The PEZ Pick of 2016!

The curtain has come down on 2016 and so the ‘PEZ Crew’ review the past season, the high points of yet another fun packed year. But this is a running Chris Froome free area (mostly). Peter Sagan gets the vote of rider of the year, Matt Hayman does the ride of the year, Steven Kruijswijk the big loser and Esteban Chaves the man to watch. Season ’16 in a nut shell.

Richard Pestes – Publisher
Giro’16: Kruijswijk’s Crash Is Nibali’s Gain

Pro cycling seems to go in waves – we have our good years and we have our not so good ones.  The reasons are way more complicated than I could venture to explain – and that’s not what this column’s about anyway – but after 30 years as a fan of pro road cycling, there’s little about the 2016 season that I’ll remember in the years ahead. Hell, I can hardly remember who won the Vuelta.

I’m not any less of a fan than I used to be, but it’s fair to say that my perspective on race watching has been changed by the turmoil of doping and corruption in the modern era. What I’ve come to focus on and appreciate most as a fan is watching the live race coverage unfold before my eyes. Everything can change in an instant – which is exactly how life is – and maybe why we as fans are so compelled to watch sporting events of all kinds.

That’s why when I cast a glance backwards at the 2016 racing season, the one moment that stood out for me was Steven Kruijswijk’s unfortunate crash just after the summit of the Colle del’Agnello at the Giro d’Italia’s 19th stage. It was in that moment that the winds of victory shifted from his sails and started blowing in Vincenzo Nibali’s direction – setting up an amazing comeback win which was made even more astounding by the massive implosion suffered by Kruijswijk. After 18 stages of what threatened to be the dullest Giro in ages, the whole thing exploded in our faces and we got to watch two days of amazing human drama, suffering, defeat and joy.

Whatever suspicions we might have about pro bike racing these days, there’s no denying the emotions felt by the two protagonists were the real deal.

Ed Hood – Reporter At Large
Yes, this is the place, beautiful old cathedral towers overlook a surreal scene – giant canisters of washing powder whizz past as pop music blasts; Imany – “Don’t be so shy, take of your clothes. . .”

And there’s what it’s all about, that lovely trofeo bearing the name of all of the greats – Bartali, Coppi, Gimondi, Merckx – caressed by a Goddess, of course.

We just need some riders; someone big, strong, bold with stage presence – Daniel Oss will do just fine. . . The start of another Giro for Dave and Ed – ‘Tutto il rosa della vita. . .

Leslie Reissner – Literary Editor
For me 2016 was the year in pro cycling we had been waiting to see as Peter Sagan at last came into the realization of all that potential the world knew was there. A superb palmarès, as he held his Rainbow Jersey for another year, having worn the old one in winning the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, the European Road Championships, the Overall UCI World Tour title, the Grand Prix de Québec and sporting the Yellow Jersey at the Tour for the first time. He had podium places at E3 Harelbeke, Grand Prix de Montréal, Tirreno-Adriatico, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Eneco Tour–only 4th at Strade Bianche, alas–and won the Points Classification in lots of races, including his fifth time taking the Green Jersey at the Tour, only one away from Erik Zabel’s record. That’s a pretty nice list but does little to describe the panache, the excitement, of this entertaining rider’s performances. His motoring through the final climbs in Flanders, his sudden appearance and dash for the finish line in Qatar—this was done with all the style and personality of the greatest legends of cycling’s pantheon.

More of this in 2017. Please!

Sam Larner – London Bureau
Happy New Year everyone! Hope 2017 has started well for you all!

I was lucky enough to be writing the report the day that Froome threw his bike aside in favor of cleats and then an ill fitting replacement bike. It was a fantastic moment, which overshadowed the actual winner of the day, surely that will form the basis of a pub quiz or cycling trivia question one day, the answer was Thomas De Gendt just so you know.

However, that wasn’t my favorite moment of 2016. That honor, and I realize I’m stretching ‘moment’ here, goes to the 2016 Paris-Roubaix. Firstly, there was the winner; Matthew Hayman is one of the most deserving winners of the year. He joined Rabobank in 2000, spent ten years there, before joining Sky and then, current team, Orica-GreenEDGE. Despite that eighteen year career, Hayman has managed just two victories; one in the Paris-Bourges in 2011 and, of course, Paris-Roubaix in 2016. No doubt; Paris-Tours, Paris-Camembert and Paris-Brussels are all on the Australian’s radar as he continues his domination of races which begin in Paris.

