RKP Alternative End-of-Year Awards

We decided to do some year-end awards here at RKP, but because we don’t see much point in awarding someone “best Danish single-speed cyclocrosser with no ink”, we figured we’d give some nods to those people, events and moments most memorable. And to add to the fun, we invited Whit Yost and Jeremy Rauch from Pavé to join in the fun.

So here we go:

Padraig

Rider of the Year—Despite not notching a win another monument this spring, by virtue of the fact that Fabian Cancellara finished on the podium in Milan-San Remo (2nd), Ronde van Vlaanderen (3rd) and Paris-Roubaix (2nd), he proved to be the strongest rider in this year’s spring campaign. That Cancellara was chased as if an attack from him was everyone else’s ticket to glory was unseemly. It appeared—given those who latched onto his wheel—he was chased less to prevent him winning than as a springboard to anyone else’s.

Most Valuable (Non) Player—This has to go to Francesco Moser for doing more to liven up this year’s Tour de France short of any rider other than Thomas Voeckler. By instructing the Schlecks on how to win at bike racing, Moser inspired Andy Schleck to take the single most interesting flyer at this year’s Tour. Frankly, it did much to illustrate the criticism that due to radios riders no longer know how to ride tactically. The greater lesson is just how the greats were. How about a mentoring program for today’s GC riders? The racing might get more interesting if we dusted off more GC champions from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The We-Don’t-Know-What-to-Call-It Award—Thor Hushovd has easily been the peloton’s biggest crybaby for the last two seasons. Of his seemingly endless skills—honestly, has anyone else delivered more unexpected and surprising wins?—diplomacy isn’t one. He may be the only guy who could teach Bradley Wiggins a thing or two about badmouthing a previous team. That said, his cunning has proven he is more than worthy of both protection and a free hand. Maybe we should call this one the Wild Card Award. You just never know with this guy.

The Mad Ambition Award—This goes to Jim Ochowicz and the rest of the management at Team BMC. On one hand, they are geniuses for vaulting BMC to the top of the pops in just two years. Their ability to sign riders of real quality was confirmed in a royal flush back in July when Cadel Evans finally won the Tour de France. So how they managed to court and sign both Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd can’t simply be magic; it’s more like sorcery. Evans was on record saying anyone on his Tour team (and it is his Tour team) won’t freelance, won’t go for stage wins and will bury himself for the team. Somehow Gilbert and Hushovd—who between them took three stages of this year’s Tour—claimed they were okay with that. We also give this the Most Likely to End in Tears Award.

The Most Coveted Award—This has to go to Zipp for the new Firecrest 303. There’s not another set of wheels I’ve heard spoken of with a more covetous tone than the redesigned Firecrest 303. Lighter than a supermodel’s brain, more aerodynamic than a Cessna and more durable than any aluminum rim you’re riding, the only question is who doesn’t want this wheel.

The Relief Award—Bike fans breathed a collective sigh of relief with the announcement that Campagnolo will finally begin selling its long-awaited electronic group, EPS. Though we heard that the Italian maker was working on this group back in 2002, Shimano came to market with Di2 a full two years ahead of Campagnolo. This is quite a contrast from the introduction of index shifting and integrated control levers. Shimano’s stuff may have worked better in both instances, but at least Campy had a ready response. The good news is that EPS seems to be kink-free, so this year you’ll be able to enjoy electronic shifting and 11-speeds all in the same group.

Worst News of the Year Award—The demise of HTC-Highroad. To have Bob Stapleton depart cycling is the worst news the sport will get for a long, long time.

 

Robot

The Textbook Courage Award—If you needed any proof of the talent at Andy Schleck’s disposal, his attack on Stage 18 from Pinerolo to the Galibier in this year’s Tour de France showed exactly what the young and often hapless Luxembourger is capable of. Down on GC and running out of road, Schleck had to do SOMETHING. What he did was one of the most courageous and awe-inspiring attacks we’ve seen this decade. First, Leopard – Trek put Joost Posthuma and Maxime Monfort into the break. Then, Schleck attacked with 60km to go, took a gap, stretched it to two minutes and then latched onto Posthuma and Monfort to stretch his lead, ending just 15 seconds out of yellow, as Tommy Voekler buried himself on the imposing slopes of the Galibier. This is the racing fans have always wanted from Schleck, but he has seldom delivered. Cautious to a fault, on this day Schleck was a legend.

The Have No Cake and Fail to Eat It Either Award—I, for one, thought it was a good idea for Zdenek Stybar to try his luck on the road, especially with a Classics-oriented squad like QuickStep. Unfortunately, Stybie flopped in his first season and has now relinquished his dominance of the Euro Cyclocross World Cup Series to Kevin Pauwels. What’s the Flemish for “Oops?”

