With the final racing of the season taking place last weekend, the VeloVoices team is taking a look back at the performances of our selected riders to watch in 2012. I’ve been following the progress of three Classics specialists: BMC’s Philippe Gilbert, the top-ranked rider in the world last year, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s former world champion and Tour de France green jersey winner Tom Boonen, and Garmin-Sharp’s Koldo Fernandez. Here’s a quick summary of what they’ve achieved (or haven’t) in the past couple of months.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC)
Results: Won stages 9 & 19 of the Vuelta a España. 2nd in World Championships team time trial. Won World Championships road race.
WorldTour ranking: 46th, 112 points.
After a notably un-notable beginning – and middle – of the season, Philippe Gilbert hit back over the latter races, with a thrilling end to his season. After disappointing in the Classics and the Olympics, it was clear that his next big target would be the World Championships – a title which has eluded him despite his best efforts over the last couple of seasons.
He rode himself into form perfectly, winning two stages at the Vuelta in a typically dominant PhilGil fashion, before arriving at the World Championships. He was evidently in good shape, demonstrating it by taking silver in the first TTT at the Worlds since 1994.
Finally, the big day arrived: the elite men’s road race. On the Dutch-Belgian border, Gilbert and the Belgian team rode an outstanding race, launching their man towards the finishing line where, in true style, he rode in alone. He attributed his team and prior experience of the roads for his victory:
The whole team did a really good job. I was well placed at the bottom of the Cauberg and while I knew I didn’t immediately have a huge gap, I had a good feeling because I’ve won the Amstel Gold Race here. Plus there was a tailwind, so that was good.
He also commented on how he had learnt from his narrow defeat in Geelong two years ago:
One changes every time one loses, because one has more experience. I was recalling that race during this one and it certainly played a role in my performance.
Already looking forward to next season, Gilbert says he doesn’t believe in the rainbow jersey’s curse, while revealing a little about his schedule for 2013:
I don’t know yet. For sure I go for the Ardennes, but I don’t know if I go for Flanders or another race. My goal is the Ardennes, that is the priority.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
Results: World Ports Classic – 1st overall, won stage 1. Won Paris-Brussels. 1st in World Championships team time trial.
WorldTour ranking: 3rd, 410 points.
The suggestions that Tom Boonen is too old to race at the top level grew to look more and more ridiculous as the season passed. He ended his enormously successful season with three further wins: two of them individual and one with the Belgian team.
Boonen became the inaugural winner of the World Ports Classic from Rotterdam to Antwerp and back, winning stage one and holding on in the second of the two stages to take the overall victory. Likewise, he won the prestigious Paris-Brussels race (which incredibly was first run back in 1893) for the first time. He said:
After a week of hard training I didn’t know what I could expect from this race. But today we decided to try and go for a win.
Suffice to say, his efforts paid off. After the semi-Classic, the 32-year old turned his attention to team time trialling for the World Championships.
The work conducted with his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team paid dividends, where the outfit won gold. A couple of days later things got even better for Boonen, who rode for the victorious Philippe Gilbert in the road race. It was a perfect end to a spectacular season.
Koldo Fernandez (Garmin-Sharp)
Results: 5th in stage 21 of the Vuelta a España.
WorldTour ranking: Not ranked.
Koldo Fernandez has had a relatively busy end to the season at Garmin-Sharp, being selected to ride his home Grand Tour along with a couple of other smaller Classics.
Fernandez rode the Vuelta in his usual role of a ‘luxury teammate’ – effectively a domestique who is also capable of competing for victories should the chance arise. Impressively, the Basque sprinter made it to the finish in Madrid, where he took fifth place on the final stage.
His first race back after the difficult Vuelta was the German classic Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, where he finished a respectable 14th, before coming 32nd in the French classic Paris-Tours.