Rouleur’s riders of the decade: Part II
That was the decade that was. How do you sum up ten years in cycling? One way to do it is with a good old list. We could have come up with our favourite races since escaping the insufferably-named ‘noughties’, but we’re all getting a bit long in the tooth at Rouleur towers and remembering last year’s Paris-Roubaix is hard enough, let alone the 2013 Eneco Tour. Besides, we’d all have picked MvdP’s smashfest at this year’s Amstel Gold, anyway.
Instead the editorial team have rummaged through our race books, and each picked a set of our favourite riders since January 1st 2010. No easy task, we make no apologies for prioritising personal preferences over objective measures of greatness, though few can object to the talent contained within our nines. Up second, it’s Content Manager and contributor Nick Christian.
Something about it being better to burn out than fade away? Kittel only competed in six Tours de France and in half of those he was the dominant sprinter, taking either four or five stages. Mark Cavendish outnumbers the German 3 to 1 when it comes to victories on the biggest stage, but we didn’t get many chances to watch cycling’s answer to Dolph Lundgren go up against the Manx Missile when both were at their very best. Cavendish might not like it, but I think you could have a good argument about who really was the better sprinter.
Phil Gil was the only guaranteed starter on my startsheet. Eleven Grand Tour stages, five Monuments and a set of rainbow bands only tell half (at most) of the story. The other half is to do with the kind of rider he is. Strong, certainly, but rarely the strongest rider in any given cohort. What Gilbert has been been, time and time again, is the smartest rider in any given group. He knows where to position himself, and he knows when to make his move. Don’t bet against him finishing off the set of big one-day races at Milan-Sanremo next year.
It took me a while to come around to the Shark of Messina. I just… never really thought he was that good. At the time his 2014 Tour de France victory felt like it was no more than a lucky break. With hindsight, however, his performance in that race is what earns Nibali his place in my squad. His march to the overall began with an audacious, victory in Sheffield that he really didn’t need to risk going for. After that he was so dominant I firmly believe he’d have won the overall even if Froome and Contador hadn’t dropped out before the race had reached the first rest day.
Mostly, however, Nibali owes his place in my list to refusing to choose between being a Classics man or a GC guy (even if he has leaned towards the latter). Name another Grand Tour contender who could have won Milan-Sanremo in the manner he managed last year. I’ll wait.
Thomas De Gendt
“I don’t like to waste races,” TDG replied when I asked him why he is the kind of rider he is earlier this year. That kind of rider is one who, at any given time, is either off the front of the race looking for chances for himself, or glued, limpet-like to its head, pulling back the break in service to his team’s sprinter. Once destined to be the answer to the quiz question “Who won the stage the day Chris Froome went running up Mont Ventoux?” he has since more than escaped his own shadow.
Back to that 2014 Tour de France again. When Chris Froome jumped in the back of one of the Team Sky cars, just before the stage 5 cobbles, a decision had to be made immediately as to what the team would do. It was Geraint Thomas who made it. He instructed his new team leader, Richie Porte, to lock himself on his wheel and towed him safely to the finish. In an interview after the stage, Thomas told ITV: “I just turned to Richie and said ‘Let’s just smash it and see what happens.'” (Porte would go on to finish the race just outside the top 20.)
Any rider planning a Grand Tour GC assault in the 2010s would want Geraint Thomas in front of him. The kind of rider who will run into walls for you and who, as he proved this summer, will never put his own ambitions ahead of those of the team he’s working for. Last year he practically had to be waterboarded before he would admit that he might be in with a chance of winning the Tour himself. And he was wearing the yellow jersey at the time.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Some (ahem) have suggested that the dominance of the Dutch has made women’s cycling predictable and boring to watch. By way of rebuttal, I would direct them to last year’s finish of La Course. One of the few races I can vividly picture without needing a YouTube-based reminder, it was the most astonishing display of never-say-die determination many of us have ever seen. Despite Anna van der Breggen seemingly having the race sewn up, Van Vleuten kept racing until the line, overhauling her compatriot with just metres of road left.
At the start of the 2010 AvV was already 27, a good rider with a respectable record but no indication of the dominant figure she would become. She closes the decade having, to borrow from Bradley Wiggins, effectively completed cycling. With several sets of rainbows over her shoulders, she’s one of the best we’ve ever seen in mountains. On a TT bike she’s been (almost) unstoppable.
Bloody hell Spartacus was good. It would be easy to associate him with the previous decade, when he won most of his Worlds TT titles, Tour stages and a couple of Monuments, but he’s one of the few whose talent took him well into the Teenies (© Andy McGrath) as well. An Olympic title, three Rondes and two Roubaix-es (is that not the plural?) easily earns him a place in my best nine.
How many riders get to win the very last professional race of their careers? There’s actually two of them on my list. But Bronzini was more than a proven winner – of no fewer than eighty races including two World Championships – and she arguably played more of a role in the further professionalisation of her sport than any individual. She challenged conventional wisdom and tipped over sacred cows wherever she went. The sport is in a much better place for her having been in the peloton.
Read: Why Georgia Bronzini will make an inspirational sports director
Who saw this one coming? But ask yourself who’s been the best lead-out man of the last decade? Andy McGrath has gone with Mark Renshaw (spoiler), for obvious reasons. I would argue, however, that a rider who has looked after – and delivered for – a number of different sprinters has the edge over one who has been tied to a single finisher his whole career. From Peter Sagan to Marcel Kittel to current squeeze, Elia Viviani, Fabio Sabatini has been through some big names. No, I’m not calling him a hussy, but time after time, he’s done it. Google: “who is the best lead out man in cycling” and tell me the first name that pops up.
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