One hundred kilometres left, and the breakaway has a lead of six minutes. The Eurosport co-commentator manfully fills the time with unnecessarily elongated explanations about the local church being passed by the peloton, or the region’s culinary delicacies.
Sean Kelly sits and waits. Architecture’s not his game. But you can bet, as soon as the race flickers into life, he will pounce with concise, insightful opinions, told straight.
Not only has Kelly won more bike races (only fish and chippers like Paris-Roubaix, Milan-Sanremo, Lombardia and Liège) than we’ve had hot dinners, he’s also spent hundreds of hours watching the WorldTour this year in his role as British Eurosport commentator.
There’s hardly a better person to cast an eye over the 2014 season as a judge for our new Rouleur Awards.
Stage Race of the Year
“This year’s Vuelta a España was spectacular, by far the best of the year. I suppose because of the riders crashing out in the Tour, it was a spectacular field too.
“There were so many good stages, you can’t really pick one from the other. From a spectator’s point of view, it was by far the best race to watch.
“Although there weren’t as many of the big sprinters as we would like, you could see that Degenkolb was in excellent form.
The Vuelta's vicious battle for victory floated Sean Kelly's boat. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
“You have to look at the race and form an overall view, when you see the general classification and the way they were fighting for that.
“Normally, in the big mountain stages, you don’t expect good racing, but we also saw some spectacular racing on medium mountain days and the small hilltop finishes, and for that reason, the Vuelta for me was a real exciting race.”
Best One-Day Race of the Year
“The Tour of Flanders. That finale was really exciting. You had a number of riders together; Cancellara, of course, was the big favourite. He played it tactically very well, he gave the impression he was suffering a bit. In the final with Vanmarcke, he really played it cleverly and was the strongest in the sprint.
“It’s important to have a real good finale – of course, you have to have an exciting race as well too.
“Whereas Roubaix went dull in the last 10km for me. Terpstra got away and was hanging out in front, there was a group behind, riding around. The last 15km Flanders, you were on the edge of your seat: commentating it was so, so exciting.
“On the Kwaremont, you could sense the tension, the riders knew there was going to be a showdown - and there was one, where Cancellara turned it on for the first time. It went on from there onto the Paterberg; not only the two final climbs but the run-in at the end was very spectacular.
Cancellara turns it on up the Paterberg. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
“And then Kristoff coming across got within 10 seconds. Cancellara and Vanmarcke pulled together for a while, started riding again, didn’t let him join up and then they started playing tactics again.
“How much longer can Cancellara repeat this for? That’s the question; I don’t know, I don’t think Cancellara knows himself. Last year, he was exceptional in Roubaix; he wasn’t as good there this season, a sign the age is catching up with him, as he’s not able to produce that sort of form a week later, as this stage in his career.
“Do I miss the Muur in Flanders? Of course we will always get people going back and talking about it. But I think the finale they have now is definitely as exciting, if not more exciting than going over the Muur.
“Before, you had a long way to go, a climb then a long stretch to get to the Muur with nothing in between. That was sometimes a bit boring because nobody can do anything, they’re just riding - maybe there’s a group out front and a peloton of riders who catch them just before the Muur: not majorly exciting.”
Domestique of the Year
“I’m going for Jakob Fuglsang. At the Tour de France, he had a crash, got knocked about pretty badly and recovered well, to be back into the race to be at the service of his leader.
“I think the stage over the cobbles, Astana got it really right. They put Lieuwe Westra in the break and Fuglsang also put in a performance you might expect for someone coming from mountain biking. They used those riders 100 per-cent when they needed them.”
Jakob Fuglsang was often by captain Vincenzo Nibali's side at the 2014 Tour de France. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
“Fuglsang was very impressive on that very important day. There were a lot of other occasions as well. I think this is the role he can perform best at. We’ve seen him at Paris-Nice when he’s been Astana leader. He doesn’t seem to perform as well with that weight on his shoulders as a domestique, when he can perform fabulously.
“Not many others came to mind. Phillip Deignan was the other one. He had a real good Vuelta, the way he was riding for Sky and Froome.
“One day, they were coming onto the final climb of the day with 50-60 riders, he was just riding hard, finishing up with 20 riders left. To be able to eliminate so many riders was a big performance.
“We haven’t seen Deignan do that before, but that’s the reason he’s at Sky, that’s the reason they’ve taken him onto next season.”
Most Attacking Rider
“Pierre Rolland (Europcar). He attacked in the Giro a number of times, got himself into a long, long breakaway. He finished fourth overall because of his attacking: he was unlucky not to get on the podium.
“There were a number of times in the Giro he was caught with 250m to go after being out in front for 60-odd kilometres. Of course, he was a marked man because he’s always a danger for general classification.
Rolland rockets off the front to start another breakaway. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
“He also did the Tour de France, let’s not forget, but it wasn’t a success. I don’t think he was in the best shape, but he did try and manage on a number of days to get into breaks.
“For the number of breaks and the kilometres out in front, he’s the most attacking rider of the year for me.”
Sean Kelly was talking to Rouleur’s Andy McGrath. Sean Kelly commentates for British Eurosport, the Home of Cycling, broadcasting over 40 races a season including 24 UCI World Tour races, including the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
About the Rouleur Awards
The Rouleur Awards recognise the best riders and performances from the 2014 professional road racing season – with a twist.
The winners will be chosen by a panel of experienced judges, comprising some of the most experienced minds in cycling, including Jens Voigt, Sean Kelly and Jonathan Vaughters.
Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing a selection of each judge's choices, alongside their reasoning, on Rouleur.cc before revealing the winners for each category on December 19.
Rider of the Year
Stage Race of the Year
One-Day Race of the Year
Team of the Year
Best Young Rider (Under 25)
Domestique of the Year
Most Attacking Rider
Directeur Sportif of the Year