VCSE’s 2015 Cycling News Reader Poll

I posted my thoughts on the Cycling News Reader Poll last year so here’s this years submission. I haven’t posted anything since the end of the Vuelta for all sorts of different reasons so there might be an end of season review feel to this post as well (maybe!).

I haven’t written about every nominee as it does feel a bit like the Cycling News team went with ten nominees for the Best Male category and then wondered if there would be a bit of a Twitterstorm if they didn’t have the same number of nominees in the other categories. While some of the nominations feel like they have been added for the sake of it, there are other categories where I don’t know enough about the subject matter to comment on whether or not a riders inclusion is warranted. Either way, there won’t be pages and pages on the Mountain Bike or Cyclocross categories.

So without fanfare or drum roll here’s my picks for the 2015.

Best Male Road Rider

So the normal suspects you would expect to see in an end of year poll are hear, alongside a couple of surprises. Lets deal with those first.

Peter Sagan
Peter Sagan

Richie Porte started the year in fantastic form winning Paris Nice for the second time amongst other things and generally looking like a better rider than Chris Froome during the early part of the year. Things began to unravel at the Giro and he began to resemble the rider who hadn’t exactly thrived when he was asked to pick up the team leadership from Froome in the 2014 Tour. Porte’s results post his return to racing after the Giro were less than spectacular and he even found himself slipping in his support role to best pal Froome at the Tour. If I was filling out Porte’s report card in April he would have got a A star but ahead of what is now (probably) a make or break move to BMC in 2016 he’s probably a C minus.

Another ‘What were they thinking?’ addition to the Best Male nomination is Mark Cavendish. Cav started the year under pressure to deliver results at Etixx and ended the year with a new team. While he isn’t the only sprinter to have had a less than stellar year (Marcel Kittel anyone?) it wasn’t perhaps the return to winning ways that everyone (the rider, his team, his fans) wanted. Sure Cav notched up another Tour stage win but he was completely outshone by a resurgent Andre Griepel in terms of number of wins and by the German’s victory on the most important stage of all in Paris. Cav of course remains a massive personality in the peloton and among UK fans but even the most diehard Cav supporter would find it hard to justify his selection as the best rider.

Another early starter was Alexander Kristoff. After Flanders I asked if anyone could stop him from winning any race he chose. Well as with so many predictions there was an element of hubris and Kristoff didn’t go on to win stages at the Tour for fun. In fact other than a low key win towards the end of the year it felt as if the Katusha rider had slipped from the radar screen completely.

Perhaps the sprinter who did the best job of retaining form over the whole season was John Degenkolb. With Marcel Kittel’s catastrophic loss of form Degenkolb became the key focus for his Giant Alpecin team in 2015. That Degenkolb took his first monument in Milan San Remo was perhaps less of a surprise than him taking his second a matter of weeks later in Paris Roubaix. Unlike his rivals Degenkolb was adaptable enough to still win grand tour bunch sprints including the final day around Madrid in the Vuelta. Degenkolb, once a target for Etixx as an eventual replacement for Tom Boonen the irony is that while the team retain the shampoo brand title sponsor it is Kittel who is leaving for the Belgian outfit.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Best Male poll without the Tour winner and sure enough Chris Froome is included. I’ll credit Froomey for not quite sticking to the script this year and looking pretty ordinary on the bike until the latter stages of the Dauphine. The way that he and his Sky teammates bossed the Tour from stage 2 onwards without too much there to unsettle them deserved better than the piss that was literally poured on them in France. There was a tilt a Vuelta Tour double but that was undone by another accident that may or may not have been bought on by bike handling skills. A second Tour win for the honorary Brit is no mean achievement but no better or worse than the other grand tour winners from this year.