Secondly, there was the manner of victory. Hayman was involved in the first break to stick, 230km away from the finish in the Roubaix velodrome. It wasn’t a simple matter of staying away to the end though, Etixx were desperate to deliver Boonen to victory, in what then looked to be the Belgian’s final Roubaix. With Tony Martin sat on the front they decimated the peloton, surprisingly distancing both Sagan and Cancellara, the pair were within sight for kilometer after kilometer but they were doing all the work themselves and eventually fell away. Meanwhile, the Martin pacemaking was dragging Boonen up to the lead group and into Hayman’s hands.

Time after time after time, the lead group was shaped and reshaped, but Hayman was ever present. In the finale, Boonen, Boasson-Hagen, Vanmarcke and Stannard distanced Hayman but the Australian fought back and then pushed on, only to be brought back into the fold. But, as they hit the velodrome, It was Hayman, Boonen and Vanmarcke left and despite the Australian’s exertions and comparative lack of a sprint, he was the first to the line with a celebration that seemed to say, ‘I can’t believe this either’.

Mark McGhee – Reporter At Large
Every year we’re asked to filter through the hundreds of pro races covered by and come up with one stand-out performance to beat them all…an impossible task you might say. As I tend to concentrate on Grand Tours, it makes perfect sense for me to pass up on all the one-day performances in favor of a race within a race. Having been warned off the infamous Froome running stage by Alastair our editor as being the all too obvious choice it might surprise some that I’ve gone for a sprint stage… Stage 6 of the Tour de France from Arpajon Sur-Cére down into Montauban.

All too often we dismiss these ‘sprint’ stages in the following way: a sacrificial breakaway gets established and proceeds to broil under a burning sun; they’re kept on a long but manageable leash by the bunch; after the feedzone they’re rapidly reeled in and the final 5km sees the only real racing of the day. Of course, this isn’t really fair to those riders who put everything on the line for their teams and sponsors, often the same individuals day after day. They do a vital job of taking the sting out of the main race for as long a time as possible and the latter half of 2016 saw more successful breakaways than ever before… so fortune sometimes favors the brave and we cheer them all the way to the line or groan when the bunch overhauls them.

It also gives the pundits in the Press Room the time to kick back and speculate and to discuss other aspects of the sport and this is almost as vital to any cycle racing fan as the race itself. On this particular stage it was Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) trying his hand yet again, this time accompanied by Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida). This was not the first try for Barta and it wouldn’t be the last. With sprint stages few and far between, the main teams were paying attention and on this occasion the leaders were brought to book as the Etixx train took control. Marcel Kittel was confident, although not as confident as last year and Greipel was desperate for a win.

However, every year the journalists describe Mark Cavendish as a spent force only for him to eventually get on the score sheet and silence them for a while longer. But 2016 was different… he already had two wins heading into Montauban and once again he played it perfectly to put the others into the shade and claim his third stage, putting himself firmly into the all-time second spot overall.

He’s not always the media’s favorite but when Cavendish is winning pretty much everyone around him is happy and having been privileged to have met him several times over the last couple of years I was genuinely pleased for him. He would go onto add to his tally of stage wins on Stage 14 and the Manxman had arguably one of his best years in 2016.

Every year, I also like to look closer to home and last year I tipped Scottish riders Mark Stewart and Joe Nally… and both riders have done superbly well; Stewart has made a name for himself on the six-day circuit as well as riding a huge variety of races through the year, and Nally rode fantastically well in the junior Paris Roubaix and has also done well in six-day events with Andy Brown. This year I’d like to focus on another young rider who, returning from serious injury, found himself off the radar of British Cycling and made the brave decision to follow the old professional path originally blazed by the likes of Millar, Peiper, Anderson and Yates. Stuart Balfour has joined his team in France and will prove his worth on the road and with the team having connections to FdJ who knows where it will lead… with Stuart’s determination we’re bound to hear more of him in the future.

Stuart Balfour:

I’d like to pay tribute to a friend who sadly was taken from us in 2016. Peter Clark was a coach, mentor, organizer, racer, commissaire, development officer and, I’m proud to say, my friend. Peter succumbed to a heart attack in the middle of the year and left a huge hole in the Scottish cycling community. His knowledge and compassion for the sport was obvious to all and he always had a smile and a wave for a cold photographer stuck out on the loneliest and remotest part of a race circuit. May you always have a tailwind Peter.

And so to 2017… the spring Classics will be upon us in no time and I’m keen to start my 5th year with the best bunch of guys and the most informative pro cycling site around. I look forward to bringing you all the action from the races I’m lucky enough to cover and if you see me on the road, don’t be shy! Happy 2017!

