2008 will be remembered largely for the emphatic highs enjoyed by British cycling fans: the unprecedented cycling medal haul in Beijing; the dominance of team GB at the Manchester World Championships and World Cup events; Nicole Cooke?s world road title and Mark Cavendish?s four stage wins at the Tour de France.
Great Britain now holds more world and Olympic titles than any other nation.
This incredible year will also be remembered for Carlos Sastre?s maiden Tour de France win and Alberto Contador?s Giro-Vuelta double. Not far behind, however, drugs scandals almost gave the kiss of death to the sport?s very existence in Germany.
From Mario Cipollini?s short-lived comeback to Lance Armstrong?s return in September, we look back at the stories that shaped the year that was 2008.
JANUARY 3: MATTHEW PARRIS TRIGGERS OUTRAGE
The words of Matthew Parris in The Times advocating ?stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists? may have been intended as a joke, but it was indicative of the attitude that many cyclists still face on the roads of Britain.
In light of the tragic deaths and injuries that have been reported in this magazine
during the course of 2008, the Parris ?joke? has worn even thinner among cyclists.
The Press Complaints Commission received over 500 complaints about the article, with Parris apologising soon afterwards.
The CTC has stated that it will consider private law litigation against any author making similar statements in future.
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JANUARY 6: HAMMOND SETTLES ‘CROSS SCORE
Having lost out to Phil Dixon in 2007, Roger Hammond returned to Sutton Park determined to seek vengeance and an eighth senior national cyclo-cross title.
Arriving in the all-black colours of his new High Road team, Hammond was not in optimal condition in only his third race of the season.
Hammond did not look as though he was in full control of the race, although his extensive experience which had seen him to seven
previous titles and a junior world title, meant he was never far from the front. Hammond held out to take the title ahead of a flying Liam Killeen, and was, by his own admission, perhaps not a worthy winner: ?I feel a bit bad really, and I?m not sure I even deserve it,? he said.
Unfortunately for the Briton it was to be the apotheosis of his season. Bad luck continues to dog Hammond in his beloved spring Classics and 2008 was no different, where he suffered a heavy crash in Paris-Roubaix that was not his fault.
Hammond will leave Columbia (formerly High Road) for the new Cervélo Test Team where he hopes to be one of the team?s Classics leaders after being outnumbered at his former team.
FEBRUARY 9: HALFORDS BIKEHUT TEAM LAUNCHED
Cooperation between a national federation and a high profile UK sponsor immediately seemed to make sense when the Halfords Bikehut team was launched in January.
The team was centred around Nicole Cooke and her ambition to win the Olympic road race, and also provided a platform for Sharon Laws, who returned to the UK from Australia for a crack at full-time bike racing.
The Halfords Bikehut set-up also offered opportunities for younger talent, with the likes of Joanna Rowsell, Lizzie Armitstead, Katie Colclough and Jessica Allen all on board.
Masterminded by BC performance director Dave Brailsford, the team fulfilled, and surpassed, its ultimate objective of helping Nicole Cooke to an Olympic-Worlds double.
For 2009, the men?s team will be built around Rob Hayles. The experience will be invaluable to Brailsford as plans continue for a British Continental pro team in 2010.
FEBRUARY 12: CUMMINGS ARRIVES AS A PRO
Steve Cummings took his first ever win as a professional in February, winning a stage of the Giro di Calabria.
Cummings battled through the winter with a knee injury, but bounced back to take an emphatic win for his new Barloworld team, signalling his true arrival as a professional cyclist. Ensuring that he was the first rider through the final chicane before the finish, Cummings then held off his five breakaway companions in the final dash to the line.
?It was fantastic to finally win a pro race, but it was also disappointing not to win the overall,? said Cummings after the race. ?It?s a pity because it was so close, but hopefully this stage win is something to build on.?
Cummings duly learned from the experience and followed it up with a strong Giro d?Italia, which saw him finish fourth on one of the toughest mountain stages and eighth in the final time trial.
