A former homeless man who overcame a life of crime, addiction and mental health issues; a woman who learned to cycle at fifty, and a ten-year-old boy who thought his condition would stop him ever learning to ride a bike, have all been awarded the UK's first "Real Yellow Jersey" for cycling excellence.

The Cycling UK campaign, supported by former Tour de France yellow jersey winners Chris Boardman and Sean Yates, saw ten jerseys, handknitted in Tour de France yellow, presented to people who've used cycling to change their lives and inspire more of us to ride our bikes.

Martin Williams Joy Anibaba and Declan Nangle were awarded the Real Yellow Jersey by Cycling UK.
Martin Williams Joy Anibaba and Declan Nangle were awarded the Real Yellow Jersey by Cycling UK.

Martin Williams, 45, from Birmingham was among the recipients. Martin was living on the streets, addicted to drugs and suffering from anxiety and depression before cycling helped him turn his life around.

He took part in Cycling UK's Big Bike Revival scheme which aims to help people overcome the barriers stopping them from cycling, such as a lack of skills, financial hardship, disability, cultural background or health issues.  

Martin has learnt cycle mechanic skills and now teaches others. He's in accommodation and has been clean for the past 18 months and through his volunteering work feels like he now has purpose, motivation and a positive outlook for his future.  

He said: "Cycling has transformed my life, really helping my mental health, but this yellow jersey is the icing on the cake. I've never won anything before."

Joy Anibaba, 55, from the West Midlands only learnt to ride in her 50s and has since become a ride leader inspiring and empowering other women to cycle more. 

She said: "It's wonderful to be honoured in this way. I'm proof that if I can do it, anyone can. I never thought I'd get a yellow jersey, especially one so warm and beautiful!"

Declan Nangle, who's ten and from Kidderminster, didn't think he'd ever be able to ride a bike because he suffers from dyspraxia, a developmental disorder that makes coordination and balance difficult.

He's now cycling every weekend after being given a bike for his 10th birthday and learning to ride through the Big Bike Revival.

Declan said: "When I first started riding a bike I was a bit scared about crashing, but that's something I don't have to worry about now. You learn to overcome your fear."

Changing lives through cycling

Jenny Box, Head of Behaviour Change in England, said: "We wanted to celebrate all those amazing people across the country who are getting back on their bikes, changing their lives and helping others to do the same.

"They're the real heroes of cycling whose skills, commitment and personal journeys are helping the nation reap the benefits of two wheels.

"The Real Yellow Jersey is also a symbol of everything that's to be celebrated about everyday cycling and an encouragement for more people to get in the saddle."

In the Tour de France, the yellow jersey has been worn by the overall leader since its introduction to the race 100 years ago in 1919. It is an iconic sporting symbol recognised throughout the world and held by only eight British riders in the tour's 116-year history. 

But Cycling UK's Real Yellow Jersey recognises that cycling isn't just about sport; it's an everyday activity for leisure, transport and health, and part of a solution to many of society's biggest problems from climate change and air pollution to obesity and mental health issues.  

Each 'jersey knit' garment took eight hours to complete. Created in canary yellow, they are a stylish symbol of real cycling excellence.

Chris Boardman, policy advisor for British Cycling, won three stages of the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey on three separate occasions. He said: "The Real Yellow Jersey for the everyday heroes of cycling really shines a light on how cycling can turn lives around, improving health, fitness and wellbeing and I applaud all the recipients for their achievements."

Former professional cyclist, Sean Yates, who wore the yellow jersey in 1994 and played a pivotal role in helping Sir Bradley Wiggins become the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012.

He said: "The yellow jersey in the Tour de France remains the ultimate symbol of cycling sporting success. So it's fantastic to see ten inspiring individuals from all walks of life honoured with their own yellow jersey recognising how cycling can make such a massive difference to people's lives."

The Big Bike Revival

More than 70 per cent of the UK population admit they never cycle even though the benefits are well-documented.

People who cycle regularly in mid-adulthood typically enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to someone 10 years younger and their life expectancy is two years above the average.

Meanwhile, the NHS is spending more than £6 billion a year on obesity-related illness; transport accounts for 33 per cent of carbon emissions in the UK and drivers are losing £7.9 billion every year because of traffic congestion.

More than half (57%) of car journeys in Great Britain are under five miles, which Cycling UK says could be cycled.

The Big Bike Revival started in 2015 after Cycling UK discovered there are an estimated 16.6 million unloved and unused bikes languishing in sheds and garages around the country, and that most people just need a little help getting back in the saddle.

It provides free maintenance sessions to get people's bikes back into working order, organises group rides and skills sessions to help people build up the confidence to ride. 

Find out more at www.cyclinguk.org/bigbikerevival.