Young British stars to keep building their careers at Sky, but Russell Downing heads for exit door

Three of Great Britain’s top young road cycling talents, Ian Stannard, Peter Kennaugh and Ben Swift, have signed new contracts with Team Sky, which finished the 2011 season in second place in the UCI WorldTour ranking. However, one of the team's more seasoned British riders, Russell Downing, is now trying to secure a new team for 2012 with no new conract forthcoming.

The trio of younger riders, like Downing, all signed with the team when it was launched in the run-up to the 2010 season, with Swift’s capture from Katusha proving particularly controversial, but since then all three have continued to develop their careers and establish themselves in the team.

Stannard, aged 24 and from Chelmsford, Essex, took his first pro win this year at the Tour of Austria, and was a key member of the team that helped both Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins claim podium spots in the Vuelta.

He also played a leading role in the Great Britain team that supported future Team Sky rider Mark Cavendish’s successful world championship bid in Copenhagen last month, building on the experience he has acquired at Sky in forming part of the leadout train for Swift, Henderson and Davide Appollonio.

The rider, who joined Team Sky from Italian outfit ISD, impressed last year when he clinched third place amid atrocious conditions in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and this year had British fans gripped as he rode off the front of a breakaway group in Gent-Wevelgem, only to be caught with the line in sight. Fourth place earlier this month in Paris-Tours reinforces his classics pedigree, however.

“I’ve learned so much from my first two seasons with Team Sky and am excited about what the future holds now I have signed this new deal,” revealed Stannard.

"The Classics are where I want to specialise so I will be working hard to try and hit the ground running next spring. For the rest of next season I’m happy riding on the front and getting involved in the lead-outs, and if I can get in a few breakaways along the way then hopefully there could be some more victories to come.”

Kennaugh, aged 22, followed a pro debut season in which he merited a place in Sky’s Vuelta line-up with a podium place this year in the Route du Sud, and top five finish in the Tour of Poland. He also rode in the Giro d’Italia, the first grand tour he has completed, finishing in 87th place.

“I was really happy to turn professional with Team Sky and they have given me tremendous support over the last two years,” said the Manx rider. “The team is the ideal place for me to continue progressing as a rider and I am delighted to be extending my contract with them.

“Next year my focus will be on chasing more results on the road, probably in some of the more testing week-long races and of course the London Olympics. Looking beyond that my ambition is to race some of the hilly one-day races like the Ardennes Classics and continue to provide support in the mountain stages of Grand Tours as I did at the Giro d'Italia this year. These are really exciting times, and I am proud to be a part of one of the biggest teams in the world.”

Swift picked up five wins during 2011, including two in the season opener, the Tour Down Under and one in the Tour of California, where he also briefly wore the race leader’s jersey. His performances merited him a place in Team Sky’s Tour de France line-up, where his highest placing was on Stage 15, where he finished sixth.

“I’m delighted with the way things have gone over the last two years and am over the moon to have signed this new contract,” said the 23-year-old from Rotherham.

“The support the team have given me both on and off the bike has been absolutely fantastic and I just hope I can keep progressing now and win more bike races. We’re a really tight-knit group here and I’m really looking forward to seeing us push on and grow as a team.”

Team Principal Dave Brailsford commented: “Having nurtured them on Great Britain’s Olympic Academy Programme, we knew these guys had bright futures ahead of them, and they have all fulfilled that promise, and more.

“It has been great to watch them flourish at the very highest level of the sport and we are delighted that they have chosen to stay with the team. I have no doubt at all that these riders will go from strength-to-strength in the future and we will continue to give them all the support they need to fulfil their massive potential.”

Downing, who achieved Team Sky's first win by a British rider in its debut season, confirmed at the weekend that the team had let him go. The Yorkshireman, who like Swift hails from Rotherham, is now trying to secure a late deal with a WorldTour team, but has not ruled out a return to the Brtish domestic team if that proves unsuccessful.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.