The 22-year-old Ineos Grenadiers rider finished second at the week-long stage race
Prior to the summer, you would be forgiven for thinking British cycling was in a period of transition.
On the road, it was only the second year since 2011 that a British rider had not won either the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France, while on the track the USA, Denmark and Italy seemed to be closing the gap on Team GB after more than a decade of playing catch up.
But look a little more forensically at the flurry of riders coming through and it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a swarm of UK-based talent would announce themselves on the world stage over the next few months – the latest of which has come in the form of Ethan Hayter.
It began with Ineos Grenadiers rider Tom Pidcock’s performances in the Classics. The supremely diverse cyclo-cross rider followed up several top ten finishes with a standout win at Brabantsje Pijl.
He then picked up a second place at the Amstel Gold Race behind superstar Wout van Aert, who he had outsprinted four days earlier in Belgium. He lost out in a photo finish, but the then 21-year-old’s place among the best in the peloton had been firmly established.
Less than four months later, Pidcock showcased his quite remarkable ability to excel at not just cyclo-cross or road cycling, but also mountain biking.
The Leeds-born youngster battled rolling rocks, ridges and a relentless Swiss duo to take gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games, a performance which came just six weeks after a car crashed into him and broke his collarbone.
Ten days later, another British talent joined Pidcock’s private gold medal party as Matt Walls, 23, utterly dominated an experienced field to triumph in the omnium at the Tokyo Games.
The 23-year-old from Oldham looked every inch an Olympic champion, swatting aside seasoned operators such as Elia Viviani and Roger Kluge as if they were schoolboy novices.
Not content with taking one medal back from Japan, two days later Walls went in the madison alongside teammate and housemate Ethan Hayter. Among a field littered with star quality, the inexperienced pair came away with a brilliant silver medal.
That was just six weeks ago and yet it was the first in a series of statement performances from Hayter which culminated in his second place overall at the Tour of Britain this past week.
Less than a fortnight after the Olympics, 22-year-old Hayter claimed two stages and topped the general classification at the Tour of Norway.
A four-day race where Walls also took a stage win, it meant their three-man household in Manchester – which also contains Bahrain-Victorious’ rising star Fred Wright – helped themselves to 75 per cent of the victories on offer at the race.
The following week Hayter then claimed a solid fourth place at the Bretagne Classic.
And his impressive form was there for everyone to see at the Tour of Britain as the eight-day stage race got underway in Penzance. Hayter finished fourth behind Van Aert in the opening stage and then led the bunch home for second place the following day.
He then helped his Ineos outfit to win the team time trial, before showing his strength going uphill on stage four. Hayter stayed within touching distance of Van Aert and world champion Julian Alaphilippe to finish fifth on the climb up the Welsh headland of Great Ormeandkeep his general classification hopes alive.
The Brit then took full advantage of a crash near the front of the peloton on Thursday, capitalising on the absence of Van Aert from the front of the race. He powered his way to the line and raised his hands aloft, taking the stage win and outsprinting a poorly positioned Mark Cavendish in the process.
Another second place followed on Friday as he held onto the leader’s jersey despite a third win for Van Aert. But the Belgian sensation proved to have just a little to much on the final day, pipping Hayter to the overall victory by just six seconds.
Speaking to ITV4 after the final stage, the Olympic silver medallist said: “A bit disappointed to lose on the last day. But I can be very happy with this week with winning the team time trial, the stage in Manchester and second overall is pretty good.
“He (Van Aert) has won four stages, so fair enough he wins the general classification to be honest.”
It is a testament to how far Hayter has come in only his second season with Ineos that a stage victory and second overall at the Tour of Britain can elicit words like ‘disappointed’.
All in all, he has won eight races this year – two at Vuelta a Andalucía, one at Coppi e Bartali, one at the Volta ao Algarve and two apiece in the Tours of Norway and Britain. That’s more race victories than any other World Tour rider under 23 years of age, excluding Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar.
The fact that these superb few months for Hayter have come around the Olympics – a time when every sporting achievement is scrambling for column inches – means it has gone somewhat under the radar.
But it is important to stress that this is a rider who can go as far as he wants to in the sport.
With the world championships in less than two weeks time, both he and Pidcock will be hoping to cap breakout seasons with stellar displays in Flanders.
Pidcock. Walls. Hayter. Wright. This British quartet are all yet to experience their 24th birthdays, but they are well and truly competing with the best.