From Burton to Armitstead: Britain's road race world champions

In celebration of Lizzie Armitstead's win in the World Championships, we look at the six British professional riders who have worn the rainbow stripes on the road, and give a special mention to Britain's two amateur World Champions

This year Lizzie Armitstead took a hard-earned and well-deserved victory in the Road Race World Championships. In so doing she became the fourth woman and sixth British rider in total to wear the coveted rainbow stripes.

From dominant displays to the epitome of marginal gains, each race was very different but gave the same outcome: a British rider beating their peers to be crowned as the best rider in the world at that time (although this perhaps isn't the best measure).

Here we have listed the six home riders who won and wore the World Champion's jersey and have had a look at where their careers, and lives, went next.

Beryl Burton, 1960 and 1967

Beryl Burton world champ 1967

The only rider on this list to have been World Champion more than once, Beryl Burton was in a class of her own when she took the wins in 1960 and 1967.

Crossing the Iron Curtain in 1960, Burton's first victory came in Leipzig, East Germany. She just missed out on defending her title with second place in 1961 and didn't return to the podium until her second win in 1967.

>>> The ten best World Champs road race finishes (videos)

This win was arguably the standout achievement in a glittering racing career. Leading from the front almost from the flag-drop she rode everyone off her wheel and then just kept going.

The Yorkshirewoman finished 1-47 ahead of second placed Lyubov Zadorozhnaya of the Soviet Union and almost six minutes ahead of the rest of the peloton.

Following her Worlds success she was later selected for the 1972 squad, alongside her own daughter, Denise, who was also a high level cyclist.

Burton unfortunately died quite young, just 58 years old, due to heart failure. She's been inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame, has a cycle route named after her and even had a radio play written and performed in her honour.

Tom Simpson, 1965

Tom Simpson wins worlds Cycling Weekly cover

tom simpson, world championships, british world champion

Easily one of Britain's best ever riders, Tom Simpson splits opinion due to the controversies surrounding his life, career and eventually death.

Simpson's first big win came in the 1961 Tour of Flanders, but it wasn't until 1965 that he pulled on the rainbow jersey of World Champion.

The 1965 event took place in San Sebastian, in the Basque Country. Along with German Rudi Altig, the British rider broke away from the peloton with 40km to go and won the sprint for first place, finishing 3-40 ahead of Roger Swerts (Belgium) in third.

During stage 13 of the 1967 Tour de France, Simpson collapsed and died on the climb of Mount Ventoux. The post-mortem revealed amphetamines and alcohol in his blood, which combined with the heat and excursion had caused the fatal collapse.

>>> Tom Simpson: a life in pictures

Simpson had spoken openly about doping in cycling but didn't explicitly admit his own use of performance enhancing drugs.

Mandy Jones, 1982

Mandy Bishop, World Champion

The front cover of Cycling from 1982

Mandy Jones won the women's road race on home soil in 1982. Breaking away from the pack she managed to hold off the chasing peloton to win the race by 10 seconds.

>>> Mandy Jones: An accidental champion

Away from road racing she was national 3,000 metre pursuit champion, world 5,000 metre record holder and national 50 mile time trial champion.

She was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame in 2009.

Nicole Cooke, 2008

Nicole Cooke had her annus mirabilis in 2008 when she won the road race at the World Championships. This followed her success earlier that year when she won the Olympic road race, the first British rider to do so.

What's more, she was the first cyclist - male or female - to become World and Olympic Champion in the same year, a feat that was emulated by Marianne Vos in 2012.

Cooke announced her retirement from cycling in January 2013. She was clear about her anti-doping stance throughout her career and used the announcement of her retirement to take a swipe at cheats.

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"I am so very fortunate to have been able to have won clean… I have been robbed by drug cheats, but I am fortunate, I am here before you with more in my basket than the 12-year-old dreamed of. But for many genuine people out there who do ride clean, people with morals, many of these people have had to leave the sport with nothing after a lifetime of hard work."

Mark Cavendish, 2011

Cavendish wins worlds 2011 by Watson

This win was a long time in the planning and a full team effort in its execution. Sir Bradley Wiggins put in a huge turn on the front to keep any late breakaway attempts at bay then Ian Stannard managed to punch a hole in the peloton to bring Mark Cavendish back near the front.

Wearing an aero road helmet and skinsuit, Cav used marginal gains and team work to complement his own sprint prowess and take the victory from a hectic bunch finish.

>>> Can an aero road helmet make you faster?

The Manxman rode for Team Sky the following year and many saw it as a troubled season for the sprinter. However, three stage wins at the Tour de France, including his fourth year in a row on the Champs Élysées, was a good race - and would have been seen as a huge success if out had been repeated this year.

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Cavendish is expected to leave Etixx - Quick-Step at the end of the 2015 season but his new team is yet to be confirmed. Now 30 years old, he may only have two or three more seasons to add to his already large wins tally.

Lizzie Armitstead, 2015

Lizzie Armitstead wins the 2015 Womens World Road Championships

Lizzie Armitstead wins the 2015 Women's World Road Championships
(Image credit: Watson)

Armitstead has been near the top of women's cycling for a few years now, but often crossed the line second to Marianne Vos. This year was different, though, with Vos out with injury and Armitstead on fine form.

Earlier in the season the Yorkirewoman won the final race in the World Cup series to win the overall for the second year running, and went into the World Champs as one of the favourites.

Learning from the tactical mistakes of last year, she said she was “willing to lose in order to win”, and it paid off. Attacking on the final lap and then sitting back in when the group caught her, Armitstead out-sprinted her rivals to take the honours.

It's not all about the pros…

Running from 1921 to 1995 (except for World War II and more recent Olympics), the UCI Road World Championships used to include a men's amateur road race.

Some big names won or got a podium finish in this contest before turning professional, the likes of Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens and Jan Ullrich included.

Of the 61 editions Team GB counts as many male winners in this contest as it does in the professional race.

Dave Marsh leads an all British podium, 1922

In a feat that was never emulated, Britain took every spot on the podium in the second edition of the amateur race.

The race was held in Liverpool and Dave Marsh took the win ahead of compatriots Bill Burkill and Charles Davey (who had finished third the year before, too).

Graham Webb, 1967

The 1967 edition of the professional race was held in Heerlen, the Netherlands and won by none other than Merckx, the first of his three victories throughout his career.

But away from the Cannibal's win, Britain's Graham Webb beat Frenchman Claude Guyot into second and home rider René Pijnen into third.

Webb turned professional in 1968, joining Raymond Poulidor and Jean Stablinkski on Mercier. However, a string of bad luck put pay to his best years when he got stuck on Sardinia after a training camp, lost a lot of racing kit when his car was broken into and suffered mechanicals and injuries in his first races for the team.

A further year as a professional didn't turn his luck around and he hung up his wheels, his full potential perhaps unrealised.

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Jack Elton-Walters hails from the Isle of Wight, and would be quick to tell anyone that it's his favourite place to ride. He has covered a varied range of topics for Cycling Weekly, producing articles focusing on tech, professional racing and cycling culture. He moved on to work for Cyclist Magazine in 2017 where he stayed for four years until going freelance. He now returns to Cycling Weekly from time-to-time to cover racing, review cycling gear and write longer features for print and online.