Five riders I want to see win a stage:
1. Leonardo Duque
Although I do hate it when riders gets demeaning monikers, like ‘the plucky Colombian’, Leonardo Duque has oodles of pluck. Here is a rider who never, ever will die wondering, ‘what if?’. Ostensibly a sprinter, Duque finds himself in the day’s long break with irresponsible frequency. Duque chances his arm, put his share of work in a break, and risks humiliation in pursuit of victory. He is no champion, but he is a bike racer.
Although he seldom wins, Duque has several top tens in both the Vuelta a Espana and the Tour de France. Here is a rider who will earn a respectable place in a one day race such as GP Montreal or Gent-Wevelgem, yet finds himself 4th in the mountains category in a hilly Criterium du Dauphine; behind J-Rod, VdB and Gesink and in front of Vino and Wiggins.
In short, if you are tired of conservative riders who suck wheels to their inevitable hard-won 8th or 12th place on GC, complaining about all and sundry – then raise a glass to the Lion! (Besides, with the new green jersey points system, he may just profit a bit...?).
The rest, after the jump....
2. Chris Anker Sorensen
Bike riding is suffering. In the wet, the cold, the wind, and in the hills. There is nothing quite so hard as pedalling to a race finish, uphill: dropped, completely spent, and irrelevant to the outcome. Your only certainty is pain; your only reward to salvage the remnants of your pride. As a mountain domestique, Sorensen must do this day-in, day-out – detonating the peloton on the final climb until he cannot take any more, then slobbering and gibbering his way to the line as the crowds look elsewhere.
So? You ask, what makes him different from the rest: Navarro, Szmyd, Voigt, and (in recent years) Kloeden?
That’s easy. Every ounce of pain is writ large on Sorensen’s face. It is like the peloton’s portrait of Dorian Gray; an ugly contorted spasm of torture that can barely contain the force of the agony inside. It would take a crueller man than me to deny Chris Anker Sorensen a stage win.
3. Sandy Casar
Some might think it a bit rich to wish for Casar to win another Tour stage – he has three under his belt already, although one was awarded after the fact, with Astarloza’s disqualification. Well – I don’t mind – Casar is one of those riders who animates the hilly transition stage, and the flattish transition stage, and moderate transition stage, and the ... (you get the picture). The Tour would be half as interesting without the Dumoulins and Casars of this world.
Casar is another rider who sticks his nose at the conservative calculators in the peloton and chances his arm to win. He has earnt every CQ point in his illustrious career. May his escapes be ever graced with tailwinds, and his sprints be against Boogerds. Bravo Sandy!
4. Danny Pate
I don’t know Danny Pate. I know the name, I’ve seen him race; however, I couldn’t tell you much beyond that. Sure, I know he can timetrial and climb a bit, that he is American, and that universal opinion seems to be that he is both a fine fellow and clean as a whistle. But it’s that last bit that makes me want him to win a stage. In a sport that is so dirty, even the riders with anti-doping tattoos use temporary henna transfers, Pate appears to be the real deal. Here is a rider that has risked his whole professional career to be outspokenly, unambiguously, sportingly clean. I can only assume that he is telling the truth.
Given all that has happened in this sport: from Festina to saddle sores; spitting on whistleblowers and spitting in soup; from pot belge and dropping dead on hills, contaminated meat and substituted piss; riders whose urine disclosed that they were pregnant or drunk; draft horses climbing like helium balloons, spindly climbers timetrailling like a TGV; through it all, I know that if cycling is to have any future at all, the Danny Pates of this world must win stages of the Tour de France. I wish him luck.
5. Cadel Evans
Ever since he hit the wall wearing the maglia rosa in 2002, Evans has been a rider that has drawn, as I once stated, Ancient Greek levels of misfortune. (And he will be the first to let you know about it!)
I have always had mixed feelings about this rider. I gnash my teeth watching him move from wheel to wheel, desperately avoiding the buffet of the draft; I scorn when he opens his mouth post-race to complain about a real or imagined slight, when prudence would have dictated a polite response. And I cheer repeatedly, when he is dropped, and crawls his way back to the front, eking every last miserable watt out of his legs, refusing to surrender. His way is to fight to the last. The Giro stage to Montalcino was one of the best races I have ever seen. It had almost everything an Evans win should – grinta, suffering, repeated attacks, assorted wheelsucking, a heart-in-your-mouth moment where you think he’s binned it with victory in sight, and a last devastating attack to take the win.
All it needed was a stuffed podium lion in his hand. Fate, make it happen!
Photo by Tom Shaw, Getty Images Sport