There is little doubt that 2008 has been the best year in British Cycling?s history.
The nation?s riders hold eight Olympic titles, 13 senior World Championship titles and Mark Cavendish won six Grand Tour stages, an achievement that automatically makes him one of the most successful British riders of all-time.
Cyclists are becoming household names. Mention Chris Hoy, Nicole Cooke, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins and the rest and you?ll no longer be met with a blank expression.
Throughout the course of December, we have been counting down the Top 50 British Riders of 2008 here at www.cyclingweekly.co.uk.
It is incredible that there are 50 British riders operating at a world and elite level. A few short years ago, such success was unthinkable.
Our countdown has been a celebration of everything that is great about British cycling. By Christmas Eve, we had reached number 11 in our chart. Over the next 15 pages we recap the names of the riders from 50th to 11th and reveal the top ten.
THE TOP TEN
Click on the names to jump to the relevant rider
10 Steve Cummings
9 Russell Downing
8 Jason Kenny
7 Darren Kenny
6 Rebecca Romero
5 Victoria Pendleton
4 Bradley Wiggins
3 Nicole Cooke
2 Mark Cavendish
1 Chris Hoy
NO. 10: STEVE CUMMINGS
Stage win Giro di Reggio Calabria
Second overall, Giro di Reggio Calabria
1st Coppa Bernocchi
Second overall, Tour of Britain
Were it not for Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings would be Britain?s most successful road rider of 2008.
It started well, with a stage win and day in the leader?s jersey in the south of Italy, where he was also second overall.
The Giro d?Italia was also impressive. He got in the day?s big break to Monte Pora which scaled a handful of mountains and gained a huge lead. By the finish only Vasil Kiriyenka, Danilo Di Luca and Alexander Efimkin had overtaken him. It was the best result for a British rider in a grand tour mountain stage since the days of Robert Millar.
But it was at the Tour of Denmark where Cummings really made his mark. Sensibly placed all week, he was second behind Gustav Erik Larsson in the time trial and finished second overall by just nine seconds. Larsson went on to win a silver medal in the Olympic Games time trial.
Cummings also had a fine Olympic time trial, although the result doesn?t show it. He was 11th, but had his chain not come off twice on the climb, he would probably have been in the top six.
Within a week of returning to Italy, he grabbed his second win of the season at the Coppa Bernocchi, then followed up with second place overall in the Tour of Britain, so nearly giving the fans a home win.
THE GREATEST DAY Winning the Coppa Bernocchi
Sunday, August 21
It may not be the most famous race in the world, but in Italy the Coppa Bernocchi is a big deal. It is the final part of a three-day run of races that traditionally go a long way to selecting the Italian national team for the World Championships. Cummings got in a break of three with Luca Celli and Vladislav Borisov that took more than two-minutes out of the next group, led in by Alessandro Ballan, who was later to win the rainbow jersey.
DEFINING MOMENT the first pro win
Cummings turned pro for Landbouwkrediet in 2005 but in three seasons, including one with Discovery Channel, had yet to record a win. The second stage of the Giro di Reggio Calabria provided the breakthrough and gives a sense that Cummings has enjoyed a huge boost to his confidence. That first pro win is likely easing the cork out of a bottle.
?This year Steve showed there?s a lot in him. He perhaps hasn?t had the confidence in his own abilities on the road before, and of course he?s concentrated on the track for a lot of his career, but I think we?re going to see a lot more from him over the next couple of years. There?s a really good road rider in there, and we saw glimpses of it? ? Dave Brailsford
NO. 9: RUSSELL DOWNING
Tour of Ireland stage win
GP of Wales
Three Cinturon Ciclista Majorca stage wins
Chas Messenger overall
Tour of the Reservoir
Tour of Blackpool
East Yorkshire Classic
Richmond Grand Prix
Russell Downing utterly dominated the domestic scene, becoming the first rider in the competition?s history to win seven rounds of the Premier Calendar in a single season.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the season was somehow uncompetitive, or the sight of one man winning all the time would squeeze the life out of the series, but quite the opposite happened. The domestic scene is enjoying a real resurgence at the moment, and Downing?s dominance has helped lift things to a new level. There?s no excuse for anyone who doesn?t know where the bar has been set.
