British Cycling aiming for a million extra riders on the road

British Cycling are poised to announce a series of sweeping grassroots measures today designed to get a million more bike riders on the UK's roads by 2013.

The country's top two-wheeled federation also aim to quadruple their membership - which stagnated at 15,000 for four decades - to 100,000 in the same period.

The big drive in favour of pedal power forms part of British Cycling's Whole Sport Plan [WSP] for 2009-2013, due to be released today.

The project has seen the light thanks a vastly increased annual budget - believed to pass the £10m mark for the first time in British Cycling's history and co-funded by UK Sport, Sport England, and new sponsors Sky.

Annual guided mass participation rides, called Skyrides, will form a central part of the WSP.

But the plan also creates a nationwide network of traffic-free facilitiies to encourage learners - and those whose two-wheeled experiences are a distant adolescent memory - to get back on their bikes.

"Things like the traffic-free facilities and the local guided rides will encourage people who might be nervous about cycling to get their bikes out of the garden shed and onto the roads," CEO Iain Drake commented.

"We're simultaneously going to be working with 200 different cycling clubs across the country and the guided rides would then signpost the public towards them."

Credited as the driving force behind the World Class Start Potential Programs - an earlier grassroots schools cycling program through which Olympic gold medallist Ed Clancy was talent-spotted - Drake believes the build-up to the London Games is the ideal opportunity to "grow the sport and leave a unique legacy of cycling activity post-2012."

"BC membership has already doubled to 27,000 since 2004 and thanks to all these new investments and plans, we're now in a position where it can increase four-fold by 2013."

The ambitious grassroots projects aim to build on the wave of interest in cycling created by Great Britain's unprecedented success in the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics, in which British riders won 34 medals.

"2008 went down in history as the year in which the sport made its breakthrough into the public consciousness," pointed out British Cycling's Brian Cookson.

"[The aim] is to replicate this success in the context of the whole sport," - with Sky's broadcasting resources offering a formidable opportunity to get the message across.

At the higher levels, Sky will also be launching a professional men's team in 2010, which aims to participate in the Tour de France in their first season. Longer-term, there is talk of producing Great Britain's first ever winner of the sport's blue riband event.

With British success at an international level, both on track and road, already increasingly well-established thanks to riders like Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Nicole Cooke, sports-wise British Cycling's biggest challenge is the protection of the country's fragile road-racing scene.

Event after event from cycling's top series, the Premier Calendar, has been lost in recent months, and Drake admits that "at times [what we're doing] has felt like a fire-fighting exercise."

"But we've now established cross-govermental bodies to try and address the legal issues, and we're coming up with some very innovative solutions."

Amongst the British cycling community, the response to British Cycling's plans to wrench the sport out of its long-term minority status is expected to get a warm welcome.

"It looks like BC are seizing the initiative with this plan," commented the UK's longest standing cycling reporter, 63-year-old Keith Bingham.

"When Chris Boardman got a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics, they weren't in a position to capitalize on that, but under the new CEO now it's finally kicked into gear."

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