Peter Clark:

Chuck Peña – DC Bureau
So we’ve been asked to pick our best cycling moment of 2016. There are certainly many to chose from: Froomie’s run on Ventoux (but we were explicitly told this was too obvious so strictly verboten), Nibs snatching the Giro in the waning stages, Bertie’s attacking on Stage 15 in true Contadoresque fashion with Nairoman following to extend his lead in the red jersey, Fabs at Strade Bianche and Olympics TT, and just about everything Peter Sagan did.

My pick is stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia. But not Nibali’s ride into the maglia rosa. Less obviously, Joe Dombrowski‘s (Cannondale) ride. Joe was in a select group of eight riders when he attacked on the Colle della Lombardia. Only Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC) could go with him. But eventually Tanel Kangert (Astana) and Rein Taaramae (Katusha) bridged. Taaramae won with Atapuma second at 52 seconds and Dombrowski third at 1:17. Although Joe was disappointed at not being able to win the stage, it was still great to see him on the podium. And he seemed to be finding the form that netted him the baby Giro when he was an amateur. Plus he ended up a respectable 34th on GC after the stage and would hold that place when the Giro finished in Turin. So why is that my favorite moment of 2016? Because Joe Dombrowski is a local Virginia boy and what’s not to love when a local boy does good?

I’d also like to nominate another moment in 2016. Not from the pro peloton. But from a friend I know only via the wonder of the worldwide web, Randy C at Velominati. After reading on PEZ that I couldn’t beat my daughter at golf last year, he wrote: “I know where you are coming from; the young lady of our house has taken to following my wheel up a hill before attacking and… well, not much I can do. BUT, she cannot beat me at golf!” We’ve never met or ridden together, but presumably Randy is no slouch on a bike. So how good is his daughter? “By the time she got to the top there was enough room to build a Wal Mart between her and I.” What’s not to love about a dad getting his soul crushed on a climb by his daughter? Those are the moments we live for.

Alessandro Federico – Italian Bureau
When Pez asked my choice for the best moment in 2016 was straight: Esteban Chaves’ maglia rosa. It lasted only 24 hours but was bright. This young Colombian rider (another one!) was able to wear the leader jersey in Risoul, the evening before the last mountain stage of Giro d’Italia, but with four riders in less than 2 minutes it was really hard for him to control the race, without a strong team for GC. In fact, the day after, the Astana team took the total control of the race, preparing for the best the Vincenzo Nibali’s attack on the Colle della Lombarda. Chaves was easily isolated by the Kazak team and he lost the race by less than a minute. You may watch the crucial moment of the stage HERE. That day I was there, waiting the race on the road to Colle della Lombarda. It was a warm day, despite the high mountains all around were still showing traces of snow. All of us were convinced we were going to witness the Nibali’s attack, and there was a strange feeling, a kind of excitement, while the race was approaching the last climb. It was the same when, at Olympics, the athletes prepare for the final 100 meters: the whole stadium quiets because everybody understand that something serious is going to happen. It was a great cycling moment to live on the road and I enjoyed any second of that. I was there with friends and we were so exhausted the evening, on the way back home. All together talking about how strong and brave was that young Colombian, defending the leader jersey till last meter of race. Yes, he lost. But who cares?

Gordan Cameron – Scottish Bureau
One month on from the Rio crash which left us fearing the worst, Annemiek van Vleuten was back … and winning. Storming up the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the Bosberg and the Berendries, the Dutch woman put over a minute into Marta Bastianelli, Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson and Lisa Brennauer to take the stage and the overall at the Lotto Belgium Tour, riding for her national team.

To recover from the physical damage (cracked vertebrae) was impressive; to put the emotional disappointment of a missed Olympic medal in a box and get back to the top step of the podium is something else, when she could easily have just written off the rest of the season. There’s a lesson for everyone in there…

Matt McNamara – Toolbox Contributor
The helicopter appears in the distance. It criss-crosses the country, just out of earshot as the service cars begin to pass my position, bottoms scrapping over the crown of stones that runs down the center of the ancient track. I am at the midpoint of the Carrefour de L’Arbe, 2.1 kilometers of brutal beauty a mere 15 kilometers from the finish of the 2017 Paris-Roubaix. I am just a few yards past the last ninety degree corner, at the very spot I had flatted the day before while riding the sportive, trying to absorb every last impression of the race as it whirlwinds towards me.

Suddenly Sep Vanmarcke burst through the corner alone and driving hard just a few seconds ahead of a Tom Boonen led trio chasing to bring him back before the finale. Eventual winner Matt Hayman follows a handful of seconds later looking purposeful. It is loud and chaotic, gorgeous and ephemeral. It is my best moment of 2016.

