We've recounted the surprise winners of 2015, who made you question quite how they achieved their victory or simply question who they actually are. Now we take a look at those winners who made us smile this year.
Every rider who wins a race clearly deserves their glory, having worked tirelessly to achieve their goals, but there are a few riders who don’t win as often as they’d like – if ever – and for us spectators it makes it that extra little bit more special.
Take a look at our feel-good winners of the 2015 season.
Geraint Thomas – E3 Harelbeke
Being a British publication, some of the winners on this list have extra significance because they’re also British. While in some ways Geraint Thomas’s E3 Harelbeke victory was significantly special to the British audience, the Team Sky man’s win signalled a shift in the tectonic plates of Classics riding.
For years Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara had dominated the big Classics, like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, but E3 proved there was a whole new guard of cobbles riders waiting for their chance to shine.
Thomas had promised great things in the Spring Classics for some time, but this win, and his subsequent third place in Gent-Wevelgem two days later, showed he had finally joined the party.
It was not only a great result for Thomas, who couldn’t replicate his form at either of the two cobbled Monuments, but also for Team Sky who had waited a long time for any notable success in the Spring races.
Unfortunately, Thomas recently announced that he wouldn’t be focussing on the Classics next season, preferring instead to concentrate on his stage racing.
John Degenkolb – Paris-Roubaix
Another rider who had an incredibly strong first four months of the season was John Degenkolb, who became the first rider since 1986 to win both Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in the same season.
He came second over the cobbles in 2014, but this year Degenkolb went one better to become just the second German rider to win Paris-Roubaix, following in Josef Fischer’s footsteps 119 years after he won the first ever edition.
But history was not what made Degenkolb’s win more special – it was the way in which he won it. The Giant-Alpecin rider was pretty forced to ride on his own for much of the final 10km, with Yves Lampaert (Etixx-Quick Step) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) simply sitting on his wheel until a chase group that included Zdenek Stybar (Etixx) caught up.
Once in the famous Roubaix velodrome there were questions about whether Degenkolb would have enough gas to take the win, even though he was by far the quickest rider in the small group.
Lampaert led out Stybar in the final sprint, but it was pretty fruitless as Degenkolb sped past. Stybar simply looked to his right and saw the Giant-Alpecin jersey fly past him and there was nothing he could do.
Alex Dowsett – Hour Record
Given what Alex Dowsett went through at the start of 2015, breaking his collarbone just weeks before his scheduled Hour Record attempt, it was a pretty special moment when he smashed Rohan Dennis’s record in May.
Putting back his attempt from February to May set the rest of Dowsett’s season back quite a lot, but it was clear just how much the record meant to the Movistar rider.
On the day he rode the perfect hour, rarely deviating from his line, keeping a smooth tempo for the first 50 minutes before putting the hammer down in the final ten to beat Brändle.
His elation was great to watch as he hugged his family, friends and Movistar colleagues who had worked so hard to get him to the record. It’s just a shame it was taken away from him just a few weeks later.
Stefan Küng – Tour de Romandie stage four
Stefan Küng has a bit of pressure on his shoulders, dubbed as he is as the future of Swiss cycling. He’s not got much to live up to, just the phenomenal career of Fabian Cancellara, with his multiple Classics wins and World Championships time trial titles.
In his first year in the WorldTour, the 21-year-old rarely looked out of his depth and showed exceptional race maturity to solo away to victory on stage four of the Tour de Romandie.
Küng’s supposed to be a pretty good time triallist and he showed those skills while out on his own at the front, simply riding away from the peloton and holding them all off to win by 38 seconds.
He threatened to do something similar in the Giro d’Italia, getting out on his own but he’s now got a reputation. Hopefully that reputation continues to grow and Küng can go on to have a stand-out career.
Andre Greipel – Tour de France stage two
When it comes to the Tour de France, Andre Greipel has had to take somewhat of a back seat to other sprinters over the years. Yes, he had won six stages before the 2015 edition, but he had missed out on more occasions than that.
This season seemed to be a turning point in Greipel’s Tour de France career, at the tender age of 33, as he won four of the five sprint stages on offer.
Stage two was the start of things to come, with most of the peloton caught off-guard by the strong winds and rain in Zeeland, Greipel kept himself in the front group and held off Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish in the final sprint.
People are saying that sprinting is now a young man’s game, with the likes of Sagan, Marcel Kittel, Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff coming to the fore, but Greipel showed that there’s still room for a veteran to show their muscle.
Simon Geschke – Tour de France stage 17
Some riders go their whole careers supporting their teammates and never getting chances to win for themselves. Giant-Alpecin‘s Simon Geschke has spent a lot of time in breakaways in his seven year career, faced with the often inevitibility that he won’t win.
Indeed he had only ever won two races in his career before stage 17 of the Tour de France – a 75km stage at the Criterium International back in 2011 and the little-known GP du canton d’Argovie in 2014.
On the stage between Digne-Les-Bains and Pra-Loup, though, the bearded German pulled off an attack that stuck and he stayed away to the finish to take the win that even he didn’t foresee.
In the post-stage interview he broke down in tears. That’s what winning means to someone who’s not used to tasting personal victory.
Adam Yates – Clasica San Sebastian
Yates soloed down the finishing straight trying to talk to someone on his race radio, but obviously the information he was being given wasn’t good enough.
The fact that he had actually won made up for his close-but-no-cigar effort in 2014, where he was in position to challenge for the win but fell off on a descent with 4km to go.
This year he profited Van Avermaet being floored by a motorcycle, but we can’t take anything away from Yates’s ride.
Esteban Chaves – Vuelta a España stage six
Quite simply, Esteban Chaves is the happiest man in the peloton. Before the Vuelta a España he was the kind of rider you’d heard of but couldn’t describe what he looked like. Nobody can forget that smiling face now.
Chaves took his first win of the race on stage two, going into the red jersey and keeping hold of it until stage five, when Tom Dumoulin snatched it off him.
Despite having lost his treasured jersey, Chaves continued to smile through stage six and when he won it you couldn’t get rid of the joyous look on his face. All too often riders stand on the podium and don’t really know how to react, settling for a pretty forced smirk.
Chaves, though, beamed from ear to ear from the moment he crossed the line until, presumably, he went to bed. And even then he was probably still smiling.
Frank Schleck – Vuelta a España stage 16
Remember him? It’s been a pretty torrid few years for the older Schleck brother, who found himself struggling with injury and lack of form since returning from his doping ban in 2013.
His days of challenging in the general classification are almost certainly over, bar a Chris Horner-esque late career revival, but he showed at the Vuelta that he’s still got what it takes to win stages.
Out in front of stage 16, Schleck simply rode away from all of his breakaway compatriots and took the victory by over a minute. It was his first Grand Tour stage win since 2009, but hopefully not the last time he’s in the mix.
Lizzie Armitstead & Peter Sagan – World Championships road race
Granted, Armitstead’s win was special for us Brits but the fact that she finally tasted victory on the biggest stage must have tugged on the old heartstrings around the world.
Sagan, meanwhile, seems to transcend global borders and is universally popular among cycling fans. While his winning of the Tour de France green jersey remains a constant, his ability to win races at will has been somewhat more difficult in recent years.
A host of disappointments in the Classics this spring was followed by 11 top-five finishes at the Tour – but could he win a stage? Not for love nor money.
So to see him solo off the front of the group in Richmond was great. In every other race this season he’s been marked to within an inch of his life and any attacks were shut down within seconds. But in Virginia he was not to be caught, and we can’t wait to see him in the rainbow stripes next season.