The Road Book Awards are adjudicated by a highly regarded truly international panel of judges. The panel include those covering the sport in both the written media, commentary box and retired professionals.
Out with the old, and in with the new?
No, that was last year when youngsters began to surface faster than a bunch of drowning swimmers! this time, in another covid-hit season, the elderly fought back and in what was almost an entire racing season, there was a balance once more among the champions young and old, in a stellar year.
It was a horrible year for the experts to be called “judges”. So many great names were left off the win list, but they had an invidious task in naming the champions while at the same time being forced to leave many champions off the role of honour.
There is, as they say, only one winner, yet from the names left off, to me, there were many winners and not least our sport. Take a look at the “losers”.
Tadej Pogacar – the youngest rider ever to win back-to-back Tour de France’s, before he turned 23. Is it a wonder that his team UAE-Team Emirates have him contracted until 2027!
His Slovenian countryman Primoz Roglic, a late starter in the sport and now 32, won the Vuelta a Espana for a third straight time, while also getting the Olympic gold medal in the time trial. It’s not surprising they are national heroes at home and have their own postage stamps.
Two surprising names among the women, who were on our champions list in 2020, are left wondering what they must do to return! This will not be in the mind though of Anna van der Breggen who retired at the end of the year. In her final season she took 3rd in the Olympic games time trial, won the Giro d’Italia , her Dutch national time trial title for a second time, the Fleche-Wallonne for a seventh consecutive time and Het Nieuwsblad again. She leaves as a great champion of the sport.
Annemiek van Vleuten, now 39, took gold (time trial) and silver (road race) in Tokyo, having been a winner all year from the tour of Flanders in April to the San Sebastian classic in July and a bronze medal in the world time trial championship in September.
However, winning was not the only key to our champions list as Remco Evenepoel, winner of the Coppa Bernocchi, a bronze in the world time trial title and victories in the tour of Denmark and the brussels cycling classic showed. still 21 when next season begins, Remco showed he had recovered from his crash in the Tour of Lombardy in 2020. There were others, too, like Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock and Matthieu van der Poel, who must be mentioned in an extraordinary year.
Now to the winners….
Male Rider of the Year – Julian Alaphilippe
I am no different to anyone else when it comes to liking this great French rider. Julian is an entertainer, a man of passion, an attacker and, above all, a winner. And we all love him. the records will show that “loulou” won only four races in 2021, but the way he entertained us throughout the year, suggested his second world road title in succession was always going to be his; the public wanted no other winner. a stage win and a yellow jersey in the Tour de France brought his total to 18 days in the lead of this great race. Julian is a favourite, not just of France, but of the whole cycling world.
Female Rider of the Year – Lizzie Deignan
Lizzie’s career became locked in stone when she won the first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix with an amazing escape that lasted for the final 50 miles. Conditions in October (re-scheduled from April) were atrocious, made this one victory worth more than even the Olympics in what was an outstanding year of progression for women in cycling. Bouncing over the mud-strewn cobbles of the “hell of the north” her pursuer could get no closer than 65 seconds and Roubaix velodrome welcomed lizzie as the first women to win an event first held for men in 1896. Oh, and she also won the tour of Switzerland!
Young Male Rider of the Year – Jonas Vingegaard
After learning to pronounce Jonas’s surname (it’s vingego!) we all settled in to watching yet another new star as, at just 24, he rode to an exciting second place in the Tour, yet could not win the white jersey as best young rider, but he did beat Pogacar to this title!
Young Female Rider of the Year – Elisa Balsamo
At 23, Elisa was not seen as the future world road champion in September, but the sprint she delivered in France left her a clear winner, even though she seemed as surprised as everyone else. Days before the world title she warned of her intent with second in the Gp d’Isbergues and a rainbow jersey so early in her career leaves the road ahead paved in gold.
Male Combative Rider of the Year – Julian Alaphilippe
There is not a lot more to say about Julian. He is never happier when racing at or near to the front of the peloton. there could not have been a more worthy winner of this award on this occasion. as the French say: “chapeau, Julian!”.
Female Combative Rider of the Year – Elisa Longo Borghini
Women’s racing has (finally) largely had an equal share of tv coverage in 2021, and one women who always attack and specializes in the late escape, is the hard-working Italian, Elisa Longo-Borghini. Her Italian champion’s jersey was seen in every race she rode. if you can’t sprint, then attack and hope it works. It did, with 3rd in both the Olympic games and Paris-Roubaix and with a number of the one-day classics. Let’s not forget a great second too, in the Strade Bianche Donne. Yes, if Elisa rides, then a hard race is assured for all.
The Road Book Society Reader’s Award: Mark Cavendish
Who would have thought it? Well clearly you all did and, as Mark’s wife Peta would say:” the boy did well!”.
It was so nice to see Mark back in the bunch and enjoying himself – not just waiting for the sprint, but riding at the front for his team. It was clear he was once again just living his sport. His Tour de France was a dream, where he joined Eddy Merckx on a record 34 stage wins, winning the green jersey for a second time and his first in a decade. No race wins since February 2018, the road back as been long and daunting, but, at 36, he has finished with his most wins since 2016, and with his 16th season just around the corner. Allez, mark!