No. 7 Russell Downing
Last year’s position: 9
It seemed incredible that, until the Tour of Ireland in late August, Downing looked set to be overlooked by Team Sky.
The 2009 season was another when Downing dominated the UK scene, winning four rounds of the Premier Calendar, including the Lincoln Grand Prix for the third time.
That gave Downing the Premier Calendar overall title for the second consecutive season.
Also on the domestic scene, Downing won the National Circuit Race Championship title, wresting the white skinsuit from his brother Dean.
Perhaps if there was a doubt in the minds of the decision makers at Team Sky it was whether Downing could step up to compete at the very highest level.
A stage win at the Cinturon a Mallorca in the spring and seven top 10 finishes at the FBD Insurance Ras are good results for a British-based rider, but don’t particularly register on the radar of the biggest ProTour teams, which Team Sky hope to become.
That is why he needed to show what he could do on a bigger stage, and he did that emphatically at the Tour of Ireland. He got in an attack on the first day and found himself with the likes of Alexandr Kolobnev, Matti Breschel, Philip Deignan and Marco Pinotti for company. Downing outsprinted them all to win the stage and take the yellow jersey.
What was even more impressive was the way he sealed victory on the race’s third and final stage, the hill ride to Cork. He attacked again, this time with Lars Petter Nordhaug, a Norwegian with the Maxbo-Bianchi team who was destined to become a Sky team-mate.
Downing finished second and clinched the overall classification.
Surely now, Dave Brailsford and co could not ignore him any longer. Within a couple of weeks the call came and Downing, whose career has included so many false starts, will finally get a chance to show what he can do.
There are many who believe Downing, now 31, will slot in comfortably and in the week long stage races and one day races he surely has the race-craft and strength to get results. We will find out in 2010.
Who’s in the top six? See the December 31 issue of Cycling Weekly to find out who the top six British riders of the year are.
In the meantime, we wish all our reader’s a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year. Let’s hope for more great British success in 2010.
CW’s top 30 British riders of 2009 advent calendar