The British Cycling Premier Calendar Series is, as the name suggests, Britain’s top road race series.

This year the series was hotly contested, with the strongest field of riders for years and a set of events that were well organised and diverse.

Despite the depth of strength in the riders taking part, the 2008 series was dominated by one rider – Russell Downing, the overall series winner.

Here we ask the riders what they thought of the series, and how it could be improved next year.

Click here to read what the Premier Calendar organisers made of the season

For a full review of this year’s Premier Calendar Series, read this week’s Cycling Weekly magazine (December 4 issue).


TOM SOUTHAM

Halfords Bikehut rider joining Rapha-Condor for 2009

Best race in 2008: 6th Lincoln Grand Prix

Premier Calendar overall: 15th

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

Without a doubt the Lincoln. Big crowds, good atmosphere and good weather too. It?s always a classic.

Which was the best race for you?

Probably the Lincoln. My result was average but it was the first time I actually managed to get that race right. It?s a race that should suit me but normally it?s a disaster for some reason.

And the worst?

The East Yorkshire Classic. I don?t know which stars had aligned to make me creep so much that week but I could hardly get up the first hill. Both Rob [Hayles] and I abandoned that one. Not a good day.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Rob Hayles. I know Russ won more but Rob got them when it counted and he did it in style ? apart from the skinsuit issue! I also saw first hand how hard he worked to make sure he could do so well.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

Of course. He?s had a great year and was a level ahead but he has set the bar pretty high now. He is beatable, you just need to know his weakness, which I think I?ve worked out. But I?m keeping quiet about that! I don?t think it?d be healthy to have an Everyone v Russ scenario, it?s more positive if we are all racing each other.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

No, I liked their international status. They are both great races and so it?s good to have an international field to add a bit of extra motivation a couple of times a year.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

Some races that are actually decided in the hills. Most of the Premier Calendar races seem to be quite similar in that the climbs are never really hard enough to be decisive. Rob will probably hate me for asking for more though.


DEAN DOWNING

Rapha-Condor-Recycling rider

Best race in 2008: Overall winner, Bikeline Two-Day

Premier Calendar overall: 2nd

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

Without a doubt the Lincoln GP has to be my favourite. It?s local to me, it has great organisation, a great circuit and a town centre finish that is perfect for spectators. This year the weather made the day too, sunshine all day, so more people came out ot watch the exciting finish up the climb. Also the new Richmond GP course was a fantastic location and another great race.

Which was the best race for you?

Winning the first round at the Bikeline Two-Day. I proved to myself that all the hard work in winter paid off and the team gelled really well together. I wouldn?t have been on the top step of the podium without the team that weekend and riding behind the train of men in black was a great feeling. I just had to follow the moves on the final climb after smashing it the previous day.

And the worst?

My worst race has to be the GP of Wales, where my back seized up going up The Tumble. It?s the worst it?s ever been, very painful. I spent the week between that and the Nationals at the osteopath.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Simon Richardson has progressed a lot this season. He has been on the podium a few times alongside Russ and I. At the Ras he rode very well, taking a hard stage and the yellow jersey for a day. Maybe next year he will learn more on the tactical side of things. His engine is already very strong. It?ll be great working with him rather than against him. [Richardson is joining Rapha-Condor]

Can Russell be stopped next year?

Next year will be different I hope. I hope the teams continue to get stronger. Maybe I should try to nobble him over the winter with some red wine drinking or give him food poisoning! At the end of the day, Russ is just a fantastic, aggressive rider who deserves much more than he has ever got. Look at the Tour of Ireland. On the last day it took three riders from the world?s best team to prise the yellow jersey off his shoulders. What other British riders ? UK-based or otherwise ? can race like that?

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

These races are a different level to the Premier Calendar and I think they should stay as they are, internationals.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

The Premier Calendar is becoming better quality racing each year. It?s on TV now so sponsors are getting great publicity. But we should have an overall prize list for the Premier Calendar rankings.


