They work tirelessly for everyone but themselves. They strap themselves into those ridiculous bidon-vests and pick up their body weight in bottles for their teammates. They ride into the wind to give their captain shelter without batting an eyelid. They are the unsung heroes of the peloton. But we’re singin’ today … here are our picks for this award …
Previous winners: 2015 – Manuel Quinziato
Kathi: I could actually put a whole team of unsung heroes in here and that would be Orica BikeExchange and their unwavering support for Esteban Chaves in his wildly successful season. However, I am going to pick one – Damien Howson, who was my rider of the race for Vuelta stage 20 just for his selfless ride in the mountains that helped Chaves beat Contador to the third step of the final podium. He rode … and rode … and rode … and you could hear Chaves saying things like ‘just get me to the base of the climb, just a little more!’ And he did. When he could do no more, he nearly came to a standstill but he must have been the happiest man in the peloton when he heard how well Chaves finished.
Sheree: Stephen Cummings has blossomed in 2016. The 35-year-old won four WorldTour stages (stage 7 Tour de France, stage 7 Criterium du Dauphine, stage 3 Vuelta al Pais Vasco and stage 4 Tirreno-Adriatico) and the overall in the Tour of Britain. However, more than the victories themselves, it’s the way he wins. Given a more free-ranging role at Dimension Data, his balls-to-the-wall, long-distance solo attacks from breaks had us cheering him on from our armchairs. And, as I discovered at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, he’s disarmingly modest. Which might be why he was initially (astonishingly) overlooked for a place on Team GB’s Olympic squad, but the selectors finally saw sense.
Ant: It may have its less pleasant side, but for the most part, it’s helped me enjoy cycling more, and got me to meet some great people. At times the racing needs a bit of a lift, and all too often we need to supplement the commentator’s musings with some sarcasm, just to see us through to the last 10km. Twitter helps us to come together and get the most out of the race. It may not be perfect, but it certainly adds a different dimension to cycling and helps us connect with other fans across the world.
Midge: If you weren’t thrilled to see FDJ’s William Bonnet back in the peloton after his horrific crash in the 2015 Tour de France, then I seriously doubt we can ever have common ground in cycling. The injury meant he switched cobbles for some new challenges, but all were met with the measured calm and service to his team leaders he has always shown. That he rode and completed the Tour the France was special, that he finished his season 8th at the Road World Championships in Doha is the icing on the cake. I could probably write an essay on FDJ’s road captain, but this quiet man of few words says all that is necessary himself… “Serious work and to not have regrets” – that’s an unsung hero.
Panache: It’s hard to call the 2016 Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner an unsung hero [I said near on impossible but would Panache listen? – Ed] but Wout Pouls was exactly that in this year’s Tour de France in support of eventual winner Chris Froome. Whenever there was an attack in the mountains, the Dutchman went to the front to reel it back in with ease. Stage 15’s final ascent of the Grand Colombier was where he gave a real master class, taking to the front early with Mikel Nieve in reserve. But Mikel wasn’t needed as Poels ended up riding at the front all the way to the summit. His victory in the spring Monument earned him the attention of the cycling world, but it’s his skills as the ultimate domestique that make him my unsung hero.
It was an absolute tie – Stephen Cummings and Damien Howson both got 26% of the vote and the exact number of votes with 33; Wout Poels (22%) William Bonnet (17%) and Twitter (10%)