What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Picks the Best of 2015

At this time of year there’s always a discussion in the ‘virtual’ PEZ office about the past season and which rider or race was the best of the 2015 cycling year. Finding consensus was impossible, but when PEZ said “make up your own category”… things got interesting.

PEZ SEZ: Personally I think one of the best things about looking back is how to see something in a different light than the first time around, so when spitballing ideas for our own way to pick the best moments of the 2015 year in cycling, I pondered how we could offer our dear and loyal PEZ-Readers something more than the re-chewn cud that so proliferates the web (and so captures our dwindling collective attention in these mega-byte sized times)… something different… something PEZ…?

First we had a few obstacles to overcome:
– Our geographic locations meant that any group-brainstorming would be out of the question, and confined to whatever we could muster as a coherent email thread.
– The very thing that binds us as PEZ-Crew, also precludes us from ever reaching unanimity – our deep passion for cycling, and our unwavering belief that our opinions actually matter to people outside of our immediate families – such that agreeing on categories for group consideration is as likely as Lance winning another Tour.

So my email to the guys read something like this:
“Let’s come up with our own best moments of the 2015 cycling season, and you get to make up your own category.”

So herewith we present our takes on moments we’ll possibly remember from the season. Our list is by no means definitive – so if you feel compelled – please send us your own category and winner – and maybe we’ll publish them in a few days.

Thanks for reading –
Pez.

 

Lee Rodgers: Best Reminder Why Cycling is the Hardest Sport on the Planet: Gent-Wevelgem 2016
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They came, they saw, they got soaked to the bone, one got blown off his bike and we were all reminded, if ever we had forgotten, that bike riders are tough old bastards. It was the kind of day when even Belgians think twice about going out for a ride, and that is saying something.

The world’s best riders were made to look slow thanks to massive headwinds and the huge gusts on the cross-wind sections saw several riders go down, none more significantly than Geraint Thomas, who looked to be the strongest on the road but who did far too much work along the way.

It was also remarkable for the fact that the riders never once took it easy, partly because the conditions made that near-impossible but also because those same conditions demanded that the brave step forward to seize their destiny. In the end Luca Paolini won and even I couldn’t begrudge him the victory.

Proper race, that one. . .

 

Alessandro Federico: Best One Day Race of the Year
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In my opinion it was Strade Bianche with no doubts. Sure, the fact I was chasing that race influence a lot my opinion, but just tell me another race where real battle starts 70 km from the finish and where you can find steep climbs, dramatic descents and gravel. Last edition was decided by the chilly wind, blowing the entire day and splitting the peloton far away from Siena. The final kilometers were, as usual, very exciting with the steep Santa Caterina climb in the old town, just before the entrance in one of the most beautiful squares in the world: Il Campo. Won Stybar, and it’s not a case. Only riders with a good bike control could save some energy in such difficult condition given by the stormy wind.

 

Leslie Reissner: Best Champion We Always Knew Was There Revealed
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Peter Sagan: How we laughed and laughed at all those second-place finishes at the Tour de France this year! Just like he did on stages at the Tour of Qatar and twice at Tirreno-Adriatico. He cracked at E3 Harelbeke and Flanders and was nowhere at Paris-Roubaix. Sure, he won some race in California, did okay in Switzerland and took the Green Jersey in Paris in spite of those five second place finishes. His stage win in Spain didn’t lead anywhere when he got knocked off by a motorcycle. The Slovakian time trial and road championships are nice enough but who was he racing against: his brother? At least he did not embarrass any podium girls this year.

But then came September and Peter Sagan showed us all what he is made of as he perfectly timed his attack in Richmond, Virginia, climbing away from the peloton to cross the finish line alone at the World Championships. After throwing his helmet and glasses to the crowd and then extracting himself from the embrace of his enthusiastic girlfriend (now wife since November), Sagan walked back to the finish line and high-fived his laughing opponents. The crowd went wild. Has there been a winner of the Rainbow Jersey with such panache, such popularity, such good humor, such wild hair in recent memory? This was a win to build legends on.

And when asked by a broadcaster how he liked the Worlds’ course in Richmond, Our Peter remarked: “I liked it very much. I won.” At 25 we can only hope he has a lot more courses to like in the future.

 

Mark McGhee: Most Anticipated Failure… but does it really matter when you’ve won the Tour?
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It was always going to be a career-defining moment in a career of career-defining moments. Having become the first British rider to win Le Tour, taken Gold at the Olympic TT, failed spectacularly at the Giro, and crushed Tony Martin again at the Worlds TT, Sir ‘Wiggo’ had set on his sights on the most iconic classic of all: Paris-Roubaix.