The Straight Face Award—It’s been 18 months since Alberto Contador tested positive at the Tour de France. The saga of inaction since then is well-documented. Under WADA guidelines, it doesn’t matter how or why the “adverse analytical finding” came about, the rider should be suspended, and yet Contador has argued, with a straight face, that he deserves to ride, and UCI head Pat McQuaid has gone on as if the fleet Spaniard isn’t receiving preferential treatment. If we say up is down long enough, will we all learn to fly?

The Ricco Suave Award—This award is reserved for dopers who approach the rank stupidity of Ricardo Ricco in their efforts to cover their tracks and/or protest their innocence. This year’s award goes to Ezequiel Mosquera. After a positive test for hydroxyethyl starch at the 2010 Vuelta, at which he was runner-up, Mosquera cried foul. But the test for hydroxyethyl starch has been around a long time, and that substance’s use as a masking agent for doping products is well-documented. Compounding Mosquera’s guilt, one of his Xacobeo-Galicia teammates, David Garcia, also tested positive for the same substance at the same race. The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) rewarded Mosquera’s cheating with a two year ban ON TOP of the 14 months he’s already been off the bike. The rider has said he’ll retire. Don’t do us any favors Ezequiel.

 

JP Partland

Cyclist of the year—All new cyclists. They may be annoyances right now.  They might reduce our cool, bad-boy cred.  They may do stupid things in the road, at lights, on the trail, etc.  But they’re making the world a better place for us. Growing the sport makes the roads safer, will eventually make the public more sympathetic, and some day, some of them will be giving us their draft as they pummel us in their wake. Cycling is growing so much that some places, like New York City, are experiencing a backlash.  I think the backlash will be shortlived. We’re going to win and all new cyclists are helping.

 

Jeremy Rauch

The “Why Would Anyone Need X” award:
This year saw a number of new technical innovations: some good, some bad, but all the victim of some variant of the pace-line putdown “Why would anyone need <insert component here>”.  The list of what would surely be past winners is long and filled with the things we take for granted today, and would surely include clipless pedals (“Too dangerous in a crash!”), index shifting (“I don’t need click-shifting to find my gear!”), Di2 (“If I wanted to play video games, I’d just stay home and play Nintendo!”) and 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and yes, 12 speed rear clusters (“Why would anyone need more than 5/6/7/8/9/10/11 speeds?”).

2011′s award, based on the seemingly never discussions on the topic, goes to disc brakes in cyclocross.  With a battle cry of “if they were good enough for De Vlaeminck*, they’re good enough to me”, the canti-devoted dismissed the disc as unnecessary – too heavy, too powerful, not hydraulic, and just plain pointless.  It’s true that the disc options when using brifters are incomplete; quality cable actuated brakes like those from Avid aren’t quite as effortless as hydraulics, and the mechanical/hydraulic adapters look like a mechanical in the making.  That said, any mountain biker will tell you there’s no denying the performance of discs in the muck.  Wet or dry, discs just work.  It’ll take a few years for vendors to come up with ideal, rather than adapted solutions to discs in cyclocross.  But when they do, I suspect the naysayers will see their benefits and at the very least, wish they were on discs too.  Hey, give me hydraulic brifters, and I just might be willing to move off this 9 speed setup – because really, more than 9 speeds is silly, but disc brakes are awesome.

Charles Pelkey

The shut-up and ride award—By now, we’ve all seen the video of Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland getting whacked by the errant media car in Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France. Both men suffered injuries that would have sent most of us crawling into an ambulance or at least the broom wagon. What was impressive, though, is that both of them got up, finished the stage and then made it all the way to Paris nearly two weeks later. It’s a story worth bringing up next time one of your non-cycling friends tries to tell you that American football players are the toughest athletes on the planet.

The great French hope—It was fun to watch Thomas Voeckler reprise his 2004 role as the beloved – but doomed – defender of the yellow jersey. (Voeckler actually earned the jersey as part of the aforementioned break from which Hoogerland and Flecha were taken out.) Voeckler is now 32 and his years may be numbered. It was inspiring to see the entire Europcar squad rise to the occasion and protect the jersey for 10 stages … all the way up to stage 19 when another member of the team earned the spotlight and maybe even signaled the start of what would be a welcomed renaissance in French cycling. Pierre Rolland showed more than a flash of brilliance on the slopes of l’Alpe d’Huez, out-classing Samuel Sánchez and Alberto Contador atop that storied climb. Not only did he win the stage, he grabbed the best young rider’s white jersey for good and finished the Tour in 11th on GC. Like another promising young rider in the season’s final grand tour, you have to wonder what this guy could have accomplished had he not been saddled with domestique duties for most of the race.

