Phil's Famous Dozen


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Phil's Famous Dozen

November 2009
Words: Phil Ingham
Images: Rob Jones, Phil O'Connor, Phil Ingham, Luke Webber, Larry Hickmott, Andy Whitehouse
Links: BC's 50th Anniversary | BC's Hall of Fame | 50 Years of Memories

With the Hall of Fame nominations flooding in, I thought it was time to look back over the last 10 years, a period when I've followed the sport closely and select a dozen riders who I believe should be in the Hall of Fame when it launches, early next year.

I've chosen riders who I have been able to watch at first hand on a regular basis and who have, on the whole, been established at the top of their profession for five years or more. There are a number of notable omissions, who have strong claims to being included in the final list, but whom for one reason or another I have not had the privilege of watching in action on more than a handful of occasions.

These include Mark Cavendish (pictured), who has already achieved enough to qualify himself for the Hall of Fame, but who will perhaps go on to achieve even greater feats in the next five or six years, so for me his induction can probably wait.

Also missing are several Olympic gold medal winners from Beijing, including Rebecca Romero, Jason Kenny, Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas and Paul Manning, all of whom will doubtless be inducted sooner or later. Amongst the Paralympic athletes, Sarah Storey, Darren Kenny, and Aileen McGlynn qualify for me on the grounds of both longevity - to win medals at successive Games is a remarkable achievement - and on their competitive edge: this outstanding trio thrive on competition and usually produce their best on the biggest stages, which is a mark of great champions.

I'm also aware that, Jamie Staff apart, there are no BMX riders in my list. I'd like to think that Dylan Clayton will make it into the Hall of Fame, as he too has a record of world-class performances stretching back well over a decade. He was past his best when I first saw him race, yet he was still a compelling rider to watch. Shanaze Reade's standing in the sport is already lofty, thanks to her world titles. However, the best of Shanaze is surely still to come and she too might be best served if her induction waits a year or two.

Britain's Cycle Speedway riders once dominated the sport globally. Even if that's no longer true, we have to recognize the many world class riders we have produced over the years. Of the current generation, Lee Aris stands out and Dave Hemsley's multiple world championships of recent memory must make him a strong contender for a place in the Hall of Fame.

Finally, a word or two about the forgotten men and women of the sport - the organisers, volunteers, the coaches, the managers and the administrators who make the sport happen for other people. All these roles are dedicated to making the sport better and more enjoyable for someone else, a selflessness which deserves recognition. But these people also display excellence, just as athletes do. But it's an excellence which is often hidden, lacking as it so often does a public stage on which to express itself.

Whilst I've enjoyed picking out my top twelve riders, my aim in writing this piece has ultimately been to stimulate you to think about who you would like to see included in the Hall of Fame. No one person can provide the definitive list of nominations. It has to be the cycling community as a whole who decide which names go forward to the judges. Let us know who you think should be included in the list by emailing

My Top Twelve (in no particular order)

Rob Hayles

Rob was the backbone of GB's Team Pursuit squad for a decade, winning medals in that discipline at both the Sydney and Athens Olympics. Tall and powerful, he gelled well with physically similar riders like Paul Manning, Jonny Clay, Steve Cummings and Bradley Wiggins as the GB Team Pursuit squad became the most consistent in the world, picking up medals at every world championships from 2000 to 2008. He was also a fine individual pursuiter who was perhaps a little unlucky not to win the world title in the years between Sydney and Athens. Rob has also been a major force in the Madison, in which he won the world title with Mark Cavendish and an Olympic bronze with Bradley Wiggins.

As a road rider, he has perhaps been a little underrated. However, when he put his mind to it he could be a formidable opponent. I first saw him win on the Road during the 1999 Tour of Britain (Prutour), when he outfoxed Tour heroes Pascal Lino and Stuart O'Grady to win a stage into Edinburgh. Nine years later, he won his first National Road title and was in the thick of the action at the end of several stages of the 2008 Tour of Britain, just missing out on a stage win on a couple of occasions. Rob's now making a name for himself as a thoughtful and empathetic commentator, often showing the passion for the national cause which saw him produce his best performances in GB colours.

Chris Newton

Chris is without question one of the most talented bike riders this country has ever produced. In the ten years I've watched him race, he's got better and better. Initially, his focus was on the Team Pursuit, but his real calling has been the Points Race and since his sensational win in the 2002 World Championships, it's this event which has defined his career.

