Dominant on the track and now masters in the art of winning a Tour de France, there are very few boundaries that British cyclists have left to break after a decade of unparalleled growth and success for the sport in this country.
Yet the Classics – those demanding, one-day examinations on the continent – remain a final frontier still to be breached.
There have been sporadic victories from Britain’s leading cyclists in these brutal tests that run through March and April across Belgium, France, Italy and Holland.
Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish and Ian Stannard all claimed wins in 2015 but those have been isolated cases.
Sustained success in races such as Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Flanders, has yet to be achieved.
Hoping one day to play a part in a new cycle of British dominance is Yorkshireman Scott Thwaites, who is so determined to etch his name in cycling folklore via the Classics route that he based the decision on who to ride for in 2017 on which team gave him the best chance to succeed in the Spring.
That team was Dimension Data, home to serial Tour de France stage winners Cavendish and Steve Cummings.
For 26-year-old Thwaites from Burley-in-Wharfedale, they represent a first step up to World Tour level after seven years with the Bora-Argon 18 outfit in the second tier – who in earlier guises had been British team Endura Racing and German team NetApp.
“I had a couple of options but Dimension Data was the one I’ve always looked at and thought would be a good team for me,” said Thwaites, who sorted his future early by signing after a promising showing in the Spring Classics of 2016.
“It’s a very opportunistic team. They never really focus solely on general classification or anything like that, they give people the opportunities to shine in their specialities and it’s a very friendly and welcoming team which suited what I wanted.
“It was important to get signed early, especially as a Classics specialist. Once the Spring has gone you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot, so I had to get something signed while my name was fresh in people’s minds.”
Those results in the Spring were solid, if not spectacular, but enough to prove Thwaites is trending in the right direction when it comes to the one-day races that the likes of Eddie Merckx won for fun in his day, and which made Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen household names in the sport. Thwaites had five top-20 finishes in the 2016 Classics with his most creditable result being a run to 20th in the Tour of Flanders after recovering from a puncture.
“I had a good season and showed good consistency,” he said. “It was a big year for making that step up into fighting for the splits in the Classics, and challenging for places in the top 20 in the big ones, like Flanders.
“It would have been nice to have won something, I’m still missing that victory at pro level.
“But I’ve found my feet at world level now and I know where my specialities lie, so I’m fully focused on the Classics, and that’s where I want to go in the future.
“The big Classics; Flanders, Roubaix, they’re massive races with such history. To win one of those... well, your name is remembered forever. I’m working my way towards it. I’ve got a few years left and, hopefully, in the future that’s something I can go for.”
So what is stopping he or any other British rider joining the likes of Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara or Alexander Kristoff in becoming regular winners of the Classics?
“It’s not a very British trait in cycling, but the roads are very similar to the roads over here so there’s no reason why not,” added Thwaites, who was speaking at the launch of the route for the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire, in which he hopes to make his debut next April.
“You look at the 2017 edition of the Tour de Yorkshire where there’s lots of cobbles, that’s similar to the Classics.
“It’s that grippy terrain and bad weather that you get over in this country. So the skills should be transferable.
“Over the last few years we’ve seen British riders do a lot better in the Classics with Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe, Ben Swift. So there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Hence the decision to link up with Cavendish at Dimension Data. “Cav’s a great guy, I get on really well with him,” continued Thwaites, who took great heart from his own achievement in completing a climb-heavy Vuelta Espana in August on his grand tour debut.
“He’s a very encouraging rider and shares his experiences and knowledge. To take in that knowledge from him will certainly help me in the future.
“He’s had a great year and that’s through his determination to achieve the things he still has left to conquer. It’s a very good team, the team works around him really well, and the atmosphere created by his wins has created a real feelgood factor.”