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Panache 2013 - The season so far
This is year four of Rapha’s panache review, celebrating those rare acts of audacity, risk and flamboyance that get us jumping out of our seats and shouting at the screen. Almost halfway through the season and it’s time for a progress report. But I’ll start with some people who definitely won’t be getting a panache award:
• Peter Sagan has been devastating so far this year. His win at Gent-Wevelgem was the pick of the bunch, riding away from his escape partners before they could be caught by the peloton. But his panache on the bike has been undone by his complete absence of cool at key moments. Pinching a podium girl’s bottom was bad enough (the podium at bike races is a pretty panache-free zone, anyway) but Sagan's wheelie over the line was unforgivable and, for that, he forfeits a panache award.
• Sometimes it's hard to distinguish real panache from just plain ‘not normal’ performances. Sad to see that 'pharmaceutical panache' still seems to be present in the World Tour peloton.
Mustafa Sayer at the Tour of Turkey
Here, then, are my top moments of real panache so far this year.
1. Vincenzo Nibali, Tirreno-Adriatico, stage six
Nibali has been a regular in our panache posts and his swashbuckling style livens up most of the races he enters. Though Paris-Nice always heralds the real start of the season for me, Tirreno is becoming a tougher early test with better quality fields and closely fought racing. Stage 6 this year was brutal; 209km of rain with numerous sharp climbs. Toughest was the Muro di Sant’Elpidio, a 27% wall that saw riders walking in their cleats. On the third and final ascent, Nibali attacked over the top and accelerated away on the slippery descent, throwing caution to the wind with only Sagan and Joaquim Rodríguez able to keep up. It was heart in the mouth stuff and couldn’t be followed by Alberto Contador and Chris Froome. Expect more from Nibs this summer.
2. Richie Porte, Critérium International
Porte had already taken an excellent win at Paris-Nice and grabbed the yellow jersey in Corsica through a solid time-trial performance. But the Ospedale climb was always going to be the decider – and Team Sky also had Chris Froome in superb form. Sure enough, Froome broke away to take the stage and race victory. But, once Froome’s gap was established, Porte attacked and rode away from everyone else to a stunning second place. Porte took his chance, surprised everyone and honoured the yellow jersey, countering criticism that Team Sky are one-paced and metronomic. In our first season with Team Sky, it was great to watch.
3. Ian Stannard, Milan-San Remo
photo: ©Graham Watson
La Primavera was thrilling this year – and not just because of the weather. Poor conditions often sort the men from the boys and Ian Stannard showed courage and daring in the closing stages of the race. Having broken away with Sylvain Chavanel, Stannard attacked him on the Poggio, when Chav was, on paper, the stronger climber and more seasoned race winner. It was an audacious move that almost cracked the Frenchman, and probably took the extra punch out of the British champion’s own legs that he needed to make it all the way to the line. But had Stannard not had a go he would have risked getting beaten in a sprint. He dug deep and risked it all.
4. Fabian Cancellara, Paris-Roubaix
Cancellara has won countless races through power and domination. Flanders this year was no exception. But panache involves risk and surprise, taking a chance to snatch victory from defeat. Spartacus looked strong at Paris-Roubaix but perhaps not the dominant force of old; the other riders in the leading group sensed weakness. When he dropped back to the team car and let a break escape up the road, we all thought Cancellara was struggling. His solo ride back to the group (already a kilometre ahead) and surge to make the selection with Stybar and Vanmarcke showed total panache. His man-to-man sprint in the velodrome sealed an amazing and surprising performance by a superlative racer.
5. Roman Kreuziger, Amstel Gold
Nobody I knew predicted Kreuziger for this win. Amstel had a great field and the last 20km were full of fizzing, no-hope attacks, with the favourites all waiting for a Cauberg showdown. But Kreuziger judged when to go perfectly and then buried himself totally to make it stick and bring Saxo-Tinkoff a much-needed victory. The fact he looks so good on the bike didn’t hurt his panache rating.
6. Ryder Hesjedal, Liège-Bastogne-Liège
The oldest, longest and, arguably, the toughest classic of them all, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a war of attrition, with every victory hard won. Ryder Hesjedal made the race this year with his solo attack 16km from the finish. First, he used his smooth climbing style to escape from the lead group on the new climb of Colonster. He then launched himself into the descent and through the industrial outskirts of Liege, throwing his bike around the tight street corners and driving over the poor road surface to press home his advantage. Even when he was finally caught, he still managed to drive the break on the final climb, softening up the favourites for team-mate Dan Martin to claim victory. Hesjedal showed the same exciting attacking riding this week, on the final climb and descent of stage three of the Giro. He was something of a ‘stayer’ in 2012, this year he is truly a rider with panache.
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