And what of those two? Alberto Contador won the Giro pretty much singlehanded as his Tinkoff teammates struggled to keep pace with Astana. It was pretty clear how much this had taken out of him when he was the first of the big names to really suffer in the Tour. The Giro win didn’t taste quite as sweet while struggling to keep up with Froome and co in July and it’s no surprise that Contador wants to go out with a band in France next year. Fabio Aru was up and down like a yoyo on the Giro and then later during the Vuelta but showed enough to hold on to second place in Italy and then go one better in Spain. Perhaps not the most popular winner of the Vuelta thanks to his team and the manner of the win he looks increasingly like the favoured rider at Astana.

When the BBC crown their Sports Personality each year the debate afterwards often centres less on the winners sporting success as much as are they in fact a personality. When Bradley Wiggins won in 2012 both boxes could be firmly ticked as he rocked up in a wickedly tailored suit and was pissed before the broadcast had even finished. All of that plus Britain’s first ever Tour winner and an Olympic Gold medallist to (Chelsea) boot! Froome the following year wasn’t really in the running, despite Sky’s best efforts to add colour to him. Politeness doesn’t really ‘sell’. Peter Sagan started the year unable to win. I wondered if the pressure of his multi million dollar contract at Tinkoff was having an effect. A trip to the US for the Tour of California where they LOVE him provided the rejuvination and while there wasn’t a win at the Tour the green jersey was duly claimed. It was the end of season single handed win at the world championships that delivered the result that Oleg Tinkoff’s millions demanded but it was the return of Sagan’s sense of fun in post stage interviews at the Tour that cements him as my pick for Best Male rider of 2015.

Best Male Team

Fortunately Cycling News allow us a choice. Don’t fancy any of their nominee’s? Pick one of your own. And that’s what I have done with my Best Male Team selection.

MTN Qhubeka might not have been the winningest team of 2015. In fact they didn’t pick up masses of victories full stop, but it was the significance of what they achieved this year that makes them my pick for Best Male Team.

Bringing Brian Smith on board as General Manager saw the team step up a gear with a number of high profile signings and key changes in equipment to become one of the most distinctive outfits in the peloton. A stage win in the Tour and the Vuelta and Edvald Boasson Hagen winning the overall at the Tour of Britain were the arguably bigger wins than the KOM jersey at the Dauphine but more importantly that was won by a black African rider: Daniel Teklehaimanot. Smith has the challenge of continuing to get the best out of an ageing team of ‘big’ names like new addition Cavendish and promoting the best of the African riders. If he can do this it could be one of the most important components of cycling becoming a more diverse and genuinely global sport.

Best Female Road Rider

Lizzie Armitstead. No contest really. It might be a little bit churlish to say that Marianne Vos being injured for most of the season gave Lizzie a clear run but that would be pretty disrespectful to a talented core of riders within the women’s pro peloton just as much as it would be disrespectful to Lizzie.

Winning the world cup for the second year in a row demonstrated her form over the course of the season and the world championships was the icing on the cake. More importantly the way that she rode the race in 2015 showed that she had learnt the lessons of 2014 and didn’t let a winning position slip. The pressure will be on now (not least from a tendency to big up GB medal hopes by lazy journo’s) for a gold medal in the Olympic road race in Rio next year. The course doesn’t suit her but if anyone has the mental ability to overcome that it’s Lizzie Armitsead.

Best Women’s Team

Boels Dolmans might seem like the obvious choice. They’re Lizzie Armitstead’s team as well as the berth for riders like Evelyn Stevens. But my pick for Best Women’s team would be Velocio SRAM. The team emerged from the remains of the Specialized Lululemon squad that announced it was folding at the end of the 2014 season. Initally crowd funded the team were ultimately received backing from Cervelo and SRAM for the 2015 season. For various reasons the team in this incarnation is no more and the riders had to deal with the fact that they didn’t have a team for next year while there was still part of this year’s races to complete. It says a lot about this group of riders that they were still one of the winningest teams in the women’s peloton in 2015 and rounded off the season with the TTT world championship.

