A host of Britain’s biggest road cyclists – including Geraint Thomas, Lizzie Deignan and Chris Froome – have today called on the Government to urgently act to protect the future of talented young people in the sport, with hundreds of riders facing severe disruption due to post-Brexit travel arrangements and the lack of racing opportunities in the UK.
The twelve riders will each take to the start line this weekend in two of the sport’s showpiece events – the Tour de France and La Course by Le Tour de France – and have made their plea directly to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden. They are: Anna Christian, Dani Christmas, Lizzie Deignan, Mark Donovan, Chris Froome, Lizzie Holden, Joss Lowden, Dan McLay, Connor Swift, Geraint Thomas, Alice Towers and Fred Wright.
In the letter, they write:
“While each of us has taken a different journey through our sport, what is clear to all of us is that we would not have made it this far without the intensity of regular top-level racing and the ability to test our limits in unfamiliar settings. We write today because we fear that same road to success for today’s young British riders is arguably more challenging than ever, and risks being wiped out altogether for most.”
For over half a century aspiring British riders have made their mark in the sport racing for amateur teams on the continent, with many receiving invaluable financial support from organisations such as the Dave Rayner Fund. Following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, visitors to EU nations are now limited to a stay of 90 days in a 180-day period, with riders seeing offers to race for teams withdrawn as a result of the changes.
The riders have called on the Government to investigate the possibility of a resolution in time for the start of the 2022 season, which would enable amateur sportspeople to live and race on the continent for extended periods.
The letter continues:
“We are the fortunate ones, with professional contracts with top tier teams, but if we had experienced the current restrictions on visa free residency early in our careers, we might not have achieved that privileged position.
“The impact of Covid-19 across Europe has masked the problem in 2021, due to the subsequent restrictions in place on travel across borders. We fear that the absence of a robust solution by 2022 – whether in the form of an amateur sportspersons visa or other agreement – will see many riders lose the opportunity to gain such critical experience. We know that sport is not the only industry affected and we don’t expect sportspeople to jump the queue for Government support, but we do ask for dialogue.”
The current challenges facing riders have been exacerbated by the difficulties facing British race organisers closer to home, due to the ongoing difficulty of securing the necessary permissions for road race events. The number of races fell by 23% from 2016-19 due to rising costs and the complexity of current regulations, and the additional hesitancy of local stakeholders to sanction events under the current Covid-19 restrictions means that the challenge is now greater than ever before.
Highlighting the challenges, the riders state:
“You may ask why these riders cannot find such high-level racing opportunities closer to home. While it is true that our country plays host to many excellent and storied events, the difficulty of securing the necessary local permissions for racing on Britain’s busy roads means that many have sadly been lost.
“While British Cycling is working hard to address the challenges ahead, to make a real difference we need your support to urgently revisit the Cycle Racing on the Highway Regulations. This will enable us to empower more volunteer race marshals and review police charging, to make British races secure and financially viable in the future.
“As a cycling nation we have come an incredibly long way over recent decades, and each of us is proud of the role we have played in flying the flag for Great Britain across the world. However, we also believe that it is our duty to fight to give the riders of tomorrow the same opportunities which we have so enjoyed and benefitted from – and to ensure that the sight of a British rider on the top step of the podium continues to be a familiar one for future generations.”
Dani Every, Cycling Delivery Director, said: “At British Cycling we are committed to doing all we can to support the development of young riders, including tailored plans for each of our disciplines, the introduction of Elite Development Teams to recognize the work of domestic road teams in this country in nurturing the next generation of racers and changes to our talent development programmes to provide a clearer pathway for aspiring champions.
“But young British riders are facing twin challenges to their hopes and dreams – exit from the European Union limiting their opportunities to follow the route travelled by so many of their predecessors and race on the continent; and restrictions on the races which can be held in this country. I am grateful to the riders who have supported this letter and highlighted a matter of significant concern to the good health of cycle sport in this country.”
You can read the full letter here.