His finest moment came in August, taking another win at the prestigious Coppa Bernocchi. Second overall at the tours of Denmark and Britain illustrated Cummings?s versatility and hinted at what we might expect from the man from Merseyside.
FEBRUARY 24: MILLAR CEMENTS RETURN
David Millar returned from a two-year doping ban in July 2006, but it was his performance in the Tour of California that really signalled his return to the top echelons of the sport.
Millar trained hard to hit top form for the spring stage races, where he hoped to impress Tour de France organiser ASO into inviting his Slipstream team to the Tour. It paid off and he came a close second overall, demonstrating his hitherto untapped stage-race potential and earning a Tour spot in the process.
Ultimately, the Tour was a disappointment for Millar personally, who failed to capture the yellow jersey and was beaten by Stefan Schumacher, who later tested positive for CERA, in both time trials. However, it was a superb Tour for the renamed Garmin Chipotle team, with Millar altering his objectives to help team-mate Christian Vande Velde to fifth overall.
MARCH 22: CANCELLARA IS AS GOOD AS HIS WORD
Cancellara’s win in Milan-San Remo cemented his reputation as one of the sport?s finest one-day riders. What made his win all the more impressive was that he escaped from an already rapid peloton to ride the last two kilometres alone, evoking memories of his 2006 Paris-Roubaix win.
With Cancellara winning Tirreno-Adriatico and the Monte Paschi Eroica at a gallop, he was the clear favourite to win the first major Classic of the year. Telling his rivals exactly how he was intending to go about attacking them before the race, he then duly did so.
Focusing on his climbing during the off-season, Cancellara re-emerged lighter, slimmer and more determined than ever.
His new-found versatility was in further evidence at the Tour de France, where he drove the front group through the mountains, even dropping Alejandro Valverde at one point.
He surprised many at the Olympic road race, surviving what most thought would be a course for the pure climbers, eventually taking bronze in the event. Days later, he took a gold medal in the Olympic time trial, rounding off an extraordinary season for the Swiss rider.
MARCH 30: BRITAIN DOMINATES IN MANCHESTER
Taking half of the 18 gold medals on offer, Britain?s domination of the World Track Championships in Manchester in late March was almost total.
Topping last year?s performance at the Majorca Worlds, the GB team added a further two golds to their total as well as two silver medals.
No team has ever dominated a World Championships in such a fashion; the only team coming anywhere close was the Netherlands who claimed three gold medals, a remarkable performance in itself had it not been completely overshadowed by the Brits.
Bradley Wiggins (pictured) got the ball rolling with his second individual pursuit title, but one of the major stories was Rebecca Romero?s double in the individual and team pursuit events, marking her transformation from Olympic rower to World Championship-winning cyclist.
The Australians? team pursuit record also fell to the all-conquering British team, sweeping all before them. The women?s team sprint duo of Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade looked untouchable, although many were left wondering what could have been as the event is still not an Olympic discipline.
Chris Hoy?s sprint world title made him the first British champion in the discipline for 54 years, and the most successful British cyclist in the history of the sport.
The women?s team pursuit squad also looked unbeatable, with only the Ukrainians coming within three seconds. Jo Rowsell became a world champion at the age of just 19, having stepped up to the mark spectacularly after never having ridden a senior World Championships or even a World Cup.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find new superlatives for the performances of Britain?s track cyclists, but their achievements set the tone and the bar a few notches higher for the Beijing Olympics.
APRIL 6: STIJN DEVOLDER’S SURPRISE VICTORY
STIJN Devolder?s surprise win in this year?s Tour of Flanders signalled not only the rider?s emergence as a bona fide Classics rider but also the return of a particular style of racing many thought had disappeared for good.
