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Our Love Of The Tour De France Shows The UK's Increasing Passion For Pedal Power

05/07/2017 13:32 BST | Updated 05/07/2017 13:32 BST
LIONEL BONAVENTURE via Getty Images

The 104th Tour de France kicked off in Düsseldorf this weekend (1 July), and some 200 riders will toil for 3,540km before racing down the Champs-Élysées in Paris on 23 July for the chance of winning the coveted yellow jersey. As a cycling fanatic, I am so excited I'm going to be there.

I broke my back in a cycling accident four years ago and couldn't ride for months. But despite such a potentially life-changing injury, it didn't put me off. In fact, it made me even more of a cycling nut - it made me realise why I get on my bike.

Apart from a great way to keep fit and a smart method of commuting to work, I ride to clear my head. There's definitely something about the metronomic action of pedalling that produces a zen-like state that helps rebalance the brain. You see more, smell the world and engage with your surroundings in a visceral way no other means of travel can compete with.

I know how lucky I am to go to the Tour too - I'm just one of millions across the whole of the UK who will be glued to every stage, as we've become a nation of cycling fans.

As a key member of setting up Team Sky with Sir Dave Brailsford, I've also been extraordinarily lucky enough to be embedded with the team on a few Tours before too.

I was with Bradley Wiggins when he won our first jersey, the Maglia Rosa at the Giro D'Italia, and he was kind enough to give me his signed yellow jersey after winning the Tour de France as a thank you. I have it on my kitchen wall.

But was it due to the rise of Chris Boardman in the 1990s? Sir Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins starting the full renaissance of British competitive cycling in the 2000s? Wiggo's medal-winning antics at the 2012 London Olympics, along with other incredible riders including Laura Trott and Victoria Pendleton? Or was it Chris Froome winning three of the last four tours and now aiming for his fourth?

All I know is that the British appetite for cycling is at levels never seen before.

The explosion of cycling in the UK over the last 10 years has been incredible, both in elite performance and in mass participation.

I mean, this year's Tour was even due to start in London before Boris gave it the kibosh back when he was mayor and each of the 21 stages is going to be shown live on ITV every day.

Cycling is now the third most popular sport in England and numbers have been rising steadily for the past few years. Over 100,000 more cyclists are riding bikes at least once a week now than in 2012, according to the most recent figures. (https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/about/article/20150129-about-bc-news-100-000-increase-in-regular-cyclists-since-October-2012---cycling-participation-targets-on-track-says-British-Cycling-0)

Now, more than 2million adults in England cycle at least once a week with almost 4million getting on their bikes monthly.

Meanwhile, sales of UK manufactured bikes rose by a whopping 69% in 2014, according to the more recent figures from the Office for National Statistics. (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/20/british-bicycles-on-a-roll-with-sales-and-production-up-70-in-a-year)

This was kickstarted by the government's Cycle To Work scheme, which was introduced by Labour back in 1999 and allows people to buy a bike tax-free.

And of course, we want to cut back on the pollution we cause in towns and cities, as well as the wellbeing and financial benefits of getting on your bike rather than being stuck in traffic jams.

In fact, such is the increasing popularity of cycling among men over 40, people are saying that cycling is "the new golf". I certainly use cycling to socialise with mates and it's a useful way to conduct new business.

Add to that, there are all the proven health benefits - research released in the spring found cycling to work drastically reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39641122)

However, at present only 3% of the UK population commute by bike, while 36% use a car.

British Cycling is recommending a long-term programme to increase cycle use nationally from less than 2% of journeys in 2011 to 10% in 2025 and 25% by 2050.

British Cycling believes that would save £1.8bn in health benefits and £284m thanks to less congestion. (https://www.cyclinguk.org/sites/default/files/economic_cycle_-exec_summary.pdf)

The government knows that for every £1 it spends on cycling it reaps £5.50 of benefits. But currently, it spends just 72p per person per year on cycling, compared with £86 per person per year for roads. It's dragging it's heels on properly funding the initiative to increase cycling in Britain. (https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/campaigning/article/20160329-campaigning-news-Cycling-and-Walking-Strategy-won%E2%80%99t-be-worth-paper-it%E2%80%99s-written-on-without-meaningful-funding-0).

Just imagine how many more of us would get on our bikes if that were to change - and we might one day have even more Britons pulling on that yellow jersey...

Oh and who do I think will win the Tour this year? Well, Chris Froome may go into the Tour as favourite, the first Brit ever to land a hattrick (2013, 2015 and again last year). But my tip to win is the Tasmanian Richie Porte... See you at the finish line!