Olympic cycling: Gold medals spark Wales cycling boom

Bradley Wiggins
Image caption Bradley Wiggins with his gold medal after the time trial on Wednesday

After Bradley Wiggins' gold medal and as Geraint Thomas prepares to defend his Olympic title, cycling in Wales is at an all-time high.

Governing body British Cycling said there had been a 25% increase in Welsh members in the last year.

About 70% of them are competitive cyclists with the rest including commuters.

The rise has been in part to the success of Nicole Cooke and GB cyclists who took eight golds at Beijing.

British Cycling said the pastime in Britain had "never been in better health".

Gold Olympian and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins is just one of the high-profile names who are said to be part of an upsurge in interest into the sport.

The attention on Thursday turns to Cardiff cyclist Geraint Thomas, who won gold in Beijing, as the GB team pursuit take to the track in the Velodrome.

And cycling clubs around Wales are preparing for a rush of new members as people are inspired by this success.

Phil Graham, secretary of Swansea Wheelers Cycling Club, said: "I'm a solicitor and I was with a client on Monday and we spent half an hour talking about her wanting her kids to go out cycling and join a club.

"She had been watching the Olympic [cycling] road race. Until she had watched that, she had no idea how the racing worked.

"I suspect if there was no coverage of it on the TV she wouldn't have known about it."

Mr Graham said that the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was an important factor in the increased interest in the sport.

Doubled its membership

"Wiggins himself would say it's not an overnight thing. It's definitely been growing," he said.

Image caption Cardiff cyclist Geraint Thomas [third from left] has helped inspire a boom in cycling by being part of the GB team's success in Beijing in 2008

"In the past 12 months, our average attendance has gone up about 20%."

Other clubs around Wales have enjoyed similar success in attracting new riders.

Dax Jenkins, chairman of Pontypool Road Cycling Club in Torfaen, said it had doubled its membership in the past three years.

"That's because of the success of the cyclists at the Olympic Games [in Beijing]," he said.

"I would say the success the British lads are having has been building for the past five years.

"It's promoted an interest in cycling and we've noticed a surge in membership."

He said the success of British cyclists had been "phenomenal".

"We've got Geraint Thomas as well. I think he's going to concentrate on the road racing the next few years and we will see him making an impact," he said.

Mr Jenkins said he had noticed an increase in the number of people who were using bicycles to commute to work.

'Real surge'

Image caption Welsh cyclist Nicole Cooke won gold in the women's road race in Beijing

Director of development for Welsh Cycling, Ian Jenkins, said there had been a "real surge" in recreational cycling, including organised non-competitive events, due to the interest sparked by the elite riders.

"That was triggered off by Beijing but we're expecting another spike this year with Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France and all the Olympic coverage that's upon us," he said.

"I think the other key thing since Beijing is that we've almost doubled our under-16 membership.

"It's very important to us because we're bringing youngsters into the sport."

But there is concern that seeing elite cyclists on the television may give the message that it is a sport only for ultra-fit athletes.

Lee Waters, director of sustainable transport group Sustrans Cymru, said: "One of the barriers is that people feel they are not fit enough for it.

"There's a danger people might get put off by somebody like Bradley Wiggins from giving cycling a go.

"Having said that, it's very high profile and very positive so we expect it to inspire people to try it, which is fantastic, but we also want the message to be that you don't have to be like this to have a go."

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