Maybe, just maybe, we will see an end to the French drought at the Tour, a race the hosts haven’t won since 1985.

Out of Africa―Having grown up in in Kenya and South Africa, Chris Froome showed he was more than able to meet the challenges of the European peloton in this year’s Vuelta a España. Froome finished second in the Vuelta and one can only imagine how the 26-year-old Team Sky rider would have fared had he not been obligated to ride in support of Bradley Wiggins at critical moments in that grand tour. As is the case with Rolland, I’m looking forward to seeing Froome ride without other obligations holding him back.

The No-Man-Is-an-Island Award―This last one is purely personal. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’ve hit a few rough spots over the past few months. Had you told me in January that things would have taken the turn they did in July, I would have predicted that I would just curl up in a ball and stay in bed. The darn thing, though, is that there are folks out there who just wouldn’t let that happen. Anything that I’ve accomplished or anything positive that has happened to me over the past months is purely due to the fact that people have been generous and spectacular. I have to extend my thanks to a host of people, including the gang over at NYVeloCity.com, their readers, the folks who follow me at LiveUpdateGuy.com, countless friends and family and, of course, those responsible for my new home here at Red Kite Prayer. I can’t even begin to count the ways that I have reason to be thankful. All of you gave real meaning to the words “cycling community.”

Whit Yost

Most Disappointingly Successful Stage Race-Winning Strategy—Thanks to victories by Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, and Juan José Cobo in this season’s grand tours, it was easy to overlook a rather unexciting “trend” in the art of winning stage races. Of the eleven non-grand tour stage races on the 2011 World Tour, eight had at least one time trial. Of those eight, seven were won by men who took either only the time trial or no stage wins at all, a race-winning strategy calling to mind Miguel Indurain.

Take Bradley Wiggins for example. The Brit from Team Sky won the Criterium du Dauphiné—without winning a single stage. The same can be said of RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer at the Tour de Suisse. Both riders used top rides in individual time trials as the foundations of their victories then simply hung-on for dear life in the mountains. Of course, both victories were well deserved—after all, consistency goes a long way—but race fans can’t be blamed for wanting to see a bit more aggression from their champions. At least Germany’s Tony Martin actually won stages (both time trials, though) at Paris-Nice and the Tour of Beijing for HTC-HighRoad on his way to taking both overall victories.

What does it all mean? Not much, perhaps. But it could inspire more time trialists to find some climbing legs for a week every now and again. Or maybe a few of the sport’s aggressive riders might find themselves spending some time in the wind tunnel or behind a motor scooter, doing their best to defeat the sport’s Martin’s, Wiggo’s, and Leipheimer’s at their own game.

Then again, this is professional cycling—there are no style points. Victories bring contracts and unless your name is Thomas Voeckler, no one cares about how much excitement you generate in losing. We need to give credit where credit is due, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

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16 comments

  1. jack rawlins

    In reply to Whit Yost: No style points?! What I love about cycling is that it has more style points than any other sport in the world! Or did I miss the many big bike races that Jens Voigt won last year… Cycling is so much about style that winning is almost irrelevant–what I call the Pereiro Principle. (I can live with the Sastre Principle if you’d rather.) Cycling is the only sport where a competitor can come in 70th and everybody talks about how he rode like a god…for a while there, two or three hours before the finish.

  2. Chris

    @Whit
    It’s not the riders’ fault in my opinion, if there is a fault. If the organisers want a race like you want, with the overall GC winner winning stages, they would, or should, award some incentive. Bonus seconds are one way, shorter TTs are another.
    Wiggins in particular has met the sport halfway, exactly like you’re saying others need to. He’s a TT guy who has worked hard at transformation to stick with the climbers. Any fault in the Dauphine surely rests with the climbers for not attacking, not in him not attacking.

  3. Chris

    And the award for “Best End-of-the-Year List” goes to… RKP. Great read guys, looking forward to seeing what 2012 brings.

  4. Carl

    @Whit
    I’m with you on this one.
    We will see this philosophy come to the fore during this year’s TDF.
    Even if Andy lights up the mountains, he will still get overhauled in the GC by time trialists who can hang in there.

  5. Whit Yost

    Jack,
    Good point about the style points. At the time I was thinking in terms of a rider’s ability to earn a living without winning races. But I realize now that there are plenty of riders who earn a living thanks to the way that they lose. Your point is well-taken!

    Chris,
    You’re correct in that at least part of the blame lies with climbers for not doing their best to bring the races to the TT’ists. If you know you’re going to lose beaucoup de temps in the ITT, then why not lay it all on the line? Of course, we see this (sometimes) in the grand tours, but not so much in shorter stage races. That’s a shame, in my opinion.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments–have a terrific New Year!

