What's Cool In Road Cycling

The PEZ Top Picks Of 2011

Before we give in to 2012 once and for all, we’re going to to take one final look back at the year that was with our top picks from 2011. Ranging from riders to races (good and bad), tech to rides, and everything in between – we’ve got an entertaining way to sum up a great year. Read on!

Richard Pestes
An Unworthy Giro – As much as 2011 served up some fantastic racing, what stood out for me was the most disappointing event of the year – the 2011 Giro d’Italia. As a negroni loving, green, white, and red supporter of this race, considering myself a ‘real’ fan since I first saw it in 1994, and without a local cafй filled with Italian cronies to vent to, I need to get this outta my system somewhere…

Looks like this on the riders’ faces were the norm during the Giro’s final week.

After several editions of spectacular ‘corse’, and often the best racing of the year, the 2011edition was ruined by human tragedy, a foregone conclusion we haven’t seen since the Lance era, and a selection of stages that reduced a respectable field of professional bike riders to a cyclo-touristic parade.

Ex-director Zomegnan must have drank so much of his own koolaid that he simply lost sight of how to design stages to encourage decent bike racing. There’s no doubt the ridiculous parcours encouraged the top riders to train somewhere else. There’s no way to ride a Giro this tough, and expect to be in form for July. And regardless of what some people may hope, the bike racers will never regard the Giro as highly as they do le Tour. Contador’s uncertain invitation to le Tour was about the only reason for him to show up… and save the race before it even started. At least Contador added some draw to a lackluster card of challengers.

The race was only 4 stages old when fate took the wrong guy at the wrong time, and while that was beyond anyone’s control, it will sadly be the enduring memory of the 2011 edition. Then, while Wouter Weyland’s death shook the whole sporting world, what little desire was left to race was for all intents and purposes squashed by Alberto Contador’s mopping the slopes of Mt. Etna with the field. I recall the feeling when Lance passed Ullrich in the opening stage of the ’05 Tour… .

The race wasn’t even halfway in: spirit broken, and summarily flushed.

All that was left were a slew of stages with too much climbing, too little rest, and too long transfers that Sr. Zomegnan succeeded only in reducing highly trained, extremely fit, and well paid professional bike racers to the level of so many of us cyclo-wannabee‘s clawing our way to the end of a century – just hanging on the finish. (And by the way, you’re expected at the start again tomorrow.) The faces of the riders on stage 15 Passo Fedaia (still 30 some kms and another climb to go) told the truth – what started as a ‘race’ had become a basic fight for survival – no pun intended.

I covered the final week myself, and even I lost interest several days before the end. I’m sad to say that. But the future looks bright – Zomegnan’s gone, the new corsa looks set for some serious racing. And of course the optimism of a new year is upon us.

Vive il Giro !

Edmond Hood
In September, there’s a race at Viane in Belgium, the Grote Prijs Paul Borremans – it’s not a race which is well known to fans out with the area but it’s a ‘toughie.’

It was first held in 1961; Rik Van Looy won it in 1964, Eddy Merckx in ’66 and ’71, Roger De Vlaeminck in ’70, Claude Criquielion in ’81 and Edwig Van Hooydonck in ’94.

The last three editions saw Steven Caethoven, Bobbie Traksel and Johnny Hoogerland win – all hard men.

Another hard man won it this year, Vacansoleil’s Stijn Devolder – in the overall scheme of these World Tour days it’s not a major result.

Look for a return to the glory days of old for Stijn Devolder in 2012.

But to the former Belgian elite time trial and road race champion it’s a big win – his only one of the year.

Last year he saved his season by winning both of those Belgian titles and the Tour of Belgium to boot – but to the fans and media they were poor compensation from a man who delivered them two Rondes, in ’09 and ’08, the latter in the glorious red, yellow and black of the Belgian national champion’s jersey.

This hasn’t been his best season so Viane was important to the man – it put him back on track mentally.

Our ‘insiders’ tell us that his head is good and so is his physical condition.

Viane may not have made the glossy magazines but it could be one of the most important races of this year – and next.

