wiggins use of this drug while racing was sanctioned by all the relevant sports authorities.  So his use of it was unquestionably legal. The question then became was it ethical to use a powerful drug in a team boasting they ride clean?  

That’s what kick-started this sorry saga which has besmirched reputations.

Clearly, Team Sky’s whiter than white image was now tinged grey.

When asked if by taking this drug for his breathing allergies could Wiggin’s performance also have been enhanced when he won the 2012 Tour, Brailsford said he couldn’t know if it was or it wasn’t.   So that was the first great unknown. And with it came the doubt.

And then along came the second unknown, a tip off to the Daily Mail about a jiffy bag containing something or other being flown out to France for Team Sky at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011. What did it contain? No one was saying.  So more suspicion. More doubt.

And then, under pressure from the MPs, Brailsford claims it contained a harmless medicine.

But there was no way to verify this since the team doctor’s lap top containing medical records had been stolen…..

And then…just when you think it can’t get any worse, another story breaks late in 2017, this time concerning Sky’s four times Tour de France champion Chris Froome who had an “adverse analytical finding” during that year’s Tour of Spain which he won.

Now he is under investigation following a test which recorded twice the legal level of the asthma medication, Salbutamol.










Sunday, 4 March 2018

Highways England ban on cycling - still time to protest


FOLLOWING a huge outcry at Highways England’s controversial and ludicrous plan to ban cyclists from using the A63 at Hull – one of the fastest time trial courses in England (see previous blog)  - the government agency has extended the consultation period to March 12.

But in what appears to be a bid to discourage protests, they say they will only accept comments by post, not by email. It seems they have figured out that in this electronic age people no longer put pen to paper, nor do they necessarily know how to stick stamps on envelopes, still less what post boxes look like.

So to get around this Cycling UK, the national cyclists’ charity, is inviting people to comment via their website and they will forward the lot in writing to Highways England by snail mail, as required.

You may recall Highways England’s reasoning for their proposed ban on cycling on the A63 at Hull. It is they say, because “cyclists cannot keep pace with 65mph traffic!” and are therefore in danger. Doh!

Not even Sir Bradley Wiggins can do 65mph on the A63. And if he can’t no one can.

So it seems the blame is to be pinned on time triallists for simply not riding fast enough.

The extension to the consultation period probably won’t change anything.  According to the Devils Dictionary, the meaning of the word consult is “To seek another’s approval of a course already decided on”.

In which case history will record… “The glorious age of cycling, the first and oldest mechanical means of transport invented in the 19th century,  came to an inglorious end after 150 years  when  in 2018 the A63 at Hull was closed to cycling by the car lobby .  The idea rapidly caught on across the country as cycling was banned from thousands of miles of the trunk road network.” 

Or maybe not.

Cycling UK is riding to the rescue and is prepared to mount a robust legal case in defence of cyclists' rights if Highways England proceed with their daft ban. Because the issue here is not so much about protecting the right to time trial on this road, but the dangerous precedent a ban will set for ordinary cycling on any road.

The following is a statement on Cycling  UK’s website:

“It’s nonsensical to ban bikes from a road because they can’t keep up with the motor traffic,” said Cycling UK’s head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore, “Where does it stop if that’s accepted as a valid argument?

 “This is one of the main reasons Cycling UK is objecting to Highways England’s proposed ban of cycling on the A63,” continued Mr Dollimore “But also because it contravenes their own strategy and guidance.”

Cycling UK is encouraging everyone who cycles or intends to cycle in England to register their objections with Highways England. However, as the public body will only accept objections submitted as paper copies sent through the post, Cycling UK is urging people to register their complaints at www.cyclinguk.org/a63, which the charity will then deliver in time for the March deadline.








Tuesday, 6 February 2018

THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION IF CYCLISTS BANNED FROM A63






Every cyclist in the land will now surely have heard of the plan to ban cyclists from using a 15-mile stretch of the A63 dual-carriageway at Hull, which forms part of the V718 time trial course, one of the fastest courses in the land.

Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins recorded a 17-58 “10” here in May 2015.

Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, have called the proposed ban “ludicrous” and demanded it be scrapped. They threaten legal action. Cycling Time Trials (CTT) is also strongly opposed, as you might imagine. 

This is Highways England’s idea - the company appointed by the government to manage the trunk and A-road network and, would you believe, promote cycling!

