Five of the best

Vélo d'OrPast Vélo d’Or winner Alberto Contador

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. Mark Cavendish: world champion and the green jersey in the same year, plus stage wins and more. There’s not much more to say.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

18 thoughts on “Five of the best”

  1. I wouldn’t argue with any of your list members but I’d add Vincenzo Nibali over Michele Scarponi as the Italian on your list. Forced to skip LeTour, which was more suited to him, by Basso’s feeble attempt, he fought hard in a Giro that was simply too mountainous for him. It seems the weight of Italy is upon him now as their big hope, but he bears the strain well with no complaints. His attack at the Lombardia, although fruitless in the end, at least was an ATTACK in a year when so many races were raced not to lose rather than to win.

  2. For what its worth
    5) Mauricio Soler – For fighting his way to recovery
    4) Vasili Kiryienka – For putting in a heroic (if doomed) showing in every race he was in this year.
    3) Chris Froom – For riding as domestic while holding onto a leaders jersey that he should have been allowed defend.
    2) Cadel Evans – For winning with dignity and no clouds over his head
    1) Wouter Weylandt – For humbling us all

  3. Funny to see that 3 out of the 5 above nominations are each the undisputed kings of their own specialties:
    sprints: Cavendish
    classics: Gilbert
    Grand Tours: Contador
    And as such they will undoubtedly enter the ranking the next years, too. The same may apply to Martin, who seems to have usurped the ITT-kingdom of Cancellara.
    So maybe Evans is the real winner here, proably because this has been a one-off. Next year, when Contador will skip the Giro, the Spaniard will again show he’s the undisputed king of the Grand Tours again, by winning the Tour de France.

  4. Nothing to add, to this list. I also think Marcel Kittel could have a mention below that list. When has a neo-pro that was more or less a time-trialist on U23 level won 17 races in his debut season, including a Vuelta victory and wins on world tour level in poland.
    I’m really impressed what Sagan is doing in his young years a really great allround type of rider.

  5. Hoogerland certainly worth a mention. In that vein, of TdF heroics, Jérémy Roy was a magnificent gladiator and Thor showed that class is permanent by turning around a ‘typical’ World Champs season by redeeming himself with some excellent stage wins (Stage 13 again a Tour highlight stage this year for mine).

  6. I had written Thor off before the tour this year but my god – he did the stripes a real justice. I’d add boasson-hagen to the list, and Jeremy Roy. Anyone who can make me cheer for a Frenchman is worthy of admiration.

  7. Agree with your selections bar one, and would substitute it for someone who doesn’t get the coverage for winning races but is arguably the King of the Domestiques: Stuart O’Grady. It is easy to become dazzled by the big names and they deserve their place on stage, however if you are after someone who best represents what the sport is all about than you cannot look past the good sportsmanship and true heart of Stuey. I would substitute him for Contador without question, but understand the award selection doesn’t work that way.

    In relation to your Gilbert question: Can you name a moment when he made a tactical mistake this year? One could indeed make a case in the Grand Prix Cyclist de Montreal, where he came third, but then one would have to admit that getting on the 3rd step of the podium after experiencing a mechanical failure and a crash in the race, was hardly a fitting result and therefore a valid argument to oppose your question. I think Greg Van Avermaet showed glimpses of coming out of his countryman’s shadow very late in the season, but what an imposing shadow that is which Gilbert has cultivated for himself in the sport of professional cycling. On the voting criteria, he is the winner hands down, very impressive!

    Daniel Moszkowicz (TKofC)

  8. Gilbert’s winning Classics run with Brabantse, Amstel, Fleche, Liege.
    4 dominating performances in 10 days gives him hero status.
    Everything else was just icing.

    I do not expect him to win as much next year.
    But he’ll win big at Flanders, which is what really matters.

  9. Not deserving of the top 5 in my opinion, but France’s next great hope Pierre Rolland for his win atop Alpe d’Huez after defending Voeckler’s jersey seems worth a mention…

  10. I understand it is very difficult to list someone used to winning but who fell short this year but, especially across the Spring, Cancellara was magnificent even when beaten. Remember E3? That was a ridiculous demonstration of power. Then he really should have won both Flanders and P-R but for virtually the entire peloton conspiring against him. Nearly forgot to mention his podiums in MSR and (nearly) the Worlds (in the road race, against sprinters). It is a measure of how much we expect from him that this might be classified as a disappointing year!

    PS. Agree on Froome. Stage 17 against Cobo was one of my highlight races of the season.

  11. Cancellara is a spent force imo, watching him in the Champs TT was just embarassing, struggling with his bike like that when knowing he was out of it — and if T. Martin is in the same race one would think he will never measure up to the new consistent kid on the block. He may rebrand his style of riding, certainly has the talent, but many question marks exist that he can do so successfully, and in the TT he’s toast.

    Daniel Moszkowicz (TKofC)

  12. Gilbert certainly impressed this year! Froome lit up the Vuelta! Martin gr8 as domestique and TT Specialist! Cancellara cannot beat the peloton without the support of his team, so think team should be blamed, not the rest of the peloton! Kittel impressed! Cadel’s time trail at the TDF was awesome – could not sit down for his mach3 flight! Entire Brit team for delivering Cav a rainbow jersey! Contador’s mastery of the Italian landscape!

    Ultimately see 2011 as the year when domestiques and far-outside fav’s ignited races and won!!!

  13. Brings back some good memories…
    In answer to the “Can you name a moment when [Gilbert] made a tactical mistake this year?” question I’d say expending energy chasing down his teammate, Van den Broeck, on the run in to stage 4 of the TdF then finishing down in 5th qualifies. Having said that he can be forgiven for being over excited on his birthday, especially given the rest of the season he’s had! Other than the TdF (granted he still held jerseys thanks to winning the opening stage but expectation was through the roof as a result of his dominance), where I had him down for 2+ stages given the puncheur friendly route, his season was trully remarkable.

  14. Tactical mistakes by Gilbert? Perhaps his attack on the way to Luz-Ardiden… But this was not a mistake, just sheer competitive madness, wanting to send the race out of control, which is what we love. But there was one mistake indeed: not attacking in the Worlds, right after Wiggins pulled aside, and a couple of hesitating Aussies were left leading with Freire behind them. It was the moment of doubt and Gilbert and Cancellara should have jumped out then. Maybe they didn’t feel it like that, maybe were not in the right position at the right time. But the fact is that there was a window of opportunity for a punching victory, and puncher number 1 wasn’t there.

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