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The Best Of The Aughts: The VM Rankings

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This is part two of ranking the riders of the Aughts. For part one, the CQ rankings, go here.

Let's do a little exercise.

Imagine that you are on a panel that will decide for all who the best riders of the decade were. Fans worldwide will read what you decide. You and your fellow panelers (us PdC folks-who better to decide, I ask you?) are looking at each rider's accomplishments and before you is the resume of the next applicant. Ideally we could give you the riders' resumes without their names but since you follow the seasons pretty closely you will no doubt guess this guy in the first sentence. For the rest of you, let's just give this guy a cleverly disguised pseudonym: "D. Rebellin." ;) Here's what he has to say:

I would like you to consider me as one of the best riders of the decade as I was one of the best riders in the hilly classics. My biggest accomplishment, one that was unprecedented and unrepeatable, was winning the Ardennes treble-Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one after the other, in 2004. As I said, no one before or since has accomplished this feat. I also won La Fleche in 2007 and just last year, 2009. In fact all through the decade I was The major rider in those races with teams scheming against me. Even with the scheming I regularly made the podium and top ten there and at similar races as San Sebastian (a race I won in 1997), and when the World Championship road race was more than flat as a pancake. For instance:

2008: 2nd at LBL, 6th at La Fleche, 4th at Amstel, 3rd at San Seb, 2nd at the Olympics, 4th at the Worlds, and 2nd at the Giro dell'Emilia.

2007: 2nd at Amstel, 1st La Fleche, 5th at LBL, 11st at San Seb6th at the Worlds, 2nd at Emilia, and 5th at Lombardia.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

With stage races I have two highlight wins: Tirreno-Adriatico in 2001 and Paris-Nice in 2008.

My full list of accomplishments is on the following page and it is a long one with numerous podium finishes.

Finally I was the unquestioned leader on the Gerolsteiner Pro Tour team from 2002-2008. Name me another rider who had such a similar run of captaincy in the Aughts! In closing you will note that I have the 2nd highest Cycling Quotient score in the Aughts with 14280 points. I very much hope that you put me on the Best of the Aughts Cycling Team.

Now that he has left the room, let's look at "D. Rebellin's" record more closely.

The Strengths: He is right; he was one of the best Ardennes and hilly Classic riders of the decade. And that 2004 treble is uniquely difficult, a singular accomplishment. One thing for sure, Tin Tin knew what races he was good at and he raced them hard with lots of high placings, including the two major stage race wins. The Little Prince among many others, would do well to learn from his example.

But look more critically. He was very good in the hilly Classics, yes, but he rarely won them. That 2004 treble was a fluke, a freak accomplishment. Given that he was always thought of as a potential winner pre-race, the fact that he only won these races five times in the decade speaks volumes for his lack of being able to finish off a race. In no way could you say that he was dominant in his favorite races. Very competitive, yes. Dominant, no.

Then you look at all the other non hilly Classics. He was a playa in the early season stage races Paris-Nice and Tirreno Adriatico, winning each once. But he wasn't a factor at all in any other stage races except the low level Brixia Tour. Grand Tours? He has a total of one stage win in a Grand Tour, the 96 Giro, so you have to say he did nothing to enhance his reputation there. Cobbles? Barely touched the bouncy pave.

So what you got is a very competitive hilly Classic guy who rarely branched out beyond that and almost never had success when he did. You got a guy who was a team leader on a mid to low level Pro Tour team, a relatively low pressure environment. Was he a good rider? Undoubtedly, yes. Was he one of the all-time greats of the decade? Hell no, regardless of what Cycling Quotient says. To take it further, say PdC set up a Cycling Hall of Fame (Yes, that's a hint.) Would Tin Tin qualify? I'd vote no. He'd be in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of the Great. In the long run, how will we remember Tin Tin? As the guy who did the Ardennes Treble. And as more time passes by that's about all that he will be remembered for outside of obsessive cycling fans.

So if Rebellin does not justify his lofty status on CQ as the 2nd best rider of the decade, then might there be a better way to measure greatness? I think so. The key, I think, is to develop a system that separates the wheat from the chaff and as CQ measures everything, much chaff winds up with the true quality results. In the end, CQ measures production, not quality, sort of like RBI's in baseball. We need a better measure of quality.