Alastair Hamilton
When “The PEZ” asked for my top rider, race, event etc of 2011, I was a bit stumped! First thoughts were of Philippe Gilbert and his terrific season, he could win when and where he liked, but then on reflection, Mr. Gilbert was a tad predictable. On a selective course with a hill at or near the finish, then it was a good idea to put your money on the Belgian, but the odds were not great. So my choice is Cadel Evans’ win in the Tour de France, at last. I interviewed Cadel at the start of the season and he came over as a really nice guy, I couldn’t understand the “Cuddles” tag and now that he and his wife, Chiara, have adopted a 12 month Ethiopian boy, it kind of proves it.

Cadel Evans.

Cadel rode a near perfect Tour, he didn’t take big time, except in the final TT over Andy Schleck and over the others when they faltered. He didn’t take any chances, any risks, but that is the way you win a modern Tour de France, unless your name is Contador and you can attack on a severe climb and stay away. Watching Cadel climb reminds me of him when he was wearing the “Maglia Rosa” in the 2002 Giro d’Italia and he cracked spectacularly. “Oh, he’s only a Mountain Biker” they said! Maybe he was, but he was a brilliant mountain biker and Aldo Sassi could see the Cadel engine was a big one. So Cadel Evans is my pick of the season, nice guys can win Grand Tours, so there is hope for Andy Schleck.

The superstars got their due in 2011, but so did a bunch of others – like Oliver Zaugg.

If I am allowed a second place; then that would go to Oliver Zaugg for his very impressive Giro di Lombardia win. Before that day in October, you would have said “Oliver who?” in his career there hasn’t been any win, he’s always been the strong team worker, but never the winner. In Lombardia he waited for the others to have thrown their gauntlets down and then he played his card at the best possible moment for the best kind of win possible…the solo finish. Let’s hope there are more performances like the ones from Cadel and Oliver in 2012, bring it on!

Charles Manantan
If I had to look back on the year in Tech, there could be several different mentions, but none seem to go further in either frame or group development than Parlee and Toyota’s Prius X concept and their combined effort to bring something new. Of course the frame is a hell of a project stand alone, and I’m hoping Parlee bring an aero road bike to market shortly. I’m not holding my breath though because Parlee simply won’t do a half assed job of it, as a few others have that rushed a product out that either isnt aero, pays no attention to cable routing or brake positions, weighs too much or rides like shit (be it too much flex or not enough). I’m also not holding my breath that Shimano and Toyota will combine with Deeplocal to create a brain hack any time soon. Perhaps my biggest wish would be that Shimano actually develop and bring to market many of the things they try for patents on.

A second mention goes to the guys at 4iii creating the Sportiiis a new wireless HUD like display that puts pacing information right on your glasses. It’s a product you could actually go out and buy and breaks more new ground than a lot of other new products this year that are variations on things that have been around for a while.

Gordan Cameron
One man alone in a mock Colosseum, facing down his detractors. There was plenty of booing and whistling going round the auditorium like a virus when Alberto Contador took center stage on the Teams’ Presentation day at this year’s Tour de France.

Alberto Contador.

For me, this is the biggest story of 2011, just like it was in 2010, and probably will be for a fair proportion of 2012 – regardless of whether Alberto gets a thumbs-up and a pat on the back for his patience when the Court of Arbitration for Sport passes judgement next month, or whether he gets booted onto the sidelines. It shouldn’t take this long to sort it all out – he could practically have served his ban by the time we find out if he really was positive. By the time I left the Tour, the boos had turned to cheers. Maybe the fans should decide?

Matt Conn
Looking back on the 2011 cycling year, there were a several events that really stood out for me. One of those in particular will likely be regarded in years to come – well, at least by me – as a great moment in cycling history and hopefully be looked back on as a starting point of bigger things to come.

Back in the spring, I missed my annual trip to Milan for the start of Milan-Sanremo and instead was at home on family duties. What this meant, however, was that instead of being stuck on a train while the final kilometres were being raced, I was stuck in front of my television set watching the race unfold.

Over the top of the Poggio, there was one man who I was trying to spot in the main group and as the camera panned along the final contenders, there was Matt Goss towards the rear of the group.

Matt Goss celebrates his huge win in Sanremo.

