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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 16:37 GMT
Cycling: Sport finds top gear
By Chris Russell

Armstrong swerves after Beloki crashed out of the Tour in July
Armstrong swerves to avoid Beloki in the Tour
This was a vintage cycling year, with the best Tour de France in years and some homegrown worldbeaters for British fans to cheer.

The centenary Tour will live long in the memory as an edition which confirmed the race's unique sense of drama.

Lance Armstrong carried the burden of history heavily as he made his bid to become the fifth five-times winner, but the American was just the lead in a thriller with many co-stars.

Jan Ullrich's exciting comeback and dominant time trial win convinced everyone that Armstrong could actually be beaten.

Fans applauded vigorously as riders like Iban Mayo and Alexandre Vinokourov reached new heights to challenge the favourite.

Those same spectators winced at the endless replays of Joseba Beloki's sickening crash while marvelling at Armstrong's evasive action via a ploughed field.

Then few could believe it when Tyler Hamiltion defied a broken collarbone to win a stage.

And just when it seemed the drama would never end, Armstrong himself was brought down to the tarmac by a spectators' bag, before an adrenalin burst sent him to victory at the race's last summit finish.

There was even one final twist. After the hottest Tour weather for years, a torrential downpour on the Tour's final time trial ended Ullrich's fading hopes.

Armstrong rode the final tentative kilometres before a massive display of relief - and few even noticed that David Millar won that stage.

Millar on his way to world title triumph in Hamilton
The inconsistent Briton had actually created the Tour's first big moment, when his chain came off and cost him the opening stage.

After redeeming his Tour, Millar took a stage win and two second places at the Tour of Spain before his finest hour.

Not many British sportsmen can call themselves world champions of a genuinely global sport but Scot Millar dominated October's worlds time trial in Canada.

England's Bradley Wiggins also has that world champion tag after winning the 4,000m pursuit in Germany.

And Wales shared the spotlight as Nicole Cooke won the women's World Cup and a bronze medal in the world championship road race.

Aged just 20, Cooke is tipped to dominate women's cycling for years to come.

The men's World Cup belonged to Paolo Bettini but the Italian was shocked by Spain's Igor Astorloa at the world championship road race.

Roberto Heras and Gilberto Simoni were home winners in the Tours of Spain and Italy, while the best sprinter of2003 was Alessandro Petacchi, historic stage winner in all three major tours.

Next year will see Armstrong aim for a record sixth Tour win, with Ullrich set to challenge after rejoining potentially the strongest team in the sport - the renamed T-Mobile outfit.

Meanwhile the young British stars will all head to Athens as just some of the country's genuine Olympic cycling medal hopes.






Video highlights

Simoni wins Giro d'Italia
01 Jun 03  |  Cycling
Heras wins Tour of Spain
28 Sep 03  |  Cycling

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