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    In a vintage year for road racing, Rapha founder and CEO Simon Mottram picks his top moments of panache.

    Panache 2018

    In a vintage year for road racing, Rapha founder and CEO Simon Mottram picks his top moments of panache.

    21 December 2018

    For the last ten years I have done a season’s round up with a difference. Rather than looking at points gained and trophies won I have celebrated the quality that I love most about this great sport: ‘panache’.

    Panache isn’t about crushing one’s opponents or calculated victories. We may admire and respect such performances, but they rarely get us to jump out of our seats and shout at the screen. Instead, for as long as I can remember, the stand out performances have always been those moments of daring where a rider has taken a chance, grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and made us all cheer as a result.

    Celebrating those moments of excitement is more important now than ever. Rapha decided not to renew our partnership with Team Sky at the end of 2016 because we were becoming disillusioned by the state of professional racing. The sport has been losing fans, sponsors and value for years.

    I started Rapha in 2004 because I am passionate about road racing. In 2016, we embarked on an 18-month study to research the sport in depth and understand what needed to change and what role, if any, Rapha could play. The study led us to a new approach to team sponsorship and the pro racing calendar that aims to build more excitement into racing to create more fans and improve the appeal (and value) of the sport we love. For 2019, we have been fortunate to find a great new partner in Team EF Education First who agree with our diagnosis and new approach.

    Despite the general travails of pro racing, 2018 was actually a vintage season for those of us who like our sport to have daring and character. Here are my favourite moments of panache from this year.

    Marc Soler

    Paris-Nice, Stage 8

    Paris-Nice has found a good formula over the years and regularly produces an exciting race. The final day was the standalone highlight, edge of the seat racing for those involved and anyone watching on their sofa. Team Movistar’s Marc Soler could have sat tight, collected his white jersey and maybe aimed for the stage win but he went for it and was rewarded with the overall win. The Inner Ring cycling blog rightly called it ‘a cliffhanger on the corniche’.

    Vincenzo Nibali

    Milan-San Remo

    When thinking of panache in 2018 can anyone look beyond Vincenzo Nibali’s utterly thrilling Milan-San Remo win? A climber, winning the sprinter’s classic… The balls to attack on the Poggio… The death defying descent… the grinta to hold on. It was heart-in-mouth, head-in-hands stuff of the highest order. My heart rate must have been at least 180 during the last ten minutes.

    CANYON//SRAM

    Trofeo Binda

    I might be biased, because Rapha sponsors CANYON//SRAM, but I thought that Kasia Niewiadoma’s win at Trofeo Binda was a masterful team effort. Alena Amialiusik and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot acted as foils for their team leader, repeatedly attacking to soften the bunch, before the talented Polish climber made her move. When Niewiadoma attacks – which is often – you can almost feel her will to win, such is the ferocity of her movements. She crossed the line alone in the pouring rain, a heroic victory.

    Tiesj Benoot

    Strade Bianche

    Strade Bianche this year was a day of biblical weather and hellbent racing. At one point it looked like the winner would be either Romain Bardet, Tour de France climber and a man so skinny he looks like he’d snap if he crashed hard enough, and Wout Van Aert, the bulky young Belgian cross rider who just a few weeks before had won the world cyclocross championships. How about that for a two-up? But then Tiesj Benoot, 5th at Flanders when he was just 21 and finally delivering on all his promise, attacked on the dirty white roads. He clearly doesn’t feel the cold, having been the only man in the bunch to start without leg warmers on, and god he looked good, a terracotta warrior coming to life and bludgeoning the field, leaving the favourites for dead. It was like watching a Belgian hero from the glory years of the sport.

    Stephane Rossetto

    Tour de Yorkshire, Stage 4

    On the Queen Stage of this year’s race, in front of the now customary huge Yorkshire crowds, the 31-year-old Frenchman pulled off an audacious 120km solo breakaway over the hills and took the biggest win of his career. The Cofidis pro said at the finish: “I’m a bit of an old-fashioned rider, never over-calculating or over-analysing things. I like to get out there and take it on."

    Adam Hansen and Tim Wellens

    Giro d’Italia, Stage 8

    The Giro was spectacular this year, the best Grand Tour by far. The stand out moment of panache had to be Chris Froome’s epic breakaway – more of this later – but earlier in the race, on Stage 8, we saw a moment of ingenuity and cheek that could have come from Tour de France history. When Lotto Soudal’s Adam Hansen and Tim Wellens tried to bridge across to a dangerous break, the message came back to the Mitchelton-Scott team of leader Simon Yates and they put the hammer down to catch them. Little did they know that Hansen and Wellens, realising that they weren’t going to stay away, turned off the road and hid from the chasing peloton. They then chased back on and rejoined the leaders at the front, much to the confusion and amusement of the leaders. Hansen later commented: “I’d only ever done that before years ago as an amateur, It’s not so easy to do something like this in the WorldTour.”