They want a Traffic Restriction Order (TR0) banning cyclists from using the section of the A63 Trunk Road between North Cave Interchange and Daltry Street Interchange. 

They cite six accidents – including one fatal - to cyclists in five years on this road as reason for their concern. Not all were in CTT events.

Opponents of the ban say this is not evidence based and the accident

rate to cyclists simply do not merit such drastic action.

They point out there have been nearly 300 accidents involving motor vehicles and yet no talk of banning the motor menace, or slowing it down.

They use the generic term “cyclists”, not time trialling specifically. But it seems likely that time trialling on this stretch of road is the target.

According to a local radio source, the police have long considered it unsafe to organise competitive events on this stretch of road.

The irony is, of course, die hard testers benefit from traffic flow and like racing on these roads. It has been a debatable point for decades now, time trialling on busy fast dual-carriageways which have become motorways in all but name. Well, it seems Highways England may force the issue!

I felt uncomfortable time trialling on such big roads a long time ago, when the A3 in Surrey had a makeover and was transformed into super-fast wide “motorway” style dual carriageway way, with slip roads as wide as airport runways!

Traffic was still relatively light in the event I rode, but I felt at risk and never went there again. But that was my perception of risk!

I felt happier on smaller country roads, but it has been argued that smaller roads may be no safer!

What we do know for certain is that cycling is not in itself dangerous; the danger comes from others. And that is not being addressed.

However, the main concern here is not that time trialling may be banned from a road even some local time triallists consider too dangerous to race on, but the dangerous precedent such a ban will set for other roads deemed “dangerous” for cyclists.

“Dangerous” for no other reason than for the past 70-80 years, the needs of cyclists have been neglected and designed out of the road system.

It is further evidence of successive government’s laisse faire approach to transport ever since car ownership began to grow back in the early 20th century.

For the dream fostered then and reinforced by marketing ever since is that drivers must be able to go where they like, when they like, quickly and with the least inconvenience.

CLEAR CYCLISTS OUT OF THE WAY!

Highways England’s twisted logic is that because cyclists can’t keep up the 65mph flow of traffic they are therefore in “danger”. So they’ll clear them out of the way.

Bollocks. Cyclists can’t keep up with traffic on the rest of the 200,000-odd miles of the national road network either, which they have every right to ride.

Expect other stretches of road to be banned to cyclists, too - you can bet on it - if Highways England is allowed to get away with this.

Meanwhile I know of no major  initiative by the police to collar  the millions of thickheads illegally using mobile phones while driving, many of them texting which means they aren’t even looking! 

CTT urge cyclists to object

Cycling Time Trials National Secretary Stewart Smith is urging all cycling club members to lodge a complaint with Highways England.  But he advises don’t mention time trialling! For fear, I suppose, of adding wood to the fire!

I wonder if he realises his desire to keep quiet about time trialling harks back to the sport’s clandestine Victorian origins.

Back in the 19th century there was widespread opposition to road racing on the highway which led to a ban on an early form of massed start road racing. (Read Peter Whitfield’s absorbing account in his book “Time, Speed and Truth. A history of Time Trialling 1890 – 2010”.

This ban led to the formation of time trialling in 1895 – riders separated by minute intervals and not so noticeable! This was the brain child of  F.T. Bidlake, the “Father of time trialling”.

Races were called “events” and held in secret on roads identified only by a course number, just like today, and all to escape the notice of the police!

In 2018, perhaps it’s time for CTT to cast off this cloak of secrecy and brazen it out.

CYCLING UK PLAN LEGAL ACTION

Meanwhile, Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, and point out that such a ban runs contrary to Government and Highways England policies and agree it will set a dangerous precedent which could lead to more restrictions.

https://www.cyclinguk.org/press-release/highways-england-a63-cycle-ban-labelled-ludicrous-cycling-uk



Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:

“Highways England’s approach to the A63 is entirely unreasonable and lacks both evidence and analysis. It’s hardly surprising cyclists can’t keep up with motor vehicles on an A-road, but it is ludicrous to use that as one of the reasons for banning them.”

He adds that no evidence was provided on the numbers of cyclists on the A63 which would allow for an injury rate to be ascertained. 

 “Cycling UK would urge Highways England to re-consider their plans and stop going against both their own and the Government’s cycling policies.”

I asked Roger Geffen, Policy Director at UK Cycling, could Highways

England legally enforce this ban?

