Number 6: Becky James
Last year’s position: 10
It has been a huge season for the youngster from Wales, who only turned 18 in November. Stepping up from junior competition to senior level for the first time, she has made impressive early steps.
While it is true to say that many of Britain’s top riders were absent from the Commonwealth Games, it does nothing to diminish James’s performances.
And it is no wonder that British Cycling’s sprint coaches are excited about her potential. James will still be only 20 by the time the London Olympics come round but if she continues at the same rate of development she could be hot on Victoria Pendleton’s heels. And looking ahead to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, it’s clear that British Cycling already has a potential successor to Queen Victoria’s throne.
Twice a junior world champion, there was no doubting her quality. Looking at the next generation of track sprinters, there are few better than James anywhere in the world. A gold medal in the sprint at the European Under-23 Championships confirmed that.
But senior competition is another matter. Experience counts for a lot, particularly in track sprinting – and especially in match sprinting. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi would be the biggest test yet.
James, from Abergavenny, was one of the stars of the Games. She started very strongly, taking a bronze medal in the 500-metre time trial, beaten only by the overwhelming favourite, Anna Meares, and her Aussie compatriot Kaarle McCulloch.
Even better was to come in the sprint. James pulled off a shock by beating McCulloch 2-0 to set up a final against Meares.
What was so impressive was how James looked so comfortable, as well as tactically aware. She rode at the front, always looking behind, waiting for the Aussie to make her move. In the end, James looked like the seasoned campaigner.
In the final, Meares had a bit too much for her but James still put up a tremendous fight. One-nil down going into race two, she took the bull by the horns and tried to go from the front. Meares had her work cut out but did manage to overhaul her, although it was incredibly close on the line.
However, James took the silver medal – one of only seven the Welsh team picked up in the entire Games. James was only the second Welsh woman cyclist to reach a gold medal final in Commonwealth Games history.
The next season is going to be fascinating to watch. Expectations are now higher than ever before and James will now find herself battling with the likes of Shanaze Reade and Jess Varnish to be considered as Pendleton’s partner for the team sprint.
But if she carries on at this rate, she may even challenge Pendleton’s supremacy as the country’
Gold medal, sprint, European Under-23 Track Championships (St Petersburg)
Silver medal, 500m, European Under-23 Track Championships (St Petersburg)
Silver medal, team sprint, European Under-23 Track Championships (St Petersburg)
Gold medal, team sprint, National Track Championships
Silver medal, sprint, National Track Championships
Silver medal, 500m National Track Championships
Bronze medal, 500m Commonwealth Games (Delhi)
Silver medal, sprint Commonwealth Games (Delhi)
Cycling Weekly’s Top British Riders of 2010 advent calendar: We will reveal one rider per day behind the virtual doors of our sparkly advent calendar from Wednesday December 1 to Christmas Eve, Friday December 24. The top eight will then be revealed in Cycling Weekly magazine’s final issue of the year, which will be in the shops on December 30 2010.