I don’t know about you lot, but I’m in danger of losing my voice. It’s not the onset of autumn’s damp chill that’s done it – it’s a month of screaming at my TV. It’s been an eventful few weeks, which has included a time trial in a safari park, a Worlds road race that Noah should have entered, and a guy nearly as old as Noah winning the Vuelta! So many riders to choose from – who will be VeloVoices Rider of the Month for September? Sheree kicks us off …
Sheree: Tears at World Championships are usually tears of joy, but not for Joaquim Rodriguez, who shed bitter tears of regret for what might have been. Normally, everyone’s favourite pocket rocket and last year’s number one-ranked rider has a smile on his face and a quip on his lips. He’s Mr Consistency: he’s been on the podium of all three grand tours, has won prestigious races such as Il Lombardia, and has become the rider most likely to finish on or just off the podium. He’s won three stages this year and finished in the top ten of 30 others.
After he lit fire to Sunday’s soggy race, he was narrowly beaten to the rainbow jersey by a rider who knows him only too well, former teammate Rui Costa. Riding in Dante-esque conditions, the Spanish had their best chance since Oscar Freire to take gold. Yet it was another race that ended in second place and heartbreak for Purito, who bravely fought back tears as he received his silver medal. Being made VeloVoices Rider of the Month would go some way to assuaging that hurt and a way to recognise his consistency in grand tours and one-day races.
Interestingly, the Italian crowd were rooting for Purito once it was obvious that Nibali wasn’t going to catch him and Costa. He’s regarded as almost Italian as he speaks the language, Katusha is based in Italy and they so admire his style. Me too.
Ant: It was simply crushing to see him at the end of that race, and I think that final sprint was what finished my voice off. He’s one of my favourite riders in the pro peloton. Meanwhile I suspect Tim is going to throw in Purito’s new nemesis.
Tim: I love riders like Rui Costa. He’s hugely talented but he’s not a Peter Sagan or a Chris Froome who can just go out there and dominate races physically. He wasn’t even Movistar’s main man this year, being third in the pecking order behind Valverde and Quintana. But when he gets the opportunity, he delivers: Tour de Suisse, two stages at the Tour de France, and now the Worlds.
He wasn’t the strongest of the final four in the closing kilometres: J-Rod and Nibali were. But, as he always seems to, Costa spotted his opportunity and delivered.
He’s an unexpected but thoroughly deserving World Champion, because he earned every one of those stripes by riding the best and smartest race on the day. Chapeau.
Ant: Yeah, as hard as it was to see J-Rod pipped, it was a great race by Costa. Hopefully he’ll do the rainbow proud and have better luck than PhilGil in the stripes. Over to you, Kitty.
Kitty: Vincenzo Nibali might have one of the best poker faces in the sport – he never betrays emotion during a race – but he can’t hide his heart. This man has a champion’s heart that shines through even more so when he doesn’t win.
Nibali went into the Vuelta as favourite and for a good part of the race, it looked like a foregone conclusion but for an unbelievable performance by Chris Horner. Did Nibali give up? Sit back and think, “I’ll follow wheels, I won’t risk losing second, I’ll consolidate my position”, or worse, “Ah, this is going nowhere, I’m off.” NO! On the hardest stage of the hardest grand tour of the year – stage 20 on the Angliru – Nibali attacked and attacked and attacked and attacked to try to put time into Horner. He attacked until he had nothing left. And Horner won.
Last Sunday at the Worlds, he crashed in appalling weather. Did he say, “Ah, this is going nowhere, I’m off”? NO! He literally got back on his bike and rode to catch up – and animated the final few kilometres by chasing down Rodriguez. Again, he gave everything until he had nothing left. And Costa won. Nibali might have lost the big races this month but he gained respect and a true champion’s stature.
Ant: Oh my God, I think I might actually cry! Quick, Jack, tell us about your nomination before it all gets too much for me!
Jack: If there’s one thing to be said about Alejandro Valverde, he’s certainly consistent. His third-place finish on Sunday made him the first rider in history to finish on the Worlds podium five times – no mean feat in such an unpredictable race. Add that to his impressive Vuelta, again finishing on the podium on the back of a top ten at the Tour de France, and the Spaniard has had a highly impressive season. He may now be 33, though he’s still got what it takes to compete at the highest level – and over varying parcours.
Ant: Well… you can’t deny he was a protagonist. Further down the age range, it’s time for a youngster and I nominate …
I was going to nominate Chris Horner, but when I went to his hotel to speak to him about it, he wasn’t there! So I’m sorry, Chris, but your elusiveness has been your downfall, and I will instead be championing the efforts of Warren ‘Baby Face’ Barguil. Young M. Barguil was one of many stories of the Vuelta, but above all – and unlike some – his was a story of optimism and hope.
Tackling his first grand tour at the spritely young age of 21 (he turns 22 this month), the young Breton took two impressive stages. On each occasion he demonstrated that he has the tactical nous to be in the right place at the right time, along with the composure and killer instinct to make it count. Bearing in mind that he won last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, it’s safe to assume that we’ll be hearing more of this young upstart. As for my original idea of nominating Chris Horner, well, maybe he’d have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for that pesky kid!
And that just leaves Panache to round off the selection.
Panache: I have to nominate the Panzerwagen, Tony Martin! His brilliant solo attack at stage six of the Vuelta had us all on pins and needles. I was gutted that he was caught just meters from the line. But it was the Worlds time trials where he really shone. He started by leading his trade team, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, to a narrow victory over Orica-GreenEDGE by just 0.81 seconds in the team time trial. Then came the individual time trial where he laid down a time that crushed everyone, beating his nearest competitor, Bradley Wiggins, by a whopping 41 seconds to claim his third rainbow jersey! That’s only one away from Fabian, Kitty! [Kitty says meow…]
Ant: Well, who would have thought going into the Worlds that we wouldn’t be talking about Cancellara, Gilbert, Stybar, or Sagan for Rider of the Month? Yet the Voices have spoken, and the votes are in, and oooooh noooo! Purito got pipped in a close finish again! He’s just been squeezed into third by Costa, and ahead of them both is Vincenzo Nibali. Having delved deep into his suitcase of courage, he treated us to the best display of going down fighting since Butch and Sundance, and won hearts if not races.
Probably best not tell Purito though …