Geffen told me: “We shall see.  Our objection has been crafted in the hope that it will either dissuade Highways England (HE) from adopting this TRO or, failing that, that it will enable us to bring a legal challenge through the Cyclists’ Defence Fund, if they were to proceed with it. 

“I’d prefer to dissuade HE from adopting this TRO to start with, so that we don’t need to threaten legal action in the first place!”

 Objections to the proposed ban should be made in writing not later than Monday, February 19, 2018, and posted to:

The Office of the Director, Operations Directorate (Yorkshire & North East), Highways England, 3rd Floor South, Lateral, 8 City Walk, Leeds, LS11 9AT.   The objection should quote the reference 'The A63 Trunk Road (North Cave Interchange to Daltry Street Interchange) (Prohibition of Cyclists Order)'.

For details of Peter Whitfield’s fine book: “Time Speed and Truth – a history of time trialling 1890-2010”, email him at: PWWHITFIELD1@GMAIL.COM


Saturday, 13 January 2018

ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD




Interest in bike racing has surged in the UK these past 10 years thanks to the unprecedented success of British riders in the Olympics and the Tour de France.

But has this come at a cost?  According to well-known cycling author and publisher Peter Whitfield it has. Below is his damning indictment of how professionalism is being allowed to poison sport. 

It struck a chord with me and I’m sure it will with others but certainly not everyone, all dewy eyed and dazzled by the gleaming horde of medals. 

And it is right that we applaud the positives that have come with this success. The last decade has seen the greatest most successful period for cycling in the UK, now the top UK Olympic sport, not to mention the five historic victories in the Tour de France (the first to Wiggins, four to Froome).

This has spawned several indoor velodromes and closed road racing circuits around the country, drawing huge crowds to the roadsides for the men’s and women’s national tours.

British Cycling’s membership has gone through the roof, has soared from around 16,000 to over 130,000.  A stream of talented youngsters (many of them rising up the ranks thanks the Dave Rayner Fund) continue to make the grade internationally on the road, on track and in cyclo-cross.

Many thousands of people have taken up riding challenge rides and the sportives. A new cycling club in my town now has over 250 members.

And all the major classics and Grand Tours and a great many other international stage races are shown on television.

It’s fantastic, right? Well, yes it is. I love this aspect of it, how my once little known sport in the UK is has blossomed

But over the last two years the dream has turned sour.

My previous blog pondered the controversy surrounding Team Sky whose strong arm tactics, impressive though they are in stifling the life out of the racing until near the finish, is killing my interest in Le Tour. 

Worse than that.  Bradley Wiggins’s historic first Tour win for Britain has become tainted by his legally approved use of an otherwise banned and powerful steroid to treat his allergies. Its use was signed off by all the relevant authorities so he hasn’t broken any rules. But morally it was wrong, for Sky came into this sport proclaiming they will do it clean, they will be transparent.  But in the search for marginal gains, they proved they are not transparent, as they moved into the grey area with a doctor’s note to permit the use of a banned stimulant. 

So they’ve only themselves to blame.

To compound matters, Sky’s current hero, Chris Froome, winner of five Grand Tours, is under investigation after an “adverse analytical finding” for the asthma drug Salbutamol – measuring twice the legal limit - taken during last year’s Tour of Spain which he famously won.  

That story is destined run and run for as long as Froome - who has protested he did not exceed the legal dosage - takes to come with an explanation.  To make matters worse for Froome, a few days ago Belgian star Tim Wellens revealed he had quit last year’s Tour de France rather than use the very same medication to treat his breathing difficulties. His reason?  Because he is against using inhalers. He was unhappy about depending upon asthma medication which he was told would improve his breathing by between seven and eight per cent, and he believes the practice is widespread in cycling. Not just in cycling. Cross-country skiers in Norway sit in their team bus breathing in asthma medication through face masks before competition!

Whitfield’s words should give us pause for thought.

NEW YEAR, OLD QUESTION: THE PRICE OF SUCCESS


The cycling year was approaching its end and everyone was happily thinking about the highlights of 2017 and wondering what 2018 holds, when a bombshell in the form of another drug scandal engulfed us, and this time it's a British scandal involving the biggest names in our sport. Once again we start to pick through the intricate technical details of what happened, who’s guilty and who’s innocent, who knew what and when, why it has taken three months for this to become public, and all the while wondering when our sport will ever get out of this labyrinth of technical jargon, half-truths and lies, and finally get to the simple truth - if there is such a thing. Everyone is shocked as the great British cycling renaissance seems to be crumbling from glory into deceit.

