Sign up for our newsletter


Britain's greatest ever cyclist (according to you)

10 May 2016

The polls are closed, the votes are in, so just who did readers choose as their top 10 UK riders of all time? Drum roll, please...

With the Tour de France just around the next bend, and the Rio Olympics looming on the horizon, 2016 could be yet another bumper year for British cyclists in terms of hoovering up the honours. And this got us thinking - just who is the greatest British cyclist of all time?

Each of us on the team has our own opinion as to who should be given that particular title, so we figured the only way to get a fair answer to that question was to open it up to a public vote and base the whole thing on popularity rather than simply records broken or gongs won. 

So, using the power of social media we set about asking the readers who you most admire from Britain’s proud tradition of cycling greats.

Being a road-focused, it was no surprise to find the votes were skewed in favour of riders who did most of their conquering on the tarmac rather than on the track – although the much-loved Graeme Obree sneaks in despite his road career never really taking off.

So here, in reverse order, are Britain’s top 10 cyclists of all time, as voted for by you…

10. Chris Boardman

Boardman was a time trial specialist who left nothing to chance. Every minute detail had to be just perfect, and it was an obsession that led him to glory many times.

Also nicknamed ‘Mr Prologue’ for his constant presence in the Tour de France’s initial stage, Boardman won the prologue three times. In 1998, aged 30, he was diagnosed with osteopenia.

The condition could have been tackled with testosterone injections, but the UCI, which was embroiled in the Festina doping scandal, refused Boardman an exemption on medical grounds.

Even though Boardman knew that by delaying treatment he ran the risk of developing osteoporosis, he continued to cycle without taking testosterone for another two years.

Notable Honours  

Tour de France stage wins - 1994, 1997 & 1998  
World Hour Record - 1993, 1996, 2000  
World Time Trial Champion - 1994  
Olympic Gold (Individual Pursuit) - 1992

9. Graeme Obree

Graeme Obree 7

With Boardman in 10th, it seems fitting that next in line is Grame Obree. The Flying Scotsman duelled it out with his English counterpart multiple times in the 1990s, competing against each other for the Hour record but coming at it completely differently.

Much like Rocky using frozen meat as a punchbag to train, Obree built his bike from spare parts, including bits from his washing machine, while compatriot Boardman used high-tech training equipmen.

Obree’s against-all-odds reputation was further highlighted when it was revealed he’d struggled with mental-health problems for years and had attempted suicide three times. A genuinely inspiring man. 

Notable Honours  

World Hour Record - 1993, 1994  
World Track Champion (Individual Pursuit) - 1993, 1995

8. Robert Millar

Glaswegian climbing king Robert Millar was the first Brit to win a major classification (King of the Mountains) at the Tour de France, way back in 1984.

The notoriously prickly Scot is still one of only four Brits to have ever won a jersey at the Tour alongside Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome.

His tungsten determination also saw him go on to win the mountains classification in the 1987 Giro d’Italia, eventually coming 2nd overall in the race – the highest Giro place recorded by a Brit. 

Notable Honours  

Tour de France Mountains Classification - 1984  
Tour de France stage wins - 1983, 1984, 1989  
Tour of Britain - 1989  
Dauphine Libéré - 1990

7. Nicole Cooke

Coming in at number 7 and our first female rider on the list is ‘The Wick Wonder’, Nicole Cooke, one of the most decorated riders ever.

When she won the Giro d’Italia Femminile in 2004 aged just 21, she was not only the race’s youngest-ever winner but also the first British cyclist, male or female, to win a Grand Tour.

She then went one better in 2006 and won the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale (the women’s Tour de France) – by over six minutes!

The Welsh wonder also dominated the National Road Race Championships, winning nine years in a row (2001-2009) as well as becoming the first rider ever, male or female again, to win both the World and Olympic road races titles in the same year, in 2008.

Notable Honours 

Giro d’Italia Femminile - 2004  
Women’s Road World Cup - 2003 & 2006  
National Road Race Champion - 1999, 2001-2009  
Olympic Road Race - 2008 
World Road Race Champion - 2008

6. Beryl Burton

Women’s cycling would be nowhere without the pioneering contribution made by Beryl Burton. The Yorkshire local didn’t just dominate the world of women’s cycling throughout the 1960s but effectively held the men’s 12-hour time trial record as well.

In 1967, she cycled 227.25 miles in 12 hours, famously overtaking her male rival Mike McNamara offering him a liquorice allsort as she passed him. It wasn’t until 1969 that a man beat the record and no woman has bettered it to this day. 

Burton's dominance was by no means diluted on the international scene either, winning the World Road Race Championships in 1960 and 1967, as well as five Individual Pursuit World Championships between 1959 and 1966.

Notable Honours

World Road Race Champion - 1960 & 1967  
World Track Champion (Individual Pursuit) - 1959, 1969, 1962, 1963, 1966  
World 12-hour Time Trial Record - 1967

5. Tom Simpson

With a World Championship, an Olympic medal and two Monument victories to his name, Tom Simpson was one of Britain’s most decorated cyclists.

