AntBanter! July Rider of the Month

A bumper grand tour calls for a bumper Rider of the Month, and we’ve certainly got that for you. As usual we’re not short of riders to throw into the hat for this prestigious award.

Sheree’s going to start the ball rolling with her nomination.

Peter Sagan

No stage wins, but Sagan was a model of consistency (Image: Presse Sports/B Papon)

No stage wins, but Sagan was a model of consistency (Image: Presse Sports/B Papon)

Sheree: While there’s no such thing as a sure thing in any sport, most commentators agreed even before the start of the Tour de France that Peter Sagan was a shoo-in for his third consecutive green points jersey. Since he made his debut in the Tour three years ago, Sagan has led the points classification after 58 out of 63 stages. He won three stages in 2012, one last year but this year had ‘only’ four second places.

So, without a stage victory, he was still a runaway winner of the green jersey, which underlines his admirable consistency (he finished in the top ten in 11 out of 21 stages). And, let’s not forget his spell in the white jersey for best young rider.

Ant: That’s a good point, Sheree, Sagan is still a young rider. Easy to forget when you look at his pedigree. And speaking of young up-and-coming riders, let’s go over to Midge’s choice …

Rafal Majka

After a gruelling Giro, Majka sparkled in the mountains to grab the polka dot jersey (Image: ASO/X Bourgois)

After a gruelling Giro, Majka sparkled in the mountains to grab the polka dot jersey (Image: ASO/X Bourgois)

Midge: My rider of the month? Let me give you some clues: 24 years old. Given to cheeky winks at the camera. Two stage wins. Holder of the pox until Paris. Can you guess who it is yet? Of course, it’s Rafal Majka.

When Tinkoff-Saxo lost their leader Alberto Contador, they didn’t bother with plan B, they went straight to plan M: Magnificent Majka. Despite doubts over his form after his tough Giro, when the gradients kicked up in the last week he definitely found his climber’s legs. His two stage wins came from solo raids of sheer determination with a splash of panache, my favourite kind. I held my breath as he was stalked by Nibali all the way up the slopes of Risoul, his time gap getting smaller and smaller. Three stages later saw me laughing with delight as he escaped on Pla d’Adet, this time taking the win and the polka dot jersey.

He’s surely a grand tour contender for the future, and Tinkoff-Saxo have done well to extend his contract to 2017. I wonder if he has his Aston Martin yet, though?

Ant: He was so good that Phil & Paul called him Rafal Magic (well, that was ONE of the many pronunciations they applied… ). Right, time for another. Kathi, you’re up.

Thibaut Pinot

Pinot laid to rest his descending nightmares of last year (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Pinot laid to rest his descending nightmares of last year (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Kathi: It’s Thibaut Pinot for me because he never lost his nerve. He didn’t lose it when he was riding in the high mountains with the yellow jersey group. He didn’t lose it when Ag2r were triple-dog-daring him to follow them down the descents at breakneck speed. He didn’t lose it during the time trial that would decide the final podium and he had everything to win or lose. Because, you see, he could have lost his nerve on any of these occasions and it would have been chalked up to youth or inexperience.

But instead he followed attacks in the mountains. He spent the winter working on his descending skills so that, even if he was scared, he didn’t let his fear get the better of him. And when he went down that start ramp in the TT, he didn’t let the inevitable butterflies in his stomach make him wobble. #WeAllWantPinot

Ant: Dammit! I was going to say Pinot! *hands over to Tim and sulks in corner*

Tony Martin

No surprise that Tony Martin won the ITT, but his first grand tour road stage victory made this a Tour to remember for him (Image: OPQS)

No surprise that Tony Martin won the ITT, but his first grand tour road stage victory made this a Tour to remember for him (Image: OPQS)

Tim: According to the Tour de France roadbook, this year’s race contained only one long 50km-plus individual time trial. Tony Martin ensured there were actually two, turning stage nine into a long solo attack which exorcised the demons of his near miss at last year’s Vuelta and resulted in his first ever grand tour stage victory that wasn’t against the clock. Of course, he went on to dominate the scheduled ITT too, beating the entire field by almost two minutes.

For the season he has nine victories. Only three riders at WorldTour level have more, and they’re all sprinters (Greipel, Kristoff, Kittel) who have multiple stage-winning opportunities at every race they enter. For a time trial specialist, it’s a phenomenal record, but then Tony Martin is indisputably a phenomenal rider.

Ant: Very true, and of course he also performed exceptionally well in the OPQS lead-out. Jack, who’re you nominating?

Vincenzo Nibali

Nibali marks victory on Hautacam - the first yellow jersey winner to claim four road stages since Eddy Merckx in 1974 (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Nibali marks victory on Hautacam – the first yellow jersey winner to claim four road stages in a single edition since Eddy Merckx in 1974 (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Jack: Vincenzo Nibali’s maiden Tour de France win will go down in history as a Tour of ‘what ifs’, with his two biggest rivals crashing out before the racing had seriously begun. After Alberto Contador’s abandon on stage ten, there was no one in the race who could come close to challenging the Sicilian for the yellow jersey. But that shouldn’t really detract from the magnitude of his success for a couple of reasons.

The first is the most obvious: you can only beat who’s in front of you. And Nibali totally obliterated the rest of the field. Eventually winning the Tour by a bigger margin than anyone since Jan Ullrich in 1997, the Italian was utterly dominant, setting a pace that both Contador and Chris Froome would’ve struggled to live with. Secondly, bike handling itself is a skill; the ability to stay on the bike in tough conditions is one of Nibali’s greatest attributes, and helped him to what must surely rank as one of the greatest GC rides of recent times on the slippery cobbles of stage five.

Nibali was given an opportunity, and he certainly made the most of it.

Ant: He certainly did make the most of it and no mistake! That just leaves me.

Jean-Christophe Peraud

Peraud was the only rider who could keep up consistently with Nibali in the mountains (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Peraud was the only rider who could keep up consistently with Nibali in the mountains (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Ant: My choice for this month is the wonderful Jean-Christophe Peraud, who along with Kathi’s pick Thibaut Pinot helped to electrify this year’s Tour de France and give the home nation something to cheer. A relative latecomer to the pro peloton, the 37-year-old is only in his fifth season, but he’s already built a respectable palmares and his ascent to the podium of the Tour de France is not exactly out of the blue. Many will remember how in last year’s edition, J-C was ninth in the GC when he crashed out in the final time trial, sliding off on a corner right in front of his family who had come to the stage to cheer him on.

The sadness of that exit makes the glory of this success all the sweeter, and to think that it was sealed with a compelling time trial performance. His emotion at the end of that stage was just the sort of thing we love, as was his cheeky comment “I had to add a little spice” when talking about his final stage crash on the Champs-Elysees. What’s not to like?

The winner

You probably won’t be too surprised, but the Shark of Messina messed up the competition again, trouncing the competition by some margin. Vincenzo Nibali impressed us so much he finished up with almost double the points of his nearest rival, Thibaut Pinot, with Peraud taking the third podium step, almost mirroring Le Tour.

The voting however, didn’t pass without some controversy. Chris eschewed the French heroes, totally forgetting that #weallwantpinot, which resulted in derisive snorts, bike tossing, and I swear if we had a team bus, somebody just may have stormed it. He’s lucky Marc Madiot wasn’t around! Fortunately nobody was hurt, and we should all be okay to continue again for a mid-Vuelta award next month.

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