H/T to Vlaanderen90 for the addition of Heras and Kirchen!
Who's the best rider of the decade? Lance Armstrong or Eric Zabel? The guy who beat the Tour like a drum or the guy who rode and won almost everything under the sun? Who had a better decade-Carlos Sastre or Levi Leipheimer? In picking your all-decade sprinter team, who do you pick first-Robbie McEwen or Thor Hushovd? Who do you rate higher for the decade-Fabian Cancellara or Oscar Freire? Jan Ullrich or George Hincapie?
Depends on how you are rating them. Honest!
Ranking riders is not that easy. Besides the fact that different riders specialize in different types of races and terrains, one can develop very different types of measuring sticks, some of which favor sprinters, others which favor guys who ride a lot, or who win races, or who podium a lot, or how hit they are, or climbers or doping tainted, or...any number of things. Then there's the time period you are ranking the riders. Some riders reach a certain level and chug along for close to a decade. Others have a much narrower but much higher peak, So which is better? To me the answer is both, depending on what you are looking for. The fact is one can rationalize most anything and ranking riders is just one more of those things.
What I present for you here though is the way Cycling Quotient ranks riders. Which riders made the largest cumulative mark in the decade? For reference, here is the CQ point scale of races and here is the CQ's breakdown of the UCI race categories. CQ is you probably know, counts every race and fits the results into their rankings. Naturally the big races give out the most points but all races give out some races. There's plusses and minuses to doing it this way but for now let's just let the rankings speak for themselves. See of you agree with them or not: that's most of the fun with these things anyway. Below I have little blurbs on the top riders and a table (Yes! A TABLE!!!!) of the top 33 riders for the decade: every rider that scored more than 6000 CQ points in the Aughts. Let's start with #1 shall we?
1. Eric Zabel: 15126 points
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sports
To paraphrase Drew from an email: There's no one in today's peloton that is like Ete. No one rides as much as Zabel did and score so many wins. Over 200, a feat equaled by only five other riders. How many more than 200? [Pee Wee] I DON'T KNOW! [/Pee Wee]. I've never seen an exact count (and we aren't even thinking of his 6 Day racing). By CQ's count, I see 89 wins in the Aughts, including stage race points competitions. By year:
00-15* Did not race after winning the Green Jersey at the Tour-injury?
Even with half of Zabel's great career in the 90's, he still won more CQ points than anyone else.
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2. Davide Rebellin: 14280 points*
The asterisk is not because he got busted. An awful large percentage of the riders here were busted and many more here were/are under a heavy cloud. No, the asterisk is because CQ still includes his 2nd place in the Olympics last year and if you take that away he moves into 3rd place. Or not-as you will see when you sneak ahead to the 3rd place guy. So complicated, these rankings.
Tin Tin's memory is still fresh in our minds: at home in the hilly classics and shorter, not too hilly stage races. But what I find most interesting is how few races he actually won. I count just 33 races of all types in the Aughts. and most of them are small things like Tour of Mediterranean pre season stage wins. His big race wins are actually very few, most importantly when he swept the Ardennes in 04. Top 5 he was gold. Podium finishes he was money. Wins-not so much.
3. Alejandro Valverde: 1428 points*
See the reason for the asterisk for The Green Bullet and Tin Tin? Almost identical scores and both may get points taken away within the next few months. Leaving that aside, Valverde has the single greatest CQ season in the Aughts with 2657 points in 08. The top 10:
1. Valverde 08- 2657
2. Boonen 06- 2559
3. Contador 08- 2520
4. Valverde 09- 2487
5. Valverde 06- 2469
6. Zabel 02- 2293
7. Contador 09- 2271
8. Cunego 04- 2260
9. Bettini 04- 2239
10. Bettini 03- 2231
Kinda obvious that Valverde also has the best three and four consecutive year peaks as well. The best three year averages (and all of the riders who averaged over 2000 points for three years):
1. Valverde 07-09- 2347
2. Zabel 01-03- 2186
3. Contador 07-09- 2141
4. Bettini 02-04- 2067
5. Boonen 05-07- 2037
4. Paolo Bettini: 13643 points
Photo by Doug Pensinger, Getty Images Sports
After the Little Cricket you will see a gap of 2313 to the next rider (Boonen). That's the biggest gap in these rankings so it might be good to look what the Big Four have in common. Zabel-Rebellin-Valverde-Bettini together identify the sweet spot in pro cycling success: riders who can finish fast but can take at least hills with relative ease. Zabel might be the furtherest from this ideal since he loved him some bunch sprints but damn, he used those Grand Tour mountains to separate himself from the other bunch sprinters in the points race competitions. if he had wanted to I'm sure he could have shaped his career to win on mountains sort of like how Thor did this year vs Cavendish. After these four we still get the hilly classics generalists like these four but we'll be seeing sprinters, climby guys, and cobbles hard men mixed in.
