The Christmas to New Year pause always gives cause for reflection and is a time to look back on the preceding 12 months. In cycling – the sporting calendar apart (and even then, well, cyclo-cross) – things seldom fit into a neat January to December box. So as we look back on some of the big themes from the past year, it’s worth bearing in mind that some are continuations of things we saw in 2020 or before, others will continue to make headlines in the New Year, and still more span all three years and beyond.
Our recent coverage of forthcoming changes to the Highway Code has provoked the biggest response to any article ever published on the site from people who perhaps might not be considered road.cc’s core audience – emails typically expressing thanks for publishing the article before then switching to, “But what about cyclists … ?”
While such correspondents display ignorance of what the rules contained in the Highway Code are right now, let alone the ones kicking in at the end of next month – proposed rules, let’s remember, that they had ample opportunity to respond to in the consultation held by the Department for Transport (DfT) – the fact is that from late January, it will include a Hierarchy of Road Users aimed at protecting the most vulnerable, plus a recommended overtaking distance for drivers passing a cyclist of at least 1.5 metres.
We – and others, including the charity Cycling UK – are hoping that the New Year will bring a major awareness campaign from the DfT to highlight the changes to motorists. Because while we applaud the government for bringing in these changes to try and make the roads safer for us, without drivers being aware of them, or worse still, buying into the line taking by some elements of the media that they somehow privilege cyclists at the expense of motorists (more often than not, both are one and the same person, of course) what’s the point?
Notwithstanding the forthcoming changes to the Highway Code, much of the media had it in for cyclists this year – for example, ITV flagship daytime show Good Morning Britain asked its viewers whether cyclists should be made to ride in single file, even though one of the new rules clarifies that riding two abreast is perfectly legal and often better on safety grounds.
Cheerleader-in-chief of the clamp down on cyclists brigade was Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman, who spent half the year promoting his petition calling on the government to bring in a law requiring people on bikes to be licensed, among other things.
Despite being given a nationwide platform by outlets including the Telegraph and BBC Radio 4, the petition barely scraped past the 10,000 signatures needed to oblige the government to provide a response – and when it came, unsurprisingly it was an emphatic ‘No’.
Bike theft is nothing new – many of you reading this, like us, will have experienced that heart-sinking feeling when you return to where you had parked your pride and joy only to find it is no longer there, a severed lock lying on the ground acting as a macabre souvenir.
But with bikes at a premium over the past 20 months or so due to the pandemic, 2021 does seem to be a year in which thieves have turned particularly brazen – and, at times, frighteningly aggressive.
Whether it be cutting through a lock outside a busy shopping centre in south London with an angle grinder while not giving a tuppence worth about being filmed by bystanders, moped-borne muggers, often wielding machetes, targeting cyclists in and around Richmond Park until things got too hot for them, or gangs bike-jacking cyclists on canals in the West Midlands, we’ve reported on far too many stories of this type in the past year.
Police in Richmond Park and on Birmingham’s canals stepped up patrols in response and for now at least the problem seems to have abated – but it would be good to see organised gangs brought to justice, rather than the habitual bike thieves fuelling a drug habit that we typically see before the courts.
It wasn’t just bike thieves who were targeting cyclists this year – sick-minded people laying traps that could maim or kill people out riding their bikes has been in the news, most recently this month when a rider on a trail in the Rhondda Valley sustained horrendous lacerations to his neck when he rode into barbed wire stretched across the route.
Such traps being laid for cyclists are nothing new, sadly, but starting with the first national lockdown last year they do seem to have become more common, and that’s continued into 2021 – in May for example, a pair of dog-walking pensioners in Glasgow’s Linn Park freely admitted when challenged that they were placing branches and other obstacles on a path because they “didn’t want cyclists in the park.”
And back in January, planks of wood studded with nails were found at Danesbury Firs in Cheshire. Nick Caldwell, who posted pictures of the traps to Facebook, told road.cc: “I believe one of the local MTB riders has had a heated conversation with the perpetrator during which he admitted to making and planting the devices and threatening to do it again! What a prick!”
With the start of the year came the end of the Brexit transition period, and the impact on the cycling industry here was immediate and in many cases brutal – Frog Bikes, for example, revealed in April that the UK leaving the EU had cost it £250,000 in the first two months of the year alone due to increased paperwork, among other things.
Bizarrely, saddle manufacturer Brooks, despite making its products in Wolverhampton, was unable to accept orders from customers in the UK through its website – because although the goods originate in the UK, fulfilment and shipping of online purchases is done via its parent company in Italy.
And spare a thought for the Guardian reader who forked out £5,000 on a new bike from Poland before Christmas last year – so, ahead of the end of the transition period – and was told he would have to pay £2,000 in VAT and duty because the bike was sent after 1 January. Ouch.
Bike shortage continues – and is set to last until end of next year
Mind you, he was lucky to get his hands on a bike in the first place, with the shortages that started with the advent of the coronavirus crisis last year continuing into 2021 and – according to industry insiders – set to be a feature next year too.
The problem moved on from one of difficulties in consumers actually being able to buy a complete bike to one of manufacturers being unable to put them together in the first place, with Brompton boss Will Butler-Adams, for example, warning that a shortage of raw materials was hitting the industry hard, and that it could take a year and a half for the sector to recover from the supply chain problems that arose with the pandemic.
Didi ‘The Devil’ Senft has – illness apart – been the most high-profile fan at the Tour de France, bouncing up and down in a Lycra bodysuit to shout encouragement at riders, as if the fact it hadn’t been washed for a good while come the third week weren’t incentive enough for them to pedal harder.
This year, however, it was another spectator who grabbed the headlines – step forward (literally, unfortunately), the ‘Allez Opi-Omi’ woman holding up a sign of greeting to her grandparents in front of the TV cameras on the opening day of the race in Brittany, causing Tony Martin to crash and three other riders to abandon.
She was eventually fined €1,200 for the incident earlier this month – although on the day itself, the Court of Twitter delivered a swifter verdict, with many suggesting a harsher punishment. We’d rather see justice done through the official channels, thanks.
While this round-up of what happened during the year isn’t focused on sport – but it would be wrong to leave out what for us was the biggest story sports-wise of the year, the re-emergence of Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France, although more recently he has been in the headlines for different reasons.
This time last year, the Manx rider had just secured a last-minute deal to ride the season with his former Deceunick-Quick Step team, but after three years struggling with illness and injury, a place at the Tour de France looked impossible, especially given the fact that in Sam Bennett, the Belgian team had the defending champion in the points competition.
Wins for Cavendish at the Presidential Tour of Turkey, and the Irishman’s much publicised falling out with team manager Patrick Lefevere, however, changed the dynamics entirely, and Cavendish – whose last stage win at the Tour came in 2016 – took to the start line in Brittany.
Four stage wins in the race saw him draw level with Eddy Merckx on 34 victories, as well as winning the green jersey for the second time in his career, and only Wout van Aert on the Champs-Elysees could prevent him pulling ahead of The Cannibal.
Last month came a horrific crash at the Ghent Six, with broken ribs and a punctured lung, and days after he returned home to Essex, Cavendish and his family were subjected to a brutal burglary.
But with a 12-month contract extension signed, he will still be in the peloton next year. Whether he will get the nod over Fabio Jakobsen for the sprinter’s place at the Tour de France is open to question – but it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed that the race starts in Copenhagen, where a decade ago he won the rainbow jersey.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.