    W.

  6. MCH

    The David – Goliath award: to RKP for it’s break-out year, showing that talent, persistence, and dedication to excelence trumps the big glossies, no matter how many exclamation points they use (race bike shootout!, get faster in 10 days!, your cycling personality!).

    Congrats for a great year. (!)

  7. Sterling Matt

    A good list….thank god it wasn’t TOO cliche (well, there were a couple)…but worth the five minutes I spent reading it. I’ve checked in here much more frequently the past couple of months and you guys make the short list of worthwhile reading most days. Shut up and Ride and Why Would Anyone Need X are my top pics….both spot on! If I were to add a category…I’d add Most Unsung Photographer and give it to Jared Gruber. That guy takes the best pics for the least financial reward…he didn’t even know his shot was the Giro poster choice until he was sitting in the audience at the presentation!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      MCH: Thanks much—actually, thanks endlessly.

      Sterling Matt: You know what? You are spot-effing-on. Jered deserves more credit than he gets. And more remuneration. But then, that’s true for many of my colleagues (me too, if I’m being honest).

      Jesus: Point well taken. I did consider Gilbert; certainly he won lots. But I think the fear that a Cancellara attacked instilled in others said volumes about what his colleagues think. And despite nearly everyone racing against him, to podium in three Monuments is a pretty rare feat.

  8. Jesus from Cancun

    Great compilation, and very good comments, too! However, I would only disagree with the very first award on the list, the Rider of the year.
    I am a Cancellara fan, but I think he wasn’t the best this year, even with all the negative riding against him.

    If you were to declare a rider of the year based on wins, it would be hard to argue against Philippe Gilbert. Some could maybe think of Cav too, or even Evans…

    If you were to think about the Big Huevos riders who didn’t necessarily win too much this year, I would think that Voeckler or Hushovd, or even Scarponi, showed more panache than what Cancellara did this year.

    I would add the Surprising Website Award to RKP. I had never hear about it until I found it following Charles Pelkey. And it has been such a pleasant surprise. Articles like this have made me a big fan; this is now my most visited website.

    Congratulations to all, I hope many more readers discover you in 2012 and stay here as I did.

  9. Adam

    I was happy to see your pick of Cancellara over Gilbert. Yes Gilbert had an historical season, but for all the criticism Leopard received, they earned six podiums in the five monuments. A pretty neat trick. And in the four races where Cancellara and Gilbert went head to head in leadership positions (MSR, Flanders, Stage 1 TDF, Worlds RR) the score is 3-1 in favour of Spartacus.
    I’d also argue that the races that favour Gilbert are less prone to negative racing; the fastest guy up the Mur wins. That doesn’t make the wins less impressive but the strongest guy will win 9 times out of 10. In MSR and Roubaix with their relatively flat parcours all the other rdiers had to do was watch one man. That he still managed to pull out some sort of result is impressive.

  10. WV Cycling

    Ah, and Lance Armstrong fades into our distant memories…

    2011 was the year of his retirement, and no one batted an eye about it. IT kind of makes me happy, yet sad to see him being pushed away from our inner circle so easily. *sigh*

  11. Big Mikey

    JP +1. We tend to forget that those annoyances on the road/trail, make us safer in the long run, as they have friends and family that now see a rider as a person, not an inconvenience.

    Great list, love the recaps from the previous season.

  12. Ron

    Cool list! I enjoyed it.

    I don’t know, maybe it is just because I’ve only been following the PRO peloton for a few years, but I kind of find it hard to be jaded about anything. I honestly didn’t pick up on Thor’s whinging. And I also didn’t realize (or recall, I suppose) the overall wins without any stage wins. Kind of uninspiring, but a win is a win if you are a GC guy.

    I can’t believe another year in cycling is in the books! I can’t believe how much exciting racing is just around the corner! I also can’t believe that I’ve finally put aside my own cycling to finish up a major project, finally! With three solid months of work I could have it done, leaving me plenty of time to peak for the late spring races and hey, even the big one in July!

    Cheers, RKP lads!

  13. S

    Great article and some views I really hadn’t considered. IMHO though the Rider of the Year Award has to go to Thomas Voeckler. I have read scads of cycling blogger posts about how racing has become predictable for myriads of reasons from doping to race radio use to lack of having a pair (courtesy of Cipollini). But Voeckler dispatched all of those theories during this year’s TDF and buried himself on every ride. After one stage he almost fell off the podium because his legs locked up when trying to climb up to the top step. Here’s to more of “Do or don’t…there is no try” in cycling in 2012! And here’s to a successful 2012 for the RKP!

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