It’s the end of a cycling year that will go down in the annals as a big one for the British, a bad one for the Americans, and with some great racing, albeit not as good as the preceding couple of years, under its belt. I’ve thus finally got around to collating the top ten riders of the year, and it’s a pretty good list – there is no room for Vuelta winner Alberto Contador, nor for world champion Phillipe Gilbert, nor even for BMC’s consistent classic supremo Alessandro Ballan. Sprinters, who are slowly being relegated away in cycling not only by every sprinters insitence that they are ‘not a sprinter’ but also by the trend for ‘exciting’ uphill finishes, which are essentially just sprints for the men who do the classics, only manage one place, and the rider who won the most races of the year, including three stages of the Tour, Andre Greipel, cannot force his way in. Most disappointingly, I couldn’t fit Vincenzo Nibali in. Ah well.
Feel free to disagree and pick this to shreds of course…
10. Ryder Hesjedal
Major results: 1st, Giro d’Italia
Despite riding for my least favourite team in the world, who, with their aim to promote clean cycling, will turn out a team in 2013 with a roster that comprises 17% convicted dopers, which could rise to 20% if Alex Rasmussen, who in fairness broke whereabouts rules, joins when his ban ends, Hesjedal was the great surprise of the year, again. I must admit I thought his 7th place in the 2010 Tour was a fluke, made to look better by his being allowed into various breakaways, including the famed Arenberg stage where he was caught a few kms from the finish, and I thought the same when he took pink at the Giro. But he suprised everyone by being exceptionally dogged, attacking his fellow riders instead of following wheels and clawing back pink by just 16 seconds in the final time trial. He then was caught out by the Metz Massacre having talked up the Giro-Tour double, but he already seems determined to win both in 2013.
9. Chris Froome
Major Results: 2nd, Tour de France + 1 stage, 4th Vuelta a Espana, 3rd, Olympic TT
If you’re British, you’ll have seen Sports Personality and the New years honours recently. Just like Jason Kenny, Chris Froome was one of the unfortunates who didn’t even get in the lists of people who ‘should’ have been nominated but weren’t by the various media outlets, and in the face of his, ahem, best buddy Bradley’s success, Froome has somewhat disapeared under the radar spare the occasional barbed comment about leadership with Wiggins. Indeed, at Sports Personality, we saw his face but once, in a stony faced expression at Wiggins’ comments. Somehow, it has been forgotten that Froome was second in the Tour – second. He won a stage and was seemingly the strongest climber, although he has an odd tendency to yo-yo about the contenders. Bronze at the Olympics was again overshadowed by Wiggins’ gold, and when he did get his moment in the limelight, the Vuelta, he was clearly spent and after dropping Contador and co in the first week, fatigue caught up with him. Still, 4th in the Vuelta, beaten by three of the best stage races of a generation, is not easy feat. Expect to see him go mental next year.
8. Alejandro Valverde
Major results: 2nd, Tour down Under+stage, 3rd, Paris-Nice, Stage, Tour de France, 2nd, Vuelta a Espana + 2 stages
Boo, hiss, it’s that doper Valverde people may say. Well, we let him back in, just like we let Millar and co in, so tough luck unfortunately. Valverde gets eighth for another year long campaign of success, starting in January where he would have won the Tour down Under if the rules where like they were at every other bike race in the world and rewarded wins, not consistency, and then he managed to hold that form till September’s Vuelta. He was strangely absent from the Ardenne classics where he usually does so well, but when he won a Tour stage, it looked less relevant.
7. Mark Cavendish
Major results: 3 stages, Tour de France, 3 stages, Giro d’Italia, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
It says alot about Mark Cavendish when its seen as disappointing when he wins ‘only’ three stages of the Tour de France. ‘Only’?! Robbie McEwen used to win three in his hey day and that was seen as exceptional. It really shows how exceptional it is that Cavendish can win 6 grand Tour stages in a year and still be seen as have had having a poor year. True, he did miss his three main targets: Milan San-Remo, the Green jersey and the Olympics, but San-Remo was an off day, the Green jersey it seems was a carrot to get him to come to Sky rather then a realistic prospect, and the Olympic campaign suffered from the fact GB had published their strategy so well at the Copenhagen worlds. So Cavendish’s achievements as World Champion should not be looked down on – he’s the most successful champ since Tom Boonen, and now he’s hooking up with him at OPQS for some green jersey revenge.
