Every rider out there must be doing some sort of summary of his achievements. People have different memories, some remember every detail for ages, some forget their last race as soon as they see the checkered flag. Averages, statistics, results, numbers. It never really matters. At the end of the day if you’re happy with yourself, nothing else matters. If you analyze things too much, you might end up winding yourself up and eventually lose the pleasure from achieving. From the other hand it is nice to remind yourself all those good memories and revive them a little.
Cycle speedway is our sport, and I mean it. Nobody out there produces any rankings or stats. Nobody knows who’s the best rider. There is many things you would consider before actually tagging somebody with “the best ever” label. There is a limited number of riders achieving everything they could in their racing career. Not many of them, but there are considered to be ultimate heroes in our eyes. I thought it would be nice to actually have a better look into the years and check the result books to have a look what makes you “the best”.
If you talk about titles and trophies, nobody can match Mr DAVID HEMSLEY. I will only talk about the World scene in this chapter. It is closer to my heart and in my eyes, World Championship is the heart of CS. David appeared in his first World Final in 1991 and… won it. Two years after he finished 2nd at Findon. Disappointingly next Final, at his home track in Leicester he finished a distant 8th. He then had a five year break from the competition only to come back in 2001 and claim his second shirt at Salisbury. Year after he went to achieve, what only one rider before him managed, which is to defend his crown. I wouldn’t be myself if I wouldn’t mention the circumstances and the three man run off in which I was heavily involved. At the end of his very best (although Dave considered himself, passed his best that time) he finished second in 2005 at Salisbury in his last World Final.
Appearances: 6. Medals: 5. Wins: 3 (record), two silvers.
Next in line would be Mr DANIEL PUDNEY. It is quite unbelievable for a rider at his age, but Dan’s first appearance was in 2001 at Findon. He scored a credible 13 points and finished 8th. Next final was his first outside of Austraila, in a tough field Pudney got 8 points and second from bottom spot. Next final was in his native Australia, that was also my first tour. Dan was near untouchable and won the final with 19 points with my good pal Karol Szymanski beating him in his second ride on the trot by about a tyre width. Two years later Dan finished 8th at Czestochowa, with a very unlucky performance. Many saw him as the winner of that final, with a harsh tapes exclusion, he finished on 12 points. Next time round, the tour came to OZ in 2009, the field was much more competitive. There was no Hemsley, but another titan of the track, Marcin Szymanski was at his first appearance “Down Under”. He was the defending champ and looked very threatening indeed. Luckily for Dan there was a bit of hidden agenda behind the scenes and Marcin exploded in his last ride of a patchy performance, with two falls he only managed 13 points, still only three off Dan’s winning tally. Second title and ready to retire? Fortunately not. Dan matched his 16 points in his next final at Edenton, USA but it only gave him a run off spot for the 3rd place.
Appearances: 6. Medals: 3. Wins: 2, one third.
The man who defended his World title the first was none other than Mr MARK NEWEY. A huge inspiration to me in my years at Leicester. Mark, just like David, won in his debut in 1996 at his future home track, Leicester. He went on to defend it at Salisbury a year later with a solid 19 points. He also featured in the first final staged in Poland, at Rawicz in 1999 finishing joint 4th with 13. His last outing was Bury, 2003 with 11 points and 10th place.
Appearances: 4. Medals: 2. Wins: 2.
It has to be my turn now. In my five World Finals i have never scored lower than 15 points. It also goes with the Europeans too. Four of those finals required a run off, either for second place (2009) or first (2003,2007,2011). I was never lower than fourth overall. In my debut in 2003 I had a run off with Hemsley and Aris, we all know how that ended up… in tears :) Still 16 points and third, not too bad at 23. First Oz tour was a shambolic 4th. I thought I was better than that. I wasn’t in best shape, Australia broke my strong will. 2007 was perhaps, or should be my best year. I was at my very peak, but was struggling with reoccurring headaches. About three months of absolute agony and tonnes of painkillers. 5 man run off and an outside grid with Mr Szymanski. Enough said. My second tour to Australia was a bit more to my expectations. That final must have been the closest I have ever ridden in. Even though the previous one needed three run offs to get the winner, but the ’09 Findon final was a classic. Point behind Pudney got me a run off with Cody for silver. Finally the first American tour finished my 10 year drought and my first win, again after a run off.
Appearances: 5. Medals: 3. Wins: 1
Last but not least is a very unlucky World Finalist. A record breaker in his own rights, Mr LEE ARIS. In the early noughties he was Britain’s best rider. When I first arrived to UK, Lee was a star of the biggest caliber. Riding for Wednesfield Aris first appeared in 1997 final in Austrailia and scored 9 points finished 12th. He then went on to feature in… 6 consecutive World Finals. Lee’s best shout for gold was that mentioned run off, where he was a winner prior to the stoppage, with a little over 1 lap to go. His silver was followed by another solid 3rd in 2005.
Appearances: 7. Medals: 2. Second, Third.
But is it just trophies that make you good? What about consistency? What about appearances? I bet not many out there knows who has the most appearances? What about total points scored? There is a little controversy to who is a record holder in appearances. Out right it’s Lee Aris with 7, but if counting reserve spot, who actually replaced injured rider and rode in more than one race, Mr Pete Young also has 7 with his last in 2005 as number 17, replacing Aaron Lowey who withdrew during the meeting. Steve Harris has an impressive 6 finals, with a win in ’99. Both Aris and Pudney hold record in 6 consecutive finals. There is another consistent rider out there, not mentioned. Only four appearances, but still a winner in ’93, came fourth in ’97, ’99 and ’01. It’s the first Aussie on the list, Tony Herd.
As for total points scored, unsurprisingly Dave Hemsley with 102 is ahead. It’s very close in next positions, with still active riders in the mix, it might get broken very soon. Lee Aris is next with 87, Dan Pudney 84 and I’m fourth with 80.
As you can see it’s not that clear to name it. With many things into consideration there is always going to be a bunch of riders about. Many big names don’t even get on the list. Astonishingly Marcin Szymanski only has 3 finals to his name, first appeared at Rawicz in ’99 on that small bike and famously won in ’07 and became the first Polish World Champion. This is just a look through the statistics. I know there is many more great riders who didn’t get a mention, but I’d have to make the list longer.
In the next chapter I will look into the World Cup and it’s most successful and most featured riders.
PS. I have been corrected as to number of finals achieved by Steve Harris. I have missed out his ’93 appearance. It makes 7 in total, level with Lee Aris and 91 points scored makes him second best. Perhaps I’ll stick to riding my bike??