MADRID (Reuters) - Simon Yates’s Vuelta a Espana victory on Sunday continued Britain’s remarkable recent domination of road cycling, delivering a ninth Grand Tour since 2012 for a country with no previous history of success in the sport.
No British cyclist had won one of the sport’s big three races until Bradley Wiggins triumphed in the 2012 Tour de France, completing an impressive transition from Olympic track champion to the sport’s biggest prize.
Chris Froome, Tour runner-up in 2012, tightened Team Sky’s grip on the sport by winning the 2013 edition of the race and pulled off a hat-trick of victories between 2015 and 2017.
Froome expanded his domination of the sport by winning the 2017 Vuelta, becoming only the third rider to take the Tour and Vuelta in the same year after Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978.
He produced a stunning comeback to win this year’s Giro, paying for his efforts in the Tour de France which was won by fellow Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas of Wales.
Yates, who rides for Australian team Mitchelton-Scott, reflected on Britain’s huge strides in a sport with little tradition in the country.
“Growing up I was so accustomed to seeing the French, Italian and Spanish riders lead the way,” he said.
“So for myself, Chris and Geraint to all win a Grand Tour in the same year just shows how far the sport has come in this country. It’s astonishing really.”
Froome’s 2017 Vuelta win was later overshadowed by testing positive for excessive levels of Salbutamol following a urine sample during the race and the fallout marred his victory in Italy.
Froome was later cleared by cycling’s world governing body of any wrongdoing, although he was given a hostile reception by cycling fans throughout the Tour de France.
Yates was subject to a four-month ban in 2016 for testing positive for the drug Terbutaline which he uses to treat his asthma, although his then team Orica-GreenEdge said they were responsible for an administrative error in not applying for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the substance.
Britain’s unstoppable march in the sport is all the more impressive given the largely flat terrain of the country which limits opportunities to prepare for the many punishing mountain climbs of the three Grand Tours.
The nation has compensated with considerable financial backing aided by a government which has stepped up its interest in the sport since the 2012 London Olympics.
British cycling chief executive Julie Harrington alluded to the government’s role as she congratulated Yates on his victory in Madrid.
“We are incredibly fortunate in this country that, with the help of our funding partners UK Sport, the National Lottery, Sport England and HSBC UK we have been able to support the development of some of the world’s best riders through our performance pathway,” Harrington told British Cycling’s website.
Sports minister Tracey Crouch added: “It is testament to the talent development programme of British Cycling, backed by National Lottery cash, that so many of our riders have become the world-leading cyclists that they are today.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond