As we all know, one day you can feel incredible on a bicycle, the next, abysmal. A cyclist’s career can be made by a run of great days, which is why the phrase annus mirrabilis is quite frequently used – riders have great years. The problem is that they also have bad years, and so can appear to be almost two different riders when they are seen together – take for instance Phillipe Gilbert in 2011 followed by his dire 2012. Thinking about it, all the the best riders have all been very consistent but they’ve all had one ‘Vintage year’…
Fabian Cancellara – 2010
1st, E3 Harelbeke, 1st, Tour of Flanders, 1st, Paris-Roubaix, Tour de France Prologue and Stage 19, , World Time Trial Champion.
Cancellara is perhaps the trickiest man to do this for, as he’s simply so good. We could say his 2011 was brilliant – on the podium in all the pre-Ardenne Monuments, or that 2008, where he won Milan San Remo, Olympic Gold, Tirreno Adriatico and the Tour de Suisse. But in the end, it has to go to 2010. This was the year Cancellara was so good he was accused of having a motor in his bike, as he simply tore away from Tom Boonen, whom was symbolically clad in the Belgian national champions jersey, at Flanders to win,before repeating the trick 50km out at Roubaix the next week. It was his first cobbled double, in the Swiss National Champions jersey, and he followed it up with the yellow jersey and two stage wins at the the Tour and the 4th of his World Time trial championship jerseys. Cancellara in 2010 was simply at the height of his powers, world and olympic TT champ, winning alone and with consumate ease.
Tom Boonen – 2005
1st, E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, 1st, Tour of Flanders, 1st, Paris-Roubaix, 1st, Tour of Belgium, Tour de France, stages 2 & 3, World Road Race Champion.
Not 2012 you cry? Sure, 2012 was arguably a better year in terms of what he won, and certainly would have been the ‘vintage’ if he’d won the Worlds as well, but 2005 was spectacular not just because of what Boonen won but how he won it. He was simply unstoppable, doing the cobbled classics double before heading off to win two stages of the Tour, before retiring hurt whilst in the green jersey having been chased down by messyrs McEwen and co. Capping it off with the Worlds in Madrid showed he had held an astonishingly high level throughout the year, and set up another very good year in 2006 as World Champion
Phillipe Gilbert – 2011
1st, Uci World Tour, 1st Liege-Bastonge-Liege, 1st, Amstel Gold, 1st, Fleche Wallone, 1st, Brabanste Pijl, 1st, Classica San Sebastian, National Road and TT Champion, Tour de France Stage one
How Gilbert must wish he could but only summon the dregs of the astounding form he held in 2011, where he dominated from April onwards by becoming the first man after Davide Rebellin to win all the Ardenne Classics in a week, before winning the first stage of the Tour and so on. He couldn’t hold his form all the way to Lombardy, and the Worlds didn’t really suit him that year, but on anything that featured an uphill finish, Gilbert was simply impossible to defeat.
Mark Cavendish – 2009
1st, Milan San Remo, Giro d’Italia stages 9, 11 & 13, Tour de France stages 2, 3, 10, 11, 19 & 21,Stages at Tour de Suisse, Tirreno Adriatico, Tour of California, Tour of Missouri, Tour of Ireland…
There is perhaps an argument that 2011, when he finally won Green at the Tour and the World champions jersey, was Cav’s greatest year, but 2009 was the year where he was the most dominant. These days, he wins, but the sprints are closer – in 2009, the fresh young Cav simply destroyed everyone and had the time for some inventive victory celebrations at the Tour. He won a stage at every single race he entered, plus he won the ‘sprint of the century’ into San Remo to nail a classic at the first attempt and cement his legend. Add the first victory on the Champs-Elysees after a dominant Tour performance and 2009 was by far and a way Cavendish’s best year.
Lance Armstrong – 2004
1st, Tour de France + Stages 13, 15, 16, 17 & 19, 1st, Tour de Georgia
Armstrong was never more dominant then in 2004, when he rattled off an almost unheard of three mountain stages in a row, including a time trial win at Alpe d’Huez and hauling back Andreas Kloden to pip him on the line. It was a glorious, imperial performance to break the record – soured somewhat by later revelations of course – but still impressive to anyone who enjoys the spectacle of a man at the height of his powers.
Alberto Contador – 2007
1st, Tour de France and stage 14, 1st, Paris-Nice & stages 4 & 7, 1st Vuelta a Castilla y leon
Contador won the double in 2008 with the Giro and the Vuelta, but since his first Grand Tour win, often mistakenly attributed as his debut with comments such as ‘he’s never lost a Grand Tour he’s started’ – he was 30th in the 2005 Tour – he has mellowed a little and calculates more instead of just attacking for the hell of it as he did in 2007. Such gusto won him Paris-Nice on the final day of the race, and ensured he kept with Michael Rasmussen and Levi Leipheimer, both fuelled on drugs, to win his maiden Grand Tour. He had the awesome final Discovery kit on as well, which was a damn site better then the Astana baby-glo to follow.
Alejandro Valverde – 2006
1st, Liege Bastonge Liege, 1st Fleche Wallone, 2nd, Vuelta a Espana, 3rd Worlds Road Race, 3rd Tour of Romandie.
There was once a time when Alejandro Valverde was going to dominate cycling for years.That is perhaps what was exciting about his 2006 year – it was the potential, not the achieved, that excitied about Valverde. This was a man who had climbed with Armstrong the year before, could fearture in bunch sprints and was now beating people up hills to win classics. Valverde, not Gilbert or Rodriguez, used to be the uphill sprint King, and 2006 was the year he cemented that reputation.
Andy Schleck – 2009
1st, Liege Bastonge Liege, 2nd Tour de France, 2nd Fleche Wallone
Schleck has been around forever it seems, but 2009 was the year he first gave signs, now wilting away somewhat, that he would break the duck of second place finishes in Grand Tours (he’s now on four of those if we count original results). Winning Liege was a big boost, even if he was trounced by Contador at the Tour, but 2009 is simply the year Schleck looked like the champion he should be the most.
Cadel Evans – 2011
1st, Tour de France & stage 4, 1st, Tirreno-Adriatico, 1st, Tour de Romandie
Before 2011, Evans had finished 8th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 30th and 26th in the Tour de France. In other words, it looked as though his time was up and his best years were behind him. He’d been World Champion, but even that had brought him bad luck with a broken elbow in 2010. But in the second year of his BMC contract, Evans gobbled up races and was unshakeable in the Tour. Whilst he wasn’t the most aggressive or exciting rider, he was by far the most calculating and took time whenever it was possible, seizing the jersey for the only day that mattered – the last one.