Cycling Weekly is counting down the top 30 British Riders of the Year thoughout December.
NUMBER 3: BECKY JAMES
Double world champion
British cycling didn’t have to wait long for a successor to Queen Victoria.
Six months after Victoria Pendleton bowed out at the top of the sport, with an Olympic gold medal in the keirin and a silver in the sprint, Becky James did something her predecessor had never managed. The Welsh sprinter won a medal in all four events at the World Championships in Minsk, Belarus, two gold and two bronze, although Pendleton won three medals twice – including three golds in Palma, Majorca.
Six months is a long time in elite sport. In August 2012, James was not in London as part of the Olympic sprint team, as she had hoped to be; she was training hard to return to her peak after a season wrecked by illness and injury.
An Achilles injury during the winter immediately prior to the London Olympics set her back. Then she had to have her appendix removed, which put paid to her hopes of making the team for London. But although she said it was frustrating to watch her team-mates dominate on the track, it was also inspiring and helped her focus on her own training.
A solid winter meant she began 2013 in good form, and by the time she travelled to Minsk she was flying.
James teamed up with Victoria Williamson in the team sprint on the opening night of competition, and qualified third fastest to set up a bronze medal showdown with Australia.
Kaarle McCulloch had more top level experience than either of the British pair or her own team-mate Stephanie Morton, but James and Williamson edged them out by a tiny margin – just 0.005 of a second.
The following night, James added another bronze medal, finishing behind Lee Wai Sze of Hong Kong and Miriam Welte of Germany.
After that, James went from strength to strength, topping the leaderboard as the only rider under 11 seconds in the flying 200-metre qualifying round for the sprint competition, and then cruising through to the final without losing a race.
In that final, she met Kristina Vogel of Germany – a growing rivalry we may see a lot more of in years to come – and, after losing the first race, showed tremendous spirit to fight back and win the next two. It gave James, a double junior world champion, her first senior rainbow jersey.
The pressure was off in the keirin, and it showed, even though the fatigue of competing hard over four consecutive days began to take its toll. By the time she reached the final, there was a sense that her soaring confidence would compensate for any weariness, and so it proved.
James missed the National Championships in order to go to Japan to learn how it’s done in the home of keirin racing. She returned for the start of the current season slightly under-raced but added European Championship and World Cup medals to a growing collection.
All in all, though, winning two world titles in a season is something only a select group of riders have done.
British Riders of the Year 2013: Related links