With the pro road race season finished, now is the time to look back and reflect on the past season. I don’t want to spend winter doing endless retrospectives and lists of the best this and that. But hindsight does allow us the chance to review things.
Soon Vélo Magazine will publish the winner of the Vélo d’Or award (“golden bike). In football the Ballon d’Or prize is one of the most prestigious awards and this sister prize too must be one of the best awards in cycling. They ask cycling journalists around the world for their best five riders of the season and add up all the contributions to see who has come out on top. It is hard to pick five riders from a cast of thousands but for the fun of it I thought I’d see who I’d rate right now.
- Philippe Gilbert: for quality and quantity nobody does better. He’s topped every ranking measurement possible from the UCI, the IG Index and Cycling Quotient. Better still a lot of points come from winning, indeed he’s won races every month from February to September, October has been the only month he’s raced without a win. April was the peak with his late attack in the Tour of Flanders and then wins in the Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race and Liège – Bastogne – Liège. He made it look easy in the Tour de France, winning a stage and the yellow jersey and things reached a point where the media wanted answers if he didn’t win a race. He’s been insatiable and the attacking riding is often a joy to watch. Can you name a moment when he made a tactical mistake this year?
- Cadel Evans: he finally won the Tour de France after years of being the nearly man. For me the ride to the Galibier on Stage 18 was impressive. With Andy Schleck up the road Evans was forced to chase in a headwind and it meant towing rivals for some time. But it worked, he kept Schleck’s lead under control and then dispatched him in the time trial. But if that was one moment in a race, he spent months building to it with a lot of hard work and planning. Plus he’s been winning throughout the season, in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie.
- Mark Cavendish: world champion and the green jersey in the same year, plus stage wins and more. There’s not much more to say.
- Alberto Contador: efficiency was the word for 2011. He rode nine races this year and won the Vuelta a la Region de Murcia, Volta a Catalunya and Giro d’Italia. Second and third in the Spanish national championships, fourth in the Tour of Algarve and fifth in the Tour de France. If you exclude race stages his worst final result was 11th in the Flèche Wallonne. Sadly a lot of this has been overshadowed by his unresolved positive test where everyone seems to have conspired to drag this case out.
- Tony Martin: you could give him a small award just for the work he’s done to set up Mark Cavendish but it’s his time trialling that’s really impressed me, winning almost every race against the clock that he entered including taking the worlds by over a minute. Perhaps Cancellara had a off year but an in-form Spartacus would probably still find the German a handful. It’ll be interesting to see what Martin does with Quick Step next year because he can have good days in the mountains and you wonder how he’ll enjoy the classics.
I’ve said before I hate lists but thought this was worth a go. Other names worth adding are Thomas Voeckler for his all-season attacks and the exciting Tour de France, in fact I almost put him fifth equal. Bradley Wiggins impressed throughout the season as whilst some put all their eggs in the Tour basket, he took third in Paris-Nice and the Vuelta with a win in the Dauphiné too, impressive for a season that included a broken collarbone, no?
The Schleck brothers are a force but not dominant enough, like Samuel Sanchez though they are essential to liven up a stage race and Andy Schleck’s attack on Stage 18 of the Tour de France was a highlight of the season for me. Joaquin Rodriguez proved consistent but hasn’t won so much this year, the same for Michele Scarponi. Peter Sagan continues his progress but hasn’t landed a big win. And we can’t forget Hoogerland’s struggles in the Tour de France.