From the early-season Classics to the Tour of Beijing, this season has been packed with excitement and intrigue, drama and tension. But, best of all, it’s been a season where the racing has been the focus. Sure, the Alberto Contador clenbuterol fiasco has simmered in the background, but, by and large, when cycling has been in the news it’s been because of athletic performances. Hallelujah!
It’s also been a year of change. We’ve seen some great new talents emerge, such as Lucy Garner and Scott Thwaites. We’ve seen some young prospects like Ben Swift and Chris Froome really come good. We’ve seen some big names go, such as HTC and Lance (again). We’ve seen some champions like Cadel Evans and Mark Cavendish finally achieve their biggest goals. And we’ve seen British riders become some of the most dominant forces in the pro peloton.
So sit back, relax, and see if you agree with your fellow CW readers about the cycling highlights of 2011. (Oh, and to whoever voted for Simon Yates in almost every category: yes, he’s a supreme talent, but ‘Hero of the Year’ might be over-egging the Christmas pudding just a tad.)
Most exciting British race
1 Tour of Britain
2 Men’s National Championship road race
3 Lincoln Grand Prix
A podium that is unchanged from last year, and a fourth consecutive victory for the Tour of Britain, which seems almost untouchable as the highlight of the domestic calendar.
Although the whole race was praised – with home fans able to see freshly-crowned Tour de France green jersey Mark Cavendish in winning action – it was stage six from Taunton to Wells that came in for special mention.
It was the day Lars Boom, already in yellow, took on and beat international stars Linus Gerdemann, Michael Rogers and our own Steve Cummings to win and cement his lead overall. Two days later, in London, he won the race.
There was little in the voting to separate the men’s national road race from the Lincoln GP. Like 2010, this year’s Nationals were another lesson in control from Team Sky as six of their members formed half of a 12-man bunch that escaped the pack early on. Bradley Wiggins went on to claim the coveted jersey, while team-mates Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard rolled in for second and third respectively.
The Lincoln GP never fails to provide entertainment and this year it was Endura Racing’s 21-year-old star
Scott Thwaites who bested the cobbles to add his name to the race’s illustrious list of winners.
“Witnessing a police bike pursuing a Boris bike for jumping a red light” was our favourite suggestion – it really is a racetrack out there.
Most exciting one-day race
1 Men’s World Championships road race
3 Tour of Flanders
The British boys’ dominance in Copenhagen helped this year’s Worlds take the most exciting one-day race title. We sent our strongest team in a generation, and they duly came back with the world champ’s jersey on the shoulders of that man Cavendish. A good job well done.
When it came to the polls, though, it was a close-run thing: only one vote separated the Worlds from Paris-Roubaix, where Johan Van Summeren’s surprise win at the Roubaix velodrome capped off a memorable ‘Hell of the North’. With crashes and mishaps claiming Tom Boonen – and Thor Hushovd effectively sucking the life out of Fabian Cancellara – it allowed Van Summeren to break away and claim the pavé trophy.
Third in our survey went to the Tour of Flanders – a classic edition where Belgium’s own Nick Nuyens outsprinted an échappée royale of Cancellara and Sylvain Chavanel for a memorable victory.
Milan-San Remo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège each garnered a handful of votes, while two keen souls gave a vote each for the Twinings Pro-Am Tour and the Dengie Marshes Tour. To the person who voted for the Olympic road race, you’re a year early, McFly.
Most exciting stage race
1 Tour de France
2 Vuelta a Espana
3 Giro d’Italia
By the end of the Tour de France, it seemed the winner of the most exciting stage race of 2011 category was a done deal, but then came the Vuelta, which ran it a close second. In fact, while the Tour received more than half of your votes, the Vuelta came away with about a quarter, which is amazing for a race that not so long ago was being seen as a bit of a nuisance on the professional calendar.
But what about that Grande Boucle, eh? We headed round France on a roller coaster of emotions and ended up with some supremely worthy winners – Cadel Evans in yellow and Mark Cavendish in green. Plus there was the heroic tilt at the overall by French rider Thomas Voeckler. It wasn’t all good news. We also had Alberto Contador and that car crash, but thankfully the Spaniard’s appearance in the race didn’t over-shadow events as much as had been feared, and despite the breathtaking video footage of Juan-Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland being launched off the side of the French TV car, they both just about managed to ride away.
