[editor's note, by chris] This story will be reposted as the lead through the weekend. Scroll down for the latest posts.
As you've seen, the voting turned into a three way deadlock (Landis, Bettini and Valverde) and basically stayed that way to the end. Taking that vote into consideration and applying our own subjective assessment, the Podium Cafe's First Annual Rider of the Year is...
More on the flip...
OK, the elephant in the room... Landis won the popular vote. A few points:
- Right up front, I'll admit I'm biased against having Landis win while under suspicion, even though I believe that he's entitled to due process and have always felt he's innocent. I want to feel completely good about the selected rider, and unfortunately I can't about Floyd.
- That said, I don't think a one-vote win (out of 177 cast) in essentially a three-way tie is compelling. This is an internet poll, where we invite anyone and everyone to vote. There are modest controls on who votes and how many times. I think like all internet polls this one reflects a trend generally, but I don't regard it as being 100% precise. That's why I feel empowered to view the results as a three-way tie, and don't feel hung up on Floyd having one extra vote.
- I've struggled with whether I should downgrade Landis for the doping question, but I'd prefer to dodge that difficult judgment... because I can. As Koppenberg so convincingly put it:
Yes, the solo break was one of the most spectacular things we've seen. Haven't seen anything like it since Durand's suicide win at Flanders. But who did he beat? Kloden, Sastre, Pereiro. 3 support riders pressed in captains duty.
I agree. Take away Floyd's ride and you've got Oscar Pereiro winning the Tour after the big names were withdrawn (UIle, Basso, Vino, Mancebo) or crashed out (Valverde), and thanks largely to an endless stream of defensive riding by the remaining GC threats. Yes, Floyd's ride was a day for the ages, but we have to deduct some points for the competition. You can't say that about the April classics or the Worlds or even the Vuelta. And the rest of the Landis portfolio is perfectly pleasant, but like typical new-millenium, ultra-focused Tour contenders, his schedule was just too race-light in the end.
Between Paolo Bettini and Alejandro Valverde...
- Neither one is a clear ROY, in the way of a Kelly or Hinault or what have you. There isn't such a rider this year. It's a tribute to the incredible talent wave we're seeing that the wins and other great achievements are so spread around.
- Both of these riders are to be judged by their palmares, and nothing else really. Not that either of them shies away from team duties, but neither of them deserve more credit than your typical rider. Everybody puts in their work, or almost everyone. So let's check out the slate:
Paolo Bettini's results
1st, Giro di Lombardia
Maglia ciclamina (points) and one stage, Giro d'Italia
one stage, Vuelta
two stages, Tirreno-Adriatico
8th in Pro Tour standings
Alejandro Valverde's results
1st in queen stage, 2nd in prologue, Tour de Romandie
2nd overall, one stage, t-1st in Combo, La Vuelta
3rd, World Championships
Pro Tour Champion
Bettini's season wins on emotion, but that's it. I rate Valverde's April victories ever-so-slightly ahead of Bettini's September/October wins, only because while the startlists are as impressive at Lombardia, everyone is there AND on top form in April. But even if you don't buy that, then let's call Lombardia and Liege a wash (both Monuments) and despite differences in prestige, wins in the worlds and La Fleche are quite comparable achievements. So cancel the classic wins, toss out the minor tour stages, and you've got a near-win in a grand tour versus a national championship and a points jersey. IMHO, Valverde's Vuelta performance is what sets him apart as a rare rider for both the classics and the grand tours. And that's even before you factor in Valverde's setback at the Tour and his chaotic return to form for the Vuelta.
I concede that you can make a strong case for all three finalists, and a few other guys out there as well. But as difficult as the choice is, a choice has to be made, and I find it easy to agree with the Pro Tour: Valverde was the best this year.