5. Tom Boonen: 11330 points
Ah, what might have been. That sentence is what I now think when I think of Boonen. And what might still come. As Chris said, "Within his element, he's the most dominant cyclist of the decade." So strong on the cobbles.
That gets me to thinking. Above under Valverde I listed the top 10 CQ seasons. Looking further, I count nine riders who together scored 2000+ points 18 times. Zabel leads everybody with four, Valverde and Bettini had three each, Contador and Boonen had two, and Rebellin, Boonen, Cunego, and Armstrong each have one. Look at those names. That's a pretty exclusive club and it would be hard to come up with a better statistical definition of the best riders of the decade. Cunego is probably the weakest rider of the bunch but still he had a 1800 point season in 08 to prove that he wasn't a total one year wonder, and there are not many more riders who ever kissed the 2800 mark.
What's that? Did any other riders just miss the 2000 point barrier? Yep. In fact there were five riders just outside the promised land. Alessandro Petacchi was sooooo close in 03 (1989) and 05 (1986). Cadel Evans scored 1979 points in 07, 20 points more than Killer. Robbie McEwen won 1947 in 02. Finally, Oscarito was THIS CLOSE in 04: 1994 points. So if you ad these five riders to the nine 2000 pointers you get the top 13 riders of the decade who scored over 10,000 CQ points and Contador.
6. Danilo Di Luca: 11121 points
Yes, CQ still has him in 2nd place in the last Giro. That's 903 points that will get distributed to various riders. Losing those points will drop him below the next three guys here and barely keep him in 9th place. Who on this list would benefit? Several riders but all just a little: Sastre and Basso, Menchov and Leipheimer. Cunego a little. Most intriguing is Pellizotti who is the first rider who just misses making this list of 32 riders. He's 33 with 5728 points. Trying to adjust for Di Luca's probably expulsion would give Save Ferris! (besides the 2nd place overall) 132 points for a new total of 5860-not quite enough. So close.
Pellizotti is an interesting case. His best year was in 08 with 960 points. He's like The Little Engine That Could (Win A Grand Tour). His perm is by far the flashiest thing about him but every year he chugs out between 700-950 points. Like so many riders you wonder what he would have done if he had been the leader of a team...but not too much. In the end Jennifer Grey's points total is right where his physical, mental, and emotional self feels most comfortable.
7. Lance Armstrong: 10482 points
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sports
Now here is a leader quite obviously. But what about the missing three years? If he had ridden those years would he be #1 on this list as the greatest rider of the decade? To me this question is silly on the order of what if Boonen hadn't taken a shine to cocaine or what if the Zulus had F-15's. Lance retired because he was mentally and emotionally exhausted and mental and emotional health is just as important in winning bike races as physical health. These riders are just as fragile as the rest of us (East Germans excepted of course) and the competition leads to all sorts of breakdowns. Celebrate Lance for what he did which was dominate the biggest race in the world more completely than any other rider here dominated any other race.
8. Alessandro Petacchi: 10397 points
Photo by Hamish Blair, Getty Images Sports
The first true I-hate-hills bunch sprinter on the list as Zabel could handle hills and Boonen is a Cobbles stud. For pure bunch sprinting this guy was the best of the Aughts. Won just a silly amount of stage races in the Grand Tours.
9. Oscar Freire: 10363 points
Which nation dominates this list of riders? Anyone think it's Spain? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA~Not even close! Here's a ranking of the 33 riders by nationality with total points by nation and the riders who scored them:
1. Italy-88,931 points by nine riders: Rebellin, Bettini, Di Luca, Petacchi, Cunego, Simoni, Basso, Garzelli, and Pozatto
2. Spain-53,776 points by six riders: Valverde, Freire, Contador, Sam San, Mancebo, and Sastre
3. Germany-30,451 points by three riders: Zabel, Jens!, and Ullrich
4. Australia-27,346 points by three riders: McEwen, Evans, and O'Grady
5. USA-24,931 points by Armstrong, Leipheimer, and Hincapie
6. Belgium-17,916 points by two riders: Boonen and Gilbert
7. Norway-8348 points by Hushovd
8. Switzerland-8279 points by Cancellara
9. Kazakhstan-7831 points by Vinokourov
10. Netherlands-7634 points by Boogerd
11. Russia-7393 points by Menchov
12. Luxembourg-6576 points by Frank Schleck
13. France-6179 points by Moreau
- Netherlands: not doing so good. I mean after Boogerd, what? Gesink is the heir to Boogie Man but Chris who will help him in the '10's?
