The man who masterminded Britain’s Olympic and Tour de France victories today heralded cycling as the way to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis.
Sir Dave Brailsford, 50, said his multiple medal-winning theory of “marginal gains” could be applied to diet – with cycling providing the exercise to burn excess calories.
In an interview with the Evening Standard to mark today’s arrival of the Tour de France in London, the Team Sky principal said “winning alone is not enough” as he set out his legacy hopes from the world’s biggest annual sporting event.
He said improving safety on London’s roads was vital – and called on cyclists and motorists to share responsibility for reducing injuries.
He wants to expand his vision from “helping the very few” – the elite athletes such as Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton who won 18 Olympic cycling gold medals in his time as performance director of British Cycling – to helping the millions who cycle regularly.
“If it was just about winning at the elite level and there were no other aspects that came out of it, then I don’t think it would make as much sense,” he said.
“Winning is the catalyst. It creates opportunities to do something much bigger, much greater than one sport, in this country.
“But we want to take a step back. We want to continue to draw people into the sport. The number of people has grown so big we need time to think what can we do to help them get better – not just faster but fitter.”
He said the capital would provide a breathtaking setting for the finale of the third stage of the Tour, with the finish line in front of Buckingham Palace. “It’s mouthwatering really,” Sir Dave said. “It’s unbelievable. You have got to pinch yourself.”
When he formed Team Sky in 2009, the aim was to win the Tour de France with a British rider within five years and inspire one million more Britons to get on a bike. Since then, Sky has won the Tour twice – Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome last year – and the number of people riding at least once a week has gone up from one million to 2.1 million.
“If we become a cycling nation, then we now need the cycling culture to fit in with the increased number of cyclists that we have,” he said.
“Safety is high on the agenda, but it’s not just about safety. Look at the health benefits. We are experiencing an unfortunate boom in obesity and type-2 diabetes and child obesity. How do we tackle that?
“Essentially it’s pretty simple. We are consuming too many calories and not expending enough. All these complicated diets – the 5/2 and starving yourself for days – is all well and good, but if you eat more than you burn you’re going to get fat.
“Riding to work – all of these little bits of activity to increase our energy expenditure – is a brilliant way to fight this growing time-bomb.
“People think, I don’t want to ride my bike for two or three hours. It doesn’t matter. You just have to do a little bit, and often, and it will make a big difference.
“This idea of marginal gains you can apply to your health. Eat one less biscuit. Don’t eat three biscuits – eat two. Walk the stairs. Ride your bike to work and back. Over time it will make a massive difference.”
Sir Dave said the increased pressure on road space in London, and demands to provide more routes for cyclists, was driving safety “higher and higher” up the agenda. But he said cyclists and motorists had to work together.
“Something has got to give. It’s quite clear when you stand back and look at it,” he said.
“If cyclists took a little bit more time to think about motorists, and people in cars took a little more time to think about people on bikes, everybody would win.
“If your young daughter is riding a bike and you were coming up to her and you knew it’s your daughter, how would you treat that person? Would you go as close as you could and scream at her and make her wobble and potentially fall off? No we wouldn’t, so why would we do it to anybody else?
“Vice-versa, if your daughter is driving a car and she has just passed her test is a bit nervous, would you shout and scream and skim past the door? No you wouldn’t. Both sides have got to take responsibility. It’s not just one or the other. If everybody took responsibility, everybody would get better. It’s simple game theory. ‘Cyclists are right and motorists are wrong’ is not going to get us anywhere. It’s got to be collaborative.”
He added: “Fundamentally, there is a facilities [infrastructure] issue. We do need to spend money, in particular on these hotspots where you see a lot of fatalities.
“We know HGVs are particularly dangerous. We know there are blind spots, but cyclists should be aware there are blind spots as well. There are two parts to that equation. But the more that we can work together on the safety aspect, the better it will be for everybody.”