Several hours in the air this weekend offered me a perfect opportunity to reflect on this year’s classics. Here’s a run-down of this spring’s award-winning performances.
Rider of the Spring:
How could we not give the Rider of the Spring award to Fabian Cancellara? Spartacus put on a display seldom seen, beating the best of the best to become only the second rider to win the E3 Prijs, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix in succession. What impressed me the most was the variety of Cancellara’s race-winning moves: a savvy last-minute attack before a tight corner to take the E3 Prijs; a powerful in-the-saddle surge on the Muur to take Flanders; and a potentially suicidal, solo breakaway almost 50 kilometers from the finish at Roubaix. It was an impressive set of wins from one of the world’s most talented riders—and now he’s off to California!
Runner-up: Philippe Gilbert
Team of the Spring:
Saxo Bank might be an obvious choice here, but after their domination of the major cobbled affairs, they fell short of expectations in the Ardennes. A better choice for a “team” award might be Astana, a squad who raced impressively throughout the entire spring to take wins in Paris-Nice, L’Eroica, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And while Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov garnered much of the press, Enrico Gasparotto, Maxim Iglinsky, and Andre Grivko quietly became three of the peloton’s most aggressive and dangerous riders, persistently finding their way into race-winning breakaways all spring. If their talented core remains intact for next season, more big wins should come.
Runner-Up: Saxo Bank
Race of the Spring:
The E3 Prijs Vlaanderen was our only opportunity this spring to see all of the cobbled classics’ top favorites battle head to head—albeit one week earlier than we had hoped. In this year’s edition of a race that usually turns-out to be a dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders, Cancellara, Tom Boonen, and Juan Antonio Flecha escaped on the Paterberg with about 40 kilometers left to race. Filippo Pozzato missed the move, but made a valiant late-race effort to bring back the 3 leaders, ultimately taking 4th on the day out of a select chase group containing Lars Boom, Bjorn Leukemans, and Sebastian Langeveld. Up front, Cancellara surprised his two breakaway companions, attacking just before the red kite—and a tight left-hander onto a narrow road. The small gap was all the World Time Trial Champion needed to begin his cobbled victory hat trick.
Attack of the Spring:
With 10 kilometers to go in this year’s Ghent-Wevelgem, 6 riders remained at the front. Most eyes were on Philippe Gilbert, George Hincapie, and Bernhard Eisel, while a little Belgian riding for Topsport Vlaanderen hung quietly at the back. Entering the narrow, winding streets of Wevelgem, Sep Vanmarcke decided he had waited long enough—he launched a surprising and powerful attack with 3 kilometers remaining. He quickly opened a workable gap before succumbing to leg cramps and the men he left behind. But Vanmarcke wasn’t finished. An after thought following his attack and capture, the plucky Belgian recovered and took advantage of a poorly organized sprint to take second place on the day, beating Gilbert, Hincapie, and Jurgen Roelandts in the process. For the 21-year-old neo-pro, it was the result of a lifetime, and possibly the sign of bigger things to come from a rider who won the amateur version of Ghent-Wevelgem a year earlier.
Runner-up: Cancellara’s Roubaix Glory Ride
The ????? Award:
Is it just me, or did Saxo Bank riders experience an inordinate number of mechanicals this spring? First Breschel in G-W, then Cancellara and Breschel in Flanders, then Cancellara in Roubaix, and one of the Schleck’s in Liege. While cameras do tend to follow the best teams and riders, catching everything that transpires over the course of the race, it seems as if Saxo Bank riders spent almost as much time changing their bikes as they did winning races on them. Aside from Breschel’s flat tire on the way to Wevelgem, everything seemed to be some kind of braking issue. Strange, no?
Runner-up: Dirk Hofman Motorhomes. http://www.dirkhofman.be/
Biggest Surprise (Rider):
“Controversy” might be the more operative word, but I think it’s safe to say that Alexandre Vinokourov’s win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège caught almost everyone off-guard. I didn’t even know he was racing until he escaped on the descent of the _______________________ with Katusha’s Alexandr Kolobnev inside the final 20 kilometers. A last-minute addition to the start list, the Kazakh took a quick trip following his win in the Giro di Trentino to make it to Belgium in time for a shot at his second victory in La Doyenne. With the win, Vinokourov added fuel to the fire surrounding the re-entry of riders convicted of doping offenses into the peloton. Vino’s win was perhaps the biggest victory for a rider to have returned to the sport after serving a significant suspension in the modern era, capping-off a spring that also saw wins go to known dopers David Millar, Michele Scarponi, and Ricardo Rocco.
Runner-up: Bjorn Leukemans
Biggest Surprise (Team):
After Astana, one of the most aggressive and surprisingly successful teams in this year’s Belgian classics just might have been BBox. With two stage wins in DePanne and a top-10 result in Flanders, Steve Chainel, Sébastien Turgot, and William Bonnet performed well enough to give the French reason to smile. Couple these successes with wins in the Criterium International and Paris-Nice; Jean-René Bernaudeau just might have the ammunition he needs to keep his sponsors for another season—or more.
Video of the Year:
This one needs no explanation.