Simpson’s greatness emerged at the age of 23 when he became the first Brit to don the hallowed yellow jersey in 1962’s Tour de France. The following years ushered in success for the lad from County Durham with wins in Bordeaux-Paris (1963), Milan-Sanremo (1964) and the World Race Championships (1965). 

In an array of confusion, Simpson became the first Brit to win the Tour of Flanders in 1961. Contesting a final sprint against Italian Nino Defilippis, he rode to victory as the Italian sat up  early, thinking the race was already over. When asked to share the spoils as an Italian hadn’t won a Classic since 1953 Simpson replied, ‘And an Englishman hasn’t won one since 1896!’

Notable Honours  

World Road Race Champion - 1965  
Tour of Flanders - 1961  
Milan-San Remo - 1964  
Giro di Lombardia - 1965  
Olympic Bronze (Team Pursuit) - 1956

4. Lizzie Armitstead


Lizzie Armitstead started out as a track cyclist. She was a pretty good one, too, winning an unprecedented nine gold medals in a single World Cup series, as well as bagging two World Championship titles.

Since 2009, though, Britain’s greatest current female rider has been all about the road. It’s an arena she’s come to own over the last few years and is the reigning World, Commonwealth and National Road Race Champion. One notable gong missing from her trophy cabinet is Olympic Gold.

She took silver at London 2012, but is bound to want to go one better in Rio this year, and with the stonking start to the year she’s had, including a massive win at the Tour of Flanders, we’re backing her all the way.  

Notable Honours  

World Road Race Champion - 2015  
Women’s Road World Cup - 2014 & 2015  
Olympic Silver (Road Race) - 2012

3. Chris Froome

First onto the podium is a man who is no stranger to podiums. Current Tour de France champ Froomey was voted by you as your third-favourite British cyclist of all time.

Froome first staked his claim back in the 2012 Tour de France when, despite being a domestique for Wiggo, he still managed to finish second behind his team leader.

Since then he has gone on to win the Tour de France twice, becoming the first Brit to ever do so in the process. As with all champions, his mettle has been tested both on the bike and off the bike with spectators throwing urine at him or shouting doping allegations.

However, like a true gent, Froomey has let his victories do the talking.

Notable Honours

Tour de France winner - 2013, 2015  
Tour de France stage wins - 2012, 2013, 2015  
Tour de Romandie - 2013, 2014  
Criterium du Dauphine - 2013, 2015

2. Mark Cavendish

Every Brit’s favourite sprinter, the Manx Missile is as affable as he is competitive. Cav is one of the most prolific riders of his generation, and is third on the all-time list when it comes to number of stage victories in the Tour de France, with 26 to his name (just two behind Bernard Hinault).

Cav led the way for the modern crop British road talent, winning Milan-San Remo in 2009, then the green points jersey in the Tour in 2011, but the Manxman isn’t afraid of dominating on the boards either – like many in this list, he’s also held the title of World Champ in the velodrome.

First back in 2005 when he and Rob Hayles won gold in the Madison before combining with Wiggo to win in 2008 and again in March this year. The sprinter is now hoping to add Olympic gold to his achievements in Rio this year.

Notable Honours

World Road Race Champion - 2011  
Tour de France stage wins - 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015  
Giro d'Italia stage wins - 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013  
Milan-San Remo - 2009  
World Track Champion (Madison) - 2005, 2008 & 2016

1. Sir Bradley Wiggins

The Modfather of British cycling, Sir Bradley Wiggins has not only inspired cyclists all over the world with his elegance on a bike but his coolness off of it.

But the main reason you seem to have voted him Britain’s greatest cyclist is because he did what no other British male rider had managed in 112 years of trying – he won the Tour de France. And then, just to prove it was no fluke, won Olympic gold just a few weeks later to make him British cycling’s most-decorated Olympian ever, alongside king of the track Sir Chris Hoy.

The British public responded by making him BBC Sports Personality of the Year at the end of 2012, while Her Maj was so impressed she gave him a knighthood to go with his CBE.

Not that the man from Kilburn was done impressing everyone and last year went after the oldest record of the lot. The Hour record that had first been set in 1876 had been broken by fellow Brit Alex Dowsett earlier in the year at 52.937km (32.894 miles). Wiggins did 54.526km.

But it’s not just his medals and records that make him a legend, it’s because of the way he conducts himself. Take the 2012 Tour when some spectators sabotaged the peloton by throwing tacks into the road causing punctures to around 30 bikes.

Wiggo and his lead-out men of Team Sky were unaffected and in control of the race. Rather than take advantage, however, he had his team slow up and wait for the peloton to form again.

A show of sportsmanship that earned him another title, ‘Le Gentleman’ in the French press, and just one of the reasons that make Sir Bradley Wiggins Britain’s number one wheeler. 

Notable Honours

Tour de France winner - 2012  
Olympic Gold (Individual Pursuit) - 2004, 2008  
Olympic Gold (Team Pursuit) - 2008  
Olympic Gold (Time Trial) - 2012  
World Time Trial Champion - 2014  
World Hour Record - 2015

Read more about: