By Oscar Smith

The Tours of Italy, France and Spain are the pinnacles of cycling. These are what are known as the ‘Grand Tours’ - three week long stage races, totalling over 3000 kilometres and encompassing well over 40 mountain passes each. For years these races have been dominated by cyclists from the continent: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. All are names which evoke huge admiration in any cycling fan. Until 2012, however, a British rider had never won a Grand Tour. Cyclists such as Tom Simpson, Robert Millar and David Millar had achieved considerable success on the world stage but the Giro, Tour and Vuelta victories had proved to be elusive for British racers.

Everything changed in 2012. The London 2012 Olympics sparked a huge spike in participation levels and the emergence and dominance of Team Sky did wonders in raising the profile of cycling. The British Cycling success story was epitomised in the Tour de France. Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to wear ‘le maillot jaune’ down le Champs-Élysées, that same year Chris Froome finished in 2nd place and Mark Cavendish won an impressive 3 stages.

Since 2012, British riders have enjoyed unprecedented success; the UK has won six of the seven most recent editions of the Tour. Although he never quite enjoyed the same popularity, status or sideburns as his Team Sky predecessor, Chris Froome has been the standout performer and poster boy for Sky, winning le Tour de France a staggering 4 times, in addition to enjoying triumphs in the 2017 Vuelta a España and this year’s Giro d’Italia. In winning the Giro on the iconic Via Roma this year, Froome joined a very exclusive club of champions, becoming the seventh person in history to achieve cycling’s Triple Crown (winning all three grand tours) and only the third man to have held all three at the same time.

Further still, 2018 has been arguably Britain’s most successful season to date. For the first time ever the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and Tour de France have all been won by different British riders - a stunning feat, which has never been achieved by any other nation and may be very hard to replicate in the future.

Initially, a resurgent Chris Froome was triumphant in Italy. This was made all the more impressive considering that he had crashed whilst warming up before the race had even started and had ridden the first two weeks battered and bruised. Almost everyone had written Froome off and many were expecting a win for another Brit, Simon Yates.

Yates had animated the race from the beginning and looked to be calm and collected in the race leader’s Maglia Rosa (pink jersey). Yet towards the end of the race he began to show signs of fatigue, whereas Froome was gaining momentum with every pedal stroke. As Yates’ form began to deteriorate, Froome was victorious atop the notorious Monte Zoncolan and took the race lead with a spectacular solo breakaway over the top of the Colle delle Finistre. In arguably the most impressive rides since the Merckx era (1967-1975), Froome rode alone for around 80 kilometres and finished 3 minutes ahead of his nearest adversary at the finish line. This cemented his Giro victory and he went on to win the race with a 46 second margin over Tom Dumoulin.

The Tour de France was expected to be the usual procession around the idyllic French countryside, in which Froome was the ‘bookie’s favourite’ to secure a 5th Tour de France victory. In actual fact, it turned out quite the opposite. Froome’s loyal lieutenant and Team Sky teammate: Geraint Thomas managed to secure the victory for himself, after an historic victory atop the iconic Alpe d’Huez. Thomas was duly greeted with a hero’s welcome in Cardiff, after becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour.

In a rather concerning turn of events, however, Thomas’ trophy was stolen having been put on display in the Birmingham NEC. He is currently appealing for the sentimental piece to be returned. In a recent statement, Thomas reiterated that the trophy did not have much material worth but was very special to him:’ the trophy means a lot to me and to the team’, he told BBC Wales.

A final victory was achieved by Bury-born Simon Yates, who stole the show at the Vuelta a España, winning both the red jersey for overall winner, as well as the white jersey for leader of the combined classification. He initially faced some tough opposition in the form of young upstart Enric Mas, the 24 year old Colombian known as ‘Superman’, Miguel Angel Lopez, and Spanish veteran ( and now World Champion) Alejandro Valverde. Yates nevertheless remained calm and collected throughout the race. Even a technical stage 16 time trial didn’t ruffle his feathers.

Britain has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the cycling world. The future looks bright for up-and-coming British talents: Tom Pidcock, Tao Geoghan Hart and Hugh Carthy are all ones to watch for the future. Nevertheless, with riders like Egan Bernal, Remco Evenepoel and Enric Mas, will Britain continue to dominate? Only time will tell…