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A Decade of Panache

At the end of every season, we reward the peloton’s most courageous riders – the flamboyant few who know no fear and ride with flair – with our prestigious Panache Awards. During the recent racing hiatus, we have selected the crème de la crème and admitted fifteen of the most special moments from the last decade into our pantheon of panache.

In 2010, we wrote an open letter to professional cycling, in which we challenged the status quo of an increasingly professional, mechanised sport. Big budgets were beginning to take over, riders were watching their watts rather than attacking their rivals, and UCI points seemed to matter more than even the most prestigious prizes. The age of marginal gains and media advisers, power meters and precision training appeared to threaten some of the most beguiling, enchanting elements of the sport, the moments when panache was the equal of performance. We ended our letter with a call to arms to the peloton’s characterful cohort. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who make us love the sport:

"Show us some panache this season. Think for yourself. Assert your personality on a race, or a moment. Surprise us and give us something to cheer. Stand up for yourself and stand out from the crowd. Honour yourself and honour the sport. Ultimately, you'll gain more from chancing your arm than from grinding out yet another respectable result. And we will love you all the more for it."

In the decade since, our call has been answered by a brave few and each year since 2011 we have paused to reward the peloton’s most spirited riders with our prestigious awards. Whilst it’s true that power numbers and UCI points still hold a firm grip over many, the fifteen riders listed below prove that the visceral spirit of road racing lives on.


 

2011

Thomas Voeckler - Paris-Nice, stage 8

He might not have had the smoothest pedal stroke but Voeckler’s attacking style of racing and sheer pluck endeared him to fans throughout France and far beyond. In this, the best season of his storied career, Voeckler spent nine days in yellow and finished fourth at the Tour but his performances in Paris-Nice were equally impressive. With two stage wins already in his jersey pockets, he nonetheless lit up the last stage with audacious attack on the final descent which showed supreme confidence and spirit. Attacking in the tricolour national jersey with a signature snarled grin made the suffering look even cooler.

Vincenzo Nibali - Giro d’Italia, stage 15

The fifteenth stage of the 2011 Giro had it all. 2000 winner Stefano Garzelli made a long, lone break that could have been nominated for this award itself. But Vincenzo Nibali – by then the Vuelta champion but still an emerging contender at the Giro – showed all the character and risk-taking you could want. Dropped on the monstrous Fedaia/Marmolada climb, he threw himself down the other side and overcame a three minute deficit on the descent to catch the group of favourites. The Sicilian even had the temerity to attack the group as soon as he caught them, before being blown away again on the final climb. Breathtaking but no less than we’ve come to expect.


2012

Iljo Keisse - Tour of Turkey, stage 7

Stage finishes do not come more chaotic than this. When Iljo Keisse broke away from his fourteen breakaway companions, the Omega Pharma rider knew all about the dangerous right-hander on the run into the finish in Izmir. But he still crashed with 1km to go. With 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-approaching peloton by a second at the finish, with us all screaming at the TV. Grace under pressure.

Matteo Rabottini - Giro d’Italia, stage 15

Though Rabottini’s career has since hit the rocks, nothing can take the shine off his exploits on this stage into the hills above Lecco. In the break all day, Rabottini had crashed while alone on the descent before the final climb. His head hung, he looked cooked and 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 in a true show of spirit and panache.


2013

Vincenzo Nibali, Tirreno-Adriatico, stage 6

By this point, Nibali was already a regular in our panache posts, so it’s no surprise to see him appear twice in an all-time list. In 2013, it was his swashbuckling style at Tirreno-Adriatico that caught our eye. Though Paris-Nice always heralds the real start of the season, Tirreno boasted a stronger field and closer racing. The sixth stage was brutal: 209km in the rain with numerous sharp climbs, the toughest of which was the Muro di Sant’Elpidio, a 27% wall that saw many riders walking. 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.

Tony Martin, Vuelta a España, stage 6

In the most amazing breakaway since Thierry Marie rode for 145.4 miles in Normandy to win stage 6 of the ’91 Tour, the Man-Machine Tony Martin rode solo for over 100 miles only to be caught on the line. He had an advantage of seven minutes at one point, which then dropped to just five seconds before he dug deeper than you can imagine to bring it back to about 20 seconds. Watching what essentially became a four-hour time trial, it was fascinating to see one of the greatest rouleurs in history riding at the peak of his powers and doing things that most professionals can’t imagine. The fact that Martin came so close to victory made it all the more dramatic.


2014

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot - La Flèche Wallonne Féminine

Just before the mid-point of the decade, PFP was poised for greatness. In 2015, she’d go on to become the first and to date only cyclist to wear the rainbow bands on her road, cross and mountain bike in the same year. In 2014, she was already the French national road, time trial, mountain bike and cyclocross champion. On the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy she showed the panache to match her palmarès. With the most super of super-domestiques, Vos, to protect her, Prévot closed gaps to Stevens, Borghini and Armistead with ease, keeping just enough in reserve to overhaul Armistead on the Mur de Huy.