Due to leave his Sky team, in the process forming his very own squad, the boy who was born in Gent would have a last crack at the Queen of the Classics, a race, like Flanders, dear to the heart of any Belgian-born cyclist. The pressure on Sir Brad was intense, and the media were looking for an all-or-nothing performance. He’d fought his way back to the front of De Ronde in support of Geraint Thomas but he was keeping in the background as Paris-Roubaix approached.

We caught up with him at the start of the mid-week Scheldeprijs in Antwerp, a race traditionally favored by the sprinters and destined to be won by man of the moment Alexander Kristoff. Surrounded by his teammates, and using the similarly bearded Bernhard Eisel as a decoy doppelganger, there was a bit of sitting around before being called on stage to be presented to the crowd. Swapping sunglasses, snacking on energy bars, posing for photographs from team snapper Scott Mitchell, the Sky boys were having a laugh and joking around.

Sir Brad proved to very approachable but it was a different story at the Compiegne sign-on for P-RBX as the Sky riders fought their way through the waiting crowd of spectators and souvenir hunters. Wiggins was the undoubted star and was trying to remain very low-key as his teammates shepherded him towards the media enclosure. It was a very different atmosphere, as he would try to take the first ‘monument classic’ for his team the following day.

Ultimately it came to nothing as he attacked with 30km to run but was pulled back and finished 18th…respectable but not what he, and every British cycling fan, wanted.

We caught up with him again at the start of the Edinburgh stage of the Tour of Britain, his final road race, and he was back to the Bradley Wiggins I’ve always experienced… friendly, willing to chat, and standing for as long as possible signing autographs before the Race Director forced him to the start.

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Having surpassed Alex Dowsett’s Hour record by almost a mile he’s now in full track mode as the Rio Olympics approach and I for one will be shouting myself hoarse when he goes for gold… something I’ve not done since Robert Millar won at Superbagnéres in 1989.

Gaand, gaand Wiggo Wiggo!

 

Stephen Cheung: Best “I’ll take over from here, thanks” domestique to leader for a day
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Sure, Luca Paolini getting busted for dabbling with the white nose candy in July makes my choice for “smartest” rider seem ironic. But go back to Gent-Wevelgem and I defy anyone to convince me of a more epic day of racing this year, capped off by the most tactically brilliant ride I can remember over the past decade. The race was highlighted by insane weather conditions of rain and winds that blew many riders into the ditches. Paolini started the day as a domestique for Kristoff, but seized the leadership reins when that plan flew out the proverbial window. From there, it was an absolute master class in tactics and grinta. There’s endless lessons in racing to be learned from watching and rewatching that race, and I tried to break down many of the nuances of Paolini’s race. Watch, read, and learn. Just stay away from the white lines.

 

Darrell Parks: The Best Race Course and Organization
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Without a doubt, my most memorable race of 2015 was the Road Cycling World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. The weeklong event, with the best cyclists from around the globe, right in my back yard, just couldn’t be topped. The course was amazing, from the scenery and toughness of the cobbled Libby Hill Climb to the rugged venture through the historic Shockoe Bottom district along the elevated train tracks and the James River. Throw in 16 times up the steep, cobbled 23rd street climb, and overwhelming support and attendance from the American cycling fans, and you’ve got one of the best Worlds Road Championships ever. Chapeau to the race organizers for an awesome course design and the American cycling fans for making this one race I’ll never forget.

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Gordan Cameron: Leader of the year – Lizzie Armitstead
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There’s a quiet authority about Lizzie Armitstead; she’s in charge of her team and her destiny. Everyone knows it, but everyone seems to like that scenario. The respect she is held in by her Boels-Dolmans team-mates was obvious at the Aviva Women’s Tour, as was the despair and concern when she crashed out after stage 1.

Armitstead bounced back ten days later to win the British Nationals, then stormed to a second consecutive World Cup as the clear leader of a squad boasting the talents of Guarnier, Majerus, van Dijk, and Stevens.

Most impressive was a stunningly cool World Road Race Championship title: instead of her dominant trade squad, at 26 Armitstead guided an inexperienced British team like an ice-in-the-veins poker player. Never panicking, knowing her form was there, she led by example profiting from the efforts of the Dutch once she was isolated. Delivering on her responsibilities, Armitstead finished off a near-perfect year in the rainbow jersey. The undisguised joy of Lucy Garner and co. on the podium said more about Armitstead herself than her successes.

 

Sam Larner: The Most Boring Stage Saved by the Last 3km Award
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The 2015 Tour de France’s race for the GC might’ve been terminated on stage 10 to La Pierre Saint Martin but it was still a race packed with excitement. Based purely on the number of memorable stages, this year’s race was stacked, and arguably the best of all was stage 14 to Mende. A stage that was unremarkable for 175.5km before bursting into technicolor brilliance on the finishing climb. Brit, Steve Cummings, had been a small name in a break of stars and he was almost immediately dropped on the devilishly steep final climb. That was the end of that until Cummings came into view inside the final 1.5km, he was still a long way back until Thibault Pinot and Romain Bardet conspired to beat each other and the MTN-Qhubeka rider took the win of the Tour, arguably the year, on Nelson Mandela day.

