CYCLING: Schools pay price of success
12:10pm Wednesday 9th December 2009 in Sport
BOLTON’S schools cycling track championships have had to be scrapped — because of the popularity of the sport The championships were held every year for three different age groups at the Manchester Velodrome, involving almost 400 children every year.
But the increasing demand for the use the Velodrome has resulted in the axe falling on the Bolton competitions.
“We are the victims of cycling’s success,” said Barry Leese, the school sport co-ordinator at St Catherine’s Academy, formerly Withins School.
“It used to be easy for us to get time on the track to stage our competitions, but it has been getting harder every year.
“The problem has been the increasing interest in cycling which has resulted in more people wanting to use the Velodrome.
“I always knew the time would come when we wouldn’t be able to have our competitions there, and the success of British cycling at the Olympics last year just finished us off.”
The Bolton championships were Leese’s brainchild.
His vision was to give every child in Bolton’s primary schools the chance to take part in competitive cycling at a world class venue.
The Bolton Primary Schools Cycling Track Championships has been running since 2002 with 200 children taking part every year.
Two more championships were set up two years later to accommodate the secondary school pupils in the town, with almost 100 taking part in each age group.
The success of the events was hailed last year by Velodrome cycling manager, Bob Barber, who expressed surprise that no other borough in Greater Manchester had followed Bolton’s lead.
And Barber regrets the enforced end of the Bolton initiative.
“One thing that is sad is that Bolton have led the way with their competition,” he said.
“As yet no one else has picked up on what they have been doing.”
Leese, a PE teacher at St Catherine’s Academy, said: “It was easy getting on the track for a few years. But it has got more and more difficult and now we’ve hit the wall.
“It used to be like my little secret. No other towns held schools competitions at the Velodrome and it was a doddle to get the time on the track.
“We need a lot of track time to stage our competition. For the primary schools competition alone we need a block of 31 one-hour sessions through September, October and November leading up to the final in the first week of December.
“The competitions have been very successful and have turned out some very good cyclists who have gone on to take up the sport and do well in it.
“Chris Latham, for example, who is now in year 11, got his first taste of cycling at one of our competitions and has made the Great Britain talent squad. We have got some really talented kids who have come through and who will probably never do it again, which is sad. But at least some have taken it up and kept it going.
“It’s a shame but I can understand why the Velodrome is so busy. It’s a world class venue, the Wembley of cycling.
“Team GB is taking up more track time and there are demands from lots of other areas for time on the track. It’s a shame for the kids of Bolton because they have enjoyed it and it’s been very successful. When you see them progress to climbing and dropping down the banks and performing complex techniques, it’s fabulous to see.”
Barber said: “British cycling’s success at Beijing reminded everyone that we were here, and everyone took the message that the Velodrome was not just for the Chris Hoys and Victoria Pendletons.
“We were already busy before that, but we got even busier.
“Team GB could get more track time and get extra funding for more grass roots participation.
“If we’re giving 1,700 hours of track time a year that reduces the track time for Bolton.
“We do have some opportunities for young people in Bolton wanting to use the Velodrome. There are the Francis Transport youth sessions which are open to anyone, and there is the Bolton Hot Wheels who have track time.”
The Velodrome is trying all ways to provide more cycling opportunities for people, including buying 16 stationary watt bikes on which people can replicate race situations among other exercises.
“It’s another way of providing more hours of sitting on a saddle because we haven’t got track time,” added Barber.