When asked about sports in Wales, most people would mention rugby and football first and not many would think about something else.
However, cycling could easily be listed as one of the country’s new national sports, considering the excellent results Welsh cyclists achieved in the past years and the number of talented riders that hail from Wales.
But what is the reason behind this success and cycling’s growing popularity in the country?
The terrain in Wales is naturally suitable for riding around on two wheels: plenty of trails and bike parks are around for enthusiasts, while it is also not short of challenging climbs and beautiful views. There is something for everyone, regardless of their abilities.
This is definitely a selling point, but the landscape is not the only reason for the increasing number of cycling fans.
In the last decades, Welsh riders produced some outstanding results, from World Championship titles to Olympic Gold medals, inspiring the country’s population to pick up their bikes and start pedalling, especially the new generations.
The likes of Nicole Cooke, Elinor Barker and Geraint Thomas have become household names and role models since they won dozens of international competitions in a number of disciplines.
Most of these success stories began at local cycling clubs, such as the Maindy Flyers, the all-important organisations to provide the bases needed to start out in cycling and encourage children to ride a bike.
These clubs have been key in producing champions for several decades now by providing the opportunity for youngsters to develop and compete in an organised setting.
Besides the clubs though, the available infrastructure is also crucial in attracting people to cycling.
Wales boasts a wide range of facilities, such as the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales in Newport, the National Closed Road Cycling Circuit in Pembrey Country Park, and mountain bike parks like Bike Park Wales in Merthyr Tydfil or Coed y Brenin in Snowdonia National Park, which are available to use for both professionals and amateurs.
The country does not only provide opportunities for people to cycle at these places, but they also host national and international competitions.
Dyfi Valley has been home to Dyfi Enduro, a national race, for many years, and the Red Bull Hardline, arguably the world’s hardest downhill event.
Tour of Britain returned to Wales last autumn after three years, with two excellent stages. The race’s start list included many of the best British riders, as well as some of the biggest stars in international cycling. The event attracted a significant crowd, a clear sign of people’s interest in the sport.
The latest high-profile competition in the country was the British National Track Championships, which took place at the National Velodrome in Newport.
The British are famous for their greatness on track and the national contest is one of the best occasions to prove this.
The Welsh did just that and amassed an impressive 15 medals altogether, featuring many young riders.
It is worth taking note and remembering the names of Rhian Edmunds, Emma Finucane and Joshua Tarling, three teenagers who won gold – and contributed eight medals in total to the tally – during the championships.
The Welsh squad’s performance was very promising for the future, especially before this summer’s big event, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. While at any other international competition cyclists represent Great Britain, at the Commonwealth Games they compete as separate countries, so it may well be an even more special time for these young riders to show their potential racing under the Welsh flag.
However, the list does not end here. Some of the world’s best up-and-coming road cycling talents are from Wales too.
Zoe Bäckstedt became junior road race world champion and was silver medallist in the time trial at the same world championships last year, at the age of 17. Experts and fans of the sport are talking about her in awe, declaring Zoe the next big thing in women’s cycling, as she conquers the world not only on the road but in cyclo-cross too, in which she is also a junior world champion.
Ethan Vernon is another gifted young rider, who turned pro at the beginning of the season at one of the greatest teams in elite cycling, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, where his teammates include no other than Mark Cavendish and Julian Alaphilippe.
Ethan, like many other riders, arrived to the professional road cycling scene from the track, where he achieved some excellent results at a national level. The 21-year-old now focusing more on road races but wants to keep competing on the track as well, a routine that many professional riders prefer to do.
The growing interest that cycling has been enjoying in Wales is a great indicator of how the sport is getting increasingly popular all over the world.
While Belgium, Netherlands or France have been established forces in cycling for decades, others only experienced sporadic success. But thanks to the country’s remarkable terrain, excellent facilities and devoted coaching, Wales has become a hub for talent and looking at recent results, Welsh cycling is facing a bright future.