The UCI are doing their own awards ceremony at the end of the upcoming Abu Dhabi Tour, but it sounds a bit rubbish. Basically they’re just giving out awards to people who have won specific races this season, rather than employing a judging panel to make any controversial decisions.
Here at Cycling Weekly, though we do have a judging panel (of one) and we do have some awards (not physical) to give out to the races and riders who have impressed us in 2015.
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The UCI does have a bit more pulling power than us, however, with all the stars set to descend on Abu Dhabi for the glittering awards do. A trip to the Cycling Weekly office in Croydon was not so appealing, so the winners will never actually receive their awards, but hopefully they appreciate the sentiment – however misguided it is.
Race of the Year – Tour of the Basque Country
Apart from the horrific crash at the end of stage one, which left BMC’s Peter Stetina with an extremely broken leg, the Tour of the Basque Country was a very entertaining race and one that came right down to the wire.
It didn’t attract the most high profile of start lists, but in a way that made the racing even better. We had the aging, but still formidable Joaquim Rodriguez up against Team Sky’s Sergio Henao, who had only recently come back from a career-threatening knee injury.
Despite Rodriguez winning two stages, he had to wait until the final day’s rolling time trial to take the overall lead. His win on stage three into Zumarraga was particularly good, outfoxing Henao and Nairo Quintana on the descent into the town and holding them off in a pseudo-sprint to the line.
The race also heralded the start of Mikel Landa’s phenomenal summer, as he won stage five, and a great time trial win by Tom Dumoulin, but it was the Rodriguez/Henao battle that stole the show.
Honourable mentions: Vuelta a España; Gent-Wevelgem
Grand Tour of the Year – Vuelta a España
The Vuelta a España produced some of the most exciting Grand Tour racing we’ve seen for years and it wasn’t the biggest name riders who set it alight.
A battle to the end between eventual winner Fabio Aru and Tom Dumoulin kept us all entertained for 21 days and for the first time in a long time it didn’t seem like the Vuelta was just a race to see who could climb up relentlessly steep climbs.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Vuelta without some steep gradients, but the final week was more about the rolling terrain, with a few sharp climbs thrown in, and a long time trial to keep the testers interested until the end.
Dumoulin kept up with some of the best climbers in the world, with the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Rodriguez trailing in his wake before the penultimate stage.
The long time trial on stage 17 shot the Dutchman into the lead and gave us hope of the first Dutch Grand Tour winner since 1980, but it wasn’t to be as Aru and Astana finally broke his resolve on the final mountain stage.
Honourable mentions: Tour de France; Giro d’Italia
Classic of the Year – Paris-Roubaix
This year’s Paris-Roubaix had everything – a departing legend, a bit of controversy, a lot of action and a great bunch sprint to finish it. It wasn’t just a great race, but it was won in a great way by John Degenkolb to avenge his second-place finish of 2014.
All the talk in the build-up was of it being Sir Bradley Wiggins’s final race for Team Sky (you may have seen one or two stories about it on CW), but the former Tour de France winner couldn’t bow out with a victory as he trailed home in 19th.
Then, halfway through the race, riders literally risked their lives by crossing railway lines after the safety barrier had come down in the middle of the peloton. Riders were reprimanded, but no real action was taken against those who skipped across while others were forced to wait.
And then there was the finish. With Degenkolb still in the front group, no-one seemed willing to help him reach the velodrome. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Yves Lampaert (Etixx-Quick Step) just sat on his wheel until the chasing group caught up.
Degenkolb had the last laugh, though, taking advantage of Lampaert’s attempted leadout of teammate Zdenek Stybar on the velodrome’s boards and speeding past everyone for the win.
Honourable mentions: Giro di Lombardia; Milan-San Remo
Rider of the Year – Alejandro Valverde
According to the holy grail that is ProCyclingStats, Alexander Kristoff has had the 19th best season of any rider ever. He won a ridiculous 17 races before the end of June, including the Tour of Flanders, and even when he didn’t win he was rarely outside the top ten.
His season then stalled a little as he hit the Tour de France, where he had to settle for a few top-five finishes, and for that reason he loses out on the award to Alejandro Valverde.
It’s a bit of a cop-out to give the award to the guy who finished top of the UCI rankings, but there’s a very good reason why he finished on top of the rankings – he performed very well at a lot of races.
His winning started at the Mallorca Challenge races in January and he continued it all the way through to the Vuelta a España. In the spring he put in one of the best Ardennes Classics campaigns cycling has ever seen, with second in the Amstel Gold Race and wins at both Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Then he set his sights on the Tour de France, where he finished third overall and came in the top 11 on nine occasions. He wasn’t satisfied to take it easy after that exertion, heading straight into the Vuelta a España after a third-place finish at the Clasica San Sebastian.
At the Vuelta he took a stage win in the first week and rode well enough for seventh place in the GC. While this was some way off the win, a top-ten in a Grand Tour is nothing to be sneezed at.
He came fifth in the World Championships and fourth in Lombardia to top it off and we wouldn’t put it past him to do well at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Tour either.
Honourable mentions: Fabio Aru; Alexander Kristoff
Surprise Package of the Year – Daniel Oss
No, it’s not the one Luca Paolini had stashed in his suitcase at the Tour de France…instead it’s an Italian who had a great spring Classics campaign.
Daniel Oss’s run of fine form began at Milan-San Remo when he went off the front of the peloton in the final 20km and rode off with Geraint Thomas on his wheel. The Sky rider didn’t want to help his BMC rival, though, and Oss burned out before the end.
That wasn’t to be the last we saw of the flowing haired Italian, though. In E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, Oss put in performances that left people thinking he could win those kind of races one day.
In both races he out-shone teammate and Classics specialist Greg Van Avermaet and showed particular mettle in the biblical weather conditions in Wevelgem.
Van Avermaet finished third in the Tour of Flanders and Oss played a large part in setting the Belgian up for the finale. Oss finished 11th in the race himself and also played his role in getting Van Avermaet on the podium at the following week’s Paris-Roubaix.
Honourable mentions: Daniel Teklehaimanot; Tom Dumoulin
Disappointment of the Year – Marcel Kittel
He was ill for most of the year, so he couldn’t race. When he did race he showed the effects of that illness and lacked any kind of race fitness for large parts of the season.
He missed out on selection for the Tour de France and the World Championships and raced only 34 days this season and reached the finish line just 28 times.
Kittel’s only WorldTour win of the year came on stage one of the Tour of Poland, where he won the points jersey as well, but that was pretty much the high point.
Honourable mentions: Andrew Talansky; Cannondale-Garmin