One very simple measure of quality is wins. Ultimately wins are what are remembered; the other podium places are forgotten. As GHH says, second place is first loser. It's just normal to be able to recall more the winners of, say the Tour or the Worlds RR, than those who finished second or third. And for poste rity's sake, a tenth place finish is only remembered in the agate type of archival websites. No, it's wins that count so why not just count wins when looking at history?

Okay, we can do that; we can count wins. But it's not that simple because, regardless of what Team Columbia says, all wins are not created equal. Winning a stage in the ToC is nothing compared to winning a stage at the TdF. Winning the Ronde van het Groene Hart is nothing compared to winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen. So we need a weighting system. Better yet, the weighting system would do well to completely ignore many low level races as no great cycling career is measured in Green Hearts and other small races. Just because there's a race doesn't mean that we have to include it into a weighting system.

We just want Quality Races and Wins when talking about posterity. Of course we still have to do some weighting because even getting rid of the B and C races we still have races that have more impact, but that's doable. So once we have our set of races we can better compare not only the best riders of the decade but also riders from different decades. We're all set...

Actually we are even more set than just having a theoretical framework because there already is such a framework in place over at the Virtual Musette website, made by our very own The Team Chef. Over there you see that he has ranked the top 50 riders of all time and most recently included an update that includes this year. From there it's not hard to tease out the top 20 cyclists of the Aughts according to his system. (The system is explained in two parts, Part 1, and Part 2.) For the purposes of this post, I am not including any of the lifetime achievement awards as I just want to see clearly what riders did in this decade only. (I will note any lifetime achievement awards under each rider.)

So onto the rankings! Like with the Cycling Quotient rankings, I'll have a little blurb for the top riders and a table at the end for all 20. I'll also include the lifetime VM rankings for the riders, to give us a perspective on where the Aughts stand in history. One thing that might come up in the comments is why these races and why these weights to the races? I'm sure

But before going further, who do you think will be at the top of these rankings?

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1. Lance Armstrong- 66 points. 10th best rider all-time with 116.5 points. Ranked 7th for the decade by CQ.

Is this a surprise? Should anyone else be ranked first for the Aughts? Hell no. Lance took the biggest race of the cycling calendar and made it his bitch for seven straight years, six of which are in the Aughts. No other rider comes close to that type of domination in any other race. Oh-and he won two Dauphine's this decade as well. What you have here is a ruthlessly efficient rider who designed his career post-cancer to make as big an impact as possible-and he succeeded. We all know this but it bears repeating.

As for his all-time status, this year's Tour gave him the extra boost he needed to move into sole possession of 10th place.

2. Paolo Bettini-45 points. Currently 37th all-time with 55 points. Ranked #4 by CQ.

It says here that The Little Cricket's combination of climbing and sprinting ability makes him the best hilly classic rider of the decade. During the decade he won LBL twice, the Worlds twice, Lombardia twice, the Giro points competition twice, the Italian RR twice, and the UCI World Cup year long competition twice-including the year that Tin Tin did his Treble thingy. He also won seven Grand Tour stages, MSR, T-A, San Seb, and the Olympics in 04. If that palmares ain't quality I don't know what is.

3. Alejandro Valverde-40.5 points. 51st all-time with 40.5 points. Ranked #3 by CQ for the decade

There's an interesting contrast between CQ and VM here:

06-10.5 VM points; 2469 CQ points

07-0 VM points; 1897 CQ points

08-12 VM points; 2657 CQ points

09-10 VM points; 2487 CQ points.

Those 0 VM points in 07 stand out but when you look at his record you see that he didn't win anything of much consequence with the Tour of Murcia his biggest win. VM doesn't count Murcia. But other than that 2007 hiccup, Valverde has been the 2nd most productive rider since 07. 10 guesses as to who is the most productive and your first nine don't count.

4 (tie). Alberto Contador-40 points. 52 if you include the 12 for winning all three GT's this decade. Currently 35th all-time with 52 points. Ranked #18 by CQ.

