Friday Group Ride #20

The Spring Classics season is over. And now that I’m done crying in my espresso over it. It’s time to shift the mental gears for Grand Tour time. Ignore that grinding sound. My mechanic said it would work itself out, eventually.

And so, let’s take the Group Ride away from race predictions. Who really feels predictively competitive about the Tour of Romandie?

No. This week, in the aftermath of Alexander Vinokourov’s win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Mark Cavendish’s profane victory salute in Romandie, I’m thinking about character. I am looking at today’s pro peloton and wondering who the real good guys are. Who, amongst our champions, has the character to go along with his victories? Who has the poise? Who has the class?

Of course, we’ve always had our villains, and I believe they’re a necessary part of the equation. They bring brashness and audacity (Cavendish). They play as foils (Vinokourov) to the good, clean talents pedaling for glory. The bad are often more entertaining than the good, and we all like to be entertained.

What I want to know this week is who you admire? Who will be remembered, not just for their palmarés, but also for the manner in which those victories were won?

My mind goes immediately to a rider like Jens Voigt, the breakaway artist loyal to his team, who suffers with a smile on his face, who makes the hardest parts of bike racing look like fun and respects the riders around him for their power, intelligence and effort.

Then there’s Phillipe Gilbert, outspoken about clean racing, a hard rider on a weak team, an intelligent and humble champion, who can beat stronger riders with his mind, rather than his radio.

There are other worthy riders, of course, but I’ll let you name them.

Image: John Pierce, Photosp0rt International

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34 comments

  1. Souleur

    I assume you mean ‘currently riding’?

    I have to go with Fabian Cancellara as my most admired rider. He is both class and style, both virtues for which nobody can buy. He has it all. He can ride hard as any, and can suffer, all with no complaints. He has had hard times, illness, injury and never complains about it nor whines. I hope that he can translate the current from from single day specialty to a grand tour in the near future.

    Will he be remembered, probably. He is rather quiet, which is another reason I so admire him. He rides. Afterward, he talks little. In all actuality it seems the riders speak for him.

  2. SinglespeedJarv

    Without hesitation, Philippe Gilbert. I can’t remember why I started following his results, possibly/probably because he was reported as being outspoken on doping around the time when Cofidis & Puerto were fresh in the mind. Every year he just gets better and he races with style, he is style, he is PRO.

    At the risk of being controversial, I’m also going to nominate David Millar, but not because of the St David stance. The guy is talent, yes it went wrong, but man, he is stylish, both on and off the bike. He brings something different to the sport he’s your black and white photo to Cavendish’s full-colour manga-fest.

    Class rider: Oscarito, because he is a grand champion, but humble to go with it and because he gaffer-tapes his pump to his frame. He doesn’t get involved in bitch-fights and has never crossed the radar of a doping-scandal. He just is. But with him comes a disclaimer, his place and time in history places him at the heart of a troubled era. Perhaps because of that I don’t admire him.

    Beneath this there is a tier of riders that I respect rather than admire. Riders who perhaps aren’t the most stylish out there, not as outspoken or don’t win as often, but I respect them because they’ve done things their own way. Two such riders are Cervelo’s, Roger Hammond and Jeremey Hunt. A lot of my respect is because I am the same age and so when I was a kid I was in the same Junior category racing year. I never raced against them, I wasn’t good enough, but for two years they were the best riders in the country of my age, they were probably what I wished I could be. But it’s not just that, like a lot of riders from non-traditional cycling nations, they had to make it their own, Hammond even went through University first. They both turned PRO in the mid-late 90’s, yet both remained (reputedly) clean riders through the dark years. Having spent a lot of their careers riding for second-tier teams, it is great that they are still racing and racing for a top-flight team as well.

  3. Michael

    Michael Barry, and that is without his writing skills thrown in. A pro’s pro as they say.

    Le Metier indeed.

  4. Michael

    and as far as GT Champions are concerned, the last true “Patron” who had class was Indurain. He left some big shoes to fill, though watching Contador this year thus far he is on the right track – I love that we are now witnessing the guy who just loves to ride his bike embrace all these other races.

    Gilbert is one classy guy as well. I’ll add to the Jens love-in.

  5. Tinpot Dictator

    I’m really starting to appreciate the efforts of Ryder Hesjedal.
    Recently offered up as ‘Canada’s greatest’ in a Canadian rag (assuming looking forward) I was a bit leery of the moniker, but a win in the Vuelta and strong showings in recent spring classics not to mention a solid MTB pedigree, and a typically easy Canadian demeanour to boot.

    +1 on Micheal Barry

    and if I’m allowed 3, Heinrich Haussler. His face at the end of M-SR said it all…

    TD

  6. grolby

    Agreed on Gilbert, x1000. I’ve only really come around to this in the last year or so; previously I didn’t really ‘get’ the way he raced, because he’s a bit quieter than most other stars. He’s not an engine like Cancellara… but he’s strong. He doesn’t have a killer sprint like Boonen… but he’s better than average at the end of a long race, and usually fresher. He doesn’t climb mountains like a Contador or a Schleck… but he doesn’t need to. The climbs in the Classic races suit him perfectly.