JOHN HERETY

Rapha-Condor-Recycling manager

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

The Lincoln GP. Since the event has been shortened, more riders are able to race over the full distance, which has made more riders competitive at the finish. This has made it more exciting for what is already an enthusiastic crwod. The crowds get bigger every year.

Which was the best race for you?

The Girvan. Three riders in the top five and we nearly won the race in the last two kilometres.

And the worst?

The East Yorkshire Classic. Poor tactics in the finale gave Russell yet another win.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Russell Downing.

…anyone other than Russell?

No other single rider, but the whole Kinesis team. While they may not have figured high in the overall standings, they rode extremely well all year.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

Yes. How? Simple. Better team tactics. Don?t bring him to the finish with you, because he?ll beat you.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

No, I believe both events are above Premier Calendar status.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

A more reliable race radio system.


SIMON RICHARDSON

Plowman Craven rider joining Rapha-Condor for 2009

Best races in 2008: 3rd Girvan, Tour of the Reservoir, Lincoln GP and Richmond GP

Premier Calendar overall: 4th

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

The Lincoln GP for its fantastic atmosphere, good spectator turn-out and selective racing.

Which was the best race for you?

Probably the Lincoln.

And the worst?

I struggled at the Beaumont Trophy with poor form and the racing was incredibly negative.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Russell.

…anyone other than Russell?

Rob Hayles. He?s such an innovative rider and I was particularly impressed with his win at the Tour of Pendle.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

Yes, definitely. He?s obviously still going to win races but I don?t think he?ll be as dominant.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

No, I think it?s good to try to develop them as UCI races above the Premier Calendar.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

A five-day stage race would go down very well.


ROB HAYLES

Halfords Bikehut rider

Best races in 2008: 1st Beaumont Trophy and Tour of Pendle

Premier Calendar overall: 5th

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

Lincoln. I just love the atmosphere of that race. The crowds are great and I love the fact that at 84kg I have to use my head and the art of racing to get me round in good shape, especially this year as I felt pretty bad the whole ride.

Which was the best race for you?

I would have to say the Beaumont Trophy. It was not only my first Premier Calendar win in far too many years, but I surprised myself with how well I rode. It was a well-deserved win, even if I do say so myself!

And the worst?

That would have to be the East Yorkshire Classic. I thought Tom [Southam] was happily up the road in the break so stayed near the back looking after myself on the early heavy roads. By the time I got near the front and realised Tom was feeling worse than me it was too late. We had a good go though, but unfortunately all we managed to do was get sore legs.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Matt Stephens, although it should be no surprise. He is, after all, a class act. I just love the way he takes his racing by the scruff of the neck and is prepared to put in and race hard. I like that quality in a rider. That?s one of the reasons I enjoyed my season with Tom ? no holds barred.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

Definitely. I managed it a few times this year, mainly through enjoying what I was doing. I could see it in Russ too. Every time he got on his bike he seemed to be enjoying it. I think that?s a big factor and if more riders took that approach I think we would see more than just three different winners next season.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

There are arguments for and against but in my view they are both fantastic events and can stand in their own right. Colin Clews? Cicle Classic is one I would love to win. At Cofidis I rode Paris-Roubaix three times and the Tro Bro Leon in France is not dissimilar. I hope the Cicle Classic will soon attract some of the bigger Continental teams. I know they would love it.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

It would be great to see bigger finishes where people could get more involved. I you can?t get the crowds to come out and stand to see the finish, take the race to them. Without over-simplifying things, run a criterium or roller-racing for the kids or a third and fourth-cat race then have the main race finish in the town just after. Or organise races around village fetes or town festivals where you already have a captive audience. Going back to the Lincoln, it?s run in a town centre with bars, pubs and cafes, which proves it works.