I wasn’t roadside for this one, but I did write the race report.

 

Alastair Hamilton: The Big Surprise of the Season
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For me, the ride Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin put up in the 2015 Vuelta a España was the biggest surprise of the season, but was it? He obviously has the engine and his main competitors (apart from winner, Fabio Aru) had just come through a tough Tour de France and were a bit jaded. He took the lead, lost the lead, regained the lead in the individual time trial and until the penultimate stage he looked quite dominant. Why he lost out was probably due to his team not being able to help him much in the mountains and that stage 20 was just too hard for the man from Maastricht.

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I was roadside on stage 9 that finished on the summit of Cumbre del Sol and having ridden up a few weeks previously, I didn’t think a tall man from the low countries would fair too well on this slope. How wrong could I be? Very! He only won the stage and took the overall, but passed the double Tour de France winner, Chris Froome, in the last meters. It was a great day, there were thousands of fans and apart from the parking the venue was phenomenal. Dumoulin can surprise me like that any day he wants.

 

Chuck Peña: Best Casually Deliberate Ride
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Or how to win a race with a sense of effortless style and calm, the way Sean Connery as James Bond wore a Savile Row suit.

This one is easy: Peter Sagan’s win at the World’s in Richmond. He surged past everyone on the cobbled climb up 23rd Street as if to say that every previous move in the race was simply wasted effort. Followed by a lesson in sublime descending. And Sagan was completely casually deliberate when he clipped out of his right pedal on the final climb up Governor with the field not that far behind him. In what could have otherwise been a disastrous mishap, he didn’t panic or miss a pedal stroke as he clipped back in — as if it was just routine, which it was anything but. Then there was Sagan’s reaction as he crossed the finish line knowing he had won. Not the usual hands up thrown high up in the air in a declarative statement of victory, but more with a look like finishing a casual stroll — despite this being the biggest win of Sagan’s career. And then there were all the high fives with his fellow riders to congratulate Sagan on his win. The best was with Tom Boonen, wagging his finger at Sagan with a sly smile that said, “You sneaky little m****f****er.”

Honorable mention goes to the guy who caught Sagan’s bike after he dismounted and flung it in celebration.

 

Richard Pestes: Best Do or Die Redemption Ride
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Or how to save your season – and your face – with a storming ride against a weary field of contract seekers and last minute glory hunters:
Vincenzo Nibali’s win at Giro di Lombardia.
Sure – I was there, and as such the day still takes up sizeable real estate in my recent memory (see my Roadside Report here) – but his Nibs put in a great ride with all the pressure on – after he failed to ignite at le Tour and then embarrassingly got booted off the Vuelta for catching a ride with the team car in full view of the tv cameras… doh! But he pulled it all together with a pretty classy ride and a solo win at Lombardia – on a day that featured slashing rain, hard climbs, and some decent challenges from the weary bunch.

 

Ed Hood: Best Encounter With A Maillot Jaune
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My 60th birthday fell during our trip to Australia back in June. It happened that it was going to be the day we visited six day legend, Don Allan at his bed & breakfast in the Dandenong Ranges hills near Melbourne. I’d said to Rob, our friend and traveling companion in Oz not tell Don about my birthday, I didn’t want any fuss. Of course, he did tell – and as well as being winner of 17 six days, a stage in the Peace Race and a stage in the Vuelta, Don is a renowned party animal. There was a splendid buffet, beverages aplenty – and a cake. There were also Australia’s first Grand Tour star, Gary Clively (seventh in the 1977 Vuelta); former Professional World Sprint Champion, Gordon Johnson; Sun Tour organizer and former Euro pro, John Trevorrow. I was in heaven.

There was a knock at the door; ‘you best answer that, Ed’ Don said to me. I stood like a rabbit caught in headlights, as the rest laughed, I just pointed and stammered; ‘Phil Anderson!’ It’s not every day you have a maillot jaune at your birthday party – especially one as humble and grounded as Phil.

The best story of the evening?
John Trevorrow having a fag before Giro stages?
Gordie Johnson getting kicked to death in the chases in the six days then Peter Post warning him not to embarrass him in the sprints?
Don Allan nearly freezing to death with Danny Clark at the Zurich Six Day when their rivals unplugged the heating in their caravan?
Or maybe how Phil Anderson’s life changed forever when he pulled on that yellow tricot. . .

It took 60 years but it was the best birthday of my life.

 


Season’s greetings to everyone and let’s look forward to an exciting 2016 season. Keep it PEZ for our unique view of the sport we love.

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