    And on top of that, there are few riders with his tactical savvy, his sparkling-clean reputation and his (by all accounts) good attitude and respect for his fellow bike racers.

    I also have a great deal of admiration for Cancellara, who is classy and, in my opinion, probably the most talented rider of his generation. Boonen, too, who for all of his personal troubles, is a guy with enormous confidence, great class on the bike, and is (mostly) a gracious champion in both victory and defeat.

  7. James

    I have to go with 2 French guys, Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voekler (sp). Neither one wins that often but not for a lack of trying. I’m partial to breakaway artistes like these guys. From what I understand both of them are very approachable by fans and are well regarded in the peloton. I think they both represent a lot of what is good in our favorite sport.

  8. todd k

    I like your unorthodox picks, James. I like Voeckler’s style. He races with a lot of guts and is willing to give it a go despite an unliklihood of success. His efforts have enabled him to don the yellow jersey, the white jersey and has even bagged himself a few days in the polka dot jersey. He may not have the palmares of others, but is nonetheless fun to follow. He hasn’t had a win this year, but has helped animate several races.

  9. redhed18

    I have to tip my hat to the riders of Topsport-Vlaanderen, and Vacansoleil for making a great Classics season.

    Sep Vanmarcke – for Gent Wevelgem… I was up and out of my chair!

    Usual suspects: Gilbert, Voigt, Cadel.

  10. todd k

    Thinking about it…given the Cavendish reference, I will toss in Mark Renshaw for fun. As far as lead out men go, he is the best in the business at the moment. He goes about doing his job with seemingly no complaints.

    The job he does is probably not as thankless as riding the front of the peloton day in and out controlling the peloton in an effort to protect a GC rider during a tour. But it is not a position that rewards one’s palmares either. As with any lead out, he is stuck in a bizarre situation. He is entirely obligated to ride his guts out for the sprinter that he is leading out. He does this during the most chaotic portion of the race. He must to so while directing traffic. Plus he must fend off other combatants. He must be absolutely certain he does these things without losing his sprinter. And in doing so, he will make constant, but not dramtic, adjustments to accommodate all of the above when the road changes direction throwing everything into a tizzy.

    And this effort is applied for some other rider that is typically brash and full of ego. A sprinter, who when he wins, will take all the glory for himself regardless how much sacrifice was placed into insuring that win went off without a hitch and with as little needless effort for that sprinter as possible. The job he does certainly leaves the lead out man with no opportunity for his own glory. He barely gets to ride on the coat tails of the sprinter he leads out.

    And as with most successful lead out men, he is doing the job for some one that, let’s say, probably has a rather low tolerance for imperfection and has meticulous requirements to be delivered untouched x meters from the finish. You figure if this man screws up he will be the first called out. It is a stressful role that seemingly puts that cyclist in a position where he has almost nothing to gain for himself, but everything to lose.

    Mark Renshaw, the current generation’s Giovanni Lombardi.

  11. Randomactsofcycling

    Stuart O’Grady must be included here.
    Souleur has already written so eloquently about Cancellara that I won’t attempt to compete!
    He’s as hard as they come and suffers in Jens-like fashion.
    A World and Olympic Champion on the track, TdF stage winner, Classics Champion….

  12. Christopher

    since i began following the sport as a teenager, i have this admiration of Big George. He is a fellow Carolinian so i must cheer him on, correct? he is a true professional and is a valuable member of any team. He never seems to have any luck nor does he have the legs of boonen or Fabian to get that elusive P-R victory but damn do i cheer him on.

  13. wvcycling

    The Schleck brothers bring class, and many moral confounds to the table when attempting to compare ‘good guys,’ and ‘bad guys,’ but I am not sure if they are pronounced enough to either polar end for this discussion.

    Óscar Freire and Chris Horner also comes to mind. Remember Horner helping Demong over the line.

    Wait, maybe I am just naming underdogs in my second list.

  14. nrs5000

    Gilbert was my first answer. My favorite rider by a good margin right now. Always had talent and the guts to use his motor, and in the last year and a half he has taken his tactics and timing to a new level. Agree on Cancellara and Boonen too, despite his faults. These are the guys who let their legs do the talking.

    @grolby — re Gilbert’s sprint, check out the finale of last year’s Paris-Tours. He can get it done at the end of a long race.

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  16. sophrosune

    I like everyone that people have mentioned, with the possible exception of George Hincapie. While he does have a sort of down-trodden appeal, I can’t get over an interview with Frankie Andreu’s wife in which she describes watching Frankie and Hincapie leading the Motorola train up the mountains and her just freaking out. Umh…tainted, maybe?

