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Inspiring cycling in Vancouver and the Tour de France

Footage of the 2009 Giro d'Italia (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

During the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Canadians showed an unprecedented amount of national pride and enthusiasm for competitive sports. With the City of Vancouver currently focusing on making itself the greenest city in the world by 2020, a similarly inspired public is necessary to make sure the changes keep on coming. One way to accomplish this may be to have a miniature event of something like the Tour de France right here in Vancouver.

In comparison to Europe, cycling as a sport does not receive much media coverage or excitement in North America. Other than during the month of July for the Tour de France, there is close to no coverage of cycling on television. The same lack of attention holds for other forms of media as well.

For instance, the 2010 Westside Classic, a provincial championship road race that took place in the westside of Vancouver on June 6, received minimal media coverage. Similarly, the 2010 Yaletown Grand Prix, which attracted Canadian professional cyclists Svein Tuft and Christian Meier, did not get much media coverage, and one article by The Province even misspelled Svein Tuft's first name as 'Sven'.

In fact, how many Canadians, other than cycling enthusiasts, are aware of the fact that Svein Tuft is the National Time Trial Champion of Canada and that he won a time trial in the Tour of Denmark last Saturday? And how many people will go watch, or are even aware of, the BC Time Trial Championship happening in late August?

California's approach to popularizing the bicycle as an excellent form of transportation and exercise has been the Amgen Tour of California, the only other event in addition to the Tour de France that Vancouver residents can watch on television. Since its first edition in 2006, the Tour of California has risen in popularity and provided the state with numerous economic, social, and environmental benefits.

The Amgen Tour of California in Nevada City (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Cities in California have started efforts to promote cycling and to label themselves as 'cycling cities'. For instance, the city of San Jose hosts community-based cycling events for an entire week during the Tour of California. This year, the city of Santa Rosa planned a community-based fundraising ride in order to host a stage finish. In the city of Porterville, thousands of school children lined the streets to watch the race. The Tour of California has inspired communities around California to embrace cycling into their lives.

Video coverage of the Tour of California reaches over 90 different countries. Over 2 million spectators went to watch the Tour of California in 2009. As a result, it is no surprise that cities are eager to participate in the event as host cities for self-publicity and promotion. The economic benefits of hosting such an event can be abundant and far-reaching, and this has not gone unnoticed. Next year, Colorado will begin to host its own bike race, the Quiznos Pro Challenge.

Cycling in Vancouver might also benefit from holding a large event like the Tour of California. However, it is probably more practical not to, as the population of California exceeds that of Canada and actually has the capacity to support such a massive annual event. Instead, the City of Vancouver can take simple steps to publicize and give more media attention to local bike races like the Tour de Delta that took place several weeks ago. This may mean televising certain competitions, like national and provincial championship races, on local channels and providing better, closer race venues for race organisers and viewers.

Engendering excitement for cycling as a sport while developing better cycling networks will probably help the City of Vancouver meet its goal to become a leader in green transportation by 2020. Better roads will attract more cyclists, and more cyclists will encourage a faster development of useful cycling networks. As a result, marketing cycling as a fun sport can help Vancouver become the greenest cycling city in the world. Popularizing cycling will encourage more residents, especially children, to get on their bikes instead of their cars and reduce their carbon footprint.

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