Keep reading for the rest of the VCSE winners here

Best Team Bike 

In certain sports and events there’s a go to piece of kit that competitors will choose if they’re having to pay for their own equipment. If you’re a privateer road racer and you had to choose one bike for crits, climbs and sprints it’s pretty likely that your would pick the Specialized S Work Tarmac.

I’m not a particular Specialized advocate (although Mrs VCSE is) so I’m not picking the Tarmac as Best Team Bike because it’s what I ride. Certainly, as the bike that most prevalent amongst the pro peloton (used by Astana, Etixx and Tinkoff) the Tarmac is going to notch up some wins. For me it’s the choice because of its sheer adaptability. It integrates with multiple equipment choices and looks at home in a one day classic as it does on a grand tour.

Best New Product 

I started riding Di2 last year and while I still own bikes with mechanical shifting I’m converted as far as the benefits of eshifting is concerned. SRAM are late to the eshift party and were always going to have to come up with something different. Wireless shifting takes things to the next level and along with the method of gear change offered I think that Red eTap electronic transmisson is a potential game changer. The challenge for Shimano now is how it will move on Di2, particularly in its Dura Ace incarnation to try and overtake SRAM again. If eTap has a weakness it’s the traditional SRAM pricing structure. The sheer expense over the equivalent Shimano offering coupled with sometimes suspect reliability could yet undo the potential of the new kid on the eshift block.

Best Innovation

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get me calling people out on social media its lazy BTL commenatry on products where riders criticize something they haven’t actually ridden themselves. Whether it’s eliptical chain rings or disc brakes on roads bikes it’s all a bit of a trigger for me. The influx of affordable power meters is possibly the only innovation that hasn’t had me reaching for the virtual green ink to defend their virtue.

OK so there’s affordable and then there’s cheap and even a Stages meter is going to set you back around £600 but compare that to the previous generation of crank based devices at £1500 upwards and it looks like a bit of a bargain.

Of course the key to anything that promises to make you a better rider is; does it actually work? The answer, at least in the case of Stage’s is yes. Training with power has helped this rider increase speed and endurance and i’m probably only scratching the surface.

I have got to give a little mention here to range extending cassettes. As someone who is a long way from a Froome a like 65 kilos I need all the help I can get when the road goes upwards. If you have an 11 speed Shimano drivetrain and you’re a normal human being then do yourself a favour and get an 11-32 cassette. It’s the equivalent of a slightly inebriated fan giving a rider in the grupetto a push around Dutch Corner on the Alpe.

Best One Day Race

There are some more obvious choices here I admit. Watch Lizze Armitstead win the Women’s World Championship road race was a highlight but like many of the one day races this year I might have enjoyed it just as much without watching the proceeding three hours of racing before the final. The Ronde (the one day race I look forward to most of all) had its moments and was part of an interesting narrative around how sprinters ‘converted’ themselves into one day riders during 2015. Roubaix grabbed me for a minute or two when Wiggins attacked out of the bunch and I thought for a second he would just ride everyone off his wheel.

Luca Paolini
Luca Paolini

But for me the race that had it all was Gent Wevelgem. It was shown on Eurosport for the first time (live too) and it had everything. OK so the riders didn’t enjoy the high winds that saw many literally blown off the road but there was enough action to keep you watching throughout. From an ultimately forlorn solo breakaway to Luca Paolini using the guile and experience of the older pro with his escape in the last few km’s to win the race it had everything.

Paolini tested positive for cocaine later in the year and it’s likely that that 2015 could be his last season as a result. In black and white terms a positive is a positive but I’m thankful for the way he entertained me back in the spring.

Best Stage Race

No contest here; the Vuelta. While memories fade of each previous grand tour as the new one sucks up my attention my recollections of this years Tour would be that it was probably my least favourite of the three grand tours in 2015.

