New Year’s Eve means the launching of the inaugural Spokenforks Awards 2014; or ‘Spokies‘ from here on in. A mixed bag of awards for the most exciting of races, greatest rides, worst kit and much more. Settle in for a look back on the finest, fastest and most ferocious moments of 2014 as seen by Spokenforks.
Best Grand Tour – Vuelta a España:
The race which saw Spokenforks find its stride as a reliable source of race insight and accurate stage predictions; finishing the Vuelta just shy of a 50% win rate (Adam Hansen you rascal.) A Battle Royale was forecast once Froome, Contador, Quintana, Aru, Rodriguez and Valverde had all confirmed their participation. Home support was potent as ever for Rodriguez and Valverde, while Froome and Contador undertook the task of riding into form after a miserable time at Le Tour. Valverde showed early form as life became testing during the opening week with a stage win; teammate Nairo Quintana wore the leader’s jersey and then took a hit from the barrier…and then another upon the tarmac, eventually retiring from the race. Despite it at first appearing as a fair fight between Valverde, Rodriguez, Froome and Contador for the overall win, once the big mountains appeared on the stage profiles ‘Bertie’ took flight. Continuously dousing the hopes of his opponents as he hammered home the advantage for a third Vuelta a España title.
Best Domestic Race – Lincoln GP:
Another edition blessed with idiosyncratic British weather; sudden downpours or beaming rays of sunshine, it is rapidly becoming the only predictable aspect of Britain’s sole classic. In preparation of Lincoln’s hosting of the National Road Race Championship 2015, the traditional route had been altered in order to trial the more wearing course worthy of a national champion. Yanto Barker put in a barnstorming effort this year to be crowned atop the Michaelgate, winning an extremely animated contest worthy of finding the next British champion.
Best Domestic Rider – Adam Blythe:
It would be a difficult task to argue a better case for any rider contesting 2014’s British domestic calendar of road races and criteriums. Having decided to drop down from the WorldTour after a frustrating period at BMC, an unspoken pressure was apparent for Blythe to prove his class in order to climb back to the top. Blythe took himself a set of British bands when winning the National Circuit Race title, also securing wins at Otley GP, Ipswich & Coastal GP, Circuit of the Fens; as well as top ten finishes at the gruelling Lincoln GP and Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic. But it was a murky victory upon The Mall that catapulted Blythe back to WorldTour with Orica-Greenedge, leaving his fellow breakaway companions scrambling for his wheel after a clinical trackie’s sprint to win the Ride London Surrey Classic.
Best Transfers – Luis Leon Sanchez and Dylan Van Baarle:
Many staked a claim to the honour of being Best Transfer of 2014, but this duo in particular exceeded expectations in differing ways. Team Belkin had left Luis Leon Sanchez without a WorldTour team heading into 2014, so an offer to ride for Caja Rural was accepted, resulting in Sanchez strutting his stuff once again at the Vuelta a España. Ambitions from both team and rider were modest at the start of their home Grand Tour, attempting to pounce on a couple of unexpected stage wins at best. However, fortune would shine fondly upon Luis Leon Sanchez during the tour, standing before the crowd resplendent in polka dots as King of The Mountains come the final day.
Calling up a stagiaire to blood them against the World’s best is a way of testing their mettle, so few would have then expected Dylan Van Baarle to walk away from the experience as Garmin Sharp’s Tour of Britain champion. Poor tactical awareness from OPQS certainly benefited the young Dutchman as he took the leader’s jersey into Brighton, but to say it was gifted to him is insulting. With only the final day’s time trial left, Van Baarle found himself peering over his shoulder at two naturals against the clock; Michal Kwiatkowski and Bradley Wiggins. Despite a stage winning ride by the Brit and another great showing by the emerging Polish talent, Van Baarle executed a fantastic defence of the leader’s jersey as he limited his losses to become the second Dutch champion of the week long race.
Worst Crash – Women’s World Championship Elite Road Race:
Carnage. Any other word would sell the entire affair short. Seemingly scripted from a children’s cartoon, the sudden collapse of the peloton remains a fascinating watch as you puzzle how such widespread chaos can ensue so quickly. All manner of injuries were present, from the cyclist’s ‘favourite’ broken collarbone to a nasty broken hip; luckily all riders escaped with nothing longterm or life threatening. The footage’s watchability is some indication of the mayhem, as riders charge headlong into those already wrecked upon the floor.