- USA also is not replacing it's stars.
- Italy is interesting and for som many reasons. One is how the riders listed here are on so many different teams.
10. Robbie McEwen: 10212 points
Photo by Ezra Shaw, Getty Images Sports
Bunch sprinter again! And with this Pocket Rocket we come to the end of pure bunch sprinters on this list. McEwen is also the last rider who scored 10,000+ points.
11 (tie). Damiano Cunego: 9704 points
11 (tie). Cadel Evans: 9702 points
I have a confession to make. These point totals I'm putting down for these riders? They're wrong, almost every one of them. Ha! Made you read! No seriously, they aren't quite right. Note that here I am not talking about doping issues here. What I'm saying is that the CQ totals, particularly in the early part of the decade, just a little off still. They often miss a race here and there which marginally affects the riders totals. For instance, take Levi Leipheimer. In 2000 Levi won the time trial stage in the Circut Franco-Belge, and finished 2nd on a stage in the Tour of Luxembourg. Both of these should eventually be recorded in CQ but haven't yet and both of them give him points. I think 19 points, which I have added to his total. I checked just a few riders like this, Bettini gained 131 points, Frank Schleck 50, but only these three because a) I do have a life (sometimes), and b) hell if I know if I found all the extra races that even just these three riders scored in.
So, no: I have no idea who scored more between Cunego and Evans. Let's just move on to...
13. Jens! 9046 points
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sports
Here's his point totals by year:
04-1276 Moved to CSC before this season
03-762 Last year at Credit Agricole
Clearly the move by Jens! to CSC and Riis was a wise decision. But what hits me most is that he turned 30 late in 2001 meaning all his best years came after age 29. So it's mot just that he's tough as nails. He's like the Warren Spahn of cycling.
Photo by Jasper Juinen, Getty Images Sports
14. Gilberto Simoni: 8354 points
Photo by Robert Laberge, Getty Images Sports
Very cool photo of Simoni there.
I expect Simoni will find a ride in 2010 though I haven't heard with whom yet. ISD perhaps? Maybe someone can enlighten me. I hope that he gets one more Giro and then retires. My fantasy sees him winning atop the Zoncolan then retiring on the spot. I know I would cry if that were to happen. He'd be the rider of the year in my books, regardless of what anyone else did.
15. Thor Hushovd: 8348 points
Photo by Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images Sports
I got nuthin; other than he's a God and being a God makes for a good cycling career.
16. Fabian Cancellara: 8249 points
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sports
You think he's reached his peak yet? I don't think so either. He''ll be 29 in 2010. He scored 1820 points two years ago; last year he hit 1516 even while injured for much of the cobbles/MSR T-A spring.
17. Levi Leipheimer: 8116 points
Levi makes me wonder which of these guys were teammates at one time or another. Let's see. Huh. Who is the only rider of these Big 33 who has never ever EVER had another one as a teammate. Can you guess? Answer is below the list of teammates. So below is a list of teams with riders. What really needs to be done here is, hmm, what was the rock magazine that used to chart band histories? Gah, I can;t remember, but I used to love looking at how different bands changed personal and cross bred with each other. Anyone remember? Little help!
I am positive I screwed up a couple riders so go ahead and make your day and correct me.