With 25 kilometres remaining, Devolder attacked from a group of five favourites, which included Alessandro Ballan and George Hincapie. Too often in professional cycling, there is an expectation that lone breakaways will be effortlessly reeled in by a rampaging peloton with kilometres to spare. Supposedly a domestique of Tom Boonen, Devolder was spurred on by his Belgian national champion?s jersey and a raucous Flemish crowd.
The Belgian came within nine seconds of being caught by a chasing Juan Antonio Flecha, but stayed away to take an impressive win. A strong ride at the Tour of Switzerland illustrated Devolder?s versatility, but an assault on the Tour de France was hampered by an illness, forcing the Quick Step rider to retire. There is a lot more to come from the softly-spoken Belgian.
APRIL 13: BOONEN’S MIXED FORTUNES
?A week ago, after not winning Flanders, it seemed like nobody believed in me any more. Well, here?s my answer. I knew exactly where I stood and what my form was. All I had to do was prove it.?
The words of a triumphant Tom Boonen after taking his second Paris-Roubaix title in four years. His emphatic win, comprehensively beating opponents Fabian Cancellara and Alessandro Ballan in the final dash to the line, came after a long period of berating from the Flemish press who believed the Quick Step rider had lost his focus.
Words, which at the time seemed rather unjust, now bear more weight than many originally thought. Boonen?s positive test for cocaine in an out-of-competition test on May 25 signalled the Belgian star?s untimely demise.
With little more than a half-hearted attempt to explain the result as a malevolent hoax, the Belgian was excluded from the Tour de France, much to the chagrin of his fans, and has since battled to restore his credibility.
APRIL 18: FROOME BECOMES A BRIT
Kenya’s loss was Great Britain?s gain in April when Kenyan-born Chris Froome was issued a British licence from the UCI.
A paperwork technicality prevented Froome from being selected for the Olympic road race in August, although he impressed with his performance in the Tour de France ? 31st on Alpe d?Huez and 84th overall in a debut Tour ride
is a more than respectable performance, auguring well for the future.
JUNE 21: ATHERTON NAME BECOMES SYNONYMOUS WITH MTB
In what was a first in the history of British cycling, the siblings Gee and Rachel Atherton won gold medals on the same day and in the same event.
Gee took gold in the men?s downhill, with Rachel taking gold in the women?s downhill.
Having already won the British downhill title four times, the accomplishment marked Gee?s first title at World Championship level and Britain?s third world title of the day.
The exploits of Britain?s mountain bikers in Italy demonstrated that Britain is becoming a true cycling nation, with an unparalleled haul of world and Olympic titles.
Josh Bryceland also took the junior downhill title in a remarkably successful weekend for Britain?s cyclists in Italy.
JUNE 26: LONDON SIX-DAY PLANNED FOR 2009
The announcement of the London six-day track event at 10 Downing Street was all down to former world pursuit champion and GB?s most successful six-day track star Tony Doyle, pulling off a perfectly timed coup in the same year that British cyclists won a record number of gold medals in Beijing.
?This six-day event will send a message to the whole of the UK and hopefully around the world, showing the importance that we attach to cycling,? Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Three annual sixes are to be held in the London Borough of Newham starting in 2009, as a build-up towards the 2012 Olympics in London.
JUNE 29: HAYLES BOUNCES BACK AFTER HAEMATOCRIT HICCUP
Rob Hayles was a worthy winner of the National Road Race Championship this year, making it a double for the Halfords Bikehut team with Nicole Cooke also taking the women?s title.
Excluded on the eve of the track Worlds for failing a haematocrit test, for which he was later exonerated, Hayles achieved redemption and was the strongest in what was an incredibly aggressive race. Attacking on a descent, Hayles established and held a small gap over the field, fending off Peter Kennaugh and Dean Downing for his first national title. In what was to become a roller-coaster season for the Hampshire rider, Hayles learned that despite his ride at the Nationals, he had not been selected for the Olympic track or road teams.
