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The Year in Panache
Despite the controversies that have engulfed the sport over the last couple of months, we should not lose sight of the incredible performances and undoubtedly historic victories we’ve seen out on the road in 2012. Here is my review of the season’s best racing exploits, those rides that got my pulse thumping. Keen-eyed race fans might spot that I’ve combined some new selections with choice displays of panache from earlier in the year. And while it appears to be something of a trend that the second half of the season is less dramatic, it has nevertheless been a bumper year for road racing.
10. Jonathan Tiernan Locke | Tour of Haut Var
JTL broke through at the Tour of Britain last year, winning the KOM for Rapha Condor Sharp, so you could say I’m biased. But he burst on to the top table of racing in this season's early French races, with dramatic attacks on the short sharp climbs of Provence. After winning the Tour Méditerranéen in testing (cold) conditions he was a marked man at Haut Var, but proved untouchable again. His effective punchy style of climbing – not to mention his lack of sunglasses – show panache and make him stand out. He went on to take overall victory at the Tour of Britain, securing him a contract with Team Sky for 2013.
9. Jeremy Powers | Cross Vegas
Resplendent in his Rapha-FOCUS National Champion skinsuit, the man known as ‘JPow’ set out his stall for the new season in memorable fashion in Las Vegas in September. Under floodlights and in front of a huge crowd partly made up of the world’s bike industry, Powers fought back from 15th place to win a close battle over the last two laps with Tim Johnson. His finish-line victory salute was the perfect aperitif to a season of domestic dominance and the best-ever finish by the USA in a World Cup. Roll on the world’s cross champs in Kentucky in 2013.
8. Marianne Vos | Worlds Road Race
© Graham Watson
It can be hard for an overwhelming favourite and dominant rider to show real panache. It all looks so easy and the script has already been written before a pedal is turned. But sometimes a rider puts in such a complete performance that it leaves you breathless. After her gold medal in London and domination of the road season, Vos was the overwhelming favourite to win the rainbow stripes in Limburg. But the world number one had not won the title since 2006, taking silver in all five races since. There seemed to be a jinx. In front of an emotional home crowd, however, Vos quashed the doubters with two devastating accelerations on the 12% slopes of the Cauberg, bringing it home 22 seconds ahead of the nearest challenger.
7. Jan Barta | Giro d'Italia Stage 14
Barta, the relatively unknown Czech Team NetApp rider, went away alone on the first climb of this stage into the Italian Alps and had a five-minute gap on the peloton with a small chasing group behind. The chasing group eventually brought him back before the final climb, where three riders broke free; Amador, De Marchi and Barta. As they reached the summit, Barta was suffering so much he was hyperventilating. To be riding solo on the first GPM and to then break away with two fresher riders on the last mountain and still manage a sprint to finish second showed remarkable determination and class.
6. Dario Cataldo, Vuelta stage 16
This year’s Vuelta was a belter, full of tactical riding and punishing uphill finishes. The organisers picked up where the Giro left off and in recent years seem to be the most innovative course designers of the grand tours. Making stage finishes brutally hard may seem a crude way of enlivening races and no doubt the riders hate them. But they make great viewing for fans. This year's queen stage finish on the Cuitu Negru was the most ridiculous I can remember. Up to 25% gradients reduced riders like Chris Froome and even Contador almost to a standstill. In front of them, Quickstep’s Dario Cataldo ground his way to a solo victory ahead of Thomas De Gendt. A ride of amazing courage.
5. Thomas De Gendt | Paris-Nice and Giro d'Italia
Photo © Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos ©2012
Yet again De Gent makes it into my list with ease. His attack over the Col de Vence was the highlight of another fascinating Race to the Sun. His solo ride up the Stelvio was easily the best exploit of the Tour of Italy. He became a star that day and the Belgian is rapidly becoming my favourite racer to watch.
4. Alberto Contador, Vuelta stage 17
The stage that followed the aforementioned Cuitu Negru finish looked perfect for a long breakaway group to win. The riders were tired and everybody thought Joaquim Rodríguez had the race sewn up. Except Contador. On windy valley roads, 50km from the finish, his team attacked repeatedly to force splits in the field and distance ‘El Purito’. It was surprising, ruthless and devastatingly effective. It showed that Contador (and Bjarne Riis) have the tactical intelligence and creativity to win. Contador then soloed from the break to seize the leadership in exuberant style.
3. Team Sky, Tour de France final stage
© Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Europe
Many called Team Sky’s domination of this year’s Tour boring. But the sight of Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey leading out Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish down the Rue de Rivoli and on to the Champs Élysées for a crowning victory was hugely impressive. Tour tradition dictates that the maillot jaune should stay in the pack and out of danger on the final celebratory stage. Why risk a crash when the sprint stage would result in the same time for the peloton? Perhaps Wiggins had a point to prove? Perhaps he was paying Cavendish back for the team’s total focus on winning yellow? Whatever the case, he chanced his arm and showed daring and panache to cap a historic performance by the British team.
2. Iljo Keisse, Tour of Turkey stage 7
When he broke away from his 14 breakaway companions, The Quickstep rider knew all about the dangerous right-hander on the run in to the finish in Izmir. But he still crashed. With 1km to go and his heart no doubt pounding in his ears, the Belgian calmly picked himself up, put his chain back on and remounted. He held off the fast finishing peloton by one second with all of us screaming at the TV. Grace under pressure.
1. Matteo Rabottini | Giro d'Italia Stage 15
The efforts of Jan Barta were immediately eclipsed by this stage of the Giro and, for my money, the ride of the year. In the break all day, Rabottini had crashed when alone on the descent before the final climb. His head hung and he looked cooked. His valiant efforts seemed to have been in vain when he was caught by Rodríguez with just 200m to go. We all assumed Rodríguez would go straight past for victory or, worse, gift the stage to Rabottini. But somehow the Italian – in his distinctive fluoro attire – got back onto his wheel and came around El Purito to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. I was on my feet cheering the truest show of spirit and panache this season.
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