And then, suddenly, there were four. Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates. From almost nowhere, British professional riders now dominate Grand Tour racing.
The nation of testers and café stops, of the Milk Race, the Tour of Lancs, Mark Walsham, Phil Bayton and Steve ‘Pocket Rocket’ Joughin going for it in the Premier Calendar, now rules the roost.
The same nation’s cycling heroics spawned the best book on terrible Tour teams, Jeff Connor’s disaster diary on the 1987 Tour’s ANC Halfords team, ‘Wide Eyed and Legless.’ Three decades on from that debacle, it’s a surreal reversal of fortunes.
Yep, those are the Brits up there, winning in Italy, France and Spain; despite the bullying drivers, the ‘what’s the matter, can’t you afford a BMW?’ road rage, the lack of 20 kilometre climbs to train on, the volatile weather and the potholed roads — despite all that, we are now officially the kings of the hill.
Yes, Froome and Thomas spend most of their year in Monaco, while Yates bases himself in Andorra, but — certainly with Thomas and Yates — their roots, their culture, come from the British club scene of Maindy Flyers and Bury Clarion.
There’s been enough written about how exactly this turnaround in sporting fortunes, from nonentities to champions, was achieved (and some of that insight is inspiring and some of it worrisome) but the question now for British cycling, is where next?
In terms of age, Yates is the coming man. Froome and Thomas, both sliding into their mid-thirties, may have had their moment, but with Froome’s unrelenting ambition to take a fifth Tour de France undimmed, that assessment may prove premature.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Grand Tour winner is still a cub scout in comparison, still a work in progress. And, yes, a better drilled and more focused Team Sky could well have given him and his teammates a torrid time during the Vuelta and success would have been harder to achieve.