AntBanter! June Rider of the Month

Hi, it’s Tim here. This is normally the time of the month when Ant invites us all to post our Rider of the Month nominations. However, he’s currently in Jamaica on a pre-Tour training camp, where I’m reliably informed he’s on a strict diet of curried goat (guaranteed 100% clenbuterol-free) and as many piña coladas as he can manage. (Don’t worry, he has a Theraputic Use Exemption for those.)

So instead you’re stuck with me as we pick out our top performers from June. Let’s kick off with our newest VeloVoice Midge, a lover of all riders Danish, so it should come as little surprise to read that her nomination is …

Matti Breschel

Breschel put his bad luck behind him with a storming win in Luxembourg (Image: Tinkoff-Saxo)

Breschel put his bad luck behind him with a storming win in Luxembourg (Image: Tinkoff-Saxo)

Midge: 2014 has been a case of triumph over adversity for the Tinkoff-Saxo rider with a passion for the cobbled classics. Being taken out of his favourite races by a flying mattress jammed in his wheel when descending at 70kph (after the final stage of the Tour of Oman) is no joking matter.

But did he give up? Did he bemoan his fate? No. Because when the going gets tough, the tough get back on their bikes and fight!

That indomitable spirit is precisely what we saw at the Tour of Luxembourg as the Dane raced up a storm. I’d call achieving his first ever overall victory in a stage race, sprinting to two stage wins, and riding away with the points jersey, a pretty darn good fight back. Isn’t it just stories such as these that make us smile and fall in love with bike racing even more?

Tim: It was certainly a unique injury that Matti suffered, and it was great to see him bounce back and record his first stage race victory to put his 2014 woes to bed. Mattress, bed … I’ll get my coat, shall I?

Anyhow, just as Midge has her Great Danes, so Kathi has her Crushes. And few are as big as her nomination this month.

Rui Costa

As easy as 1-2-3 in Switzerland for Rainbow Rui (Image: Lampre-Merida)

As easy as 1-2-3 in Switzerland for Rainbow Rui (Image: Lampre-Merida)

Kathi: Ah, the rainbow curse. Seems Rui Costa didn’t get the memo on that one because he won his third consecutive Tour de Suisse in the world champion’s jersey. And he won it in some style, building a foundation by placing third in the individual time trial and leaping up the GC standings to third.

He then used stage nine’s tough final climb to dump leader Tony Martin and win the stage solo. He bided his time, then took action when he had his opponent on the ropes. That’s my #CostaCrush!

Tim: Winning the Tour de Suisse once is a major achievement – to win it three years in a row is something special. Rainbow Rui’s a smart cookie, as he showed with his two brilliant stage wins at last year’s Tour. Wouldn’t it be great to see him doing the same in the world champion’s stripes? Fingers crossed!

Breschel wasn’t the only rider to take his first stage race GC victory in June. One of Alberto Contador’s key lieutenants did too.

Nicolas Roche

A good race for Roche and Irish fans (Image: Vuelta website)

Winning a first Vuelta stage here last year, and now a first stage race victory for Roche (Image: Vuelta website)

Jack: Nicolas Roche has been a professional cyclist for almost a decade – and a pretty damn good one. You only need to look at his enormously impressive record in the grand tours to see that.

But for all of his consistency, Roche has picked up remarkably few wins, making it all the nicer to see him win the Route du Sud in late June. Let’s hope it’s a sign of a great Tour de France to come. His teammate Alberto Contador will no doubt be relying on him.

Tim: Roche celebrated the big three-oh yesterday. What better way to mark the big day than with the (belated) present of a highly sought-after VeloVoices Rider of the Month trophy? But will we be swayed by sentimentality?

Speaking of Contador, he’s Sheree’s selection this month.

Alberto Contador

No stage wins and second overall, but Contador was still impressive at the Dauphine (Image: Tirreno-Adriatico)

No stage wins and second overall, but Contador was still impressive at the Dauphine (Image: Tirreno-Adriatico)

Sheree: Alberto Contador took the battle to Sky at the Criterium du Dauphine, giving us a glimpse of what might be in store at the Tour.

Playing a psychological cat-and-mouse game, he pounced on the penultimate queen stage and danced away from  Chris Froome, who was probably still feeling the effects of his fall the previous day, to snatch the leader’s jersey.

The following day, he skipped off at a roundabout and raced as hard as he could to catch the day’s break containing eventual winner Andrew Talansky. He failed, but only just.

He gets my vote because whenever and wherever he rides he lights up the race with his audacious attacks. He’s always looking for a chink in his rivals’ armour and I’m looking forward to the resumption of hostilities on Saturday.

Tim: It’s great to see Contador back to his swashbuckling best. When he’s in this kind of form, even the most boring and predictable of stages has the potential to turn into something spectacular. But let’s not forget that he didn’t actually win the Dauphine. That honour fell to my nomination this month.

Andrew Talansky

Talansky gave everything to take top spot at the Dauphine (Image: B Papon)

Talansky gave everything to take top spot at the Dauphine (Image: B Papon)

Tim: Until recently, Tejay van Garderen was considered the great white hope of US cycling, but for me the Garmin-Sharp rider has wrested that mantle from him. He seized the initiative on the final stage of the Dauphine by putting himself in the break and then basically dragging himself up the final climb on his own, knowing that behind him Contador was on a charge.

But did he tire? No. Did he panic? No. As near as makes no odds, Talansky rode the final climb in exactly the same time as Contador to clinch the overall. Just let that sink in for a minute. In similar circumstances, Talansky matched Contador pedal for pedal. That, as much as the fact of his Dauphine win, is seriously impressive work.

The winner

We deliberated, cogitated and digested, and after much fervent debate and two recounts we couldn’t separate our two runners-up: Rui Costa and Andrew Talansky. Both were worthy race winners, but we were ultimately swayed by the one rider out of our shortlisted five who didn’t actually take a GC victory this month.

There’s nothing that stirs the soul quite like a rider who is willing to throw everything at the wall in the hope that something sticks. Alberto Contador did just that at the Dauphine – as he has been doing all season – and although it wasn’t quite enough to take the win on this occasion, it was still enough to bag him our Rider of the Month award. I hope he’s got spare space in his trophy cabinet!

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