End of Season Prizes

Tom Boonen won the Flandrien prize for Belgian cyclist of the year, collecting the trophy from the Belgian Prime Minister. The annual award has been split in recent times give domestic prize and an international one, this time scooped by Bradley Wiggins.

If you want to understand how big cycling is in Belgium then note Boonen collected the award from bow-tie toting Elio di Rupo. There are not many awards dinners in the world where the head of government dishes out the prizes. Nor awards where a country’s top politician finds it worthwhile to be seen handing out the prize.

These awards are subjective but for me, often illustrate the best riders of the season better than the arithmetic of a points-based ranking system.

Rabobank’s Liesbet De Vocht won the Flandrienne prize for best woman. There were awards for beginners, juniors and amateurs respectively with Jasper Stuyven taking the latter.

Flandrien is an elusive word to translate concisely, it refers to someone who comes from West Flanders but also evokes a hardman cyclist, the kind who damages cobbles when he rides over them and makes the wind cross. The original Flandrien rider was Alberic “Briek” Schotte, also known as “Iron Briek”.

Schotte died on the day of the Tour of Flanders in 2004, “his” race and is not forgotten as a giant mural in the village of Desselgem displays his image, you’ll often see it on TV in April. But he’s also the first winner of the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo, a season-long competition to identify the world’s best rider that started in 1948. The Desgrange-Colombo prize was created by L’Equipe and La Gazzetta Dello Sport and also saw Het Nieuwsblad and Les Sports take part, an international jury from the cycling press coming together to award the prize. This internationalism lives on today with the Vélo d’Or prize awarded by France’s Vélo Magazine after it polls cyclesport journalists from around the world. I gather Bradley Wiggins will win the 2012 title.

Wiggins Tour de France

For me these awards are superior to rankings based on points-scoring. Cycling is often about quality rather than quantity and the arithmetic of points doesn’t always capture the success of a rider, instead they typically reward consistency.

Joaquim Rodriguez is certainly one of the world’s best riders but if he tops the 2012 UCI World Tour rankings, his 2012 season will also probably be remembered for losing his grasp on two grand tours and a consolatory ride in Il Lombardia. Subjective analysis like a jury vote or a reader poll probably wouldn’t pick Rodriguez as the best of 2012… although he’d come close. Still, it’s a matter if nuance, it’s not as if Rodriguez has been invisibly taking points on a stealth raid.

Wins vs Awards
These awards are a nice distraction. When a rider presses on the pedal in training or racing there is no thought of an end of season awards ceremony. There’s probably no thought of the trophy on the podium in a race either but I’m pretty sure Tom Boonen prefers his double Paris-Roubaix and Flanders trophies from this year and that Rodriquez would halve his UCI points haul in return for the Giro’s Trofeo Senza Fine.

Note these end of season awards are being given out before the UCI’s World Tour has even finished, suggesting that someone could win every single stage of the Tour of Beijing and take the overall with an hour’s advantage but it makes no difference. Either way André Greipel looks set to end the year with the most wins as he’s got 19 victories. Here’s the ranking from Cycling Quotient:

1 GREIPEL Andre 19
2 SAGAN Peter 16
5 RICHEZE ARAQUISTAIN Ariel Maximiliano 13
6 BOONEN Tom 13
7 KITTEL Marcel 12
9 WIGGINS Bradley 12

It feels like the end of the season as the leaves start to fall and riders pick up awards. Tom Boonen had the best spring classics campaign and rightly wins the award as best Belgian, Gilbert’s late season charge wasn’t enough. Is Wiggins the best rider of 2012? With Paris-Nice, Romandie, the Dauphiné, Tour de France and Olympic gold I think it’s hard to see anyone else winning the Vélo d’Or prize.

Yet these awards are subjective, debate is always open. The awards are great to win but only because someone has had a brilliant season in the first place. Yet for those who don’t follow all the races, knowing Boonen is the best rider in Belgium is helpful for public and media alike, a handy label. They’re also valuable for those who promote them, for example Philippe Gilbert probably lent publicity to Vélo Magazine and last night’s Flandrien awards on Belgian TV drew in a good audience.

Either way we’re at the point where the 2012 season is drawing to a close. We start to look back, take stock and slowly project ourselves into 2013.