After the no-holds-barred descent and the final tactical run along the seafront, the Tasmanian raised his arms as the winner of one of the top classics of the season. The win itself was fantastic but watching it and going from “He’s one of the outsiders to win” to, “if he gets over this climb he might win” to, “if this group stays together he will win “to finally, “You Rippa! He HAS won! ” made the race one of those strange (dare I say it… emotional) experiences that top level sport has the power to deliver.

Cadel’s win at the Tour was another huge one for me along with Gilbert’s season in general and Cavendish going into the worlds as top favourite and still walking away with the rainbow jersey. Goss’ ride, however, was really one of those career defining moments and it was a pleasure to see him win. Not the first ‘decent’ win of his career by any stretch (so no one can say he was a ‘lucky’ winner), but with HTC folding and GreenEDGE beckoning, it really showed that Goss had the class to step away from Cavendish’s shadow and go to another team and be their number one sprinter.

Cadel Evans.

2012 with Cavendish, Goss and Renshaw all going head to head will be something to look forward to.

Leslie Reissner
In terms of professional racing, there is always something outstanding that happens every year. Some established stars add to their palmares, others fail to meet their potential and yet new contenders arrive on the scene.

I enjoyed following the Tour de France in 2011, not only for Cadel Evans’ superbly-executed victory but also for Alberto Contador’s refusal to give up. However, for me the most impressive accomplishment of the year was Philippe Gilbert’s remarkable 2011. Although a smart and competitive rider in the past, 2011 saw an incredible string of victories.

Philippe Gilbert.

Besides sweeping the Belgian national titles on the road and in the time trial and winning the Tour of Belgium, he did the unprecedented in winning all the four hilly races (Brabantse Pijl, Fleche Wallone, Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege). I was present at L-B-L and found myself in the middle of the Philippe Gilbert Fan Club on La Redoute. As Gilbert toyed with the Schlecks and easily crossed the finish line in glory, one of the fans watching the big screen burst into tears of joy. You had to be there…

But you could have gone to a lot of places to see Philippe Gilbert win: Spain (Classica San Sebastian); Canada (Grand Prix Cycliste de Quйbec); Italy (Montepaschi Strade Bianche); France (Stage 1 of the Tour de France); Portugal (Stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve). Plus podium places at the Eneco Tour, Milan-San Remo and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montrйal.

Let’s see how Monsieur Gilbert will top this as he moves to the excellent Team BMC.

Stephen Cheung
There’s the old writer’s adage that you should only write about what you know. And from living in Belgium this winter, what I know, or certainly am getting to know, is the Flemish passion for cyclocross. The support for the sport here is simply unbelievable and something to behold.

Is there anything better on two-wheels than cyclocross in Belgium?

Unlike cross elsewhere, the fans are not just family and age-group racers, and suffice to say that I have not seen personal rider fan clubs until my first cross race here. So what I’ve learned this year is that, no matter how the mondialisation of cycling works out, there will always be a home for cycling here in the European heartland of the sport. At the same time, the challenge for cycling is to figure out how to transplant not only the “events” but this deeply ingrained history at the same time. That for me will be the most interesting story in the coming years. Think globally – act locally!

Corey Fox
In 2009, Cadel Evans won the World Championship most likely due to my encouragement, yelling at the TV “f*ckin pedal Cadel, f*ckin pedal!” Up until this point in his career, there were doubts about whether he had it in him to be a Champion. In Mendrisio, he silenced all of the critics. This year’s win at the Tour was another confirmation and puts Cadel firmly in the history books. Whereas Andy Schleck risks becoming another Italo Zilioli – nearly forgotten with his three second places in the Giro from 1964 to 1966 and a third in 1969.

Philippe Gilbert.

While Gilbert won a bunch and is universally recognized as the Cyclist of The Year, 2011 has celebrated the underdog, the little recognized, the guys that had something to prove. Milano Sanremo, Paris Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Lombardia were all great/career changing wins for Goss, Van Summeren, Nuyens and Zaugg. I can’t remember the last time so many unexpected’s won these Classics.

Johan Vansummeren.

This has been a pretty entertaining year, my only worry is that it has also revealed the flaws and limitations of our tired, old system of sponsorships. It’s quite ironic that Europe’s socialism allows such capitalism in their sports organizations, while the USA has a highly regulated, almost communistic system. I don’t know the solution, but feel that the health of our sport needs teams are properly funded and stable. Looking forward to 2012, if it merely matches the level of 2011, we’ll be good – then again, it could even be better!