Far be it from us to suggest you lot are influenced by nationalist sentiments, but the success of the 2011 Vuelta among British fans had to have been partly influenced by the fact we had two men – Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins – fighting for the leader’s jersey. They were both pipped for the title by Juan Jose Cobo, but when did we last have two Brits finishing a Grand Tour on the podium? (The answer is: never.)
The Giro trailed in third, but after the death of Wouter Weylandt and a six-minute overall win for ‘is he/isn’t he disgraced’ Contador, there was very little to celebrate.
It’s always nice to give the Moray Firth stage race a mention – as one of you did. And proving that nobody can accuse our readers of being anti-American, the Tour of California even got one vote (although we suspect that may have come from an American).
Most exciting track race
1 World Championships
2 World Cup, Manchester
3 Revolution Series
We’ve lumped together individual races from overall promotions to give us the results, with the World Champs coming out on top. Particular highlights were Team GB in the women’s team pursuit and the scratch race won by Marianne Vos.
The Manchester World Cup was another success, with the keirin final especially floating some people’s boats. You’re a bloodthirsty bunch – while Sir Chris Hoy took the win, we suspect most of you remember it for Azizulhasni Awang’s crash, which left his leg impaled on a wooden shard.
And the Revolution Series again entertained British crowds throughout the year, with the unique ‘Round the World Pursuit’ between globetrotters Vin Cox and Sean Conway – on fully laden touring bikes – enjoyed by many.
Jack Bobridge’s individual pursuit world record at the Australian National Champs scored highly, as well it should. Our own National Track Champs got plenty of votes. The men’s sprint at the Kazakhstan round of the World Cup was a real favourite. And we agree with the person who said the first pursuit at Herne Hill after the velodrome’s reopening was cause to celebrate.
Best cycle race TV coverage
1 ITV4, Tour de France
2 Eurosport, Tour de France
3 Eurosport, Tour of Flanders
ITV4’s time-honoured Tour de France line-up of Liggett, Sherwen, Imlach and Boardman won the popular vote when it came to best TV coverage, scoring more than double the votes of Eurosport’s offering. Still, Eurosport can take heart that its Tour of Flanders programme was a fave among the cognoscenti and managed to sneak into third.
The Vuelta was enjoyed by many, but as coverage was offered by both Eurosport and ITV, votes were shared equally so neither took a medal.
Favourite British sportive
1 Etape Caledonia
2 Fred Whitton Challenge
3 Dartmoor Classic
We might not be short of sportive choice these days, but according to CW readers three events were in a league of their own; only two votes separated first from third. The Etape Caledonia – a true Highland treat – just nudged ahead of the Fred Whitton Challenge, a ride that never fails to put sportive riders to the ultimate test.
Meanwhile, the Dartmoor Classic, over some of the South-West’s toughest terrain, took bronze. If you want to sample any of these three in 2012 don’t get your hopes up: the entry lists for both Caledonia and Dartmoor are already full up for next year’s events, although details on how to enter the Fred Whitton should be online any time now.
Both the Dragon Ride and Polocini Winter Sprinter showed well, as did our inaugural Cycling Weekly Sportive in Surrey. But this was a chance for all the non-sportivistes out there to vent their spleen. Best sportive? “None, there[sic] all full of ponses[sic]” replied one wit.
Thank you for that – just remember what mummy used to tell you: “If you can’t say anything nice…”
Favourite international sportive
1 Etape du Tour
2 La Marmotte
= 3 Tour of Flanders Sportive
= 3 Maratona dles Dolomites
The most famous sportive in the world is still the best. We feared last year that growing grumblings might see the Etape knocked from its perch atop the sportive ladder, but the decision to split this year’s edition into two parts has actually secured its position. The Marmotte is still probably the toughest sportive in Europe, and the Tour of Flanders and Maratona dles Dolomites always inspire. But there’s nothing quite like being a Tour rider for a day.
The Wicklow 200, a great event that is only a hop and a skip over the Irish Sea from here, got a vote or two. And a couple of old-school fetishists chose the Eroica.
