The 2020 Tour de France is up and running. For the second year, there is only one black rider competing in a field of 176 riders. Here are the reasons why a lack of diversity within cycling’s highest competition matters and why the work Science in Sport are doing with grassroots organisations like ourselves makes a huge difference.
Firstly, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mani Arthur and I am the founder of the Black Cyclists Network (BCN), a London based cycling club made up of majority Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) riders. Our aim is to create pathways into cycling for the BAME community. We are an inclusive group and encourage riders from all backgrounds. We are black and white, male and female, young and old, straight, gay and trans, religious and non-religious. We meet up in Regent’s Park every Saturday morning at 8:00am for laps and coffee. We organise rides for riders of all abilities including beginners. Come for a ride.
NOW WHERE WAS I…?
Ah yes. Kevin Reza of France is the only black rider competing in this year’s Tour de France.
In 2009, Sir Dave Brailsford and Team Sky announced they were forming a British team to compete in 2010 with the aim of producing a British Tour de France winner within five years. They were ridiculed and laughed at by the Cycling establishment because in the 96 years of the Tour de France, no British rider had ever come close to winning the coveted Yellow jersey. Three years after that bold announcement, Bradley Wiggins stepped onto the podium on the Champs-Élysées to wear the coveted Yellow jersey as the winner, and in doing so, created history as the first British athlete to win the Tour de France. A year before Sir Bradley Wiggins’ historic victory, France’s Yohann Gene had created his own unlikely piece of history by becoming the first Black rider to take part in the same competition. Moreover, Team Sky proved to everyone that Sir Bradley Wiggins’ victory was not a fluke. In the years that followed, British riders dominated the Tour. Team Sky went on to have two more British winners in Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. The former dominated the tour for several years and continues to be one of the greatest cyclists of his generation. Lizzie Deignan continued that dominance in the women’s scene. As an interesting side note – Lizzie took up cycling in 2004 after British Cycling’s Olympic Talent Team visited her school.
Unlike football, which is accessible due to low cost of entry and readily available infrastructure, there are many obstacles to cycling at the competitive level for riders from BAME backgrounds. Many of the current riders in the GB development team started competing at a young age. Often before adolescence. Some athletes start as young as 5 years old. Parents must commit both their time and financial resources to support their child. Cycling as a sport is expensive. It helps if a child’s parents are also invested in the culture of cycling. To give you an example, in June we announced our Race Team. The Black Cyclists Network RT is the first ever BAME cycling team in the UK. We are an amateur team with aspirations of becoming professional in 5 years. The team consists of 10 riders. Our aim is to compete around the UK next year. It will cost us more than 10k to pay for our riders’ race entry fees. Even a small organised race on a specially built closed circuit in London costs £20 for each rider. Our road races will see us travelling in the early hours of Sunday morning to get to places like Essex and Cambridge to compete in 3-hour long road races which often start at 9:00am. It is a huge commitment to ask a parent who has little interest in cycling to go to that length to support their child’s passion. This is where cycling clubs play an important role. Many cycling clubs have 100+ years of history. They are both well organised and have the means to nurture and develop talent. Unfortunately, they can also be a daunting and intimidating space for BAME riders who often find themselves isolated.
SO WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Although BAME cyclists are under-represented at the highest level of our sport and at club level, we know that we form a big demographic of ‘everyday casual cyclists’ who use bicycles as a mode of transport. We want to change the culture to get people interested in cycling at all levels including competitive cycling. It is difficult to be what you cannot see. We want to break the mould by forging a new path in cycling.
They say where there is the will, there is a way. The success of British Cycling is perhaps a perfect example. British Cycling went from irrelevance to become the dominant force in under a decade. They achieved this through serious financial backing from the National Lottery fund which in turn allowed them to invest in their athletes by working with the best coaches and nutritionists, such as SiS.
Without financial backing it is almost impossible for a grassroots project like ours to get any traction and momentum. Therefore, Science in Sport investing and partnering with our project means the world to us. In June this year, the CEO of SiS, Stephen Moon, reached out to me on Instagram and told me that he was interested in what BCN were doing. A year prior, we released a report titled “Diversity in Cycling”, in partnership with Andy Edwards. The report aimed to provide tangible tips and solutions to help cycling clubs attract BAME riders and better reflect the diversity of the communities they operate within. Stephen told me that he wanted to support the project. I almost ignored him because I thought he was kidding. But then he sent me a long and thorough email about some of the diversity initiatives he was looking to implement at SiS. That got my attention straight away. I knew right there and then that he was genuine and was not just offering lip-service. Fast forward a couple of months and everyone at BCN are incredibly proud to be partners with an organisation that is on the forefront on diversity and equality at a time of social unrest, it means a lot to have the support and blessings that come as a result of our association with a renowned company like SiS. Our race squad has now started preparing for next year. We have a full race schedule starting from February to October 2021. We may not have the World Class coaching setup of the INEOS Grenadiers (formerly Team Sky) but we have the best sports nutrition and advice in SiS.
Watch out for us next year because we are bringing a fresh and exciting energy to cycling.