Tour of Britain excitement hots up

IT S not just the rider wearing the yellow jersey that will be the winner in this year s Tour of Britain.

IT'S not just the rider wearing the yellow jersey that will be the winner in this year's Tour of Britain.

Devon and Somerset County Councils have created a unique partnership with the South West Bike Academy that is aiming to create a cycling legacy in the region to benefit the local economy and environment.

The innovative link is part of a long term investment to not only make the two counties the home of cyclists of all levels, but also for the area to become THE destination for cycle tourism.

The Councils will be hosting Stages Six and Seven of this year's Tour on 17 and 18 September, the first time that two stages have been held in one region. To help promote the Tour in the area, the Councils are sponsoring the South West Bike Academy, a team of six under-23 riders.

For the SW Bike Academy, the sponsorship is valuable support in helping its riders compete and gain vital experience against Britain's best professional teams in the Premier calendar and other major cycling events.

Riding as the Qoroz-Novatec race team for the 2009 season, all of the riders are from the south west and the team has an average age of just 19. The riders are Ed Griffin, Ben Stockdale, Matt Ullmar, Josh Yetman and Luke Dunbar. They are joined by Greta Junker, who will also receive the same support in her quest to get to the top of the sport. Greta is an ex-multiple national youth and junior champion and she has been taking part in a mix of track, road and circuits racing.

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The Academy riders have been visiting schools in the two counties, encouraging children to take up cycling, as well as talking to pupils about health, nutrition and the environment. It's hoped that these visits will help create a new generation of cyclists.

South West Bike Academy manager David Walters said: "The south west is an amazing area for cycling so we're proud to be based here, and we're delighted to have the support of two forward thinking local authorities who have recognised our aims and realise that it fits in with their own. In hosting the Tour of Britain, Devon and Somerset have seen the enthusiasm that can be generated around cycling, and it's a sport and a form of transport that has so many benefits.

"In the immediate future, the Academy is doing everything possible to bring the youngsters in the team through the ranks of the sport, and hopefully their development can lead to success for them and others in future. But we also want to promote cycling in general and our link with the Councils gives us that platform. You never know, Tour riders of the future might be inspired through this project, and I'm pleased that we can play a part in that."

The two County Councils hope that by jointly hosting both stages, they will build on the success of last year's stage in Devon and Somerset which attracted an estimated 107,000 spectators.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation, said: "In raising the profile of the two counties as cycling counties, Devon and Somerset are looking for success on all fronts. The economic benefit and influx of visitors will be welcome at such a crucial time for local businesses, and if the Tour and our support of the SW Bike Academy can create a genuine cycling legacy, the impact of that will be felt over the long term future as well.

"It would be great to think that even more people will take up cycling or that others will cycle more often because of this work, and we would love to see the next Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish hailing from the south west. That can only be good for the region and would put us firmly on the cycling map."

Councillor David Huxtable, Somerset County Council's Cabinet Member for Resources, said: "Hosting two stages of the Tour of Britain is a great opportunity for Somerset and Devon. The South West stages will hopefully provide a welcome boost to the local economy and also inspire residents to start cycling more. I would like to thank the members of the South West Bike Academy who have been visiting lots of schools in the build up to the Tour of Britain. They are a great inspiration to young people in both counties and will no doubt be the South West's cycling stars of tomorrow."

The partnership is already paying off with success for the South West Bike Academy. So far this season the team members have notched up 19 top ten finishes in top class competition around the country, including best Under 23 in the Southern Road racing Championships, and a victory for Ben Stockdale at the Martyrs Road Race in Dorset. Most recently there was also an impressive third place for Josh Yetman at the latest round of the Wessex Cycling League.

As interest in cycling grows in this country, all young cyclists from the south west, competitive or not, can be guaranteed of invaluable support and encouragement from Devon, Somerset and the Academy.

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