VCC logo

Contact   VCC web fbVCC web twitterVCC web instaVCC web stravaVCC web slackVCC web twodots

Black History Month - A perspective by Tony Simpson

Like many of us, I loved the swash buckling antics of Julian Alaphilippe during the World Championship Elite men’s road race this September, what you might not have noticed was Eritrea’s ‘Biniam Girmay’ coming second in the men’s U23 race and in turn becoming the first Black African to podium at the UCI World’s.

I mention this because it is so important, especially to young people of colour, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, representation for all of us is critical, Belgium cycling fans adore Wault Van Aert and Remco Evenepoel and Tom Pidcock is hardly ever mentioned without the nod that he was ‘made’ in Yorkshire. Our heart and affinity are linked to places and people, especially in sport.

Black History Month is as much about belonging as it is about the past – the great sport of cycling is steeped in seminal moments of inclusion, most forgotten or left in dusty periodicals headlined under exotic or incredible feats.

Take those of Marshall Walter ‘Major’ Taylor, Americas first Black sporting hero, UCI World Sprint Champion in 1899, I am betting that - Biniam Girmay - had no idea he was merely following a Black cyclist onto the podium. Major Taylors resilience was legendary, the cobbles of Flanders would really have been a respite to the obstacles he endured during his professional and amateur career. For the record, he held two world records and over 6 championships in his time.

For me Black History month is a time to reflect embrace and respect, as a cyclist of colour, I am still in that rarefied group that will garner the odd stare at village coffee shop, I will also get the odd look from members of the black community as a fly through the towns and villages of Hertfordshire – I have been asked, what’s it like cycling with White people and conversely, why the response to George Floyds death in 2020 was so dramatic – all this whilst on my trusty ‘Cannondale‘ and all in good faith.

My experience as a black club cyclist is most exposed during the Sportive season, those who ride with me regularly at these events know that the way to get into the magazines and onto social media is to ride next to me – after my only Ride London event, I found a full half page photo of myself featured in the following years magazine (See, we do diverse was the message) now, this has been VERY good news for the new Verulam Jersey, I fully expect to see the ‘2022 Dragon Ride’ promotional literature with a picture of myself somewhere, I am betting at least a thumb nail or group shot.

So what of the future – if you follow as I do, Justin Williams and the success of LA L39ION in the United States, you can see what’s coming, a super cool, inclusive team of men, women socially diverse as well as culturally. Expect the Lewis Hamilton effect for cycling. Last month I spoke with Charley Wegelius Sporting Director at EF Pro Cycling & writer of the excellent book Domestique – he confirmed that ‘Impact and Purpose’ in cycling was becoming as important as results for the team and its sponsors, meaning a lack of diversity in the pro peloton would just not cut it any more.

I truly believe our sport is about to take a huge leap forward, broaden its base and enrich our lives further. This year’s Paris Roubaix Women race was just the start.

Black History Month at VCC is a time for us all to look, reflect and see how we might do our bit to reach out and make our club more inclusive, whether orientation, gender or race.

Looking forward to riding with you all soon, as a personal favour, next time you see a tall black boy, tell him he looks like an entrepreneur, a lawyer, an influencer, an analyst, an accountant, a CEO - not just an athlete - you see Black boys and Girls can excel at all things not just sport.

Happy riding and thank you for lending me your eyes.