Dave Alderseabaes
The boss said he wanted one item, but after much consideration I can’t help but submit two great moments from the 2011 road season that really stick out to me:

1. How did you not just smile ear to ear watching Johan Van Summeren win Paris-Roubaix? I think the only human with his undies in a bunch over it was Thor, but the rest of us smiled as the hard working domestique got to bask in the limelight with a hard earned and gutsy win. With the favorites shadow boxing behind, JVS made the most of his moment and put a jewel in the crown of Garmin-Cervelo’s 2012 season. Chapeau Johan!

Johan Vansummeren.

2. Cadel winning the Tour. Plain and simple. After the near misses, the mishaps (Vuelta wheel change a few years back, anyone?), and his somewhat tenuous relationship with the media (dogs, beheadings, oh my!), it was great to see ol’ Cuddles take the rainbow jersey in 2009, but it was even greater to see him donning yellow in Paris in 2011 as the first Australian to win the Tour de France. I think he’s the most worthy winner in many years, holding off the pesky Schleck brothers in the high mountains while his team quieted all naysayers in keeping the Aussie as fresh as possible until the end.

Cadel Evans.

With those two highlights alone 2012 has its work cut out for it to make top that kind of excitement! Happy New Year one and all!

Darrell Parks
For the last 3 years I’ve had the fortune to shoot the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge Gran Fondo. I’ve witnessed the event evolve and mature from 3,500 riders in its first year to 7,500 this year. Where else can you ride along side cyclists like Levi Leipheimer, Odessa Gunn, Axel Merckx, Gavin Chilcott, and Lucas Euser, not to mention the McDreamy TV star himself Patrick Dempsey! Three different ride categories with terrain and views like no other keep riders of all levels content.

Majestic mountains, killer ocean vistas, grueling climbs, and steep twisty descents delight all senses and provide great photographic opportunities for me. The Bike Monkey gang somehow manages to stay on top of things with their supernatural event organization skills for all the cyclist as well as the media. The festival after the ride is second to none and you really get a sense of the cool vibe as you listen to the particiants reminice about the days ride. And even though this years weather may have been a little on the wet side, I don’t believe any of the 7,500 riders complained. Rumor has it that next years’ numbers may approach 10,000!

Jered Gruber
I’ve oooh’d and aaaaah’d about Philippe Gilbert’s 2011 all year long, and of course, it’s the best thing we’ve seen in a long, long time. Unfortunately, there was something even better than that, but we didn’t really get the chance to see it. There were little reports here and there, a YouTube link, a result list.

I’m not going to bemoan the differences between men’s and women’s racing. I am, however, going to note that there’s a rider that is rewriting history books right now – Marianne Vos.

Marianne Vos.

In 2011, the 24-year-old Dutchwoman won 31 times on the road. She won everything you can think of and then some (please don’t make me list them). She won in every way imaginable – from sprints, to mountaintop finishes, to breaks, alone. She dropped her rivals uphill and downhill.

Pretty much the only notable race she didn’t win was the World Road Championship. Somehow, the newly signed Rabobank rider has not been able to take a World Championship on the road since 2006 – her first year in the elite ranks. She won the World Championship that year, but has come up one short every year since. She has been second in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Those are grounds for the label of curse.

Back to the victories… 31 wins in a season would be an unforgettable year for anyone, but that’s nowhere near the extent of what Vos managed in 2011. Her powers extend far beyond her road bike to the track and to cyclocross. On top of her crushing paved dominance, she also became the World Champion in the scratch race. That alone would be notable and fairly unique, but then there’s the monster capper: she also won her third straight and fourth career World Cyclocross Championship.

There is no one in modern cycling that can hold a candle to that kind of omni-dominance. It’s unheard of. It’s mostly unimaginable. It’s incredible.

Again, I don’t want to open up THAT can of worms, but I do want to give credit where it is very much due. Marianne Vos was the most dominant bike racer of 2011, achieving huge success on the road, on the track, and in the mud, from January to December. With the Olympics looming next summer, the possibilities for an even bigger campaign loom…if that’s possible.

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