MATT STEPHENS

Sigma Sport-Specialized rider

Best race in 2008: 4th at the GP of Wales

Premier Calendar overall: 12th

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

It has to be the Lincoln GP. Although I wasn?t on top form myself the atmosphere was fantastic and it?s always an exciting but very tough race to ride. I love the way the field just whittles down lap by lap ? it?s like a mini World Championships. The Lincoln GP is one of the few remaining British racing ?monuments? that everyone wants on their palmares.

Which was the best race for you?

My best Premier Calendar ride was the early season opener the Bikeline Two-Day. I got myself into reasonable form intentionally so I would be competitive early on and rode very well finishing fourth on both road stages and sixth overall. I was really disappointed not to be able to carry that good form through as I got a bad chest infection at the Girvan, which wiped out nearly two months. Fourth in the UCI-ranked GP Wales was my season best ride though.

And the worst?

The Blackpool GP. I just felt under-powered all day and couldn?t get into the groove of the race as I usually do. Very frustrating, but it happens sometimes.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Russell Downing. He should be riding with a team on the continent by now. How he hasn?t got a Pro Continental team, at the very least, with his results is beyond me.

Anyone else?

It has to be a rejuvenated Rob Hayles. We all know how talented he is but his powess on the road this year was extremely impressive. I?ve ridden on some very fast wheels in my career but his turn of speed is up there with the greats. Actaully, I think he?s the only guy to have just ridden me off his wheel on the flat without actually attacking.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

If Russ continues the way he rode this season he will be very hard to beat. He?s not unbeatable though ? riders have just got to be creative in the way they ride races tactically and not be too formulaic. Don?t get me wrong, you need the legs as well.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

Those two races are fantastic events and to be honest they do stand apart from the rest because of the professionalism of the organisation. That is not to take anything away from the other Premier Calendar organisers ? all of whom have put on, collectively, a fantastic series. However, you could argue that the Lincoln GP is on a par with these events as well and that is still a Premier. I think to have these events separate to the Premiers just adds value to the British Calendar as a whole. These events are exceptional and worthy of UCI status but I think that the Premier Calendar as it stands without these events is in very good health indeed. In short the Premier Calendar series and two UCI events complement each other and add dimension to our calendar as a whole.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

It?s hardly innovative but we should ideally have a title sponsor for the Premier Calendar and prize money for the best 20 riders overall plus a team prize too. The title itself is great but I think the riders deserve more recognition for their efforts. We?re not in this game for the money but do deserve more, especially given the media exposure we get now.


RUSSELL DOWNING

CandiTV-Pinarello rider

Best races in 2008: won seven rounds of the Premier Calendar

Premier Calendar overall: 1st

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

Lincoln GP. Good weather great local crowds and the race is wicked.

Which was the best race for you?

Tour of Ireland stage win, then trying to defend the jersey on the last day under big attacks from some of the best riders in the world.

And the worst?

Maybe the London crit at the Tour of Britain. I don?t like London at all, it always makes me ride bad!

Which rider impressed you most this season?

It has to be one of the old-timers ? Rob Hayles and his two-man band, not just for his Premier Calendar rides but also for how he did at the Tour of Britain. He?s world class.

Who do you think will pose the biggest challenge next year?

My boys! They?ll be on fire after training with me over the winter.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

Maybe the GP of Wales but not the East Midlands because you need a bit of luck and it would be harsh to loose a season-long series like the Premier Calendar with bad luck in that race.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

Maybe we need an overall prize list.


EVAN OLIPHANT

Plowman Craven rider

Best race in 2008: 2nd overall at Bikeline Two-Day

Premier Calendar overall: 3rd

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

The Girvan as it?s the only race in Scotland, so it?s my local race and there are always lots of people cheering me on.

Which was the best race for you?

The Bikeline Two-Day, where I won a stage and was second overall.

And the worst?

The Lincoln GP. I didn?t finish, because I was working for the team.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Russell Downing.

Anyone else?

Ben Greenwood came back from injury for one Premier, and finished on the podium.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

I think he will still win races but maybe not so many as he did this year as a lot of teams have got stronger, including ours, Halfords and Rapha.

