Amaury Sport Organisation president says Britain is now world's top cycling nation
Great Britain is now the No 1 cycling nation in the world, according to the chief of the Tour de France.
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 21/03/13 1:32pm
Jean-Etienne Amaury, the president of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which runs the race, believes a combination of growing public support and wins in prestigious events such as the Tour and Olympic Games have transformed Britain into the sport's new standard-bearer.
Cycling received a huge surge in interest last summer, when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour and followed that up by claiming gold in the Olympic time trial in front of hundreds of thousands of fans.
His achievements were further amplified by Mark Cavendish's fourth victory in a row on the Champs-Elysees, Lizzie Armitstead's dramatic silver medal in the women's Olympic road race and Britain's track cyclists powering to eight gold medals in the Velodrome.
The current season could also see Britain's dominance further extended, with Wiggins among the favourites to win May's Giro d'Italia and Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome being similarly fancied at July's Tour.
Amaury consequently feels the balance of power is now shifting away from cycling's traditional heartland of France, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
"Right now, Britain is probably bigger than these countries because if you look at the results of the Sky team, for example, it is very impressive," he said on a visit to Leeds to celebrate Yorkshire being chosen to host the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour.
"One of the reasons we chose Yorkshire is the strength of British cycling over the past few years. Cycling is getting more popular in the UK."
Millions of people are expected to take to the streets of Yorkshire and the South East next summer when the 2014 Tour spends its first three days in Britain.
Day one will see the peloton ride between Leeds and Harrogate, with routes from York to Sheffield and Cambridge to London following on stages two and three.
ASO anticipate the race will receive the same level of support as last summer's Olympics and Amaury refused to rule out further Grand Departs being held on British shores.
He added: "Right now we are focused on hosting the Grand Depart in 2014 in Yorkshire, but it is true that, considering how popular cycling is becoming in the UK, there is no reason why we will not host other Grand Departs here in the coming years."
The Government pledged £10million of funding to the Grand Depart in Yorkshire on Wednesday, but has insisted changes must be made to the event's governance and delivery.
The funding was originally rejected by sports minister Hugh Robertson due concerns that Cambridge and London were not in the business plan, but he reversed the decision after intense lobbying from Yorkshire MPs and Welcome To Yorkshire, the agency that has fronted the bid to host the Tour.
The funding will be delivered through UK Sport as soon as the bid structure has been broadened out to incorporate a greater national focus.