YEARS of hard graft have propelled Russell Downing to a lucrative professional contact and into the big league of cycling.
The 31-year-old is one of the first riders to clinch a place on the new British professional cycling outfit Team Sky, created by the TV giant and managed by British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford CBE.
The deal means Ravenfield-based Downing will now get the chance to test himself against the very best in the world and move a little nearer to fulfilling his dream of riding in the legendary Tour de France.
It is also long-overdue recognition for one of the most dedicated and enduring figures on the British cycling scene in the last ten years.
Downing told the Advertiser: "It's an amazing deal. I've been racing really hard the last couple of years. I won the Tour of Ireland this year and I think that clinched it for me.
"It puts me in another league, there's no doubt about that. I've always wanted to ride at ProTour level and take part in the major races and it now looks like that will happen."
Downing is in action in the Tour of Britain this week.