Sporting Cyclist wins BBC Unsung Hero award for Cumbria and North East
Race organiser and coach goes to Sunday's final, where Cav will also be vying for SPOTY award
Mark Cavendish will be in the spotlight this weekend when the phone lines open on Sunday evening for voting for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, but a lesser-known cyclist from Newcastle has already beaten him to a prize after being named BBC North East and Cumbria's Unsung Sporting Hero for 2010.
Willy Thompson, from Westerhope in Newcastle, had his name put forward for the regional award by his friend Chris Bush as a result of his involvement in cycling events in the North East of England, including organising races and training amateur riders. The regional award means that he will be one of the candidates for the national title, also announced on Sunday’s programme.
"Without Willy there would be no grass roots road racing in the North East," Chris told BBC Newcastle.
Willy, however, who has been involved in cycling in the region since 1968, his interest sparked by a brother who rode on the track, claimed that the award wasn’t just for himself, saying: "It's an honour for me to receive this award and it's for all of the cyclists in the North East."
He continued: "I never missed a track meeting, in them days there wasn't so much road racing and my brother was a track man and I've just followed on from there.
"I've ridden loads of races myself, not that I was any good like, but I've just kept it on, and the way I keep in contact with the lads is to put races on.
"[I've organised] 55 races this year with one cancellation this year with really extreme weather."
Explaining why he nominated his friend, Chris said: "At grass roots level and 'come and have a go' level, especially for grown ups, Willy has been the one who has kept that going and without him we wouldn't have been able to do it, simple as that."
"That's how important he is to the sport, he has kept the sport alive, without a doubt.
"It's not just the number of races he puts on, he takes us out training and he's taken lads away training in France.
"Even if you're out for a nice Sunday bike ride, he'll try and talk you into riding a race. He wants everybody to get stuck in and have a go.
"He does help elite and pro riders as well, but he's all about getting people into the sport and giving people a chance to get started."
BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010 will be broadcast on Sunday evening at 7pm.
Cavendish, who put early season illness and injury behind him to win five stages of the Tour de France and the green points jersey in the Vuelta, will be vying for the top prize alongside diver Tom Daley, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, boxer David Haye, Grand National winner AP McCoy, golfers Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, cricketer Graeme Swann, darts legend Phil “The Power” Taylor, Lee Westwood, and Olympic skeleton gold medallist Amy Williams.
Although his obvious self-confidence and often brusque post-race demeanour has alienated some cycling fans in the past, Cavendish has won many over this year by revealing a more reflective side to his personality as well as consistently underlining the role his team-mates have played in his success.
At the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October, which he was determined to compete in alongside amateur riders from his native Isle of Man, Cavendish, who took part in the road race, won plaudits for staying on as an unpaid helper, including driving the team car behind Andrew Roche, who finished 12th in the time trial.