    Just so you don’t think I am against US riders, I’ll throw in Dave Zabrieske as a pro rider I like. He’s not a sweetheart or cuddly, on the contrary he’s often sarcastic and sometimes sullen, but he has a sense of humor and does not seem to have taken on any airs about himself. He’s worked through a lot of physical problems and continues to be a threat in every time trial he enters.

    They say that our heroes are those people who embody those charcteristics we admire in ourselves. Well, I guess I realize I am not going to win the grand prize but at least I have a sense of humor about it.

  17. Bob Cesca

    Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt are my first and second choices. But how about Heinrich Haussler — his emotional TdF stage 13 victory was a major highlight of last year’s grand tours, and a significant contrast/counterpoint to Cavendish’s victory gestures.

  18. Marco Placero

    Former: Andrea Tafi, given the chemical era and competition, plus today this gentleman is indeed.

    Current: After agreeing with ‘most everyone here specially Chavanel, I’d add Johan VanSummeren, not a huge palmares but a hard ridin’ SOB.

    Jens: Current all-round deepest digger and fullest dude. I’ve voted before, Jens for a high bling career in our world.

  19. steve

    Jens of course. Cancellara, too. Sastre. Riis’ personal history aside, his teams have been more full of classy riders than not. I am always rooting for Haussler as well.

  20. trekdude

    I have to agree with all the top-tier riders named by others. Fabian is outstanding. Gilbert just attacks! And, you just gotta love Jens.

    I am glad to see others chime in about Thomas Voeckler. A few years ago (was it 2005 or 2006?) he rode his guts out in yellow FOR DAYS! And then he won again last year! I hear he is a superstar in France. They need one!

    I also like Johnny Hoogerland. He’s going to win a big one soon…

  21. Mike

    In agreement with JV and FC most definately … how about Christian VV? Hard worker … ever present … seems to have a positive outlook…

  22. travis

    My list seems to be a repeat of others, but here it is anyway:

    Jens Voigt
    Fabian Cancellara
    Chavanel
    Hincapie
    O’Grady
    and the list goes on.

  23. MattyVT

    Not surprisingly I’m on the same page with almost all of the riders listed above, but also would like to add Thor Hushovd to the list. He’s one of the biggest guys in the peloton but always makes it over the Alps to Paris.

  24. grolby

    @nrs5000 – oh, absolutely, he can get it done. I was just pointing out that Gilbert is not known as a sprinter in the way that, say, Boonen is. And I think that’s with good reason, he’s just not a bunch sprint kind of guy. He’s the kind of rider who gets top 10s in Tour sprints but doesn’t win under those circumstances.

    But at the end of a long hard race, watch out. That Paris-Tours was actually the moment when I said to myself, “Oh, I see now.” Gilbert knew what he had left, and he could see how tired his two breakaway companions were. I was astonished when he launched from so far out (he started sprinting with 300 or 400 meters to go), but it was exactly the right move. That’s why he wins – not only is he strong at the end of a race, he’s become very good at assessing his strength and at assessing the strength of his opponents and making the right move to maximize his advantage. His bets don’t always pay off (e.g. Liege this year), but the combination of talent, tactical smarts and self-knowledge that he has makes him a very dangerous rider.

    By the way, James, I like your picks. Chavanel in particular is a guy I’m always rooting for. While his move to a more classics-oriented team was one that made sense, I think that he’s found himself pushed more often into a helper’s role on Quick Step, and that he would otherwise have one or two more wins than he does at the moment. Very unfortunate to hear of his injury in Liege (or was it Fleche), it sounds very serious. I hope he recovers quickly and completely. A fractured skull is never something you want to have happen to a rider.

  25. mark

    Many deserved nods for Fabian, but only one person before me mentioning Thor? I’m shocked, frankly. Both men are the definition of class–great champions, great athletes, great teammates.

    Thor taking the bit in his teeth to win the intermediate sprints in the mountains in last year’s tour to secure the green jersey was perhaps the performance of the race.

    Cancellara pretty much single-handedly kept his team in contention in the TTT in last year’s tour.

    To say nothing of what both men did in the other races that don’t get picked up by American news media.

  26. Lachlan

    Cancellara

    + Roger Hammond…
    a guy just below the radar very often but so strong and consistent in so many of the toughest races. And all while usually riding for other guys.

  27. Touriste-Routier

    I agree with most of the names already fostered, but I’d like to add Bernhard Eisel to the mix. He’s a selfless team rider, who doesn’t have the opportunity to win very often, but G-W proved he has what it takes. He has a very good sprint, and can handle the distance of the classics; he’d probably be a team captain if he was riding for a team other than Columbia-HTC.

    2 Years ago he competed in Philly Week, where I was on staff (he won in Lancaster, he won in Reading, and was 4th in Philadelphia); he was very easy to work with, and was terrific with the fans.

  28. Mattiboy

    Cancellara is a class act; hopefully Cadel can reach that peak. But if you are talking about team greats then voight, ogrady and Rogers are all kings of the sport, both on and off the bike

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