|Known as ‘Mr John’ by riders and race organisers, John Barclay is a man who has inspired a huge number of Britain’s top cyclists, past and present. He personally organises racing trips to Belgium that have given hundreds of young riders their first chance to taste racing in Belgium, Holland and France – trips that started in the 1960s and still run today. John’s goal is to take young British riders to Europe and inspire them to achieve their potential by showing how they can take on the continentals and win. He gives the riders the confidence and self-belief to achieve results with a track record that is second to none.
His trips are mostly self-funded, with occasional financial support through continental race organisers, clubs and supportive fans of the sport. John is highly respected, with race organisers knowing that any team he takes to an event could win.
John’s roles include: driver, mechanic, mentor, team manager and personal assistant, giving over 20 hours every week on organisation, plus regular long weekends away on trips – all driven in John’s own battered estate car, loaded up with bikes and riders.
The impact of John’s volunteer work is huge, and includes most, if not all, British Tour de France, World, Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions over the last 20 years, whose testimonials verify John’s numerous successes. They passed through John’s capable hands during the essential formative years of their successful careers. He demands respect and commitment from his riders with his no nonsense approach and gives them a great start in their careers.
Riders include: Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, David Millar, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Adam Blythe, Dan McLay, Erick Rowsell, Peter Sanders and Rob Holden to name a few. Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard came 1st and 2nd in the Junior Paris Roubaix under John’s guidance. John, who is now in his mid-80s, continues his commitment to the sport to this day, with 21-year-old exciting British talent Tao Geoghegan-Hart (recently signed to Team Sky) being a recent recipient of John’s help.
What makes John stand out is his passionate skill, quiet modesty and encouragement of all riders who approach him for inclusion in his extensive programme.
David Millar: I can’t think of many people in British sport who deserve to win the Unsung Hero at the British Sports Personality of the Year.
John Barclay was one of the primary reasons I fell in love with cycling, he introduced me to continental racing, it was his generosity and knowledge that allowed me to discover a form of bike racing I didn’t even know existed. At the time there was next to no funding for British cyclists, we would be loaned a national team jersey and rely on the help of volunteers to represent our country. John was like a one-man national team, he would drive us to the races, organise our accommodation and direct us in the race.
He did all of that for no other reason than the love of the sport and out of kindness and generosity of spirit. Even during the era of lottery funding he has continued to help riders who don’t make the cut, and yet some of them have ended up making the top tier of the sport thanks to his belief and help. He never asks for anything in return. He truly deserves this award.
Geraint Thomas: John played a key role in my early racing career. As a junior he would take a group of us over to Belgium most weekends. It opened my eyes to what racing was truly about. Not just with the intensity of the races but the tactics and whole atmosphere of them.
In those days you couldn’t compare the racing abroad to that back in the UK. He did it all off his own back, with rarely any thanks. It was purely for the love of the sport and helping us out.
Ian Stannard: If it was not for John and his trips to Belgium, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Those trips gave me an experience and taste for what it takes to race on some of the greatest roads in cycling, and a real love for the Northern classics and the desire to want to race in them.
Tao Geoghegan Hart: John was an absolutely key figure in my development as a professional cyclist, but also as a young person. Traveling to Europe countless weekends a year, surrounded by other young riders with the same passion for cycling as I had, we always had fun, and without realizing, learnt more about bike racing than any number of years racing in the UK could teach us.
I very quickly went from starting cycling to being on National and International podiums, and I have no doubt that the high racing abroad that John enabled me to do, was a key reason in this quick progression. John had a brilliant mix of advice, enthusiasm and passion, but also a ‘just get on with it’ attitude.
He lead the trips and every rider knew how much experience he had, but he would never overdo it with the advice or knowledge, letting riders find their own way and make their own mistakes, all the while guiding and facilitating their development on the lanes of Belgium.