We wanted an end-of-season awards with a difference. So we assembled an A-team of the finest riders and wisest minds [er, plus our editor - Ed] in cycling to choose the best performers and races of the 2014 season.
Sean Kelly is a heavyweight of the sport. The Irishman won Paris-Roubaix twice, Milan-Sanremo twice, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Lombardy and four Tour de France points jerseys among many other victories. As a commentator for British Eurosport on all three Grand Tours, amongst other races, he is known for his shrewd observations on the sport.
Jens Voigt retired this year after an 18-year career in professional cycling. Known for his time-trial ability, brave breakaways and effervescent personality, the German won stages of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia and also held the Hour Record.
Jonathan Vaughters is the CEO of WorldTour team Garmin-Sharp. He raced for the likes of US Postal and Crédit Agricole in his professional career before setting up his own team in 2005.
Classics king Sean Kelly: the man knows his cycling. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Juan Antonio Flecha is a Spanish former professional cyclist. A Tour de France stage winner, he adored the cobbled races of Flanders and northern France, winning Het Nieuwsblad and twice finishing on the podium at Paris-Roubaix.
Allan Peiper is performance director for the BMC Racing Team. He was one of the most reliable domestiques in the 1980s bunch, winning a stage of the Giro d’Italia.
Ian Cleverly is the Editor of Rouleur. A lifelong cyclist, he has attempted most disciplines of the sport with unfailing mediocrity. He is now retired from racing and considering starting a Slow Cycling Movement.
Over the last three weeks, we have been publishing a selection of their votes, and the reasoning behind it.
So, without further ado, here are the winners of the inaugural Rouleur Awards.
Rider of the Year
This was the closest category of the lot. No one rider had stood out as unimpeachably best rider of the year, dominating WorldTour stage races. It all came down to personal interpretation. Do they opt for consistency or victories? And then, is it quantity of impressive performances or the quality of the race won?
Sean Kelly and Allan Peiper picked Movistar stalwart Alejandro Valverde, who showed his strength and fine form throughout the year, from winning Fleche Wallonne to finishing fourth in the Tour and third at the Vuelta.
Meanwhile, Rouleur editor Ian Cleverly and Voigt picked Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali on the basis of his flying July.
Alberto Contador won the Vuelta and the Vaughters vote, but not our Rider of the Year award. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Meanwhile, Juan Antonio Flecha plumped for Michal Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Vaughters opted for Alberto Contador, in light of his impressive comeback from injury to win the Vuelta.
So, it was a two-all tie that went down to second and third place mentions from the judges. On that, the Shark of Messina shaded it, garnering several other placings for the impressive manner he swept to Tour de France victory.
Winner: Vincenzo Nibali
“He was the one that made no mistakes this year... he must be one of the most accomplished GC riders we have at this time in cycling.” Jens Voigt
“For the way he attacked the opposition on the cobbles at the Tour. The rest fell away or fell off, but that does not detract from what he achieved.” Ian Cleverly
Stage Race of the Year
Usually, you might expect a strong Tour de France to garner most of the attention and, subsequently, the popular vote. But our canny panel were well aware that the early loss of Froome and Contador and Nibali’s eye-catching, yet relatively-untested, march to victory detracted from the race’s overall quality.
The Vuelta a España, picked by Kelly and Vaughters, emerged as the Stage Race of the Year. Often the poor cousin of the Giro and Tour, it benefited from the return of fallen Grande Boucle favourites and had a nip-and-tuck battle for victory with an inventive route.
Elsewhere, the panel was split, with Flecha picking the Giro d’Italia and its snowy excitement, Cleverly opting for the Women’s Tour and Voigt going all the way back to the Tour Down Under.
Winner: Vuelta a España
“Tight, exciting, competitive, throwing a surprise in there every day.” Jonathan Vaughters
“By far the best stage race of the year… there were so many good stages, you can’t really pick one from the other. Spectacular.” Sean Kelly
One-Day Race of the Year
Firstly, all six judges voted for one of the cobbled Classics, showing the allure that these rough races still hold, and the calibre of the action this spring.
Two votes went to Paris-Roubaix, which had an uncharacteristically large group of a dozen-odd riders entering into the final 15 kilometres, ratcheting up the tension.
Cancellara and company gave us a gripping finale to the 2014 Tour of Flanders. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
However, De Ronde nicked the win with three picks, helped by its tweaked Kwaremont-Paterberg finale, intriguing tactics and the tension-filled finale, as Cancellara saw off Flemish hopes, the three Vans: Vanmarcke, Vandenbergh and Van Avermaet.
Meanwhile, Rouleur editor Ian opted for Ian Stannard’s gritty win in a freezing, filthy edition of Het Nieuwsblad.
Winner: Tour of Flanders
“The last 15km Flanders, you were on the edge of your seat: commentating it was so, so exciting… a real good race.” Sean Kelly
“It’s a big part of the history of cycling… the circuit changed a little bit and it was fantastic this year.” Allan Peiper
“Kristoff showed he was capable of winning and trying to bridge, and the way that Fabian Cancellara went hard to get back to Van Avermaet. It was such a show.” Juan Antonio Flecha
It was little surprise that a certain Belgian team picked up several votes, given that the comfortably taking the most wins (65) over the course of the year across a range of riders.