Chris Selden – French Bureau – Readers’ Rigs
I have to agree with Matt and choose Paris-Roubaix as my stand out moment of the year. Matt Hayman’s victory against the odds was a true classic victory and one for the underdogs. I raced against Matt about 15 years ago and to think that he is still in the pro ranks and not only that – taking the biggest victory of his life in the twilight of his career is amazing. Meanwhile I’m fat and old and watching it all play out on the TV yelling and screaming at the TV.

Darrell Parks – North American Photographer
My best of nod for 2016 has to go to Peter Sagan. He’s undeniably the best. Fun to watch, easy to like, and the most entertaining cyclist currently throwing a leg over a bike. Back to back Road World Championships should be enough of a feat to clinch the award. Let us not forget his amazing bike handling skills at Paris Roubaix. He basically bunny hopped over a crashing Cancellara at full clip while barely breaking stride!

My personal reason for picking Sagan in 2016 stems from getting to watch him up close in the AMGEN Tour of California. Specifically his heroics during Stage 6 that started and ended in Santa Rosa. Sagan got into the break on the initial climb to Kings Ridge. Then he attacked and went solo on the final climb of Coleman Valley Road. But the truly amazing thing was trying to follow him down the super technical, single lane, twisting descent, back into Sant Rosa, on the photo motorcycle! Keeping a safe distance was not a problem as he just ran away from us and the rest of the race caravan as well as the peloton. I found myself actually laughing out loud as I just could not believe the speed he was carrying through the tight and bumpy turns. Unfortunately the descent ended well before the finish and the flat run into Santa Rosa allowed him to be caught by the chase. He certainly makes every race he enters exciting for the fans as he always goes for the win!

Stephen Cheung Ph.D. – Toolbox Editor
Being the resident cyclocross fanatic in the group, my favorite moment of 2016 came early, way back to the start of February and the Worlds at Zolder. Besides being the CX race that my whole family attended during our sabbatical in Europe back in 2011/12, Zolder Worlds was the final hurrah for the legendary Sven Nys. After a horrible 2014/15 season that left everyone wondering if it was the dreaded “one year too many,” Sven start 2015/16 with one clear mission: beat the young generation of rising stars (van Aert, van der Poel, Sweeck, etc.) one final time. He did just that in wonderful fashion at the famous Koksijde World Cup in late 2015, and now here he was, lurking in his favorite 5th spot in the coalescing pack. Then there it was – halfway through the race and suddenly Sven surges off the front and gaps the whole pack! Could it be? That attack and minute off the front, though ultimately futile, brought all of Belgium and the entire CX world to its feet and a lump to its throat, wondering if just maybe the great man could finish off his career with a historic win. A final 4th place was a classy reward for Sven and his attack a reminder to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Alastair Hamilton, Editor, EuroTrash – Spanish Bureau
2016 was a strange old year: The Giro d’Italia gave us a surprise, the Tour de France was fairly dull again, apart from a bit of running, and the Vuelta a España was exciting, but is maybe taking the summit finish thing a bit too far. The Classics were a great spectacle and Peter Sagan was the ‘man of the match’ although you have to wonder what Greg Van Avermaet would have done if he hadn’t crashed in Flanders. Sagan and Van Avermaet were the stand-out riders of the year with Nairo Quintana, Steven Kruijswijk, Matt Hayman and Esteban Chaves taking the second spot of the year’s podium. Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome won a Grand Tour, but neither of them inspired much excitement, that was left to other riders who had no chance of overall victory. But I wouldn’t have missed a second of any of it.

One of the exciting riders of the year on the attack in la Vuelta, Esteban Chaves

The top men of la Vuelta chasing the young Colombian

On a personal note; I really enjoyed my visits to the Vuelta stages this year. The fans were out in force (many Colombians), the racing was good and the ambiance of the race seems to have returned with the new sponsorship money brought in by ASO. The size of the crowd on the Aitana on the penultimate stage 20 was close to scary as was the steepness of the stage finish of stage 17 on the Alto Mas de la Costa at the end of the Camins del Penyagolosa. Driving behind David Arroyo of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA on one of my favorite roads of the Costa Blanca on stage 19 from Xàvia to Calpe was a standout day. Arroyo didn’t have a great day and we were passed by three or four riders, but the whole experience was one to remember with the Mediterranean sea on one side and the mountains to the other. The encouraging fans at the side of the road on a sunny day was a pleasure to see. Every day should be like a Vuelta stage – podium girls and sunshine!.

Roll on 2017!

# Happy New Year from everyone at PEZ and thanks for reading and stay tuned to PEZ for all the excitement from the 2017 season. #

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