There's a rich history of exploits on two wheels
‘There have been hundreds of books written about New Zealand's rugby and cricket heroes but virtually nothing about our great cyclists.' - Joseph Romanos
Of course this is a bit dramatic but in the middle of the reverie and delirium of the All Blacks triumphs and the World Cup party, I caught myself wondering what place cycling could still hold to Kiwi sport followers - the masses - and its implications on participation.
Perhaps, the Kiwi Sports Hall of Fame (in Dunedin) could give me an answer? After all, while we spend $50 million on cycling trails across the island, it can't rely on simply a motto of "build it and they will come". Perhaps we should be focusing on mass charity rides, go about forming public consensus on why you should be getting on your bike in the first place. Make it their "marathon". Let's not forget that there are already wonderful, quiet cycle routes available - have you seen the lack of traffic on the existing Blackmount valley roads (Manapouri)?
We need to broadcast our cycling legacy, hand down the inspiration from one generation to the next. We have to describe through races past and present, including the epic SBS Bank Tour of Southland, how it is a sport built on guts and determination as prerequisites for success. We need to continue creating our "Richie McCaw" role models for our children to recognise and look to replicate in competition.
New Zealand has quite a cycling curriculum vitae and no tour through 100 years of history would be complete without honourable mention of Phil O'Shea (whose exploits in distance races such as the Warrnambool-to-Melbourne Classic made him, for 15 years - 1909 to 1923 - the King of the Road), Ritchie "Fireball" Johnston (Waikato's sprint star, team captain at the 1956 Olympics), Tino Tabak (highest-placed Kiwi rider in the Tour de France ever - 18th in 1972), Paul Jesson (1979 Tour de France, who, after losing his leg came back to represent New Zealand at the 2000 and 2004 Paralympics) and Gary Anderson (bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics). Then there is the first Kiwi bike rider to secure metal of any kind from the Olympics) the Ulmer dynasty (three generations of riders competing at the highest level, including Sarah, the first rider to win an Olympic gold medal at Athens 2004) and not to mention Eddie Dawkins (one-third of the sprint trio who won gold in 2013 World Track Championship) and Trek Factory Racing rider Hayden Roulston.
There is a rich history in New Zealand's riding exploits, a legacy that can't possibly be described in brief. For cycling to find its way to the masses, we can't just rely on transport policies and planning but almost a cycling activism - communicating why we do this sport and where it has come from. Maybe we will give the next Olympic champion a reason to start riding a bike?
Nicholas Longworth is Cycling Southland's development officer.
The Southland Times