Sprinter Mark Cavendish took the lion’s share for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, but versatile Michal Kwiatkowski and time-trial star Tony Martin were close behind. Then, there were the contributions of Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Rigoberto Uran. It all seems relatively harmonious in the team for the wealth of ambitions and egos to accommodate.
From the Classics to sprints, time-trials and one-day races, OPQS were regularly at the front of affairs. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Sean Kelly opted for Astana on the back of their cohesive performance at the Tour, Jonathan Vaughters gave Movistar the nod and Juan Antonio Flecha chose Tinkoff-Saxo for the way they bounced back after the blow of Contador’s abandon in July.
Winner: Omega Pharma-Quick Step
“There’s no such thing as easy racing anymore. If you have the most wins, you’re a pretty good team.” Jens Voigt
“They’re about as complete as you’re gonna get. The quality and diversity over the whole season makes them stand out.” Allan Peiper
Best Young Rider (Under 25)
It proved hard to look past a rider winning a Grand Tour at the age of 24: Nairo Quintana. Four votes for the Colombian made him the comfortable winner.
The manner he did so belied his years too, taking control of the race in inclement, confusing conditions, then handling the resulting controversy from ‘flaggate’ on the Stelvio deftly.
French cycling's great white hope Thibaut Pinot got Allan Peiper's vote for Best Young Rider. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
From the 1990s crop of fresh-faced talent, Michal Kwiatkowski and Thibaut Pinot both got a vote from a judge too.
The kids are more than all right in this generation: the likes of Giro third-place finisher Fabio Aru, Nacer Bouhanni, Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet were among the talents who enjoyed breakthrough years yet didn’t get a look-in.
Winner: Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
“The up-and-coming talent… I can clearly see a potential future Tour de France winner in him.” Jens Voigt
“A lot of media were saying ‘why isn’t he in the Tour? All that puts more pressure on a rider. I think he performed excellently under it at the Giro.” Sean Kelly
“He won a Grand Tour, he’s under 25 and no one else did that this year.” Jonathan Vaughters
Domestique of the Year
There are plenty of unsung heroes and diligent domestiques to honour, so it was no surprise a range were chosen by our panel.
Bernhard Eisel (Team Sky), Koen de Kort (Giant-Shimano), Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Sharp) and Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) were all picked individually by judges for their hard work over the course of the year in a range of roles, from early chasing to lead-out work.
But there was one clear candidate. Jakob Fuglsang’s dazzling turn as Vincenzo Nibali’s right-hand man at the Tour de France got him the overall win, picked by Kelly and Vaughters. As the former mountain biker approaches his 30th birthday, he seems to have found his place at Astana.
Winner: Jakob Fuglsang
“A good domestique on the flat, in the mountains, in rain, on the cobbles. You don’t often have a guy who can help you out no matter what the terrain.” Jonathan Vaughters
“He got knocked about pretty badly and recovered well, got back into the race to be at the service for leaders… as a domestique, he can perform fabulously.” Sean Kelly
Most Attacking Rider
There was always a danger this might happen given the subjectivity of the category. Six judges picked six different riders. And from Jens Voigt to Pierre Rolland and Tony Gallopin, there were fair and compelling reasons for all the choices.
Perennial aggressor Alessandro De Marchi made his mark on the Tour and our end-of-year Awards. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Again, it came down to second and third place choices, and Italian attacker Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) was the one cropping up several times.
He was constantly up the road at the Tour de France, somehow missing out on a stage win, though he was rewarded with the overall Combativity award at the race’s conclusion in Paris.
The BMC-bound Italian was still going strong at the Vuelta, where he deservedly claimed his first Grand Tour stage.
Winner: Alessandro De Marchi
“It has to be Alessandro… he got onto our radar, always hearing his name on the race radio, always in the breakaway.” Allan Peiper
“De Marchi is smart and gets into the right move.” Jonathan Vaughters
Directeur Sportif of the Year
This was more a case of considering the tactical flourishes and creative, outside-the-box thinking and racing, as it’s impossible to be a fly-on-the-wall in a WorldTour team car.
Torsten Schmidt got Voigt’s vote for his role in Alexander Kristoff’s flying season, and there were picks for Steven De Jongh and Giuseppe Martinelli.
In a tight vote, Wegelius got a vote and a half, seeing Ian Cleverly went for the Garmin team as a whole over Ramunas Navardauskas’s smart Tour stage win, even if his boss Jonathan Vaughters was the other vote. The Briton is held in high esteem by many others in the bunch.
Winner: Charly Wegelius (Garmin-Sharp)
“Our team got some dealt some pretty shitty cards at times: the Giro d’Italia with our crash in the team time-trial and the Tour de France with Talansky pulling out, and each and every one of those times, Charly has shown a creativity, thinking ‘okay, this is what we have left, what can we do with this year?’” Jonathan Vaughters
“You make your own luck in the Tour. Garmin-Sharp took the risks and reaped the rewards.” Ian Cleverly
Dowsett received his Aeroad CF SLX the day before the Tour de Suisse. One of the first of the new model to leave Koblenz, it served briefly as the Movistar rider’s training bike (“It was quite novel travelling to races with a bike,” he remembers), but gained its first outing in a competitive fixture: a minor event called the Tour de Suisse. “The first ride on this was at the Tour of Switzerland. I hit 118kph on it in one of the passes. I was very confident in it. I was at home on it straight away.”