6. Sven Nys
Major results: 3 World cup races (Koksidje, Roubaix, Heusden-Zolder), 4 Superprestige races (Ruddervoode, Zonhoven, Hamme-Zogge, Gavere), 2 BPost trophy races (Oudenaarde, Hasselt)
In the world of the knobbly tyres, the ‘Kannibaal’ has rained supreme, winning races with ease and destroying the field with his last lap surges. He has lost that sheen in the last couple of races, but moments like his gritty win over Albert at Oudenaarde and his dismounting to chase down the ‘beer flinger’ the other day helped encapsulate his legend. We only have another year of Nys left before he retires, so we should savour him all the more.
5. Marianne Vos
Major Results: World and Olympic Road Race champion, Cyclocr0ss world champion, 1st, Giro d’Italia Femenine + 5 stages
Yes, it’s riders of the year, not men of the year. If any man had achieved what Vos had managed, they would be exhalted as a new Merckx. For women, she is simply the First Vos – finally taking the Olympic crown, she is World champion across road, cyclo cross and track disciplines and wins a good third of all the races she enters. She is simply superb, and was even so good they talked of her racing in events against men. If only women’s racing, which on the shorter courses is generally more interesting, was on TV more…
4. Peter Sagan
Major results: 4th, Milan San-Remo, 2nd Ghent-Whevelghem, 5th, Tour of Flanders, 3rd, Amstel Gold Race, 5 stages, Tour of California, 4 stages, Tour de Suisse, 3 stages and Green jersey, Tour de France
The Terminator’s great ability showed in his myriad of classics results, with top 5s across classics as diverse as Milan San-Remo, Amstel Gold and the Tour of Flanders. He then got his engine firing and won every race he could, including most of the Tours of California and Switzerland before lighting up the Tour with his celebrations. Still so young, Sagan will surely aim at classics now before perhaps a tilt at Yellow in Paris. Many have been talked up with such great expectations (see messrs Boonen, Boassen Hagen…) but Sagan could really be the one to do it.
3. Tom Boonen
Major results: 1st, Tour of Qatar+2 stages, stage, Paris-Nice, 2nd, Omloop Het Niewsblad, 1st, E3 Vlaanderen, 1st, Ghent-Whevelghem, 1st, Tour of Flanders, 1st, Paris-Roubaix, 1st, Belgian national championships, 1st, World Ports Classic+1stage.
Boonen is the rider who got me into cycling properly, and it’s for seasons like this – he simply obliterated the opposition in the cobbled classics, and (mostly) regained he sprint mojo. Sure, Cancellara wasn’t there, but Boonen did his best impression of him when, after gaining all the pressure after winning Flanders, he rode off into the distance with 50km to go and despite concerns about it being just too far, managed to still be increasing his lead by the end of the race. A year of records it turned out to be – he is now the most successful cobbled classics rider in history, with 7, and the joint records in both cobbled monuments, and took yet another Tour of Qatar. The only problem now is of course how to follow such an amazing year. One win in Flanders or Roubaix would probably suffice, given it would elevate him to the pinnacle in those races.
2. Joaquim Rodriguez
Major results: 1sts, Fleche Wallone, 2nd, Giro d’Italia + 2 stages, 3rd, Vuelta a Espana + 3 stages, 23 days in Giro and Vuelta leaders jerseys, 1st, Giro d’Lombardia
Normally, I would have made Rodriguez number one for the range of successes he had. 2012 was essentially his career made in a microcosm – he took his first classic, Fleche Wallone, his first Grand Tour podiums, which where cruelly snatched from him in two scenarios, once on the final day and once by the most gifted rider of the decade, and then he won his first Monument, as well as the WorldTour, not that that has much prestige. Add to that 5 grand Tour stage wins and a staggering amount of time in leaders jerseys totaling over three weeks, and it becomes clear that Rodriguez had an incredible year. However, with Katusha not given a WorldTour license for 2013, it seems that ’13 will be unlucky for Purito unless CAS or another team can rescue him.
1. Bradley Wiggins
Major results:1st, Paris-Nice+stage, 1st, Tour of Romandie+2 stages, 1st, Criterium du Dauphine+stage, 1st, Tour de France +2 stages, 1st, Olympic Games TT
I still haven’t warmed to Wiggins, but there isn’t much more that can be written about his Stellar year. The only races he didn’t win that he entered are the Volta a Algarve (3rd), the Volta a Catalyuna (everyone abandoned in the snow), the Olympic Road Race, the Tour of Britain and the Worlds – everything else, he won. Whilst Rodriguez had a more diverse, entertaining year, Wiggins was the most successful bar Boonen in their field, and given the Tour’s precidence and the way he did it, the credit goes to Wiggins – rider of the year.