The Dutch/Rabo lineage
- Boogerd and Leipheimer, Rabobank 2002
- Boogerd, Leipheimer, and Freire, Rabobank 2003
- Boogerd and Freire, Rabobank 2004
- Boogerd, Freire, and Menchov Rabobank 2005-07
- Freire and Menchov 2008-09
The German/ T-Mob lineage
- Zabel, Vinokourov, and Ullrich, Telekom etc. 2000-05
- Zabel, Vino, Ullrich, and Evans, Telekom etc. 2003-04
- Zabel and Petacchi, Milram 2006-08
Mapei to Quickstep lineage
- Pozzato, Cancellara, Freire, and Bettini, Mapei-Quickstep 2000
- Pozzato, Cancellara, Bettini, Freire, Evans, and Garzelli, Mapei-Quickstep 2001-02
- Boonen and Bettini, Quickstep 2003-04
- Boonen, Bettini, and Pozzato, Quickstep 2005-06
- Boonen and Bettini, Quickstep 2007-08
Various Italian teams
- Basso and Petacchi, Fassa Bortolo 2001-02
- Basso, Pozzato, Petacchi and Cancellara, Fassa Bortolo, 2003
- Pozzato, Petacchi and Cancellara, Fassa Bortolo, 2004
- Petacchi and Cancellara, Fassa Bortolo 2005
- Cunego and Simoni, Saeco and Lampre 2002-05
- Di Luca, and Garzelli, Liquigas 2006
- Di Luca and Pozzato, Liquigas 2007
- Basso and Pozzato, Liquigas 2009
- Simoni and Rebellin, Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoni 2009
- Di Luca and Petacchi, LPR 2008-09
CSC/Saxo Bank lineage
-- F Schleck and Sastre, CSC 2002-03
- F Schleck, Jens! and Basso, CSC 2004-05
- F Schleck, Jens!, Basso, O'Grady, and Cancellara, CSC 2006
- F Schleck, Jens!, O'Grady, Sastre, and Cancellara, CSC/Saxo 2007-08
- F Schleck, Jens!, O'Grady, and Cancellara, Saxo Bank 2009
- Hushovd, Jens! and O'Grady, Credit Agricole 2000-01
- Hushovd, Jens!, O'Grady, and Moreau, Credit Agricole 2002-03
- Hushovd and Moreau, Credit Agricole 2004-05
- Moreau and Mancebo AG2R, 2006
- Mancebo and Menchov, Banesto and Illes Balears-Banesto, 2000-04
- Mancebo and Valverde, Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 2005
- Hushovd and Sastre, Cervelo 2009
McEwen and Evans, *Lotto 2005-08
- McEwen and Pozzato, Katusha 2009
- Evans and Gilbert, *Lotto 2009
Lance/American/Vino post-T-Mob/Kazak lineages
- Armstrong, Leipheimer, Boonen (as a trainee), and Hincapie, Postal and Discovery 2000
- Armstrong, Leipheimer, and Hincapie, Postal 2001
- Armstrong, Hincapie, and Boonen, Postal 2002
-Armstrong and Hincapie, Postal and Discovery 2003-05
- Vinokourov and Contador, Astana-Wurth 2006
- Leipheimer and Rebellin, Gerolsteiner 2005-06
- Leipheimer, Hincapie, and Contador, Discovery 2007 (with Basso for the ToC)
- Leipheimer and Contador, Astana 2008
- Armstrong, Leipheimer, and Contador, Astana 2009
Te wildest thing in al of these team switching is how the main German team adds this odd Kazak rider, Vino, who moves to a Kazak/Spanish team which then morphs into this Kazak/Spanish/American team and now is a Spanish/Kazak team.That original German team is now sort of American and not at all German while the American influence in that Kazak/Spanish/American team is now just a completely different American team.
Answer: Only Samuel Sanchez has never been a teammate with any of the other Big 33.
18. Alberto Contador: 8046 points
Bert of course is flying up this list like it's some small French hillock. That makes me wonder. This ranking is pretty arbitrary in taking a given 10 year slice; some of the riders retired in the decade while others were neo-pros after the decade was underway. So which group of riders are slighted here-the retirees or the neo-pros? Let's see:
Riders who retired in the Aughts: 4 riders
Zabel-15126 No points in 09
Bettini-13643 No points in 09
Boogerd-7634 No points in 08 and 09
Ullrich-6279 No points in 07, 08, 09
Riders who started in the Aughts: 7 riders
Valverde-14248 No points in 00 and 01
Cunego-9704 No points in 00 and 01
Evans-9702 2 points in 00 while riding unattached
Cancellara-8249 No points in 00
Contador-8046 No points in 00, 01, 02
Gilbert-6586 No points in 00
Frank Schleck-6576 No points in 00, 01, and 02
Pozzato-6229 No points in 00
Riders who raced all ten years (doping and mental R&R (Armstrong) count here: 20 riders
Rebellin, Boonen, Di Luca, Armstrong, Petacchi, Freire, McEwen, Jens!, Simoni, Hushovd, Leipheimer, Vinokourov, Garzelli, Sanchez, O'Grady, Basso, Menchov, Mancebo, Sastre, Hincapie, Moreau
No surprise that most of the riders on the list had careers that last all of the 10 years. (I will note that a couple of these guys like Samu barely raced in 2000.) It appears though that retirees are more slighted than the neo-pros. I can think of two semi-contradictory reasons for this:
1) Riders in their 20's win more than riders in their 30's. But their reputations are larger in their 30's. We saw this last year when I looked at major race winners. Throughout cycling history the average age of winners of major races are in their late 20's. That average age is creeping upwards due to better training and diet and doping but it's still the late 20's when the huge majority of riders are at their best. Not only that but riders decline rather rapidly when they hit their 30's.