Most impressive British rider
1 Mark Cavendish
2 Jonathan Tiernan-Locke
3 Chris Froome
No prizes for anyone who correctly predicted who would win this – Cav has had a season that will live long in the memory of British bike fans. But we suspect we’ll be mentioning the Manx Missile again before this reader poll round-up is concluded, so let’s talk about the man in second place.
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke might be little known outside of these isles – in fact he wasn’t particularly well known within these isles until this year’s Tour of Britain – but all that changed in September when the Devon-based Rapha-Condor-Sharp team rider put a peloton full of international stars to the sword on the his home turf, the rolling landscape of the South-West.
JTL finished the week with fifth place overall, the Tour of Britain King of the Mountains jersey, and an army of new fans.
Chris Froome’s second place at the Vuelta equals Robert Millar’s record for the highest placed Brit at a Grand Tour. The fact that Froome did it while ostensibly riding for team leader Bradley Wiggins makes it all the more laudable, so he’s a more than worthy medallist here.
We’re not the BBC, so let’s hear it for some of Britain’s women. Vicky P took votes, as she always does, but it was also nice to see recognition for her protégé and European gold medal-winning team sprint partner, Jess Varnish. Emma Pooley didn’t quite hit the heights of 2010 this year, but second at the women’s Giro deservedly garnered her a few nominations.
Most impressive rider overall
1 Philippe Gilbert
2 Mark Cavendish
3 Cadel Evans
Surprisingly, even a Tour green jersey and a world road title (and the votes of his home nation – you traitors) weren’t enough to let Mark Cavendish win this category. But it just goes to show what an amazing season Philippe Gilbert has had.
The early-season Classics was the point where it all started, with the Belgian star winning Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In May, he won the Tour of Belgium; in June, he won the Belgian national champs jerseys for both road and time trial; and in July, he won the opening stage of the Tour de France. A week after the Tour finished, he won the Clasica San Sebastian and by the end of the season he was declared number one in the UCI rankings. In effect, he has compressed a career’s worth of success into 12 months.
His rivals might not have had a smile on their faces when Cadel Evans finally secured the yellow jersey at the Tour, but at the ripe old age 34, and after so many years of coming so close, few could begrudge him this hard-fought success.
Thor Hushovd had another impressive season, including some characteristically gritty shows of strength. At the Tour he won two stages and held onto the yellow jersey from stage two to stage nine.
Team of the year
2 Team Sky
3 Great Britain at the men’s Worlds RR
The most winningest squad in the WorldTour was duly recognised as the team of the year. In 2011, along with countless stages and individual races, HTC riders won Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, three stages at the Giro, three stages at the Dauphiné, nine National Championships, six stages at the Tour and the green jersey, two stages at the Vuelta, three stages at the
Tour of Britain, three World Championships
and the Tour of Beijing.
Team Sky has cemented its place as a true force among the peloton. The Tour de France may have been a slight disappointment, but they still won their first two Tour stages, and Wiggins, Froome and the other boys made amends with an inspired performance at the Vuelta.
The GB men’s squad at the Worlds – made up of Sky members, one particular HTC rider and Garmin’s David Millar – took a well-deserved third for their peerless dominance in Copenhagen.
Sadly, professional cycling has a rather unnerving ability to lose great teams and, having failed to find a replacement sponsor, HTC boss Bob Stapleton has had to disband his squad. It makes you wonder just what a team needs to do to survive. Still, at least Astana will be back on the start line in 2012…
The Garmin-Cervélo women’s squad has its fair share of fans and BMC and Rapha-Condor-Sharp mustered a few votes too. Big shout outs to Cwmcarn Paragon, Vicious Velo and Kidsgrove Wheelers.
Best individual performance of the year
1 Chris Froome at the Vuelta
2 Mark Cavendish at the Worlds road race
3 Cadel Evans at the Tour de France
Chris Froome’s riding over three weeks at the Vuelta was judged the best individual performance of 2011, but it was stage 17 to Pena Cabarga that was singled out for particular praise. Froome started the day 22 seconds behind race leader Juan Jose Cobo, and he tried everything in the last kilometre to the summit finish to overthrow the Spaniard. It wasn’t quite enough to drop Cobo, but Froome won the stage and your votes.
For this category, Cav was somewhat undone by the breadth of his success. Had we included the votes for his performance at the Tour he would have just about won. As things stand, it was his supreme ride – under intense pressure – to finish off the work his GB team-mates had done for him at the Worlds that drew your admiration.
And then there’s plucky old Cadel in July. The way he finally managed to ride the Schlecks off his wheel – just – on stage 19 to Alpe d’Huez inspired many.
Thor Hushovd’s stage 13 of the Tour de France impressed – seeing the Norwegian bruiser force his frame over the Col d’Aubisque was a lesson that big boys can climb (and descend) too. Big respect from all the testers out there goes to Tony Martin for his prowess against the clock.
Most impressive young rider
(under 23 or first-year pro)
1 Alex Dowsett
2 Lucy Garner
3 Marcel Kittel
Alex Dowsett is the one rider whose name crops up regularly when we ask old hands who have been around a bit to name a decent young cyclist – he just looks born to race. After his apprenticeship with the Olympic Academy team and Trek-LiveStrong, Dowsett turned pro with Sky in 2011 and won the national time trial jersey, a stage of the Tour of Britain and the London Nocturne.
While Cav may be Britain’s most high-profile world champ, 17-year-old Lucy Garner actually got there before him, taking gold in the junior women’s road race a couple of days earlier. And she did it after crashing on the last lap – another name to add to the list of Britain’s world-class female ranks.
Skil-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel took stages at the Tour of Langkawi, Four Days of Dunkirk, the Tour of Poland, and even one at the Vuelta. One to keep your eyes on.
Even three stage victories at the Vuelta, the points jerseys in Switzerland and California, and the overall at the Tour of Poland weren’t enough to lift Peter Sagan onto our podium. Simon Yates, now’s your moment, for winning the Twinings Pro-Am Tour and a stage at the Tour de l’Avenir. And to all who think Geraint Thomas is still a whippersnapper, get with it granddad – he’s 25.
Hero of the year
1 Mark Cavendish
2 Johnny Hoogerland
3 Chris Froome
So, Mark Cavendish might not have won enough votes for most impressive rider of the year or best individual performance, but for British fans there’s no disputing who the hero of 2011 was.
Cav hit the very top of his game this season, and perhaps, best of all, he did it in a mature, measured style. It’s sometimes incredible to think he’s still only 26, but in the last year particularly he has begun to carry himself in the manner of a true legend of the sport. So, Cav for Sports Personality of the Year, to follow on from his well-deserved MBE.
But, 2011 wasn’t a year short on heroics, and Chris Froome and Johnny Hoogerland both earned their right to be in our top three. In the end, it was the Dutchman who secured second place – his fortitude to get up and finish the Tour after his horror somersault into barbed wire getting the credit it deserved.
Froome, meanwhile, didn’t just finish second at the Vuelta, he spent most of the race working tirelessly for Sky team leader Bradley Wiggins. And what can be more heroic than leaving it all on the road in the support of another?
Just a few votes behind Hoogerland and Froome came cycling’s answer to Asterix – the perennial French hero Thomas Voeckler – whose impressive early season was bettered by a trademark ‘never-say-die’ mammoth 10-day stint in yellow at the Tour.
Villain of the year
1 Alberto Contador
2 Riccardo Ricco
3 Driver of that French TV car
No change from last year, as many people’s least favourite Spaniard tops the polls in this category once more. As much as many fans didn’t like watching him race, Contador can’t have enjoyed 2011 on or off the bike, either. An early win at the Giro was followed up by a patchy Tour de France and a succession of delayed and rescheduled court cases.
‘The system’ could be included as a joint villain here, with the UCI/Pat McQuaid just missing out on a podium place by two votes.
Riccardo Ricco finished a strong second, with your votes for him often displaying a mixture of amusement and disgust. And the driver of the French TV car that sent Flecha and Hoogerland flying took a well-deserved – if that’s the right phrase – final spot on the podium.
Lance who? Further proof that the cycling world has already forgotten about ‘Big Tex’, he hardly featured in this year’s villains section. Dave Brailsford got a couple of votes. As is tradition, our editor Robert Garbutt was nominated (we’re not allowed to vote, so it wasn’t from any of us). And ‘The guy that chopped me up on the last corner of the Tockwith Race’ had a special mention too.