18 thoughts on “End of Season Prizes”

  1. End of season awards are for me, in English parlance, a good excuse for a piss up. Other than sports and events which require the accumulation of points through the season to crown an overall champion (chiefly motor sports and most team sports), sports have key events that are far more prestigious to win. Golf, the majors and the Ryder Cup… Tennis, the grand slams… Athletics, the olympics and world champs… even team sports show examples of this – e.g. Cricket, the Ashes are the be all and end all for any Englishman or Australian.

    Cycling wise, I’m pretty sure nearly every rider dreamt of pulling on the yellow jersey in Paris when they were growing up in the sport. Secondary to that dream, perhaps winning one of the other two GTs or the prestige of one of the monuments.

    Purito has had a great season, I’m a big fan, but topping the end of season rankings means virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. An award from the UCI, great, something else for his mantlepiece, but I’m pretty sure Hesjedal and Contador prefer their accolades for the GTs they beat him to.

    That said, the UCI rankings could be organised so much better. I think its commonly known that the points are more important to the teams, who effectively use them during their annual recruitment drive to preserve their existence, the current system doesn’t really distinguish the effort required to win a stage race over a one-day classic for me.

    Why not have separate rankings for each type of event? I’m pretty crap with coming up with names, but why not have a title for best stage racer of the season and another for the best one-day racer? Perhaps with a sponsored prize fund and silverware for each. Sure, the allure of the maillot jaune would still outweigh topping a ranking list (and this should never be the case for me), but it might give them a little more meaning and value.

    Given the current malaise at the top table of cycling though, this will (and probably should) be an afterthought though. It’s hardly any surprise that a ranking system organised by the UCI, should mean so little.

    • I should say, the winning of the maillot jaune should always be more important that winning any ranking scheme. Not sure I explained it clearly above!

    • I think you’re right to say the comparison of stage race winners and one day race winners is not realistic – The Road World cup was kinda nice in that it compared (mostly) apples with apples but even then it just ended up being the guy who could do best in cobbles AND hilly one day races. A look at the last few years would probably have seen Hausler win it in 2009 though, again for consistency rather than excellence.

      I think the only thing that could make stuff like this important is if someone threw a shitload of cash at it – which would inevitably lead to some kind of golf style “RACE TO DUBAI”

      • Good point about the golf style stuff. I looked into the Fed Ex Cup that they ‘play for’ in the States, a season long ranking system, which is effectively a seeding system for entry into the final few Playoff events. Then they end with the Tour Championship, and all the points you earned before are condensed greatly, so effectively anyone can win the final jackpot (which was $10m I think). Seems ridiculous to me, but then the amount of money in golf is ridiculous in itself. What cycling wouldn’t do for even 1% of the prize money in golf.

        Guy wins average PGA Tour event (not even a major) – gets $1,000,000+
        Guy wins three week long Tour de France – gets €450,000 (and has to share it with his team…)

        Apples and oranges and all that, but still, a different planet really.

        • My dad used to win lots playing golf, which we always appreciated at home! However, I always argued with him then, and still believe, that golf is not really a sport! More like active rest! And yet, they still have so much more money involved! Then again, their ‘code’ is more generally respected by the golfers than that in cycling (eg; omerta)!

    • Do you recognize the nonsense of your point? If you wanna crown the best stage racer the man that wear the Maillot Jaune for the most time in Giro and Vuelta would still be Purito and not the boring english time trialer…..just saying

      • I’m pretty sure winning the GC overall in any race is preferable to leading the race for days on end (and subsequently not winning the overall).

        So, no, I don’t recognise the ‘nonsense’ of my point. My point(s) are not aimed as a pro-Wiggins or anti-Rodriguez view, as your post seems to hint at. If anything, I like both Purito and the ‘boring english time trialer’.

        • I also like Purito and Wiggins…its not incompatible to like different riders’ styles. Why people have to always try to turn a point one makes into a ‘oh you’re only saying that because you’re a fan of XX’ – its very tedious

        • I see you don’t get it. You only know TdF and who’s the winner must be best racer of the year and get therefore an overall price for the year. Or what about the Vuelta an the Giro winner, what about riders who ended in more than one GT on ghe podioum? is that all rubbish compared to a shitty Tour?

  2. Hey! You stole my line regarding the “Schleck Sisters”! Which I stole from whomever, of course. Glad to see the first post regarding the dress code, any bets that Tornado Tom borrowed the sport coat at the venue? Or is that the style these days? Sigh…

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