AntBanter! May Rider of the Month

You know when you go into a cake shop and there’s such an amazing array of choice that you don’t even know where to start? Well, that’s this month’s Rider of the Month. As is typically the case when you’ve had a grand tour, the month has been filled with excitement, frustration, pain, good fortune, bad fortune, controversy, not to mention lots and lots of fun. There is a plethora of riders to choose from, and I’m going to hand the difficult task of getting us under way with the first nomination to Jack:

Fabio Aru

We think Fabio is quite happy ... (Image: Giro d'Italia)

Aru celebrates his victory on stage 15 (Image: Giro d’Italia)

Jack: It has been a tough year for Vincenzo Nibali so far, but fortunately Astana have a new Italian GC contender to make up the difference. With a solo mountain stage win, second place on a tough uphill time trial and third overall at the Giro, the 23-year-old Sardinian Fabio Aru has cemented his status as one of this season’s breakthrough riders. Great uphill and good against the clock, we can expect him to be challenging in the grand tours for years to come.

Ant: Great choice, Jack. I was thrilled by Aru’s Giro, and was screaming for him to hold on on the Zoncolan. Mind you, it wasn’t all about the climbers was it, Sheree?

Nacer Bouhanni

Three stage wins for Nacer Bouhanni (Image: Giro d'Italia)

Red was the colour for Nacer Bouhanni (Image: Giro d’Italia)

Sheree: At just 23 years old, former French champion Nacer Bouhanni came to the Giro hoping to win a stage or two. He won three and took home the red points jersey as the most consistent sprinter in this year’s race and one, moreover, who managed to beat the time limit on the most mountainous stages. It was the only jersey not won by a Colombian!

If the other sprint teams had played ball or he’d given Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) as good as he got on the final stage (watch the video to see Mezgec shoulder charge his way through), it might have been more. But, in the end, Nacer having succeeded in his #fightforred goes home happy.

Ant: Who better to put up a decent #fightforred than an ex-boxer? And speaking of hard men …

Adam Hansen

It's Mr Grand Tour himself!

It’s Mr Grand Tour himself!

Kathi: There are the superstars of the peloton and then there are the guys whose hard work (often anonymous) makes it possible for the superstars to shine. That’s one of the reasons why I love cycling. And that’s why I’m nominating Adam Hansen for Rider of the Month

One of the hardest working guys in the peloton, on Sunday he completed his eighth consecutive grand tour. He is the kind of rider who will do whatever the team needs – if they need him to help Andre Greipel, he helps Andre Greipel. Bidon collection, no problem. Get in the break, he’s there. Put down the pain and chase a break, yep. There are super-domestiques …and then there’s Hansen.

Ant: I’m a massive fan of Adam Hansen! EIGHT GRAND TOURS! Every domestique needs a leader to ride for, and Tim’s choice brought home the prize for his guys…

Nairo Quintana

To the victor, the spoils (Image: Giro d'Italia)

Quintana wonders if he will add Rider of the Month to his Giro trophy (Image: Giro d’Italia)

Tim: My nomination needs little explanation. Just over halfway through the Giro, pre-race favourite Quintana trailed Rigoberto Uran by three-and-a-half-minutes. We all know what happened next. What was so impressive was not the manner of his comeback – built on crushing victories on Val Martello and in the Monte Grappa time trial – but the way he refused to give up even when he was so nearly down and out, and then calmly defended his lead thereafter.

Yes, there was the controversy over the Stelvio descent, but it’s worth remembering that he single-handedly gained over two minutes on the group containing most of his GC rivals on the final climb. No, he probably wouldn’t have pulled out quite as much time if the group had all been together to start with. But make no mistake: Quintana would have won that stage and he would have won the Giro anyway. I haven’t seen such a dominant final week from a rider ever. There can be only one winner this month. You know it makes sense.

Ant: It does make sense but, as great as Quintana was, I have the ultimate contrast to his impassive poker face.

Michael Matthews

Matthews donned the maglia rosa on six occasions (Image: Orica-GFreenEDGE)

Matthews enjoyed his time in pink (Image: Orica-GreenEDGE)

Ant: I’ve got another Giro success story to throw into the mix, with Michael Matthews. It seems like such a long time ago when the bubbly Aussie snuck his way into the maglia rosa on stage two and christened the infant race with a joyous spraying of champagne in Belfast, but the memory will live long.

Matthews wore the pink jersey with a great deal of panache – well, they don’t call him ‘Bling’ for nothing. Before finally relinquishing the race lead to compatriot Cadel Evans on stage eight, he ensured he was in the right place to sprint to victory on stage six. It’s when you couple this success with an effervescent, likeable personality, that you really get a rider to shout about. Just the kind of thing we love, no?

Chris couldn’t make it to our discussion, so I’ve channelled his spirit to find out a little more about his nomination.

Taylor Phinney

In dedication to Liam Phinney, Taylor's grandfather, as Phinney soared to victory on stage five (Image: Tour of California)

Phinney won stage five at the Tour of California for his grandfather Damon (Image: Tour of California)

Chris (not really): Hey, you guys, it wasn’t all about the Giro this month, you know. Back over the pond we had some super-exciting racing with the Amgen Tour of California and the US Road Championships. I’ve got to shout out for Taylor Phinney, who pulled off a panache-tastic victory in Cali, holding off a 20-man bunch led by the Velvet Samurai to win stage five by 12 seconds. It was real top-shelf bike racing!

Then Taylor went on to win the US ITT crown, before calamity struck when he crashed in the road race in horrible circumstances, picking up injuries which mean that he won’t get to make his Tour de France debut this year. I’m putting Taylor forward not just because of his two great wins, but also because of his class in the face of adversity.

The winner

So that’s a huge field of great riders whittled down to form our final selection. Sadly we couldn’t include everybody, and a lot of wonderful entertainers – Arredondo, Ulissi, the entire Bardiani-CSF team – haven’t made the shortlist but, hey, cycling can be a cruel mistress. I’m sure that lots of you will have favourites who we’ve overlooked, and we never want to let a great performance go uncelebrated, so please shout out and let us know.

One thing’s for sure, we thought long and hard over this. We mulled it over, we made the calculation and we reached a unanimous decision that, despite those pink boots, young Nairo Quintana is our man for May. The deadliest small pink thing since Miss Piggy rode a brave, determined and dominant (if occasionally controversial) Giro, and quite simply crushed his opposition. It was a great victory, and as Tim said there can be only one winner this month, you know it makes sense!

And while we’re all celebrating Colombia’s greatest export since the coffee bean, I’d like to finish off by wishing the ever positive Taylor Phinney a speedy recovery. [As do we all – Ed.]

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