As I pedal quietly on my own through the damp and leafy Oxfordshire lanes I find myself looking for an answer, and suddenly there it is staring me in the face in one word: professionalism. Look around at our top-level sport and you see a world corrupted by money, drugs, technology, politics and media hype – in other words, professionalism. Where money rules, values go out of the window. It's a funny thing, but back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, we all used to moan about British cycling, asking what was wrong with it, why couldn't we win world championships and Olympic medals, and the answer then seemed to be that it was amateur: the riders were amateurs and the sport was run by amateurs. We didn’t have the knowledge and we didn’t have the money, so we couldn't compete with the French, the Italians, the Dutch, then the Eastern bloc, then later the Australians the Americans, who were all investing money and expertise in the sport that we just couldn't match. 

Well now things have turned round completely and we have gone into the professional big-time, and what do we see? That we have a poisoned sport that is more akin to show-business with its star system and its deceits, its faith that everything can be planned and everything can be bought with cash. Modern cycling is a business and a career, and this is what lies behind the whole Sky strategy of control, control, control, that has ruined the racing itself. Looking at it historically, I think it was the aftermath of Chris Boardman’s brilliant success that was the great turning point. Peter Keen, Boardman’s coach, produced his World Class Performance Plan in 1999 which secured multi-million pound funding for British Cycling, which then set out on its quest for international success, creating the so-called medal factory. Unfortunately this produced in the public mind the formula: money + science + meticulous planning = sporting glory. We have been living with the consequences of this for fifteen years and more, and one of its worst side-effects is the idea that only this top-level professional cycling, on road or track, is real cycling, everything else is just playing about, it’s insignificant; in other words we have seen the death of the old amateur ideals.

Success was supposed to justify this process, this historic shift, but over the years the hidden costs of success have become clearer, and they add up to the disappearance of cycle-sport as we used to know it. I and many other people have now reached the point of total disillusionment, and personally I no longer care who wins the Tour de France, and I wouldn't mind if they shut it down and we just forget all about it. I am scarcely more interested in who wins Olympic track medals either, because these competitions have nothing to do with true cycling in our own lives. What does it take before people finally lose faith in the Tour de France and the over-hyped pro-cycling scene? Isn't there the least whisper of a chance that we could learn from this mess and get back to the old amateur days, when you took part in a sport, any sport not just cycling, for its own sake, for the pleasure and the satisfaction and the sense of achievement which it gave you, not for money and fame? Modern pro cycling is a corporate business: it defines its aims, puts in the necessary investment to realise those aims, and it demands results, and the only result that matters is winning. Money is thrown at buying every conceivable technical aid and at building racing teams and strategies that ensure results, no matter how tedious and robotic that racing becomes. Sporting success has become a management task, it’s been absorbed into the business model, the career model.

Compare this with the days when the cyclist was a pure athlete, a loner who built his own strength and skill for himself. Without science, without money, without support and without fame, he rode for himself against ordinary people like himself, with nothing to gain but his own satisfaction and the plaudits of those like-minded people who shared his ideals and who knew what his achievements meant. Sport was an enrichment of his life, not of his bank balance or his image. Sport was supposed to be a way out of the world of money, pressure, targets, tricks, secrets, and corporate plans, a way into a freer, cleaner world of honesty, integrity, dedication and sportsmanship. Amateur bike racing used to be a personal adventure, and it still can be. It does not have to be tied up with money, team strategies, and media hype, which are the trappings of business, especially show-business. We need more sport in our own lives, not star-studded millionaire entertainers to worship. We admired the champions of the past because we knew they were people like us, not remote superstars. Why make everything bigger, richer and more complex, in the belief that it must therefore be better? Have we forgotten that small is beautiful? Can’t we understand that success alone is not everything, because it’s not just what we do in life that is important, it’s how we do it? I would guess that Lance Armstrong has now learned that lesson, and that he would give anything to have won a single Tour de France honestly rather than seven dishonestly.       

Sport changes as the society around it changes, so what all this says about the money-mad, technology-addicted, media-hyped society that we have created I’ll leave you to figure out. How did we get into this mess? It seems we have a unique talent for spoiling things, for poisoning things while we think we are making them bigger and better. The same shadows have gathered over the Olympics and all but ruined them; and then there is football and Formula One – are they even sports now?  I suppose all this is not surprising really, coming from a species that has been busy for the last hundred years poisoning the earth, poisoning the air, poisoning the oceans and poisoning ourselves. In comparison with all that, poisoning a little bit of sport should be child's play after all.   