Basically this guy is the Next Great Rider after the declines of Armstrong, Zabel and Bettini (who he will pass this year). This is just from three years worth of results, mind you. He earned 11 1/2 points in 07, 26 in 08 (12 of which are the winning each GT award), and 14 1/2 this year so his points per year rate is 13 1/2 or thereabouts. Can he keep that up? He's 27, why not? Projecting ahead, another 14 points in 2010 would get him into the top 25 of all-time, passing the likes of Bettini, Cipo, and Lemond. If he keeps that rate up for five years, he passes Armstrong. He'd be only 33 at that point and his final ranking would be limited only to his desire. So the question I put to you all: who among the current riders can hope to join Armstrong, and probably Contador to claim a top 25 place all-time? To get an idea of what kind of a career it would take to make the top 25, Greg Lemond is currently in 25th place with 65 points. Some figures to look at:

Andy Schleck has 11 points so far.

Mark Cavendish has 13.

Valverde's got 40.5 and will be 30 years old this April.

Boonen's got 42 and he'll be 30 next October.

Cancellara has 26, Cunego has 27, and both will be 29 next year.

Boss Hog has 5 points and won't be 23 until May.

Who do you project to score at least 65 points?

4. (tie) Tom Boonen-40 points. All-time 40 points, good for 48th place. Ranked 5th by CQ.

Tornado Tom has the single best year according to these rankings with 15 points earned in his heavenly 2005 season. (Bert has the next two best years of 14.5 this year and 14 in 08 which shows you the level at which Bert is operating these days. And I am not including his 12 point Grand Tour bonus again).

It's interesting to compare the CQ and VM ratings for 2005 and 06:

2005- CQ rating of 2073 points, #1 for the year. VM rating of 15 points, also the best of the year.

2006- CQ rating of 2559 points, #1 for the year and I think the best single year of the decade the second best year of the decade behind Valverde's 2008. VM gives him just 4 points which he has exceeded every year since even though his CQ ratings slipped down 1000+ points starting in 07.

So what's happening here? It seems like that since 06, Boonen has basically taken Lance Armstrong's approach and been more selective in his racing program in order to win the big races more consistently. Below is his VM record since his first year in earning points in 04:

04-4 points: Gent Wevelgem, E3, two stages at the Tour

05-15 points: E3, Flanders, P-R, Tour of Belgium, Worlds RR, and two stages at the Tour

06-4 points: E3 and Flanders

07-6 points: KBK, DdV, E3, Points race at the Tour along with two stages

08-5 points: P-R, and 2 stages at the Vuelta

09-6 points: KBK, P-R, and his National Championship

6. Erik Zabel-35.5 points. Ranked 21st all-time with 81 points. Ranked #1 by CQ.

So 51.5 of his points were in the 90's. Wonder if that puts him at the top of that decade? Chef?

You can see his decline by his year-to-year achievements:

00-9.5 points with wins at MSR, Amstel, Green Jersey, Road World Cup, and a stage at the Tour.

01-8 points with his last win at MSR, his last Green Jersey, three Tour stages, and three Vuelta stages

02-4.5 points with a 2nd place att he Worlds, one Tour stage win, and the Vuelta points race

03-6 points with a Paris-Tours win, the Vuelta Points race plus two stages there, and a win in his National Championship RR.

04-2 points from winning the Vuelta points race

05-2 points from another Paris-Tours win.

06-3 points from another 2nd place at the Worlds and two Vuelta stage wins.

07-1/2 point from one Veueta stage win.

08-0 points and he retires.

7. Alessandro Petacchi-32 points. 43 points all-time which is good for 46th place. Ranked #8 by CQ.

I'm tempted to ignore most of cycling history by calling Ale-Jet the beta edition of Mark Cavendish.

And for the rest of the top 24, see the chart below:

Rider Name VM Points
1. Lance Armstrong 66
2. Paolo Bettini 45
3. Alejandro Valverde 40.5
4.(tie) Alberto Contador 40
4.(tie) Tom Boonen 40
6. Erik Zabel 35.5
7. Alessandro Petacchi 32
8. Oscar Freire 31.5
9. (tie) Robbie McEwen 28.5
9. (tie) Gilberto Simoni 28.5
11.Danilo DiLuca 27.5
12.Damiano Cunego 27
13.(tie) Jan Ullrich 26
13.(tie) Fabian Cancellara 26
15. Denis Menchov 24.5
16. Roberto Heras 23.5
17. Alexander Vinokourov 22.5
18. Carlos Sastre 22
19. Davide Rebellin 21
20. Cadel Evans 20.5
21. Mario Cipollini 19
22. Ivan Basso 18
23. (tie) Thor Hushovd 17
23. (tie) Stefano Garzelli 17