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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005, 22:15 GMT 23:15 UK
The wheel deal
By Matt Majendie
BBC Sport in Westminster

Nick Nuyens (right, yellow jersey) tucks in behind stage winner Luca Paolini (centre)
Luca Paolini (centre) took victory on the final stage
For 40 laps around the streets of Westminster, an anticipated 100,000-strong crowd were steadily worked into a frenzy by the man on the loudspeaker.

The fans that lined up for the finale of the Tour of Britain were assured Britain's Roger Hammond, a team-mate of Lance Armstrong last season, was the man to watch for the win.

In the end, Hammond and his countrymen couldn't quite pull it off as they were upstaged by a little-known Belgian - Nick Nuyens.

Nuyens admitted the backing of countryman and former five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx, who had attended a Tour of Britain dinner the night before, had helped take the overall race win.

But despite the lack of a British winner either overall or in Sunday's sprint, Hammond, arguably Britain's biggest name in road cycling at present, refused to be despondent.

The 31-year-old told BBC Sport: "Ok, I couldn't quite pull off a win today but that doesn't really matter. I've never seen British road cycling in better shape."

This breed of guys are the best I've seen in my career
Roger Hammond

British cycling triumphs have predominantly come on the track.

But Hammond, who was freed up by his Discovery Channel employers to head up a young Great Britain team in the six-day event, feels that is about to change.

"Normally you see riders with potential and think maybe they'll do it, but this breed of guys are different," he said.

Mark Cavendish, already a track world champion at the age of 20, and 19-year-old Geraint Thomas, a junior world champion, are just two of the British stars on show.

Cyclists pass Big Ben on the final stage of the Tour of Britain
The final stage passed some major London landmarks
Both Cavendish and Thomas admitted that riding in front of thousands of fans every day for a week has been awe-inspiring and the perfect platform for bigger and better things.

And Tour of Britain race director Tony Doyle makes no secret of his delight at the level of home talent in this year's race.

His catchphrase since the event started in Glasgow last Tuesday was that there have never been so many British world champions in action.

Five in total meandered their way through the heart of British politics on Sunday.

The number of spectators was also up by about 30% on last year according to Doyle, who plans to increase it from a six-day event to eight in 2006.

Interest in British cycling has never been so great
Tour director Tony Doyle

The two-time world champion believes the race can be the perfect springboard to "carte blanche" Olympic success in 2012 as well as possible Tour de France glory.

"I don't think you can stress the importance of this event to the future of British cycling," Doyle told BBC Sport.

"Cycling will never have the following of, say, football but interest in it is growing all the time.

"We've got more people coming to watch and more kids taking up the sport. In fact, interest in British cycling has never been so great."

To highlight this, Sunday's race was preceded by a series of junior races, featuring some of Britain's best youth talent.

And Doyle is hopeful future Olympic champions will have got their first taste of cycling success on Sunday.

Hammond, meanwhile, joked that he has mixed opinions on the sudden surge in British cycling.

"It's alright at the moment while I'm the experienced head," he said. "But before long I'll be battling to keep up with them!"

  • Watch our Tour of Britain special on this Sunday's Grandstand, 1335 on BBC Two

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