Bike exploring: Help for Heroes
OS GetOutside Champion, Helen Pollard, takes us on a great Mountain Bike (MTB) route used as part of the delivery of MTB leadership training to Phoenix House staff in collaboration with Cycling UK.
They inspire us, they motivate us, they encourage us. Encourage us to be better, stronger, and faster. They are unique people who deserve the status of the greatest cyclists of our generation.
Here's my top 8 greatest cyclists of our generation.
Marianne Vos is arguably the greatest cyclist of this generation. She has utterly dominated everything on two wheels, with a list of wins longer than anyone else here. In fact, her appetite for victory is so insatiable that she earned the nickname ‘The Cannibal’. What is incredible about Vos’ career is the way that she has switched disciplines within cycling so effortlessly, winning in Cyclo-cross, road races and points races.
A complete list of her accolades would require a whole new article, so here are just some of the highlights: seven times winner of the World Cyclo-cross Championships (she only lost out twice in the period of 2006 - 2015), three times winner of the World Road Race Championships (in 2006, 2012 and 2013) and two time gold medalist at the Olympics (in the points race in 2008, and the road race in 2012).
Sir Bradley Wiggins needs very little introduction, having received the highest honour a British citizen can receive, a knighthood, for his achievements in cycling. He was an integral part of the British cycling team that dominated at the London 2012 Olympics and the Beijing 2016 Olympics, as well as one of the first riders to sign for Team Sky back in 2010.
One of the few riders to successfully make the transition from track riding to road riding, his major achievements include being a 5-time gold medalist at the Olympics and the first British cyclist ever to win a Tour de France.
All this success is not without a hint of controversy, however, with a report in 2018 by the British House of Commons stating that both he and his teammates at Team Sky misused TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) to administer performance-enhancing drugs.
Next, another of Great Britain’s shining lights in cycling - Sir Chris Hoy. Also knighted for his Olympic successes, Chris Hoy was the first British athlete to win 3 gold medals at a single Olympic games in over a hundred years (since Henry Taylor in the 1908 games) and is the most successful Olympic British Cyclist and the second most successful Olympic cyclist ever with seven medals - six golds and one silver.
All this also means Sir Chris Hoy is also the most successful Scottish Olympic Athlete in history. So, he has certainly earned his place on this list!
Turning our attention away from track cycling, Spaniard Alberto Contador is certainly one of the finest road cyclists currently competing. Officially, career highlights include winning the Tour De France twice, once in 2007 and once in 2009, and winning the Giro d’Italia twice, in 2008 and 2015. Many see Alberto Contador as the successor to Lance Armstrong, although he has never achieved quite the levels on dominance that Armstrong (unfairly) achieved.
Unfortunately, he is not without controversy either. In 2010, Contador claimed a third Tour De France win. However, he was later stripped of this win when it emerged he had been blood doping during the race.
Lizzie Deignan is another of Yorkshire’s cycling prodigies. She began her cycling career in the velodrome, racing track before successfully transitioning to road cycling. As of 2017, she is the reigning champion in the Commonwealth road race. She has also won the UCI Women's Road World Cup twice, once in 2014 and again in 2015.
To add to the accolades, she is also four-time winner of the British National Road Race Championships (in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017). Oh, and of course there’s an Olympic Silver medal too, collected at the London 2012 Olympic games in the road race.
This year, Deignan announced the birth of her daughter Orla. She has plans to return to professional cycling in 2019, with the aim of seeing out her career at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Hailed by some as the greatest road rider of the current generation, Vincenzo Nibali has won it all. He won the Vuelta an España in 2010, the Tour De France in 2014 and the Giro d’Italia twice, once in 2013 and again in 2016. This puts him in a select group of seven riders to have won all three Grand Tours.
As impressive as this is, it is only set to become even more impressive, as he is a strong favourite to continue collecting jerseys in 2019 and beyond.
It might be a slight stretch to include Marianne Martin in this generation of cyclists, however, she was a true trailblazer in her day. She won the first ever women’s Tour de France (which has now been renamed to be the Grand Boucle) back in 1984. As such, she was the first female rider to share the podium with male riders.
This story is made even more incredible by the fact that Martin struggled with anaemia earlier that same year but found the strength to take the lead in the 14th stage, during a climb, and held on all the way to Paris.
American athlete Christine Witty might not seem an obvious choice for best cyclists, after all, she currently has fairly few cycling accolades to her name. However, this is largely because she spent most of her sporting career not on a bicycle, but on ice skates! She is the ninth ever American to compete at both a Winter and Summer Olympics, having represented her country as a speed skater and then later on as a cyclist. If you think it is hard to transition from track cycling to road cycling, imagine going from skates to the saddle!
So there are they, my greatest 8 cyclists of our generation. But why talk about them? Because they are people who managed to move forward despite difficulties (remember Marianne Martin with anemia), they managed to achieve great results and became motivations for millions.
Now it is your turn to move forward, go cycling, and enjoy what you are doing.
No, you don’t have to become a pro. All you have to do is find what really feels good.