Peter Whitfield’s most recent book is entitled: "Time, Speed and Truth: a History of Time-Trialling".


Saturday, 23 December 2017

An ode for troubled Team Sky




THEY came from outer space, in their armada of expensive jaguars and huge posh shiny black buses

It was Team Sky, a British species racing clean, new kids on the block

They raised hackles by daring to lay bare their victory aims for Le Tour

At Agincourt, Henry’s long bow archers routed the French

At Le Tour, Team Sky boss Brailsford fired his dreaded marginal gains to achieve same

Armed with their science, their riders with alacrity overcame allergy,

To undo valour and

Control the peloton by stifling the romance of the escape until the last

Then with precisely timed attacks, carried off the prize

Championed first by Wiggins and four times by Froome

Who for good measure, repeated his feat in the Vuelta

And their crime?

To be smarter than the rest



          That was back then.  Now what?
      With the news this month that Disney is buying up chunks of Murdoch's empire, including Sky TV channels, there comes speculation about the future of Team Sky.   Are their days numbered? For no other reason than the new owners might have other uses for the £31m annual budget of a team whose success is now tainted by controversy.

As 2018 approaches and the team prepares for new and exciting challenges, the current  crisis surrounding their champion, five times grand tour winner Chris Froome look to rumble on.
This concerns Froome’s adverse analytical finding (AAF) from the 18th stage of the Tour of Spain three months ago which has added to Team Sky’s woes.
What now?  Will his first victory in the Tour of Spain be taken away from him? It came only a few weeks after his fourth Tour de France victory, a rare double setting him among the greats.
The test showed that Froome had twice the permitted level of the asthma medication Salbutamol.
He insists he only took the permitted dose.
According to David Walsh in The Sunday Times (December 17) anti-doping and pharmacology experts he has spoken to had “struggled to come up with any legitimate explanation for Froome’s elevated Salbutamol level.”
It is now up to Froome to explain how this occurred. Could the test have exaggerated the result, due to him not being fully hydrated? Are there other mitigating factors?  His team think so.
Whatever, this is more negative stuff heaped upon the Team Sky.
Personally, I don’t think the Murdoch family will be too concerned, unless it starts to affect the value of shares. They are well used to courting bother, seem to thrive on it.
They probably subscribe to the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. “There is only one thing worse than being talked about that is not being talked about.”
Disney may have a different ethical stance.  
I reckon - and I won't be alone in thinking this - Team Sky has unwittingly brought all this bother on themselves.
Murdoch has always courted controversy in his business dealings.  I mean his Fox News outfit is said to be purely a political front for the Republican Party in the US.
He seems to want to tinker with global affairs – he gets a kick out of it - and he makes big money while about it.
So he’s smart and so is Sky and it winds up his media rivals.  Just look at their sports coverage. It knocks the BBC and ITV's coverage into a cocked hat.
And Brailsford is smart. They are made for each other, Brailsford and Sky.
They both say they are going to do big things and they do them.  
This ethos seems to run through all levels of the company. 
I’ve found Sky's marketing people very quick on the uptake.
I’d once took a call from a travel consultant telling me that South West Trains had heard of a Sky family cycle ride bringing tens of thousands of people to west London.   SW Trains wanted a slice of the action - they would provide trains in and out of London. He asked who at Sky they should speak to.
I rang the Sky people organising the ride and informed them of SW Trains interest. They were immediately interested. So I gave them the contact. Within 10 minutes they had set the whole deal up, trains would be provided!
My telephone line at home, together with my broadband and of course the television satellite channels are all provided by Sky. I’d had Eurosport for years because I wanted the cycling coverage. I switched the rest after getting pissed off by BT when we lost our telephone and broadband. Not just us, all the houses in the road. They didn’t answer calls and when they did it took them eight days before the problem was fixed.
Sky has always been quick to respond to any problem and to fix it.  
I remember a TV aerial contractor telling me that health and safety rules meant ladders were last century and now we need to put up scaffolding so he could get to the chimney to affix a satellite dish.
The scaffolding would cost £1000!
Well, I didn’t have a thousand quid.  
I called Sky. Perhaps they had their own scaffolding!
Scaffolding? No need, they said.
Sky sent one man. He was smartly kitted out in dark blue and black overalls and looked like a climber about to tackle the North Face of the Eiger.  He only had the west face of our two storey cottage to scale.