    Simon Yates

    Giro d’Italia, Stage 15

    Most of this year’s Giro belonged to Simon Yates, dominant until his fateful collapse on the Finestre. On the mountainous stage to the Sappada ski resort he attacked with 20km and two climbs still to go. Riding on his own he took time on both climbs and descents to win by more than 40 seconds and left Dumoulin and Froome trailing. Seeing Yates going from so far out and climbing in the drops in the pink jersey was reminiscent of Pantani in his pomp.

    Mark Cavendish

    Tour de France, Stage 11

    Cav has struggled with accidents and injuries in recent years 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.

    Julian Alaphilippe

    Tour de France, Stage 16

    Alaphilippe had a magnificent 2018. He is a swashbuckler par excellence, a man unafraid of failure and his polka-dotted Tour de France saw a nation fall in love (again, after Warren Barguil did the same last year). Alaphilippe’s win in the challenging Pyreneen stage to Luchon had panache written all over it, capped by his celebration on the home straight, ‘high-fiving’ the crowd. Alaphilippe has the talent and charisma to become a superstar – and he looks fabulous on a bike too.

    Annemiek Van Vleuten

    La Course by TdF

    Anna Van Der Breggen was utterly dominant in 2018 and at La Course she appeared destined for victory again, dropping everyone on the Colombière and looking smooth and easy. The chasing Anna Van Vleuten, in contrast, looked ragged and exhausted. But she crawled back and, astonishingly, with just 50m to go overtook VDB to win.

    Marianne Vos

    Postnord Vargarda West Sweden Road Race

    Van Vleuten’s win was dramatic, but my favourite moment of the year in women’s racing was Marianne Vos railing the final corner of the Vargarda Road Race in Sweden. She bombed the inside line at about twice the speed of everyone else and got enough of a gap to easily sprint to the win. It was bravery verging on madness, and proved that the G.O.A.T was back to her best.

    Michael Woods

    Vuelta a Espana, Stage 17

    It’s not surprising that the hardest mountains prompt moments of panache most often. Stage 17 of this year’s Vuelta finished on the brutal, fog-bound Balcon de Bizkaia climb. Anyone who wanted to win here had to give everything but Michael Woods showed more heart than anyone in the gruelling finale. Woods collapsed in tears at the finish and later revealed that his wife had lost her father earlier in the summer and the couple had recently lost their son after 37 weeks of pregnancy. “I just channelled my energy into thinking how tough this year has been and used my little guy Hunter as inspiration.” At its best, road racing reveals the depths of the human spirit like no other sport. By revealing his feelings so honestly, Michael Woods became our new hero.

    ASO

    Paris-Tours

    Much has been written about the parlous state of professional cycling. Many of us believe that we need more excitement to bring new fans to the sport and make it more valuable for everyone. That excitement comes from heroes and moments of panache, but it also helps if the races themselves and their parcours are more interesting and unpredictable. So chapeau to ASO for reinventing Paris Tours this year, taking it through the flinty farm tracks of the Loire Valley and making it a more beautiful and thrilling race in the process. It takes bravery and imagination for the company that effectively owns pro racing to reinvent the wheel and that’s panache in my book. More please.

    Vincenzo Nibali

    Il Lombardia

    The season started with a dramatic Nibali win and his 2nd place at Lombardia was perhaps even better. Thibaut Pinot won the race with a brilliant attacking ride. Nibali was clearly a little pink and undercooked, but he gamely reacted to Pinot’s onslaught again and again. Finally dropped by Pinot, he then attacked the chase group as soon as they caught him. Surprise! He knew he’d never catch Pinot, but the desire to come 2nd, in a race he has twice won… Now that’s panache. Che classe.

    Chris Froome

    Giro d’Italia, Stage 19

    I’ve saved the best till last. Yes, it’s surprising to see Chris Froome in a palmarès of panache. He’s an amazing athlete and brilliant competitor but, for all his victories, few fans would call him charismatic or exciting to watch. His victories have come more from calculation than from creativity. But May 25th 2018 and Froome’s 80km breakaway to Giro victory changed all that. Sure, Dave B and Team Sky had done their calculations carefully, plotting their nutrition strategy and placing the whole staff on the final three climbs to support their leader. But it still takes the athlete to make the move and pull it off. I define riding with panache as showing daring, courage and audacity, taking risks and making the race by chancing everything on one exploit. By that definition, Chris Froome’s epic attack and victory was unquestionably the panache moment of this year. I’m sure it will go down as one of the greatest exploits in modern road racing and here’s hoping for similar excitement in 2019.

    Rapha and Team EF

    Cycling with Character.

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