There is a legitimate argument that Downing is too good for this level. By rights he should be riding with a bigger team in Europe, but it was the Premier Calendar?s gain that he did not.
The 30 year old from Rotherham is an all-rounder. He can attack you on the hills and beat you in the sprint. Woe betide anyone who takes him to the finish line with them. That was the familiar scenario this season as his rivals failed to work out how to get the better of the CandiTV-Pinarello man.
But it wasn?t in the Premier Calendar that Downing did his best work. He came within a whisker of winning the Tour of Ireland, which surely would have earned him a move to a bigger team. It took the combined might of the Columbia team to deny him in Cork.
And he was equally impressive in the UCI-ranked GP of Wales, on a very tough course.
The only races where success eluded him were the National Championships, where he was sixth, and the Tour of Britain, where he showed the effects of a tiring week in Ireland.
His domestic form virtually demanded selection for the World Championships, where he was the only British finisher. Downing was 49th, in the group that was racing for 28th place and contained Paolo Bettini and Erik Zabel.
THE GREATEST DAY Victory in Ireland
Saturday, August 30
It was a superb stage win in its own right, as Downing got in the race-winning move and then bossed it at the finish. In that front group heading to Dingle there were three Team Columbia riders, three from Tinkoff, three from Topsport and two from An Post, yet Downing beat them all to take the leader?s jersey. Even if it wasn?t to be the next day, it was still a fine ride.
DEFINING MOMENT Win number seven
Since the country?s road race series was rebranded as the Premier Calendar in 1993, no one has ever won more than four events in a single year. Downing clinched his seventh at the Richmond Grand Prix to complete a remarkable 70 per cent win rate.
?My job is to win if I can. I like winning, it?s what races are there for and there?s no way I?m going to take it easy because I?ve won so many. If I could, I?d win them all.?
NO. 8: JASON KENNY
Team sprint champion
Sprint silver medallist
Jason Kenny timed his run for the line like the world-class sprinter he is. If you?d have said at the World Championships in March, that the 20-year-old from Bolton would be on the plane to Beijing, you?d have conjured up images of the rest of the Great Britain sprint squad falling down the stairs en masse.
Kenny was fifth in the sprint competition after bowing out to Mickael Bourgain in the quarter-finals, but already momentum was building. He?d had an impressive run in the Revolution series over winter, including a victory over Theo Bos, who had been thought unbeatable.
From there he gathered momentum and his progress was meteoric. The thing was, there was no competition in which he could state his case for China. Instead he had to impress in a series of trials.
Kenny?s progress did not surprise everyone, perhaps. When looking at the long list for the team sprint in January, Dave Brailsford said: ?Don?t forget Jason Kenny. He could make a run at it. I think there could be one or two surprises between here and Beijing.?
Once he?d been selected, it was still thought he?d be the fourth man in the team sprint picture, but on the day, he ousted Ross Edgar as man two in the line-up.
In qualifying they became the first squad ever to break the 43-second barrier, stunning the French. After that, there was no way the formula could be tinkered with and Kenny kept his place as Britain raced to gold.
The marathon sprint competition, held over three days, tests a sprinter to the full. Kenny was going into the unknown but by the final day of the track competition, his three-year transformation from promising junior to world-class rival to Chris Hoy was complete.
For a start he qualified second fastest. Just Hoy and Kenny broke 10 seconds for 200 metres. He cruised through the semi-finals, beating Kevin Sireau in the quarters. Because of their respective times, Hoy and Kenny were kept apart in the semi-final line-up, keeping the dream final alive.