He surveyed the roof from the ground, then methodically went through a check list of all his gear, his safety harnesses and hooks.  He donned a helmet and then climbed the ladder – secured to the wall - up to the roof, hoisting a second, roof ladder, up with him. He laid that over the tiles to the ridge by the chimney. 
He came back for the dish, strapped a small rucksack full of tools to his back and went back up, with a line securing him to each ladder in turn, then finally to a harness around the chimney, where he set about attaching the dish. There was no cost to me.
Here endeth an  interesting aside into my experiences of the workings of Sky.   
Back to the Team Sky enigma.
The press response to Team Sky’s issues has almost been as heavy as it was for Armstrong, the sporting cheat of the century who was running a clever doping programme for all of his seven Tour victories through to 2005.
All we know about Sky is that they’ve slipped into the grey area by providing Wiggins with a TUE (Theraputic Use Exemption) to allow him to take, legally, an otherwise banned steroid to treat his allergies.  And then there is the unresolved jiffy bag saga. What was in the jiffy bag?
A harmless medication, it was eventually claimed. But no record of this has been provided.  Brailsford and Shane Sutton were less than convincing in trying to explain this away. The laptop containing medical records stolen?
Suspicion remains. But there is no evidence, the trail has gone cold.  There can be no case to answer.
The Wiggins business was different. His TUE was for steroids to treat his allergies. It was said this drug would be like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It was known to enhance performance. Wiggins really should have been rested while taking this drug, say critics.  
So that’s a stain that won’t easily wash out. Now Froome, who suffers from asthma, like many athletes apparently, is also in the dog house for his higher than legal dosage of asthma puffs after a bad day on the Vuelta. He could face being banned and stripped of his title.   
It’s right the team be pulled up over these issues, but do they really merit pages and pages of reporting and speculation such as that which followed the Armstrong story - a major fraud involving not just the Texan, but teammates, too?
You have to conclude there wouldn’t have been half the fuss had Brailsford not continually boasted Sky race clean. On the other hand, he felt he had to keep repeating himself because cycling’s doping history was always being brought up by the media whose insinuation was clear.
So at the first sign of slippage, those TUEs for Wiggins, reporters jump on Team Sky.
The press, still wounded from being taken in by Armstrong for years think they’ve been had and so they have gone for Brailsford like wild dogs.
Brailsford is a brilliant operator – but when this Tour novice brought his new team to the world’s biggest stage race declaring he could win it, that upset many of the Tour regulars. Who did he think he was?
Such confidence came across as being cocky.
The master of marginal gains said he had no idea if the drug permitted Wiggins, courtesy of the TUEs, enhanced his performance when he won that historic Tour de France in 2012.
And then along comes Shane Sutton to muddy the waters by admitting on TV they moved into the grey areas to seek any gain they could.  
Too smart for their own good.
Here’s another gripe. The Team’s method in control racing shows their great strength, but it is getting boring because they hold everything back until the last.  In stage races it’s all become too clever and clinical. It was great when Team Sky first took a grip with that great victory by Wiggins in 2012. 
But I’ve got fed up watching this steam roller.
Froome, he’s a real talent and he’s risen to become a grand tour master, a relentless presence always there while his team set about weakening the rest …until the moment he chooses is right to attack.  Then the entertainment begins, as he takes off in that spectacular if ungainly way of his to put his rivals on the rack and take a few more seconds. Impressive. More marginal gains.  
It’s just that all this action now only ever comes in the closing kilometres, the last 30 minutes maybe, of a five-six hour stage.
We seldom get GC racing until near the end, save for the usual breakaway of non-GC guys doing their best. When they sometimes stay clear to the end I cheer. Otherwise, I groan.  
Thank God for Contador in the Tour of Spain, where his many gallant, lone brave escapes forced Sky to react.  Froome won, but it was Contador’s exploits which made the race.
For the best-ever analogy of the Sky method – albeit a horrible one - I refer you to Richard Abraham’s excellent piece in Procycling’s Review of 2017.
In his story about the Froome effect, he describes how Sky, the richest ever team in pro cycling, buys up the best talent, paying them enough to set aside personal ambition…. “and take the job of riding grand tours by shoving a pillow on the face of any opposition and holding it down until the struggling stops”.