With so many quality road cyclists on the international scene, the question is often put forth: who is the best?
In road cycling, that question cannot be easily answered as one would assume. The several ‘disciplines’ of the sport must be taken into account. On paper, the best of each rider type would create the ‘best overall team’ for a ‘Grand Tour’ (with a few ‘domestiques’ thrown in).
However, as any person acquainted with international cycling will tell you, it is not that simple as Astana proved with Contador and Armstrong. None-the-less, who are those elite riders who hold the honour of ‘best in rider type’?
The obvious first category is the ‘All-Rounder’: the general classification rider. He must be strong on the hills, both up and down, be a good time trialist and finally have a bit of oomph on the finishing straight. All of these categories combine, usually, to give a winner of each of the ’Grand Tours’.
As everyone will have heard, 2013’s was Chris Froome; he, in my opinion, is the best in the world right now. The Kenyan-born Brit has been criticised for being too boring at times but although he may lack the exciting style of Wiggins, he is the better athlete.
After comprehensively winning ‘Le Tour’ this year, blowing away even the most able of cyclists on the hills and time trials, he has consolidated this choice.
Another of the clear specialisms is that entitled ‘Climber’. This rider, as the name suggests, has to simply excel going up the gruelling inclines of the world cycling scene, such as L’Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux.
Some of these lung-bursting, leg-burning climbs last for over 30km and finish at ski resorts high up in the mountains! One the biggest revelations of this year has been Columbian rider Nairo Quintana. The small rider of just 23 years exploded into the Tour de France with a stage win and winning the ‘Young Rider’ and ‘King of the Mountains’ competitions.
On stage 20, he famously did the unthinkable and challenged Froome during the final climb and blew away the British rider and GC challenger Joaquin Rodriguez to win the stage. That is why Quintana is currently the best climber in the world.
Despite being lesser regarded compared to the climbing aspect of the sport, being a ‘Descender’ requires a huge amount of skill and bravery and is hugely important part of winning a ‘Grand Tour’ as most races involve as much descending as climbing or sprinting.
There can be no doubt, surely, that Thor Hushovd is the best at this right now, and has been for the last five or so seasons. In the 2011 Tour de France, the ‘Norse God’ thundered down the final descent of stage 13, en route to a stage win, at a maximum speed of 112 km/h (a staggering 70 mph)!
During this ride he claimed that he ‘did not take any risks’ on account of his daughter! No-one can have any qualms about the greatest Norwegian cyclist in history’s inclusion here; no-one else comes close.
Another well-known rider type is the one known as the ‘Sprinter’. If asked a year ago anyone would say Mark Cavendish, however, now, as in some other disciplines, there is a new kid on the block.
Marcel Kittel, a former time trialist, won four stages in his debut Tour de France, out-sprinting the legend Mark Cavendish directly several times, and also won the fabled ‘Green Jersey’ for best sprinter. Although as an Englishman it pains me to see a German take another crown from a British rider, we can take solace from the fact that the ‘Manx Missile’ is still the best nickname in sport at the moment!
The final specialisation needed in the ‘Grand Tours’ is the art of being a ‘Time Trialist’. Another German must be given this position: Tony Martin. Bradley Wiggins beat him during the two time trials of the 2012 Tour de France and Olympics but Martin came back this year to win the stages of the 2013 Tour, holding off opposition from strong cyclists such as eventual winner Froome and former World Champion Fabian Cancellara. The German’s power and endurance set him head and shoulders above the rest.
Despite not being relevant for the ‘Grand Tours’ the role of ‘Puncheur’ is the most important for other races such as ‘Liege-Bastogne-Liege’. This is a rider who can ride fast for one-day or other short events with short hills and big sprints! Peter Sagan takes this crown with his overall ability and an impressive ability to challenge Kittel and Cavendish on the sprints.
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