Lieuwe Westra - Critérium du Dauphiné, stage 7

The phrase ‘a race within a race’ is a cycling commentary cliché, but Stage 7 of the Critérium de Dauphiné had so many races within races that Westra’s efforts to take the stage win went almost unnoticed until the final 300m. The stage included five categorised climbs, and Westra was dropped from the break on the final of these. Television didn’t do justice to the drama, mistakenly cutting between images of Katusha’s leading duo, Egor Silin and Yury Trofimov, and of Froome and Contador slightly further down the hill. Most spectators remained unaware of Westra’s heroic efforts as he clawed his way back to the front of the race. He caught the leaders in the final straight, blowing straight past – the looks on the faces of Silin and Trofimov was a heart-breaking mixture of disbelief and despondency.


2015

Ian Stannard - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

“The first man since 1998 to win two in a row, and coming back from a season-long spine injury, Stannard’s second Omloop win was staggering,” says Fran Millar, now CEO of Team Ineos. “It was just Ian against three riders from Belgium’s top team, all of them classics specialists on home soil. It should have been an impossible task but in the last 5km he chased down Tom Boonen, then dropped him and Stijn Vandenbergh and then let Terpstra lead him out before perfectly timing his jump to take the win. Even re-typing it makes my heart beat a bit faster.”

Romain Bardet - Critérium du Dauphiné, stage 5

In June’s Tour de France warm-up show, the Critérium du Dauphiné, 24-year-old Romain Bardet set the race alight with a spine-tingling attack over and down the Col d’Allos to gain a minute on the bunch before valiantly staying away up Pra Loup for the stage win. The French alpinist proved his rating in territory familiar to him with a very gutsy and skilful ride. His descending technique was eye-watering at times.


2016

Diego Rosa - Il Lombardia

Panache means risking it all, no fear of failure and, in the case of Diego Rosa, no fear of missing out on a new contract. The Italian domestique was the definition of panache during the final kilometres of the 2016 Giro di Lombardia, attacking against team orders. The Astana rider had already worked for 150km in support of Fabio Aru when Esteban Chaves, Rigoberto Uran and Roman Bardet surged off. Despite the onset of exhaustion, Rosa was told to follow. He got dropped on the final climb in Bergamo but he came back with 1,500m to go, jostling again with Chaves and Uran. He was told to ‘stay in the wheels’ by his DS but Rosa was adamant he needed to surprise his rivals. He attacked 1,400m out then again in the final kilometre, but too soon. ‘I had to play my hand,’ he said. ‘If I had made it through, it would have worked, instead, nothing.’ True panache.

Chris Froome - Tour de France, stage 8

In many ways Chris Froome’s infamous attack on the descent of the Peyresourde can be considered a surprise inclusion. The aerodynamic position he adopted was more stick-insect than GC strong man and the end result was another dour edition of the Tour that he won by nearly five minutes. That said, panache is about thinking for yourself and taking a race by the scruff of the neck. As the bunch rolled over the top of the climb, Quintana and co. were more concerned with getting a fresh bidon than keeping tabs on Froome. The Briton powered away at a colossal cadence, leaving his rivals behind to bicker about who should take up the chase.


2017

Alberto Contador - Vuelta a España, stage 20

Love him or loathe him, Alberto Contador will be missed in the mountains. El Pistolero had spent most of La Vuelta a España, his last race in a long career, scattergun attacking without success. But he saved his final bullet for the hardest climb of them all: the Alto de l'Angliru. Barrelling down the treacherous, wet descent off the penultimate climb, he showed the bravery and heart of a champion with one last rain dance up the Angliru to win solo. How do you say panache in Spanish?


2018

Mark Cavendish - Tour de France, stage 11

Cav has struggled with accidents and injuries over his career but fans still love him, as do we at Rapha. His performance and ultimately elimination on this tough stage to La Rosière gives a clue as to why. Despite being dropped early and struggling terribly, Cav refused to throw in the towel all the way to the finish line, arriving long after the time cut.


2019

Annemiek van Vleuten - World Championships Road Race

At 36 years of age, Annemiek van Vleuten might have thought her chances of winning the Worlds road race were running out. Yet even in a career of extraordinary performances, the Dutchwoman’s ride in Yorkshire was truly out of this world. With more than 100km still left to race, Van Vleuten rode away from the rest of the field and never looked back. Despite a superpowered chase group working together to bring her back and an ill-fated solo bid to bridge by Chloe Dygart, it was no use – the final margin was a stonking 2 minutes 15 seconds.


#bestofpanache

Just like the attacking antics of our chosen riders, our choices are bound to be contentious. Share your favourite moments by using #bestofpanache to tell us who we should have mentioned.

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