Rider of the Year – Alejandro Valverde:
A favourite mantra in cycling these days is “the numbers do not lie”; so the fact Alejandro Valverde ended the year as the UCI’s number one ranked rider must mean something. Proficient across a variety of terrains, the Spaniard holds a penchant for surging attacks, a tactic which benefited him once again this season. From winning Stage 6 of Vuelta a España to taking a dramatic second Flèche Wallonne title in the final few meters. Alejandro Valverde has proved the most consistent rider of the year, but has found his palmarès lacking the World Championship Road Race title yet again, collecting his career’s sixth podium place at the race.
Breakthrough Year – Michal Kwiatkowski:
Even without the rainbow bands, 2014 really was the year of Michal Kwiatkowski. An ever present force at one day races, it seemed that his biggest moment of the year was going to be his demolition of Peter Sagan at Strade Bianchi. He turned up at the World Championship Road Race to contest a course suiting his talents and found himself gifted the opportunity to attack exactly where and when Spokenforks predicted he would. Opening an unassailable gap to walk away with the stripey jersey everyone wants to wear during their career.
Facial Hair Champion of The Year – Dan Craven:
A champion of the beard for a long time now, there was no hesitation before awarding the Namibian cult icon as the first winner of this follicly inspired accolade. Keeping him warm in the grimy Glaswegian Commonwealth Road Race and even warmer during his Grand Tour debut at 2014’s Vuelta a España. The only logical conclusion to keeping such a glorious chin mane? It must be the source of all his power.
Will 2015 be his year?- Thibaut Pinot:
Despite having only turned 24 during the season, Thibaut Pinot has already weathered a lifetime of hype from the French cycling press. Once again pinning their hopes to his dossard as he attempts to lead the nation out from the post-Hinault doldrums. During 2014, Pinot once again displayed an aptitude for consistency across Grand Tours and week long races. A 2014 season crowned when seizing upon Froome and Contador’s absence from Le Tour de France to take a step upon the podium before l’Arc de Triomphe.
The ‘screaming at your television against all odds’ Award – Jack Bauer:
The Kiwi’s exploits on the road to Neims were heroic alongside his break away partner Martin Elmiger as they attacked from the gun and led the peloton for the entire 222km stage. As the duo passed beneath the flamme rouge, the chasing pack still had work to do should they succeed in stealing the win away from the kamikaze attackers, but cat and mouse came out to play as usual and their work rate deteriorated late on. Bauer launched himself towards the line in an attempt to become the first New Zealander to take a Le Tour stage win as viewers across the World were ferociously cheering him on, but to no avail. Bauer was overtaken with less than ten pedal revolutions remaining and proved inconsolable once finished.
Best Kit – Trek Factory Racing:
Unchallenged as the smartest livery amongst the WorldTour peloton, a predominately black kit paired with contrasting white sleeve and a subtle pinstripe. Unfortunately, their understated kit set a precedented for the 2014 season, a palmarès leaving much to be desired beyond Fabian Cancellara’s spring campaign.
Worst Kit – Astana:
Yellow and blue may be the choice partnership for the Kazakhstan flag, but the peloton would be a nicer looking place without this uniform. Their stubbornness towards creating a jersey fit for a national champion is another reason to bestow this honour upon a team made to look like Kazak national champion wannabes.
The ‘not giving up and finally getting your reward’ Award – Dan Martin:
Spending the majority of 2014 wondering who exactly you upset so greatly in order to warrant such a severe jinxing was an acceptable pastime for the unlucky Dan Martin. Having been offered to lead a team at the Giro d’Italia which started in Belfast, Martin then slipped upon a manhole cover during the opening Team Time Trial and finished his Italian campaign on the wet streets of Ireland with a broken collarbone. This alone would have stung sufficiently enough, but a month earlier the talented Irishman had watched his bike, and possibly another Liege-Bastogne-Liege title, slip away from beneath him too. He continuously showed resilience throughout the remaining season, striking gold at the calendar’s final monument Il Lombardia with a spectacularly cunning sprint, catching the other contenders unaware.
That is it for Spokenforks in 2014, thank you for being part of the debut year and see you in 2015 for some curtain raising racing. Happy New Year.