However, it's easily forgotten what a superb Road rider Chris is. During the first half of this decade, when the GB track endurance team spent a lot of time racing in one-week stage races around Europe, Newton pulled off a string of remarkable victories. With the support of riders like Paul Manning, Newton was able to use his time trialling and climbing skills to keep himself in the race, whilst his clinical sprinting took him to numerous stage wins. Overall wins in the Circuit des Mines and the Irish Ras made a particular impression on me as I wrote up the reports phoned through to me by team manager John Herety.

Despite a disappointing Athens Olympics and turning thirty, Newton seems to have lost none of his Points Race edge in recent years and is arguably riding better than ever. A bronze in Beijing could so easily have been a gold and his dominant performances at recent Manchester World Cups have thrilled home crowds who appreciate his mixture of tactical nous and aggression. There's surely another world title in him, given a little luck.

Bradley Wiggins

What can you say that's not already been written about Bradley? He's not yet turned thirty and on the evidence of the last couple of seasons is still not at his peak. It was clear from the day he won the world junior pursuit title in 1997 that he was special and he graduated effortlessly into the GB Team Pursuit squad whilst still a teenager.

After a mauling by Bradley McGee at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, he came back the following year to claim the world individual pursuit title and has been unbeatable in the event ever since, winning Olympic titles in Athens and Beijing. He's also been the rock upon which GB's Team Pursuit successes have been built, inspiring confidence in his team-mates and seemingly enjoying his shared successes even more than his solo ones. Of course, there's more to his track riding than just pursuiting - his world Madison title win with Mark Cavendish at Manchester in 2008 was one of the most thrilling races I've ever seen.

A solid road career, riding for Continental teams Credit Agricole, Cofidis and Garmin-Slipstream has seemed like a side show until recently. Always world class against the clock, he suddenly blossomed into a much more complete all-round rider in 2009, delighting his fans with great displays of climbing on the way to fourth overall in the tour de France. His legacy is already secure, but one suspects that the very best of Bradley Wiggins may still be to come.

Chris Hoy

Chris Hoy is another rider whose greatness is beyond debate. His career has been one of two distinct phases. Up to 2004 he had established himself as the world's leading Kilo rider, winning world, Commonwealth and Olympic titles in a heady 2 year period. He was also central to GB's Team Sprint successes.

When the Kilo was removed from the Olympic Games, Chris didn't hesitate. He set about re-inventing himself as a match sprint and keirin specialist. He used his strengths - sheer speed allied to remarkable endurance - and built a winning strategy around them. One might have expected him to struggle tactically, but any shortfall in this department became irrelevant he simply out-paced and out-lasted everyone, race after race. His rivals found themselves with no answer to his approach - slick bike handling and tactical awareness are of little use of your rival simply rides away from you. The 12 months leading up to the Beijing Olympics saw Chris virtually unbeatable in both sprint and keirin and he went on to win gold medals in both - along with the team sprint - at Beijing.

Chris's well publicized crash at the start of 2009 forced him to miss the world championships, but he seemed as hungry and quick as ever upon his return to action at the recent Manchester World Cup.

Craig MacLean

Craig is something of a wild card selection. He has not achieved the same level of Olympic success as fellow Scotsman Chris Hoy: illness and injury ensured that his best seasons have not always coincided with Olympic years, but taking the last 10 years as a whole, Craig's achievements have been remarkable.

For much of his career, he has been an essential part of the incredibly consistent GB Team Sprint squad, winning silver in the Sydney Olympics. In the world championships, a gold two years later in Copenhagen can be set alongside three silver and three bronze medals in the discipline.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of his career was the silver medal he won at the 2006 world championships in the sprint. At a time when Chris Hoy was re-building his career around this event and the keirin, Craig went out and showed what could be achieved, losing out in the final to one of the greatest ever sprinters, Theo Bos of the Netherlands. It was a ground-breaking ride and fulfillment of a great sprinting talent.

Jamie Staff

Jamie has won a place in my list for his record of becoming world champion in both BMX and track sprinting. As a consummate BMX pro, Jamie rode all round the world and built a great record and reputation as one of the best riders ever.

He then turned his attention to Track sprinting and almost immediately excelled, winning world titles in the Team Sprint and the keirin. However, he missed out on his Olympic dream as GB failed to make the medal finals in the team sprint at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Undaunted, he re-dedicated himself to his dream and came back faster and stronger than ever to win a gold in the team sprint in Beijing. A big crowd favourite, great communicator and entertainer, his relaxed persona makes an interesting contrast with his amazing physical power and aggression as he gets the GB trio underway in the team sprint.

Victoria Pendleton

Victoria overcame a disappointing Athens Olympics in the best possible fashion. Putting aside premature thoughts of retirement, she has become the best sprinter in the world, winning four world and one Olympic sprint titles since 2005. She's also won world titles in the keirin and the team sprint.