Kenny brushed past Maximilian Levy and although he was no match for Hoy in the final, he didn?t lie down for his compatriot.
At the Manchester World Cup, Kenny?s long season came to a finish with two more gold medals, in the team sprint and sprint, although he clinched victory in the sprint sliding across the line across a crash in race two against Shane Perkins.
THE GREATEST DAY First gold at the Laoshan
Friday, August 15
Everyone knew the French were the squad to beat. At Manchester five months earlier, you began to question whether Great Britain could do it. Come Beijing and Jason Kenny had muscled his way into the team sprint trio. Jamie Staff got them off to a flier, then Kenny put down the power, opening a gap that Hoy struggled to hold. The time, the first sub 43-second ride ever, was blistering. You could almost see the shoulders of the French riders sag.
DEFINING MOMENT Beating the French in qualifying
Going faster than France in the qualifying round was the hammer blow. All of a sudden the French knew they had a race on their hands and that if Great Britain could replicate that ride in the final, they?d have to settle for silver.
?This is the man who?s going to win it in London? ? Chris Hoy talks up Jason Kenny?s sprint chances in 2012
NO. 7: DARREN KENNY
CP3 individual pursuit gold
CP3 kilometre gold
Team sprint gold
CP3 road race gold
CP3 time trial silver
Britain’s cyclists dominated the Paralympics, winning medal after medal. Darren Kenny?s achievements stood out above so many others because of the depth of his success. On the track and on the road, in sprint events and endurance. The 38-year-old really was the consummate all-rounder.
The expected showdown between Kenny and Otxoa failed to materialise in the pursuit. It meant that Kenny qualified with a time of 3-36.875, a new world record, and a staggering 22 seconds clear of his nearest rival. It meant the final was never going to be close. Kenny was 20 seconds up on Yong-Sik Jin of Korea, and he caught him before they?d even reached the 1,000-metre mark.
To demonstrate his versatility, Kenny then won the kilometre with another world record, beating his compatriot Rik Whaddon with a blistering 1-08.
Kenny, Jason Cundy and Mark Bristow joined forces for the team sprint with Kenny getting the ride off to a medal-winning start.
And so to the road, where his main challenger would be a Spanish rider who used to ride for the Kelme team. Javier Otxoa won a stage of the 2000 Tour de France at Hautacam in the Pyrenees, on the day when Lance Armstrong attacked on the climb and bore down on him and came within just 42 seconds of catching the Spaniard. The stage win also netted him a few days in the polka-dot jersey.
In the spring of 2001, Otxoa and his brother Ricardo were out training when they were hit by a car. Ricardo died, Javier was in a coma for a month but lived, although he was disabled.
So Kenny knew he was up against a world-class athlete. In the time trial he got within 12 seconds of beating him, but had to settle for silver.
In the road race, the tables turned and Kenny was victorious, scooping his fourth gold medal of the Games.
THE GREATEST DAY winning the road race
Sunday, September 14
After three gold medals on the track, Kenny switched his attention to the road. He came up just short in the time trial, although losing to a former Tour de France stage winner, Javier Otxoa, was no disgrace. In the road race, Kenny and Otxoa broke away and in the last kilometre Kenny edged it.
DEFINING MOMENT beating Otxoa
Denied a final against the Spaniard in the pursuit when Otxoa was disqualified for drafting his opponent, then beaten by him in the time trial, it only made victory in the road race all the sweeter.
?I?m going to catch up on four years? of sleep now.?
NO. 6: REBECCA ROMERO
Individual pursuit champion
Individual pursuit champion
Team pursuit champion
Copenhagen World Cup individual pursuit
Rebecca Romero made switching sports look easy, but she is quick to point out it was a lot of hard work.
Coming into the British Cycling set-up midway through the Olympic cycle and making herself the best pursuiter in the world inside two years was an astonishing achievement and a testimony to her athletic ability.
But for a persistent back injury, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist would not have quit rowing and taken up cycling at all.
