With the Giro d’Italia underway, our biggest party of the year, the Spring Classics, is over. We thought it would be fitting that in lieu of bestowing Rider of the Month (which we have probably already made quite clear) and Team of the Month, as we are accustomed to publishing, we could commemorate such a spectacular set of races with a series of awards. We published Part 1 last week. Here are the remaining picks for PavÃ©’s Classics Awards:
Best Unsung Hero
The Classics are a time for the stars to shine, but nowhere is there greater evidence of the need for the quiet heroes than in the performance of one of the great champions of the sport, Fabian Cancellara. Without crucial support, he found himself alone for key moments of big races, outnumbered by his opponents. Two riders receive the award for Best Unsung Hero: Sep Vanmarcke of Garmin-Cervelo, and Jelle Vanendert of Omega Pharma-Lotto. If Johan Vansummeren’s win at Paris-Roubaix win owes much to the strength of Garmin-Cervelo’s tactical position, then the final piece of the puzzle was Vanmarcke’s escape prior to the Fabian Cancellara move that pulled out Thor Hushovd and Allessandro Ballan. Vanmarcke’s move – “I’ll go up the road. Join me later” – allowed let Thor recover and gave Garmin the strength to keep their powerful hand stable and have the race play out how they wanted it to. Vanmarcke is a graduate of Topsport-Vlaanderen, like other rising star Thomas de Gendt. Look for him in the future.
An Omega Pharma-Lotto domestique, Jelle Vanendert had a banner spring, with 13th at Amstel Gold and 6th at la Fleche Wallone. He was the OPL with Gilbert at the end of the Ardennes Classics, putting in the final sacrificial work to secure Gilbert’s historic four-win week-plus (Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege). Gilbert has long had the full commitment of capable domestiques; this spring, Vanendert was foremost among them.
As a side note, we would like to award a new award, the “Sep Vanmarcke Award for Result for a Rider On a Little-Known Belgian Team,” named for one of this year’s Unsung Heroes for his performance in last year’s Ghent-Wevelgem, which left some fans reading the results wondering, who? This award goes to Staf Scheirlinckx of a team called Veranda’s Willems-Accent. Scheirlinckx tenaciously clung to a group of favorites in de Ronde and squeezed out 8th place, a standout result in a career of supporting other riders.
Most Disappointing Team
They also won the award for Best Team this spring, though not without controversy. But when you form a superteam, expectations are different. Due to the amount of hype and expectation hat was generated by the creation and unveiling of Leopard-Trek, and the fact that they did not live up to that expectation during the Classics Season, Leopard-Trek does indeed win Most Disappointing Team. With a count of a single victory at E3 Prijs, the disappointment coming from the team and some of its riders has been obvious. Cancellara, riding with what looked like the form of his life, was unable to successfully defend his Paris-Roubaix or Ronde victories from 2010. He even crashed in the Ardennes Classics, which surprised even his teammates, who know best Cancellara’s reputation for being a superb bike-handler. All in all, this year could have gotten off to a much better start for the team from Luxembourg, who doubtless would like to take that next step to the top of the podium. Will they take revenge in July?
Most Disappointing Manager
The award for Most Disappointing Manager goes to Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Cervelo. In many of the races that the newly formed team competed in, their tactics were extremely negative and arguably detrimental to the overall appearance of the race itself. Though the thin barriers between fans and teams (thanks to sites like Twitter) allowed Vaughters to defend himself, and though it’s often said that there is no such thing as bad press, it seemed for much of the Spring that Garmin-Cervelo had an uncertain hand on the tiller – a flexible, nuanced leader when they needed a firm hand and a kick in the pants. In addition, due to the new initiative by the Belgian TV company Sporza.be, who placed cameras and microphones inside the team cars, Vaughters was heard to be giving his riders negative orders and failed to impress the fans at all. As such a strong team, we would have expected more aggressive racing from them, more attacking, more hard riding, more gutsy moves at the right times; if Vaughters has told his riders to race aggressively and make the race themselves instead of waiting and following, another manager would be claiming this award.
The decision for this award was hard fought, with two contenders which seemed to be level-pegging, but one finally showed itself to be a worthy winner: The Tour of Flanders. This race was an aggressive race, with attacks, tactics, drama, mistakes, suffering, and an unexpected winner – what more could a spectator possibly ask for from a race? Cancellara was the favorite entering this race, and he raced in a way that left no room for doubt that he wanted to live up to those expectations. When he attacked, Boonen was unable to follow, leaving the Swiss Express to power away from the group of favorites. However, Quick-Step had a blessing that day in the form of Sylvian Chavanel. As the Frenchman had attacked earlier, he was in front of Cancellara, and allowed himself to be caught by the motoring Cancellara. Here came the tactics: he proceeded to sit in and do no work, for why should he? This may have had more of a psychological effect than a physical one on Cancellara, who was unable to achieve a solo victory. In the end, the race came down to a sprint from a group of three riders; Cancellara, Chavanel and the Belgian, Saxo-Bank’s Nick Neuyens. It did not dawn on me – and, I wonder, anybody else – whilst watching the coverage of the race that Neuyens was in with a chance of the win until he crossed the line, but he raced sensibly and economically which meant that he did not over-exert himself and was able to claim the win. Overall, we feel that this race was the most exciting, unexpected, dynamic and thrilling shocker of the Classics Season. Is it possible to disagree? Let us know.
Is it possible for us to write anything in here? This post is steadily populating with some critical awards; fortunately, we’re in the position of feeling that this was one of the most exciting Spring Classics campaigns in recent memory. Did any race fail to entertain? We cannot award this category to any race; feel free to submit your nominations below.
Most Interesting Sub-Plot
The Classics were doubly interesting this year because of the imminent shake-up of two stand-out teams, Omega Pharma-Lotto, which had a highlight-filled spring with Gilbert’s Ardennes Triple+, and QuickStep-Innergetic, which struggled throughout the season to live up to expectations. The contracts of both teams’ star riders are expiring at the end of 2011, leaving us wondering – where will Phillipe Gilbert and Tom Boonen wind up? Furthermore, reports of sponsor-splitting and the creation of new alliances complicate the affair.
That wraps up our coverage of the Spring Classics this year. As always, thanks for joining us. What captured your attention this Spring?