At her best she's in a class of her own, relying less on brute strength than on supple, free-spinning pedaling to accelerate more quickly than her rivals, keeping out of trouble with lightening reactions, leaving her opponents chasing shadows.

Despite her stellar achievements, Victoria is always prepared to put her reputation on the line and few if any of the country's top riders have supported the national championships as she has and she's been rewarded with numerous titles. She's also a fine ambassador for the sport, a "face" the general public can recognize and warm to.

Jason Queally

One ride puts Jason on my list. His gold-medal winning ride in the Kilo at the Sydney Olympics was perhaps the most significant win ever by a GB rider. By beating the odds-on favourite, Frenchman Arnaud Tournant, Jason inspired a generation of our best riders and proved to them that they could take on and beat the best in the world. He also vindicated the then new policy of lottery funding elite sport.

As the first gold medal for team GB as a whole at that Games, it also gave numerous other athletes the gee-up they needed and the final tally of ten gold medals was a huge step forward from the one of Atlanta four years previously.

Jason was also a fine team sprint rider, winning a world title in 2005, but it's that one ride - a brief 61 seconds and a bit of all-out effort - which will always define his impact on the sport.

Steve Peat

Steve Peat has to be a contender for the title of the best ever British bike racer. He's been at the top of his discipline - downhill - for over a decade and in his mid-thirties is still pushing back the boundaries of what is possible: 2009 saw him break the record for the most world cup downhill wins and take his first ever world title.

For much of his career he's been the best rider in the world. He was the only rider that the incomparable Nicolas Voullioz really feared. If Steve never quite got the better of the French genius, he has comfortably outlasted him, coming back, fresh, motivated and fit at the start of every season.

Tall for a downhiller, he seems to lose nothing in the corners, where his high centre of gravity should restrict him and on open, rolling terrain he's just incredibly smooth and controlled.

For many years his lack of a world title - and his near misses, notably at Les Gets four or five years ago when he crashed on the final corner with the gold medal at his mercy - was viewed as an albatross around his neck. That he should remove that albatross at the end of another great season at an age when most downhillers have long since retired to the commentary box, is testament to his enduring class.

He's also been a master at fulfilling the media's demands that he live up to the freesport lifestyle and image, whilst looking after himself as an athlete. He's always know where the image stops and the reality of performing at the highest level begins and as such he's another superb role model.

Rachel Atherton

Rachel made history when she became the first British rider to win a world Downhill MTB title, winning the junior women's crown in 2005. She then went on to win the senior women's crown in 2008, a year in which she totally dominated women's downhilling, winning by huge margins on the way to the world cup and world championship double.

Technically superb, fit, tough and very fast, she is the complete rider. Her only weakness is a tendency to long-term injuries, a common problem for downhillers. She, and the rest of the Atherton family, are also very media friendly and provide the sport with photogenic, approachable role models who also happen to be supremely cool!

Gee Atherton

Gee Atherton hasn't been able to match sister Rachel's dominance of downhilling. He is, however, consistently in the very top bracket of male riders and, in 2008, he became the first ever British winner of the men's downhill world title, winning on the same day as his sister took the women's title. It was a momentous and overdue win for a British rider.

The Atherton family seem to come into form together, as they demonstrated earlier in that memorable 2008 season when Gee and Rachel, in the downhills, and brother Dan in the 4-Cross all won world cup races inside 24 hours in Andorra. It was an incredible feat which is unlikely ever to be matched.....except by the Atherton family themselves.

Nicole Cooke

Nicole Cooke is the living embodiment of competitive spirit. Whilst she's undoubtedly extremely talented physically, it's always struck me that it's in the mental side of the sport that she really excels.

To watch her compete, is to watch someone who has dedicated her life to being the very best at her chosen sport and that seems to give her an unmatchable drive and confidence. She believes she's the best, she believes she is going to win and it almost appears that she believes it's her right to win, such is her fierce dedication to coming first.

That's not to say that the other athletes I've named in my list lack competitiveness. All have reached the very pinnacle of the sport, and all have great mental strength. You can't excel without it. However, most top athletes have an ace up their sleeve, a strength they can fall back on when under pressure. For Cooke it is that mental amalgamation of an iron will, an unquenchable desire to win and an almost fanatical self belief.

Cooke's world championship and Olympic Games double of 2008 saw her win twice from tight finishes after grueling races. In those circumstances, she's simply the best there has ever been.

So, there you have it, my Hall of Fame nominations. Whether you agree or disagree with my choices, why not send in your nominations? Simply email them to