Fabio Aru
Fabio Aru

Not that the Giro was significantly better. I think the course was more interesting, particularly the stages around the Italian lakes where some of the scenery formed a spectacular backdrop to the racing. I would summarise the Giro and the Tour as races where my gut feel as to the winner meant that they suffered in comparison to the Vuelta where the key ingredient (once the race had started admittedly) was its unpredictability.

Sky did a fantastic job of protecting Chris Froome in the opening week of the Tour to the extent that it was more about him not losing the race in the subsequent weeks than needing to actually go out and win it. As each stage was ticked off the possibility of a Nairo Quintana fightback diminished and while it’s easy to say that Froome might have been caught, given another day in the Alps, the facts are that there wasn’t and he didn’t.

Astana did an equally outstanding job of placing Fabio Aru in a position where he could win the Giro but he was unable to make the distance between himself and Alberto Contador that is the measure of greatness. Aru was able to go one better in the Vuelta but it wasn’t a convincing victory.

I’ll repeat that I would have enjoyed a Tom Dumoulin win in the Vuelta if only because it would be a departure to see one of the aliens not stick to the script. The will he, won’t he story of Dumoulin trying to limit his losses in the final week of the Vuelta kept me glued to the action. In some ways I was glad I didn’t seem him run out of gas on the penultimate day. It would have been like watching the team I supported losing the cup final as a kid; you keep thinking they might still do it. Sixth place doesn’t really seem like an adequate reward for the rider that made the stage race of the year interesting.

It wasn’t just Dumoulin that made the Vuelta the one to watch this year. Esteban Chavez animated the race in more ways than one and confirmed that there’s more to Colombian cycling than just Quintana.

Best Cyclocross Rider

Double world champ for road and cyclocross is some achievement; Pauline Ferrand Prevot

Best Track Rider 

Laura Trott remains our most consistent track rider and has maintained her form while others have dipped post 2012. She looks like our best hope for medals in Rio and you wouldn’t bet against her potential to overtake Victoria Pendelton as our most successful women’s track cyclist.

Best Mountain Bike Rider 

Rachel Atherton is not just a very successful downhill racer; she claimed the world cup and world championship double again this year. What makes her stand out for me is that she uses her success as a platform to celebrate women in sport and encouraging more girls to get into sport of any kind.

Most Memorable Moment

There were more moments to savour in individual events than whole races that grabbed me this year. Sagan and Armitstead winning the world championships were reasons to celebrate as you felt that these were genuinely consistent riders who had been there or there abouts for much of the season. They’re also world champions that fans can identify with and that can only be good for the sport.

I wouldn’t have picked Aru beating Dumoulin at the Vuelta as one of my moments of the year as I was more excited by the prospect of Dumoulin pulling off one of the surprises of the year by beating a more established rider.

There was joy in seeing Taylor Phinney returning from injury and winning a stage at the USA Pro Challenge. It’s hard to imagine a more popular winner and this was a real mood changer after Tom Danielson’s positive ahead of the race. 

The chances are there will be moments that I have enjoyed more this year but the question here is which one (out of the suggestions given) did I find most memorable (clearly I have forgotten loads!). Given that choice I’m going to go with Steve Cummings winning MTN’s first Tour stage. The manner of the victory, the rider, the team and the fact that it all came together on Nelson Mandela’s birthday made it for me.

Twitter Personality 

In a fairly anodyne list of nominee’s if I had to pick one; Peter Sagan. Surely there are some better choices out there?

Cycling News Rider of the Year

Tough choice! On the one hand Sagan has that global recognition (at least in comparison to Lizzie) and he is a genuine personality. The trials and tribulations of his early (first) season with Tinkoff has been forgotten as the results built from California onwards and culminating in the rainbow stripes. I could demote Sagz just for his choice of white shorts with his world champions jersey but then I would have to do the same to Lizzie.

I loved Lizzie Armitstead’s reaction when she crossed the line and realised that she was world champion but then I also loved the way Sagan high fived riders crossing the line after his victory too. It’s no good I can’t split them. joint winners!

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