British Cycling?s coaches saw her potential as soon as she visited Manchester Velodrome for testing, but that was no surprise as she was already a world-class endurance athlete.
Within a year she was world champion, and then the pressure began to build. Another world title in Manchester meant that instead of being the outsider attempting the remarkable, she was the pre-Games favourite.
For someone so new to the sport, that pressure cannot be under-estimated. That was when she called on her previous experience of the big occasion as a rower and banished her demons.
Her own expectations were sky high. Her immediate reaction on winning gold was to state her relief and declare how another silver would have been hard for her to take.
It?s hard to imagine such an ambitious, driven individual being attracted to British Cycling a decade or so ago, and it?s hard to imagine someone like her fitting in. But as British Cycling has developed it has become home to hard-headed champions of its own.
Romero has always felt a little like a gun for hire, a bit like a big-money transfer trying to fit in at a team of home-grown talent, and so perhaps it is not a surprise that she?s recently been suggesting the idea of seeking out a third sport for 2012.
She mentioned it in a couple of interviews with the BBC and acknowledged that her first responsibility at a home Olympics is to the medal table.
Unlikely though it seems, it would be a big loss to British Cycling. With any luck the IOC will admit the women?s team pursuit in time for 2012, so there could be another golden chance there.
If she?s really restless for another discipline, how about the time trial?
THE GREATEST DAY THE ALL-BRITISH FINAL
Sunday, August 17
Behind closed doors at Manchester, they talked about this, the prospect of two British riders lining up against each other in an Olympic final. Three days into the track programme, it was clear almost everything was going to plan. For the spectator at home, this was the perfect scenario, gold and silver in the bag before a crank was even turned in the final. Wendy Houvenaghel had been fastest by a whisker in qualifying, but Romero hit her stride in the final.
DEFINING MOMENT catching Mactier
This was the moment Romero knew she was guaranteed a gold or silver medal. She rode the quickest time of the competition, 3-27.703, in catching Australia?s Katie Mactier in the first round. Romero was the first British athlete ever to compete in the Olympics at two different sports. Now she was sure of becoming only the second woman ever to win Olympic medals in two different sports at the summer games.
?Rebecca Romero is the most driven athlete I have ever met, male or female? ? British Cycling?s coach Dan Hunt.
NO. 5: VICTORIA PENDLETON
Team sprint champion
Four World Cup titles
Two National titles
It is unfortunate that Pendleton?s success in Beijing was accompanied by a tremendous sense of injustice at the inequality of medals on offer to the sexes at the Olympic Games.
For the men there is the sprint, the keirin and the team sprint, for the women just the sprint. It?s extremely unfair, although the big scandal is the fact the IOC and the UCI seem so slow to correct the imbalance. It?s unfathomable that Pat McQuaid hasn?t said: ?Yes, you are right, but there will be an equal number of events in 2012.?
But that is not Pendleton?s fault or problem, although it does mean the scale of her achievement has been overlooked a little in the eyes of the mainstream media. After all, over the past two years she has been as dominant in her events as Chris Hoy is in his. She won two gold medals at the World Championships in Manchester, which could have been three but for a minor error in the keirin final, and possibly even four if she?d pushed the boat out and gone for the 500 metres as well.
If there was anyone in the Great Britain team who must have felt under extreme pressure, it was Pendleton. Not only did she have one shot at glory, but she also had to contend with the memory of her disappointment in Athens four years ago, when she was beaten by Tamilla Abassova of Russia in the second round and finished ninth in the competition.
Pendleton had made huge strides between Athens and Beijing and had become an outstanding sprinter, winning many of her heats by several bike lengths. She was unbeaten at the World Championships, and in Beijing, and again at the World Cup in Manchester, stretching her run to 21 wins, 0 defeats since she lost to Willy Kanis in the final of the Copenhagen World Cup in February.
