Broadcaster, Channel Four, ran a pre-Paralympics campaign with the strap line, ‘Thanks for the warm up’.
It seemed a bold statement, but Paralympics GB cyclists fulfilled the implicit promise that more, and perhaps better, was to come after a wildly successful Olympic Games for the host nation.
Sarah Storey, one of a handful of athletes to transcend their sport, paid little attention to the burden of expectation on her shoulders, and duly added four gold medals to the haul of Paralympics GB, equaling Baroness Tani Grey-Thompson’s record of 11 Paralympic golds with victories on the boards and the road.
Isolating a stand out performance is difficult for an athlete whose default setting is dominance, but a seven-minute margin of victory in the women’s Paralympic road race, a performance that saw her catch and pass her male counterparts, must have surprised even Storey’s expectations.
It was the second time in two days she had climbed to the top step of the podium at the Brands Hatch circuit. The previous day, Storey had won the women’s time trial in similarly dominant fashion, beating her closest challenger, Anna Harkowska (Poland) by more than a minute and a half.
Five days earlier, she had begun her Paralympic campaign in London at the velodrome, achieving gold in the C5 individual pursuit by catching her opponent Harkowska before the 3km distance had been achieved. Storey had qualified for the gold medal final by setting a world record of 3.32.170, a time some 16 seconds faster than that of Harkowska.
The C5 500m time trial was a closer affair even if the outcome was the same. Storey won gold with a time nearly a second faster than silver medalist, Jennifer Schuble.
Husband, Barney, made the business of winning Paralympic gold medals a family affair by piloting Neil Fachie to victory in the final of the men’s 1km time trial. It would be the first of two tandem golds for Paralympics GB, who doubled their tally with victory the following day for Anthony Kappes and Craig MacLean in the men’s individual sprint, ironically at the expense of Fachie and Storey who finished second.
Mark Colbourne had started the avalanche of medal success for the home nation’s cyclists on August 30 with silver in the men’s 1km time trial C1-2-3, before going one better the following day by winning gold in the men’s individual pursuit C1.
Colbourne’s triumph came on a day of medal success for Paralympics GB, with silvers claimed by Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott in the women’s 1km time trial B, by Jon Allan Butterworth in the men’s 1km time trial C4-5 and, and by Shaun McKeown in the men’s individual pursuit C3.
Butterworth would win two more silver medals before completing his campaign, beaten by Michael Gallagher (Australia), and as part of a three-man team with Darren Kenny and Rick Waddon in the mixed team sprint C1-C5. Kenny had already collected bronze in the men’s individual pursuit C3.
Jody Cundy’s disappointment over a technical failing with the starting gate in his attempt at gold in the C4/5 men’s 1km time trial was an oft-repeated moment in Paralympics highlights packages. He would later win bronze in the men’s individual pursuit C4.
By the time attention turned to the Paracycling road events at the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit, the dominance of Paralympics GB was assured. Storey’s triumphs there were not the only registered by British athletes. David Stone soloed to victory in the mixed road race T1-2, after taking bronze in the mixed time trial T1-T2 two days earlier. Rachel Morris won bronze in the women’s road race H1-H3.
The Vuelta a Espana ended with three of the host nation’s riders on the podium, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) capping his return from a doping suspension with victory in arguably the most exciting race of the year.
Countrymen, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), in his first season back from a two-year doping suspension, was second, while Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) notched his second Grand Tour podium finish of the year with third.
The final day of the Paralympic Games coincided with the first day of the Tour of Britain. Riders rolled out of Ipswich beneath clear blue skies to find the roads lined with thousands of people on what many considered would be a home coming for the victorious Team Sky.
Thoughts that it would be little more than a parade lap, however, were dispelled, when Mark Cavendish, going full gas, came down at the entrance to Norfolk Show Ground, leaving his lead out man, Luke Rowe, to take the stage, and establish a tone of British success.
Cavendish would right wrongs on stages three, four, and eight, that last, his win on the final stage into Guildford, coming at the end of a sprint up a steep and cobbled hill in the town centre; his final victory for Team Sky and his last in the rainbow stripes of world road race champion.
Britain found a new star in Jon Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing) who took overall victory with a mature and confident ride, attacking only when he needed to, moving decisively on stage six from Welshpool to Caerphilly, and holding a watching brief on the final two stages.
His efforts cemented a transfer to Team Sky for 2013 and a place as protected rider on the Great Britain team that travelled to Limburg at the end of September for the world road race championships.
Tieran-Locke delivered another impressive performance, effortlessly following the wheel of Alberto Contador (Spain) as the race reached its climax, but, like every other rider in the race, he was unable to hold the wheel of Philippe Gilbert when the Belgian made his decisive strike on the final ascent of the Cauberg.
Great Britain were similarly anonymous in the women’s road race, with Emma Pooley the highest finisher in red, white and blue, 4.37 down on Marianne Vos (Netherlands) who added the rainbow jersey of world road race champion to those she has already won in cyclo-cross and track racing.
Alex Dowsett was Great Britain’s only competitor in the men’s elite time trial, where he finished a creditable ninth, while Emma Pooley, world time trial champion in 2010, was fourth in Limburg.
Greater success for Team GB came from its junior women’s team. Lucy Garner successfully defended her junior women’s world road race title to become a double world champion aged 18, while 16-year-old Elinor Barker, who lead out Garner in the road race, lifted the world junior time trial.
As September ended, British cycling fans could be confident that the future could perhaps be as bright as the sport’s brilliant present.