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

Yes.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

Some way of attracting more spectators to come and watch all along the route and a way of getting them more involved with the events.


IAN WILKINSON

SIS-Trek rider, moving to Halfords Bikehut for 2009

Best races in 2008: won two stages of the Bikeline two-day

Premier Calendar overall: 11th

imageWhich was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season?

The Girvan. Great atmosphere and good racing roads.

Which was the best race for you?

The Bikeline Two-Day

And the worst?

Girvan. I got ill before it.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Liam Holohan.

Can Russell be stopped next year?

Yes, by me!

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and Grand Prix of Wales should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

Yes, definitely.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

More TV coverage and finishing circuits.


ROY CHAMBERLAIN

Team Corley Cycles rider

Best races in 2008: 2nd on final stage of Girvan

Premier Calendar overall: 33rd

What was your favourite Premier Calendar event of the season and why?

Richmond because of the great weather and scenery ? I had plenty of time to appreciate both.

What was your own personal best race?

Girvan ? got in a lucky break on the last stage.

And your worst?

Lincoln GP ? motivational problems.

Which rider impressed you most this season?

Rob Hayles ? one man team.

Can Russell be stopped in 2009. If so, how and who by?

Rapha boys ganging up on him. They now have Simon Richardson, which may help them, plus Newton will be less focussed on the track. And Halfords have a strengthened squad. If Downing is isolated and put under pressure he may crack. But if this year is anything to go by he might not!

Do you think the East Midlands Cicle Classic and GP of Wales (currently international races) should be included in the Premier Calendar standings?

Yes.

What one innovation would you like to see happen to the Premier Calendar?

More southern and western races. They are all up North. Each division to organise a Premier on the same day as national ladies and junior races, on the same circuit at the same time ? it would take some organising but a great focal point for event sponsors.


PREMIER CALENDAR 2008: CYCLING WEEKLY’S COVERAGE

Click on the links to find our more about each race.

RICHMOND GP

Report: Downing takes his seventh Premier Calendar of the year

Preview

TOUR OF PENDLE

Report: Hayles takes Tour of Pendle

Preview

EAST YORKSHIRE CLASSIC

Report: Russell Downing yet again

Preview

TOUR OF BLACKPOOL

Report: Russell Downing wins again

Preview

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP ROAD RACE

Report: Hayles is the national champion

News: Gossip from the National Champs

Preview: Who’s going to win?

Preview: Ask the textperts

Preview: The riders’ verdicts

Cycling Weekly Classic: From the Archives, Robert Millar’s Island Magic 1995

The Big Preview

British National Championships roll of honour

GP OF WALES

Report: Russell Downing wins in Wales

Preview

BEAUMONT TROPHY

Report: Hayles wins his first of the season

Preview

LINCOLN GP

Analysis: Battle of the Brothers

Analysis: Should they rename Michaelgate Downing Street?

Report: Russell Downing wins

Preview

CHAS MESSENGER

Analysis: Battle of the Brothers

Report day two: Russell Downing wins

Report day one

Preview

EAST MIDLANDS CICLE CLASSIC

How the Irish pulled off a coup

Reaction and analysis

Report: Ciaran Power wins

Preview

TOUR OF THE RESERVOIR

Analysis: Battle of the Brothers

Report: Russell Downing wins Tour of the Reservoir

Preview

GIRVAN

Analysis: Battle of the Brothers

Report: Russell Downing wins the Girvan overall

Report: Partridge wins stage three

Report: Downing makes it two in a row

Report: Russell Downing wins stage one

Preview: Can Oliphant end 21 years of hurt?

BIKELINE

Analysis

Report: Dean Downing wins overall

Report: Oliphant takes stage two

Report: Wilkinson wins stage one time trial

Preview

PREMIER CALENDAR 2008

2008 Premier Calendar index

PREMIER CALENDAR HISTORY 1993-2008

History of the Premier Calendar 1993-2008