THE GREATEST DAY Beijing gold
Tuesday, August 19
Imagine being in Pendleton?s shoes. You?ve got one event to aim for, once chance of gold. You?ve watched as the entire team has collected medal after medal, and your event is on the final day of competition. No room for error, no second chances. But she stepped up and won every race in Beijing, making it look easy.
DEFINING MOMENT Beating Meares
Tuesday, August 19
A couple of years ago, Anna Meares was the sprinter to beat and, it seemed, she held a bit of a jinx over Pendleton.
?I just wanted to be part of a winning team and the worst part was all the waiting ? I tried to make the hours pass by painting my nails a few times and watching a lot of TV.?
NO. 4: BRADLEY WIGGINS
Individual pursuit champion
Team pursuit champion
Individual pursuit champion
Team pursuit champion
Madison champion with Mark Cavendish
The accolades keep coming. Bradley McGee, at one time his big rival, described Wiggins as the greatest individual pursuiter of all-time ?better even than Boardman?. Even if his Beijing Games fell one Madison race short of perfection, it was still a remarkable year. To win three world titles and two Olympic golds automatically makes him one of the greatest British riders of all-time.
It was a year focused entirely on the track, but he impressed in his one build-up race for the Games, the Giro d?Italia. Had he wanted to, Wiggins could have become one of the most-respected lead-out riders in the world. But, at 28, he feels he has more to offer than simply working for Mark Cavendish.
Garmin?s Jonathan Vaughters believes he can get some big results on the road in 2009, and as Shane Sutton says: ?If Bradley Wiggins hits you hard with a kilometre to go, he?s going to take some dragging back.?
THE GREATEST DAY breaking the world record again
Monday, August 18
3-53.314. It?s a record that will stand for a long time ? unless Great Britain lower it again, that is. The team pursuiters are currently so far ahead of the rest of the world that, barring disaster, gold was never really in doubt. For Wiggins, this was his sixth ride over four kilometres in four days, a punishing schedule that was under-estimated by many, including, perhaps, himself and the British coaching team. To be a key part of a team that averaged 61.7 kilometres per hour was breathtaking.
DEFINING MOMENT beaten in qualifying
Maybe the most important moment of Wiggins?s year was when he was beaten in qualifying at the World Championships in Manchester by little-known Dutch rider Jenning Huizenga. Wiggins was too strong in the final later that evening but the result was a reminder, not necessarily to himself but to those who expect him to roll to victory every time he gets on the track, that nothing is given even if he hasn?t been beaten in the final of an individual pursuit competition for five years.
?I can?t wait for London. I?m still quite far ahead of the rest of the world in the individual pursuit and as long as I plug away, that?s a big gap to close. I?ll be 32 in London but if I get to the top of the podium again, I?ll want to try again in 2016, although probably not in the individual by then.?
NO. 3: NICOLE COOKE
Olympic Games road race champion
World road race champion
National road race champion
Stage win, Tour de l?Aude
Stage win, Tour de l?Ardeche
And so we reach the top three. You could probably have guessed the identity of the final trio of riders and, no doubt, every reader has a different opinion on which order they should be listed.
We could have copped out and made them all joint winners but, after almost a month counting down the country?s top 50 riders of the year, we felt that would be to sell the series short.
No, we had to split them, even if the margins between the three riders are so narrow as to be almost invisible.
You can make a very strong case for each of them and in any normal year, their achievements would stand high above the rest.
In third place, then, we have Nicole Cooke. It?s almost unbelievable that an Olympic and world champion on the road can be ranked as only the third best British cyclist of the year.
The year started with Cooke joining the Halfords Bikehut team. She was still recovering from a knee operation and was a little touchy on the subject. It was fine, she insisted, though not too convincingly it has to be said.
Bringing Cooke to the heart of British Cycling made all the difference. Instead of parachuting in from her pro team for a week or two prior to a major race, a team was built around her.
With the focus on Beijing, it was understandable that her other results were low-key. There was no challenge in the World Cups or the stage races.