But here's the key thing: a rider's reputation lags a few years behind their true abilities. We tend to think of riders in their 30's as being better than they really are because of what they did in their 20's. This is true of all athletes in all sports. Yes, we are nudging that prime portion of athletes careers by better diet, training, and doping but only marginally. And I think this list of 33 riders shows that the riders on the downside of their careers score fewer points then riders in their early and mid-20's and thus are off this list.
One interesting twist on all of this is that for most teams the team leaders tend to be the guys in their 30's. It might be interesting to study how well teams do when they designate a team leader in their 30's or in their 20's. Yum. Sounds like a January project to me!
2) OR the wave of doping scandals that hit this decade cut short the careers of several stars who might otherwise have made this list. Call this the Floyd Landis explanation as he is the first rider I think of who fits this category. Floyd has 2445 points for the decade; if he hadn't gotten busted he would be tickling the bottom of this list as he just turned 34 last October. He would have won the Tour in 06 and every Tour winner is on this list. Perhaps there are others like him?
What do I really think? I think explanation #1, the age factor is by far the most dominant factor in culling older riders from the all-decade list. Guys like Landis are the exception that proves the rule.
19. Alexandre Vinokourov: 7871 points
More age talk. Take these 33 riders. Find out what age they were at during their peak year and average them. What do you get? 29.64 years old. A couple things that need to be said here:
- This is a small sample size and it is not representative of the peloton: it is skewed towards older ages. Why? Stars are not average riders and they retire later in their careers. They can hold their form for more years.
- Some of these guys may not have hit their peak yet. Bert is the most obvious one and Cancellara or Gilbert might still have a peak, but other than those three, I don't see any riders here who might still do better. Thus this is actually not as big a factor as it seems on first glance, plus to balance it out...
- Some of these guys peaked in the 90's or 2000 and I don't have full figures for those years so I don't know. What was Zabel's peak year? Ullrich's? Armstrong's? Boogerd's? Good chance it's in the Aughts but I don't know.
- Illegal doping skews this towards older. Rebellin's peak year was in 08 at age 37, two years beyond the peak of anyone else here. Riiiiiiiight. Of course he was busted-very slowly-at age 37 too. As an aside that is sure to inflame a couple people here, the three Johan Bruyneel riders here (not counting the kid, Contador who's career we haven't seen enough of) all peaked in their 30's. Armstrong-31, Leipheimer-35 (the second oldest peak), and Hincapie-33. Just sayin'.
- The age distribution:
35-2- Leipheimer, Moreau
33-3- Jens!, Sastre, Hincapie
31-3- Di Luca, Armstrong, O'Grady
30-5- Bettini, McEwen, Evans, Simoni, Vinokourov
29-5- Petacchi, Garzelli, Boogerd, Basso, Menchov
28-7- Valverde, Freire, Hushovd, Sanchez, Mancebo, Ullrich, Pozzato
27-3- Cancellara, Gilbert, Frank Schleck
26-2- Contador, Boonen
20. Samuel Sanchez: 7709 points
Just looking at that teammates list above, I wonder if Samu feels lonely.
Okay here's the full table of riders. The Big 35:
|Rider Name||CQ Points|
|1. Erik Zabel||15126|
|2. Davide Rebellin||14280|
|3. Alejandro Valverde||14248|
|4. Paolo Bettini||13643|
|5. Tom Boonen||11330|
|6. Danilo Di Luca||11121|
|7. Lance Armstrong||10482|
|8. Alessandro Petacchi||10397|
|9. Oscar Freire||10363|
|10. Robbie McEwen||10212|
|11. Damiano Cunego||9704|
|12. Cadel Evans||9702|
|14. Gilberto Simoni||8354|
|15. Thor Hushovd||8348|
|16. Fabian Cancellara||8249|
|17. Levi Leipheimer||8116|
|18. Alberto Contador||8046|
|19. Alexander Vinokourov||7871|
|20. Stefano Garzelli||7782|
|21. Samuel Sanchez||7709|
|22. Michael Boogerd||7634|
|23. Stuart O'Grady||7432|
|24. Ivan Basso||7421|
|25. Denis Menchov||7393|
|26. Francisco Mancebo||6787|
|27. Carlos Sastre||6623|
|28. Philippe Gilbert||6586|
|29. Frank Schleck||6576|
|30. George Hincapie||6333|
|31. Jan Ullrich||6279|
|32. Filippo Pozzato||6229|
|33. Christophe Moreau||6179|
|34. Roberto Heras||6130|
|35. Kim Kirchen||6017|
Other notables: Mick Rogers-5781 Franco Pellizotti-5728 Andreas Kloden-5586 Danilo Hondo-5165
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sports