Alan Hubbard

Okay, cards on the table. I don't much like cycling - even less cyclists. In particular, those arrogant lycra-louts disinclined to obey the rules of the road, jumping red lights, scraping your car door or banging the wing mirrors as they brush by. Then they give you the one-fingered salute when you hoot the horn in admonishment.

I find them a pain in the rear view mirror and I am afraid from my experience there are plenty of them. And for that I blame the Olympic Games, notably London 2012 when the great British cycling boom kicked - or rather pedalled - off.

Britain's pedal power led to a boom in cycle sales and, with a little help from bike fiend and ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson, there is now a plethora of cyclists on our roads studiously ignoring the copious cycle-only lanes that have been lavishly and expensively provided for them.

Instead they think they own the right to ride the roads without either tax or insurance. Unfortunately that frequently seems to include the pavements, too, using them as a personal velodrome.

Not all of them, it is true. Some have actually read the Highway Code.

But far too many have not. They seem to think they are Sir Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome personified.

Then there is the bloke in the flat cap and bicycle clips, wobbling all over the place, and the freewheeling jack-the-lads (never lasses I note) zipping along at night, usually without lights or hi-viz jacket.

Cycling has brought Britain huge medal success ©Getty Images
Cycling has brought Britain huge medal success ©Getty Images

An exaggeration? A slight one, maybe, to underscore a point. But you get the drift.

Let us make it clear, I am talking about the UK here and mainly in the cities.

I have driven - or been driven - in bike-friendly countries such as The Netherlands and Denmark and around country lanes in France - where pro rata there are more cyclists than here. Yet, they present no danger to pedestrians, motorists or themselves. They cycle sensibly and largely as a means of getting to and from their workplace or school.

But not here. Since cycling has become fashionable as the legacy of 2012 the zealots have taken over, making the lot of the tax and insurance-paying car driver a misery.

A Dutch friend remarked to me recently that he was horrified to see how so many cyclists misuse our highways and byways.

As he pointed out, when the Dutch cycle to work they are already dressed for it, they do not have to perform an elaborate strip-off in the office or factory loo.

They are not pretending to be part of the Tour de France.

The shoal of medals collected by Team GB and Team Sky in international competition has incited far too many to take to the roads balanced precariously on two wheels.

And like the sport itself success has led to excess.

Which is why I have little sympathy for the mess in which cycling now finds itself.

Until recently cycling was held up as an example to the rest of British sport as to how things should be done - and won.

Sir Dave Brailsford has faced criticism ©Getty Images
Sir Dave Brailsford has faced criticism ©Getty Images

Yet internationally it has always been hard to believe in something ostensibly more dope-infested than any other sporting pursuit. 

Things in Britain have changed and it is now not only riven with innuendo about drug use but accusations of bullying, sexism and mismanagement.

Only last week a Sunday rider, a mere club cyclist, was banned for two years for a doping offence. He is 52-years-old. Enough said.

How a mighty sport has fallen.

The cycling boom may not be bust - yet - but it stands pretty well disgraced. At least, that is what our Parliament suggests in the light of its formal inquiry into how the sport is being run.

The details are well chronicled but it does seem to me that British Cycling has become a victim of its own vanity, with the architect of so many of its triumphs and those of Team Sky, Sir Dave Brailsford, under critical fire from heavyweight political artillery and some competitors who rode so effectively for him.

It was generously-funded cycling which spearheaded GB's bid to become a sporting superpower, aided and abetted by UK Sport who saw it as a medal factory.

Subsequent events have seriously impaired that ambition.

It has been said that the former boss of British Cycling, now head of Team Sky, was regarded as "untouchable" and left entirely to his own devices by those in charge of sporting coffers and administration.

What I find more disturbing though, and always have despite their otherwise admirable manner of going about their business, is UK Sport's unabashed win-at-all costs philosophy which is so clearly ingrained in cycling.

The velodrome in Manchester had been described as a medal factory ©Getty Images
The velodrome in Manchester had been described as a medal factory ©Getty Images

One can imagine Queen’s refrain "We are the champions, no time for losers" reverberating loudly around their respective bases in London and Manchester.

"It's all about 66/121," is reported to have been the oft-repeated UK Sport mantra about how vital it is at Tokyo 2020 to surpass the respective medal totals of London 2012 Olympians and Paralympians.

Yet this is unsupported by evidence of a recent survey which found that a mere four per cent of British people would put winning gold medals in Tokyo ahead of investing more in grassroots facilities.

So have we got our priorities right?

Is winning really everything? Not according to the original Olympic raison d’etre but of course times have changed.

Now it seems to be exactly that.

But the danger is that while taking such a ruthless road may result in unprecedented success, further along the way, and taken to the extreme, it can lead not just to admiration and then envy but also to opprobrium via Russia and the old Eastern bloc mentality. 

Like the errant cyclists now over-crowding our roads, isn't it time we put a spoke in it?

Incidentally, I've just spotted today's story of a road-raging cyclist who picked up his bike and smashed it into the windscreen of a lady driver whom he thought had strayed into a cycle lane. 

I rest my case.