There was a sense that this was a mini make or break for Cooke. So often she has been the strongest in a World Championship race yet has had to settle for second or third.
But the plan to ride cautiously ? note that?s not the same thing as defensively ? and pick her moments more cleverly paid off. In Beijing the waiting must have been killing her, as she had to curb her naturally attacking instincts.
Then she backed off going into the wet descent and final corner before powering to victory with an awe-inspiring sprint.
What was most impressive about Cooke, though, was how she applied the same basic tactical plan to two very different races. The Worlds in Varese panned out very differently, but again she waited until the perfect moment.
In the closing kilometres she tried an attack that was closed down. Again it looked as if the victory was going to slip away and when the counter-attacks started she did not panic, choosing instead to wait and then hit them with her sprint.
THE GREATEST DAY Olympic gold
Sunday, August 10
The weather was very Welsh, the clenched fist and yell as she crossed the line was typical Cooke. It was a magical moment that kick-started not only British Cycling?s Beijing Games but started the ball rolling for Britain?s most successful Olympics for decades.
DEFINING MOMENT disappearing into that tunnel
Sunday, August 10
She?d done everything perfectly up to this point. In her skinsuit and on her lightweight tyres, every detail was prepared, but what happened next could not have been part of the plan. She?d made the break of five and was sensibly plotting her way to the final stages.
Then came a descent through a tunnel before the right-hand bend and the climb to the line.
Five of them went into the tunnel, four emerged. Where was Cooke? She was only a couple of bike-lengths off the back but it felt like an eternity. For a moment it seemed her chance had gone. And then she began her sprint, from a long way back and a long way out. It was absolutely heroic stuff and as she roared, the whole of Britain roared with her.
“I have dreamed of this [the Olympics] since I was 11 years old. I am so happy and proud. I made so much noise when I crossed the line because I guess that?s the person I am. I want to thank all the people who have been there since the start.” Nicole Cooke
“What can you say about Nicole Cooke? I love watching her race. It?s so exciting. She races like a man. That?s not a sexist comment, it?s proven genetic psychology. Women ride defensively. Nicole Cooke doesn?t. She attacks. She absolutely loves to ride away from people and it?s so good to watch.
“But what was so impressive was that this year she had a team around her and they had a plan. She?d have won in Athens with that plan, but it?s only gone right now. Beijing was amazing but for me the Worlds was typical Nicole. In the final she played a full hand with that attack. She gave it everything but it didn?t work, so she just summoned up this strength to win the sprint. That desire to win is amazing, she slogged that sprint out from the very bottom of what she had left.” Mark Cavendish
“The thing about Nicole is she is usually alone near the end of the race so she uses her energy very smartly and gains a lot that way. She isn?t afraid to work in a break if it is a chance to gain an advantage on riders left behind. She is tactically strong and attacks at the right time. She?s not afraid of racing as she showed in Beijing and Varese. She is not untouchable but in Italy she was the strongest. To still be motivated with a gold medal from the Olympics in her pocket, and with all that pressure, and still win was impressive.” Emma Johanssen
NO. 2: MARK CAVENDISH
Four Tour de France stage wins
Two Giro d?Italia stage wins
Two Three Days of De Panne stage wins
Tour of Romandie prologue
Ster Elektrotoer stage win
Three Tour of Ireland stage wins
Three Tour of Missouri stage wins
World Madison champion
Of the top three in our list, arguably Mark Cavendish?s achievements were the most difficult. You could argue that Cavendish’s achievement is the most impressive because of the depth of competition. No British rider has ever won 17 professional races in a single season. He was the first British rider to win a stage of the Giro d?Italia since Robert Millar in 1987. Only Barry Hoban before him has won two stages of the same Tour de France. Cavendish took three, then four. Astonishing.