Bitterly disappointed, He returned to action winning the Tour of Pendle and the Beaumont Trophy in style, as well as forming part of the all-conquering team pursuit squad at the Manchester World Cup in November.
JULY 9: MARK CAVENDISH’S FOUR AT THE TOUR
Britain’s Mark Cavendish hammered home his reputation as the world?s fastest sprinter in 2008, winning races at a canter.
Laying to rest the disappointment of the 2007 Tour de France in which the Manxman suffered a number of crashes in the danger-stricken finales, Cavendish took four Tour stages, comfortably beating the peloton?s finest sprinters.
Lauded by David Millar as ?probably the first true great of the sport that Great Britain has ever had,? Cavendish doubled erstwhile record-holder Barry Hoban?s title of most Tour stages in one year won by a British rider. Despite winning two stages in the Giro d?Italia, and gifting one to team-mate Andre Greipel, the most impressive factor in Cavendish?s success was perhaps its rapidity. Winning one Tour stage would have been a remarkable feat for any 23 year old. Winning four was astonishing, especially in only his second full year as a professional.
Cavendish?s season was also marked by the ease with which he combined track and road racing. The ability to be able to win the Madison world title with Bradley Wiggins in late March and then defend his Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen title in early April against Tom Boonen, was a testament to his prodigious talent and versatility.
Winning stages at the Three Days of De Panne, the Tour of Romandy, Ster Elektroer, the Tour of Ireland and the Tour of Missouri, Cavendish was rampant throughout the season, putting many of the older, more established sprinters firmly in the shade.
Having well and truly arrived in professional cycling in 2008, Cavendish will target the Tour?s green jersey in 2009.
JULY 23: SASTRE IS FASHIONABLY LATE
Leaving his attack until the final mountain stage on the iconic Alpe d?Huez, Carlos Sastre?s Tour de France tactics embodied the Spanish mañana mentality. His devastating attack on the Alpe was anything but, however.
While the other main contenders, Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde, Dennis Menchov et al were already in race-winning form by early spring, Sastre bided his time in a leisurely approach to the race. Quietly amassing some 5,000 kilometres of racing before the Tour, in which his best result was ninth at the Tour of Murcia, Sastre arrived in France well rested.
Despite a proven stage race pedigree, which has seen the Spaniard on the podium of three Grand Tours previously, he was perhaps the most underrated of the overall contenders. Using this to his advantage, Sastre crept through the first two weeks of the Tour, losing as little time as possible in all of the key rendezvous points.
CSC?s tactics and brute strength proved insurmountable, and with Frank Schleck in the yellow jersey, nobody was willing to chase the Spaniard when he finally and decisively attacked on Alpe d?Huez, least of all team-mate Schleck. With all the doping scandals that plagued the race throughout the two previous editions, the Tour badly needed a credible winner.
Don Limpio (Mr Clean) provided much-needed salvation from the quagmire into which the sport had descended with a battle-weary Cadel Evans unable to topple the likeable Spaniard in the final time trial.
An electric atmosphere on the Champs Elysées greeted the Tour winner, one of the oldest Tour champions to date, at the age of 33.
Third place in the final Grand Tour of the season, la Vuelta a Espana, confirmed the Spaniard as a worthy Tour de France winner.
However, fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador?s domination of the Spanish race left many wondering what might have been in France.
JULY 24: SKY SPOTS POTENTIAL IN CYCLING
Even before Britain?s dominance of the cycling events at the Beijing Olympics, the sport?s future in the UK was given an enormous boost with the confirmation of a multi-million pound partnership between British Cycling and Sky.
The announcement was made at Newport velodrome in July and detailed how Sky would become the main backer of Team GB when competing at international level. The involvement will also spread down to grass-roots level with Sky attracted as much by the successful British track squad as well as cycling?s mass participation appeal.
There was speculation that Sky would become the main backer of Dave Brailsford?s mooted pro road squad, borne out by the unveiling of the Sky+HD track team before the Manchester World Cup.