The ten most successful British male road cyclists of all-time

With four Tour de France victories in five years, it’s fair to say we’ve been spoiled by British success in the men’s pro peloton in recent times.

But who are the most successful Brits of all-time? While riders competing across different eras make it a difficult question to answer, race wins seems one obvious marker of success.

Mark Cavendish leads the way when it comes to British pro cycling wins (pic: Bettini Photo)

It will come as little surprise to many to know that Mark Cavendish tops the tree – his 100th career victory came in 2013 and that tally has only continued to rise.

But how do the other British pros match up? We’ve collated the top ten below, correct as of June 26 2016, following the 2017 British National Road Race Championships.

What’s in and what’s not?

Before we dig in, let’s lay down some basic rules:

  • Only victories as a professional count (so amateur Milk Race victories are out, for instance)
  • National championships and UCI races ranked 1.2, 2.2 and above are all included (so no Olympic test event, for example – sorry Cav!)
  • General classification wins are in, but all other secondary classifications are not
  • Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games victories are also included, provided the rider was a professional at the time (good news for David Millar, not so for Malcolm Elliott)
  • World Championship road race and individual time trials are in but team time trials are not counted
  • Results expunged from the records are not included

So, without further ado, here we go…

Mark Cavendish (2007-present) – 144

Mark Cavendish is the only British rider to have passed 100 career pro victories (pic: Sirotti)

Mark Cavendish turned professional with the T-Mobile Team in 2007 and recorded his first professional victory at Scheldeprijs in the same year.

He added ten more that year and has been in double figures every year since, becoming the foremost sprinter in the world.

His four years with the various iterations of the HTC team, from 2008 to 2011, brought 62 of his 133 career victories and he finished 2011 as world champion, too.

Among his victories are 48 Grand Tour stage wins – 30 at the Tour de France, 15 at the Giro d’Italia and three at the 2010 Vuelta a Espana – and one Monument, the 2009 Milan-San Remo.

He has worn the leader’s jersey at both the Giro and the Vuelta, and topped the points classification at all three – winning five Tour stages on the way to his 2011 green jersey, and the same number at the 2013 Giro as he completed his collection of Grand Tour points classification wins.

That 2013 Giro d’Italia also included his 100th career victory and he didn’t stop there, taking that tally beyond 130 at the 2015 Amgen Tour of California.

The next chapter of Cavendish’s career started in 2016, with he and lead-out man Mark Renshaw signing for African outfit, Team Dimension Data and the Manxman won the Tour of Qatar for the second time before winning four stages of the 2016 Tour de France. He won ten times in all in his first season with “Africa’s Team”, completing the year with two stage wins in Abu Dhabi.

Cavendish won a stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour again in 2017, with the race this time held earlier in the year, but missed a big chunk of the season due to glandular fever.

Best moment – 2011: Having already won five stages of the Tour de France, and with it the green jersey, Cav donned the British jersey at the World Championships and sprinted into the rainbow stripes with road race victory in Copenhagen.

Chris Boardman (1993-1999) – 41

After an Olympic gold medal and the first of his hour record successes on the track, and plenty of time trial success off it, Chris Boardman turned professional with GAN in 1993.

His first professional race was the GP Eddy Merckx time trial, and he promptly recorded his first professional win there in the process.

And that was just the start of a period of near-domination against the clock, with the following year seeing him record the then-fastest ever Tour de France time trial in the prologue, claiming the yellow jersey for a few days in the process.

That Tour stage win came between two wins against the clock and a solo stage victory at the Dauphine Libere, which earned him his Tour debut, and then a World Championship time trial gold medal at the end of the year.

Boardman went on to win the Tour de France prologue twice more, in 1997 and 1998, and also clocked stage wins at races such as Paris-Nice, the Dauphine Libere (again) and Tour de Romandie, before retiring in 2000 after being diagnosed with Osteopenia two years earlier.

His career was to end with another triumph on the track, however, as he set another new hour record in 2000.

Best moment – 1994: Three stage wins at the Criterium du Dauphine Libere earned Boardman a Tour de France debut, and he seized the opportunity in style with a record-breaking prologue to pull on the first yellow jersey. He ended the year as world time trial champion.

Chris Froome (2007-present) – 38

Chris Froome celebrates his second Tour de France triumph on the podium in Paris (Pic: Sirotti)

Kenyan-born Chris Froome took up a British racing licence in 2007 and enjoyed sporadic success in lower-classified races in his early professional years.

But his first major pro victory, at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, laid the foundations for a stunning upward trajectory and Froome hasn’t stopped since.

Winner of stage 17 in that race, Froome went on to finish second overall – hindered by the fact he had spent the earlier part of the race riding for team-mate Bradley Wiggins, who finished third.

He rode for Wiggins again in 2012, but was still able to win a stage of the Tour de France despite a public falling-out with his team leader, who, of course, won the race overall.

When the team leadership was handed to him in 2013, however, he took full advantage of his opportunity and the wins have barely stopped since.

Stage and overall successes followed at the Tour of Oman, Criterium International, Tour de Romadie and Criterium du Dauphine as he entered the Tour de France as favourite.

Once there, he didn’t disappoint, winning three stages – including a stunning triumph on Mont Ventoux – and the overall title.

Injuries hampered his 2014 season, but he still picked up six victories and finished second overall at the Vuelta a Espana.

Froome returned to the top in 2015, and his second Tour de France win – alongside the King of the mountains title – followed in July.

And that rich vein of form continued into 2016 – stage wins and overall success at the Herald Sun Tour and Criterium du Dauphine shooting him up the standings.

Two stage wins at the 2016 Tour de France followed, proving his all-round ability with a stunning descent on stage eight to pull on the yellow jersey before he won the stage 18 uphill time trial and went on to seal overall victory.

He bagged another two stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana, on his way to second place overall – the third time he has finished on the second step of the Vuelta podium.

Best moment – 2013: After a stunning season, Froome had already won one stage of the Tour de France, on Ax-3-Domaines, to pull on the yellow jersey – and he did the jersey proud on Bastille Day as he blasted to victory on Mont Ventoux with a stunning acceleration, before going on to defend his overall lead all the way to Paris.

Sir Bradley Wiggins (2003-2015) – 36

Sir Bradley Wiggins left Team Sky having written his name firmly into British cycle sport legend (pic: Sirotti)

As Britain’s joint most-decorated Olympian, with seven medals in all, Sir Bradley Wiggins has enjoyed plenty of success on both the track and road.

His professional career started in 2001 with the short-lived Linda McCartney Racing team, and included sporadic victories as he switched between French teams FDJ, Credit Agricole and Cofidis.

Wiggins’ road racing career really kicked off when he joined Garmin-Slipstream in 2009, however, with the season including the first of three consecutive British national time trial championships wins and overall victory at the Herald Sun Tour.

Fourth overall at the Tour de France – later upgraded to third after Lance Armstrong’s disqualification – raised hopes of Wiggins ending Britain’s wait for a Tour de France win and, of course, he did exactly that in 2012 – the undisputed best year of his career.

Having won the Criterium du Dauphine the previous year, he repeated the trick in 2012, alongside winning Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie.

It was his two stage wins and overall victory at the Tour de France which crowned the year, however, with an Olympic time trial gold medal the icing on the cake.

Wiggins has since won the Tour of Britain and Tour of California, before winning World Championship gold in the time trial in 2014.

He switched his focus back to the track in 2015, in order to build for a Rio 2016 swansong, but not before adding the 36th victory of his professional road racing career – time trial success at the Three Days of De Panne.

Best moment  2012: Everything Wiggins touched in 2012 seemed to turn to gold, but the sight of him roaring in triumph as he won the penultimate stage of the Tour de France, a time trial, to all but seal the yellow jersey, will live long in the memory.

David Millar (1997-2014) – 32

Millar has enjoyed stage wins (and wore the leaders’ jerseys) at all three Grand Tours (pic: Sirotti)

Malta-born Scot David Millar’s professional road racing career was one of two halves, dissected by a doping ban in 2004.

Despite having some results – including world time trial gold in 2003 – expunged from his record as a result of that ban, Millar still bagged 32 wins, including stage success at all three Grand Tours, before retiring in 2014.

His time trialling prowess saw him pull on the leader’s jersey at the 2000 Tour de France and 2001 Vuelta a Espana, before completing his set of Grand Tour leaders’ jerseys when he was in the stage three-winning break at the 2011 Giro d’Italia – a day overshadowed by Wouter Weylandt’s death.

On his return from his doping ban in 2006, Millar won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana and then earned a British national double with victory in the road race and time trial in 2007.

Millar’s final professional victory arrived in 2012 at the Tour de France, when he won from the break on stage 12 in Annonay Davezieux.

Best moment – 2011: Millar called his 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal redemption, but it was 2011, at the Giro d’Italia, when he ensured his name would forever be associated with Britain’s road cycling greats. While his time in the pink jersey, completing his Grand Tour set, was overshadowed by Wouter Weylandt’s death, Millar later went on to win the final stage time trial – completing another Grand Tour hat-trick as he entered the record books as only the third Brit to win stages at all three of cycling’s three-week races.

Malcom Elliott (1984-1997) – 31

Malcolm Elliott enjoyed more than 30 pro wins, and later made a comeback to enjoy more success at domestic level (Pic: Marty Savalas, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Malcom Elliott’s glistening career, which has earned him a spot in the British Cycling Hall of Fame, can be split into three clear parts – amateur, professional and comeback.

All three were littered with success, first in winning Commonwealth Games gold in 1982 and six stages of the then-amateur Milk Race the following year, before collecting 31 victories as a professional.

Among those were three stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana (enough to earn him the 1989 points jersey) and overall Kellogg’s Tour of Britain success in 1988.

National champion in 1993, Elliott retired four years later aged 36 with those 31 victories behind him, but was not done there – his comeback also saw more success, this time on the British domestic circuit, as he proved age is no barrier.

Best moment – 1989: In a year in which he secured nine major road race victories, Elliott’s two at the Vuelta a Espana were the most significant as he became the first Brit to win a Grand Tour points classification.

Tom Simpson (1959-1967) – 24

Tom Simpson will always be remembered as one of British cycling’s pioneers, after collecting 24 victories in his eight-year professional career back in the 1960s.

Simpson turned professional in 1959, securing five race wins, but bigger success was to follow – including the Tour of Flanders in 1961 and Milan-San Remo in 1964.

The Durham-born rider then entered the record books as Britain’s first male world road race champion, winning in San Sebastian in 1965.

He went on to win Paris-Nice and two stages of the 1967 Vuelta a Espana, the first – and only – Grand Tour stage wins of his career and was seventh overall at the Tour de France that year before he collapsed and died on Mont Ventoux.

A deadly combination of the heat, alcohol and performance-enhancing amphetamines was found to be the cause of his death, aged just 29.

Best moment – 1965: A sterling team effort by his British team-mates allowed Simpson to lead the 1965 world road race from almost the very start. Breaking away with German Rudi Altig late in the race, Simpson bolted clear on the final straight to become Britain’s first male road race world champion.

Jeremy Hunt (1997-2012) – 22

Jeremy Hunt proved himself as a canny sprinter (Pic: Cindy, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Turning professional with Banesto, the pre-cursor to the modern Movistar team, in 1996, Canadian-born Brit Jeremy Hunt bagged the national title and two Tour de l’Avenir the following season, among eight major wins.

And while he never quite managed to replicate the success of that breakthrough season, 14 more major professional victories followed in all, including another national title in 2001.

Hunt also won the Australian National Championships, as an international rider, in 2000 and enjoyed plenty of success down under, with a stage win at the Herald Sun Tour also on his palmares.

One-day success was found at the GP Ouest-France, while stage wins came at the Tour de Picardie and Tour de Wallonie.

His final major professional victory came in 2009, with a stage win for the Cervelo Test Team at the Tour of Denmark, before he closed his career with Team Sky – playing a part in Mark Cavendish’s World Championship win in British colours in 2011.

Hunt’s palmares is also filled with smaller stage victories, including four stage wins at the now-defunct Commonwealth Bank Classic and his final career win at the East Yorkshire Classic, taking his career wins tally closer to 30 if you were to also count them.

Best moment – 2002: Having proved himself a canny sprinter, such as beating Mario Cipollini at the Tour Mediterraneen in 2000 after taking a short line round a roundabout, Hunt sprinted to his biggest career success at the GP Ouest France-Plouay in 2002, beating Baden Cooke and Stuart O’Grady in the bunch finish.

Barry Hoban (1964-1978) – 21

Barry Hoban (second right) keeps a close eye on Eddy Merckx. Hoban beat Merckx at Gent-Wevelgem in 1974 (Pic: Brian Townsley, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Barry Hoban established himself as one of the top sprinters of his era, and until the emergence of Mark Cavendish was Britain’s most successful Tour de France rider.

After two years racing in France, Hoban was granted a professional contract in 1964 and went on to earn ten Grand Tour stage wins (eight at the Tour and two at the Vuelta) and the Gent-Wevelgem classic among other wins.

A team-mate of Tom Simpson’s, Hoban was credited for his work in the break for Simpson at the 1965 World Championships and his first Tour stage win was gifted to him the day after Simpson’s death.

Hoban, with those Vuelta stage wins already behind him, was to prove hugely successful in his own right – his next Tour stage win actually arrived in the mountains before he went on to become the first Brit to win back-to-back stages with two sprint victories in 1969.

Classics success included his Gent-Wevelgem victory and podium finishes at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Paris-Roubaix during one of the first great British road cycling careers.

Best moment – 1974: Hoban, at this time 34 years old, finds a gap and slips through to beat Eddy Merckx to victory at Gent-Wevelgem, his first one-day victory and the first for a Brit in ten years.

Michael Wright (1962-1976) – 21

Michael Wright was born in Hertfordshire but was brought up in Belgium (Pic: Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick, via Wiki Commons)

Though British-born, Michael Wright emigrated to Liege when he was just three after his war-widowed mother re-married a Belgian soldier – something which was to prove very handy for his cycling career.

Growing up in Belgium, Wright stayed true to his roots and – despite speaking poor English – was able to ride for Great Britain at several World Championships and at the Tour de France when the race was contested by national teams, something he admits he could not have done as a Belgian.

He actually won a stage of the 1967 race before team-mate Tom Simpson’s death – his second of three wins at the Tour de France, and he also bagged four stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana – finishing fifth overall in 1969 after wearing the leader’s jersey for two days.

A fast finisher, Wright’s stage wins also included victories at the Tour of the Basque Country, Tour of Catalonia and Tour of Luxembourg, while he also earned multiple second and third-place finishes on Tour de France stages.

Best moment – 1969: Wright, riding for the Bic team, won the opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana to earn two days in the leader’s jersey and then followed that with another stage win on stage 13. His fifth place overall was the best British finish at the Vuelta a Espana until Robert Millar made the podium in 1985.

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