The season started in California where Cavendish drew a bit of unwelcome attention to himself when he rode past Mario Cipollini in the time trial on one leg. It was a gesture of respect towards the Italian sprinter, he said. Those who know him would know it was Cav being Cav and that it was meant in a respectful spirit. But Cav the firebrand sometimes gets misinterpreted. It didn?t help that he was also stripped of a stage win in California for taking an illegal pace from a team car during a chaotic finish.
A quick switch back to the track delivered one of the most exhilarating Madison races Manchester Velodrome will ever seen.
He got off the mark on the road at the Three Days of De Panne with two stage wins, only to see Ghent-Wevelgem slip away. He stole Scheldeprijs from under Tom Boonen?s nose, then won the prologue at the Tour of Romandie to show those who think he?s ?just a sprinter? that he?s more than that. He?s a very, very fast bike rider.
Then came the Giro d?Italia and his arrival on the very highest stage. Four stage wins at the Tour showed that Cavendish is a future green jersey winner. The criticism surrounding his withdrawal with a week to go, in order to prepare for the Olympics, Beijing was not a great experience for him. He was the only British track rider to return without a medal after the meticulous planning was revealed to have missed a stitch in stretching Bradley Wiggins too far. After such dominance, the Madison was always going to be an enormous task.
He returned to Europe and immediately looked happier on the road, among his Columbia team-mates and quickly notched hat-tricks in Ireland and Missouri to take his tally to 17.
But it is those four Tour de France stage wins which elevate him to superstar status. British fans must be careful not to take his achievements for granted. Tour stages do not grow on trees. It used to take decades at a time to clock up four Tour stage wins. Cavendish did it in a fortnight. He is the fastest (road) sprinter in the world.
So why is he not number one? Well, because in the pantheon of sport, three Olympic golds trumps four Tour de France stages. But only by a whisker.
THE GREATEST DAY The first Tour win
Wednesday, July 9
No matter how you look at it, that first week is so nervy. The days just drift away and before you know it, it?s Wednesday and the number of sprint opportunities are dwindling. There was a feeling that Chateauroux was an opportunity that had to be taken. With a tough couple of stages in the Massif Central to come, Cavendish needed to get off the mark. It was a textbook sprint from his team and from the man himself and after that there was really no stopping him.
DEFINING MOMENT The first Giro win
Tuesday, May 13
It is a peculiar facet of the British disease that the successful have to make excuses for the things they have not done rather than the things they have. Cavendish, a 22-year-old second-year pro, had already 15 professional wins to his name but already some were saying ?Yeah, but he won?t win at the very highest level?. The Giro d?Italia stage win at Lungomare blew that nonsense out of the water.
?You don?t realise the enormity of winning a Tour de France stage until you do it. Going into the race I expected it, but until it happens you can?t get your head around it. There?s a clip of it on You Tube set to a Safri Duo song and you can see I got the absolute perfect lead-out from the team. Gerald [Ciolek] took me right up to the line, it?s absolutely beautiful.
“The French guy [Nicolas Vogondy] was away but you never think about them staying away. All you think about on the run-in is the sprint. Even if they have two minutes with ten kilometres to go, you think of the bunch sprint. If you catch them, you win. One stage win can always be counted as a fluke, but after the second one, in completely different conditions, on a different width of road people realised I wasn?t a fluke.
“I learned something at Ghent-Wevelgem this year. Up to then I?d always hide, hide, hide and come from ten places back and win by half a length. But as happened then, I got blocked and lost my chance. So after Ghent-Wevelgem onwards I put myself at the front, even if it meant I chipped away at the energy, because if you are in front it?s so hard for people to come round you.? Mark Cavendish
Team sprint champion
Copenhagen World Cup Keirin win
World Championship team sprint silver medal
Chris Hoy?s achievement is not simply the finest achievement for British cycling this year, it is the finest achievement in British sport.
The 32-year-old from Edinburgh became the first British athlete in a century to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. The last was swimmer Henry Taylor in London in 1908.
Four years ago, Hoy was the Olympic kilometre champion but was still coming to terms with the bizarre decision to scrap the event from the Games. Slowly but surely he adjusted his focus and there is no doubt that had the kilometre remained an Olympic discipline he would not have achieved his treble.
The year started with Hoy on an incredible streak in the keirin. Everyone knew his favoured tactic was to settle in on the wheel of the Derny and lead from the front, but no one could do anything about it. He was virtually unbeatable ? and has lost just one keirin race in almost two years. That was the international keirin event at the end of a gruelling Copenhagen World Cup in February.
The World Championships began with a tinge of disappointment when the British trio lost to France in the team sprint, although Hoy issued an ominous warning that night. ?We?ll get faster,? he said.
Hoy left Manchester with just the two rainbow jerseys and began to focus on Beijing.
The Games got off to a dream start when the French were vanquished. Then Hoy blitzed through the keirin campaign. To the partisan fan every race was a nail-biter, but to the dispassionate neutral he looked head-and-shoulders above the rest.
Likewise in the sprint competition, his nearest rival proved to be his compatriot, Jason Kenny.
Three Olympic gold medals for a British cyclist? It isn?t that long ago that we?d have thought the idea absolutely preposterous.
THE GREATEST DAY Third Olympic gold
Tuesday, August 19
Hoy beats his young team-mate Jason Kenny in the final of the sprint to clinch his third gold medal at the Olympic Games
DEFINING MOMENT . Beating Bos
Thursday, March 27
Winning the decider in his quarter-final clash with Dutchman Theo Bos at the World Championships in March. Hoy had lost the first race, but drew level in the second. Come the decider, the atmosphere was electrifying and the roar of the crowd when he beat the man in orange must be the loudest Manchester Velodrome has ever witnessed. As Hoy pumped his fist in celebration it was clear that he had dispossessed Bos of the title ?fastest man on the track? and cleared the way to become Britain?s first sprint world champion since Reg Harris.
WHEN ASKED: ?WHAT DOES CHRIS HOY THINK OF CHRIS HOY??
?Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day that Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse.?
?What can you say? What he?s achieved isn?t just about cycling, it?s about British sport. No one else did what he did at the Olympics. What?s incredible is that he has such a lack of ego. It hasn?t changed him at all. Sure, he knows the significance of winning three gold medals but it hasn?t made any difference to how he is with people.
?At the Braveheart dinner they showed a video alternating clips of his sprints with clips of mine. I thought ?at least I get a lead-out, he goes to the front and goes on his own and still wins by two or three bike lengths?.? Mark Cavendish
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CW’S RIDERS OF 2008: NUMBERS 11-50
No. 11 Emma Pooley
No. 12 Geraint Thomas
No. 13 Ed Clancy
No. 14 Jamie Staff
No. 15 Shanaze Reade
No. 16 Paul Manning
No. 17 Sarah Storey
No. 18 Ross Edgar
No. 20 Chris Newton and 19 Wendy Houvenaghel
No. 22 Gee Atherton and 21 Rob Hayles
No. 24 Joanna Rowsell and 23 Simon Richardson
No. 26 Rachel Atherton and 25 Ben Swift
No. 28 Lizzie Armitstead and 27 Steven Burke
No. 30 Andrew Fenn and 29 Sharon Laws
No. 32 Peter Kennaugh and 31 Josh Bryceland
No. 34 Jody Cundy and 33 Liam Killeen
No. 36 David Millar and 35 Ian Stannard
No. 38 Daniel Fleeman and 37 Matt Crampton
No. 40 Jessica Allen and 39 Daniel Lloyd
No. 42 David Daniell and 41 Dean Downing
No. 44 Steve Peat and 43 Anna Blyth
No. 46 Jonny Bellis and 45 Jess Varnish
No. 48 Luke Rowe and 47 Michael Hutchinson
No. 50 Katie Colclough and 49 Chris Froome