2010 Review: Riders of the Year
The past 12 months have been peppered with some stand-out performances by individuals in the peloton and in the first of our end of season reviews we look at the best riders of the year.
Regular as clockwork: So swift was the Swiss in the spring classics that Fabian Cancellara found himself at the centre of one of the daftest alleged conspiracies in modern cycling, namely that he had a motor concealed in the frame of his bike. "It's so stupid I'm speechless," said Spartacus after notching emphatic wins in Flanders and Roubaix.
The "monuments" out of the way, Cancellara's focus switched to his natural disciple of time trialling. It's one thing being an overwhelming favourite, but sport is riddled with individuals and teams falling short when the whole world presumed victory was theirs. Not Big Fab, who took the Tour prologue and ITT before becoming the most successful racer against the clock in World Championships history with victory in Melbourne, a record fourth gold. For sheer consistency, the former Saxo Bank lynchpin has to be rider of the year - and he's still to turn 30.
Rainbow riders: Australia's Cadel Evans put the old world champion jinx theory to bed with an ebullient season racing in rainbows. Solid rides in Tirreno-Adriatico and Liege-Bastogne-Liege followed Evans' superb Fleche Wallonne victory, before the BMC veteran rode into the leaders' jerseys in both the Giro and the Tour. Granted, Evans' July was ruined by another unfortunate crash, but the gutsy 33-year-old can be proud of his achievements this year - as he can making it to Paris.
Assuming Evans' rainbows next year is Thor Hushovd, who capped a typically strong season with a deserved win in Geelong. Picking up stages in the Tour and the Vuelta, plus a national road race title, the 32-year-old Norwegian should be pivotal in his new Garmin-Cervelo outfit after another commanding year.
Not bad for a rookie: Vincenzo Nibali wasn't even down to race the Giro but was drafted in at the 11th hour after his Liquigas team-mate Franco Pellizotti's biological passport got held up at customs. Unperturbed, the Italian youngster made the podium in third, taking two stages and a pink jersey en route. Then, having sat out the Tour, the "Shark" won the Vuelta at his first attempt - at the tender age of 25. With Nibali having never finished outside the top 20 of a Grand Tour, and improving his GC position year on year in each race, his potential is enormous.
The real deal: Philippe Gilbert's stellar season sees the Belgian run Cancellara close as the peloton's most complete and consistent rider. Typically stronger in the second half of the season, Gilbert showed he meant business early on with victory in April's Amstel Gold before three thirds at Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. After wins in Lombardy and Piedmont, Gilbert was amongst the favourites for the World Championship crown - and almost tasted the rainbow with a trademark late break in Geelong. But the highlight of the 28-year-old's season was his superb showing in the Vuelta, during which he wore the leader's jersey for over a week and took two stages. Now there's talk from some of cycling's greats that Gilbert, with a bit of fine-tuning, could well become a Grand Tour contender.
Business as usual: Mark Cavendish's season experienced serious teething troubles but once he rode back into form the Columbia-HTC speedster had a lot to grin about. Yes, a dismal start to the Tour meant that elusive green jersey was beyond him, but Cavendish still notched five victories in France, including a second successive win on the Champs Elysees. Two months later, the Manx Missile added the Vuelta TTT and three individual stages to his tally on his way to taking the points jersey in Madrid, capping off another win-heavy year.
Special mentions: Not only did Scotland's David Millar come runner-up to Cancellara in the World Championships ITT, he also won the Three Days of De Panne race early in the season, plus yet again completed all three Grand Tours. Any normal person would have been exhausted after all that, but the indefatigable 33-year-old still went on to take gold in the Commonwealth Games ITT and an impressive bronze in the road race.
In April, Sylvain Chavanel cracked his skull in a crash in the Belgian Ardennes. Three months later, the Frenchman rode over similar terrain to win the second stage of the Tour in Spa, and take the yellow jersey. The next day, when Chavanel crashed on the cobbles and lost the race lead, most onlookers thought it would be the last they saw of him during the race. Not so. The 31-year-old French housewives' favourite took back the yellow jersey three days later after a stunning ride to win the race's first mountain stage at the Station des Rousses. Chapeau!
The 2010 Vuelta was won by Nibali but things could have been so different had Spain's Igor Anton not crashed so emphatically in stage 14 of the race. Before that moment, the 27-year-old climber had notched two stages and was riding comfortably in red - and the Euskaltel rider deserves a mention for he did look every bit a winner-in-waiting.
And don't forget: Spain's Oscar Freire, who rolled back the year's with victories in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Tours; Alexandre Vinokourov, who proved there's still some Kazakh petrol in the tank with a classics win in Liege and a Tour stage scalp; and, of course, Italy's Ivan Basso, who completed his rehabilitation with a stage victory atop the Zoncolan and the overall Giro crown - four years (and a two-year ban) after he first won the race.
And finally: There are two riders notable for the absence on this list - Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. The pair provided moments of fireworks in France but their friendly rivalry did become a bit of a bore after a while, especially when watching them sit in each other's pockets all the way up the Tourmalet before winking and cuddling over the finish line.
Contador may have won his third Tour de France crown, but a huge black cloud still hangs above his achievement and there remains too much at stake to name him as one of the riders of 2010. As for Schleck, a little more aggression and less Contador kowtowing wouldn't go amiss in 2011.