Panache 2013: The Top Ten

It’s time once again for my annual review of the best rides of the pro cycling season. These rides aren’t just victories, however. They are displays of that irrevocable quality I like to call panache. The word panache originates from the French term for a plume of feathers protruding from one’s hat. It became associated with a show of flamboyance, an act of courage and an expression of character. Panache involves risk and the chance that it won’t come off, it’s triumph over adversity. Amazing feats of strength, on their own, are not enough.

The moments of panache in road racing are the exploits that touch us most and give us an almost spiritual connection to the greatest bike racers. 2013 had many of these moments, and here I give you my top ten, alongside some honourable mentions who didn’t quite make it. As per usual, I encourage you all to tell me if you agree or disagree, and why. I look forward to 2014 and plenty more examples of courageous and exciting riding.

10. Taylor Phinney, Stage 4, Tour of Poland

Stage 4 at Tour of Poland saw one of the most dramatic finishes of the summer. Phinney, son of two former professional racers, really proved his pedigree here. With just under 8km to go, he rode clear of the peloton, giving himself a 10 second lead. BMC Racing director Fabio Baldato said:

“I told him to go full gas and don’t look back. He was a machine.”

His strength showed through as Phinney literally led himself out. He toiled and churned to the line with an ever-advancing bunch on his tail and clung on, time-trialling to victory for an incredible win. It was heart in mouth stuff:

9. Vasil Kiryienka, Stage 18, Vuelta a España 2013

My favourite win of the year this one. Trusted worker for Team Sky from Paris-Nice onwards, although the Belarusian had a blow out at the Tour, he was arguably the best signing of the 2013 season. A selfless rider who doesn’t get much credit, he then returned to the grand tour arena with this rare yet emphatic solo victory. After being in the main break of the day, with 40km still left to race Kiryienka went it alone, gaining a minute and holding off the chasing pack for an epic victory. He dedicated the win to his former DS, Daniele Tortoli, who recently passed away.

8. Jens Voigt, Stage 5, Tour of California

A firm favourite amongst fans of the sport, whilst Jens’ tireless and passionate work ethic doesn’t bring him much in the way of wins, his desire to still go on the attack deserves a mention and in California in May he took an impressive victory.

“I thought, ‘I’m a little bit stronger than the other guys in the break, but of course, less fast. It’s now or never, now or never. Everybody’s hurting now.’ And it worked.”

It’s great to see a veteran who knows how to suffer using his experience to outsmart the faster guys. Voigt also attempted a very ambitious escape in the Tour on the double-ascent of the Alpe later in the year. You’ve got to give him credit for his ballsy riding. I wish him well in his final season.

7. Nairo Quintana, Stage 20, Tour de France

Having burst into the public’s conscience this season after winning the Tour of the Basque Country, the little Colombian started the Tour as Valverde’s domestique and proceeded to launch attacks in the Pyrenees to take the heat off his leader (Stage 8). It just got better from there for the young climber, taking the white jersey, maillot a pois and 2nd overall. This is the best ever finish for a Colombian, and his first ever outing at the Tour. On top of that he won stage 20 on Colombian Independence day, reeling in Froome and then riding away from both him and ‘El Purito’ on the last kilometre.

His victory salute honoured his former team and mentors, Columbia 4-72. The 23 year old remarked:

“It’s a special day for Colombia, especially since it is the national holiday. I think of course, about my family and friends who are there. The former Colombian riders have marked the history of cycling, but we are a new generation, who saw something important today.”

A legend in the making.

6. Dan Martin and Garmin-Sharp, Tour de France

After a stylish win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, out-climbing Joaquim Rodriguez on St. Nicholas, Dan Martin confirmed his talent at the Tour taking a stage win after his teammates had blown the race apart. Garmin’s David Millar and Jack Bauer went off the front whilst the rest of the team conducted waves of attacks ahead of the first climb, absolutely obliterating the competiton. Millar explains:

“Almost every member of the peloton said it had been one of their hardest ever days racing (me included, I was planning how I was going to get back to Girona when I was dropped by the grupetto on the Peyresourde, but made it back on thankfully). Still find it remarkable Dan finished it off or it would have already been forgotten.”

It was bike racing at its very best, the epitome of courage and class.

5. Richie Porte, Stage 3, Criterium International

Porte had already taken an excellent win at Paris-Nice and grabbed the yellow jersey in Corsica through a solid time-trial performance. But the Ospedale climb was always going to be the decider – and Team Sky also had Chris Froome in superb form. Sure enough, Froome broke away to take the stage and race victory. But, once Froome’s gap was established, Porte attacked and rode away from everyone else to a stunning second place. Porte took his chance, surprised everyone and honoured the yellow jersey, countering criticism that Team Sky are one-paced and metronomic. In our first season with Team Sky, it was great to watch. A punchy and feisty rider who loves to give it everything. Chapeau.

4. Ryder Hesjedal, Liège-Bastogne-Liège

The oldest, longest and, arguably, the toughest classic of them all, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a war of attrition, with every victory hard won. Ryder Hesjedal made the race this year with his solo attack 16km from the finish. First, he used his smooth climbing style to escape from the lead group on the new climb of Colonster. He then launched himself into the descent and through the industrial outskirts of Liege, throwing his bike around the tight street corners and driving over the poor road surface to press home his advantage. Even when he was finally caught, he still managed to drive the break on the final climb, softening up the favourites for team-mate Dan Martin to claim victory.

3. Fabian Cancellara, Paris-Roubaix

Cancellara has won countless races through power and domination. Flanders this year was no exception. But panache involves risk and surprise, taking a chance to snatch victory from defeat. Spartacus looked strong at Paris-Roubaix but perhaps not the dominant force of old; the other riders in the leading group sensed weakness. When he dropped back to the team car and let a break escape up the road, we all thought Cancellara was struggling. His solo ride back to the group (already a kilometre ahead) and surge to make the selection with Stybar and Vanmarcke showed total panache. His man-to-man sprint in the velodrome sealed an amazing and surprising performance by a superlative racer.

2. Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali has been a regular feature in our Panache roundups and his swashbuckling style livens up most of the races he enters. 2012 was a year of close calls for him, only just missing out on victory at Liège and Milan-San Remo.

Though Paris-Nice always heralds the start of the season for me, Tirreno-Adriatico is becoming a tougher early test with better quality fields and closely fought racing. Stage 6 this year was brutal ¬– 209km in the rain with numerous sharp climbs. Toughest was the Muro di Sant’Elpidio, a 27% ‘wall’ that saw many riders walking in their cleats. On the third and final ascent, Nibali attacked over the top and accelerated away on the slippery descent, throwing caution to the wind with only Sagan and Joaquim Rodríguez able to keep up. It was heart in the mouth stuff and couldn’t be followed by Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.

Then there was the incredibly dramatic penultimate stage of the Vuelta on the misty and torturous slopes of the Angliru. He repeatedly drove at Chris Horner, ending up with a worse deficit than he started with but chanced it all and made the race. At 3km to go he attacked, got reeled in, attacked again, was reeled in once more before Chris Horner rode away… Nibali gave everything that day and it was inspiring to see him throwing everything at Horner on 20% plus gradients.

Nibali’s never say die spirit was shown once more at the Worlds and for my money Nibali is the most attacking rider in the peloton today. And let’s not forget that win at the Giro. One of the greats of the modern era.

1. Tony Martin, Stage 6, at La Vuelta

The most amazing breakaway since Thierry Marie rode for 145.4 miles in Normandy to win stage 6 of the ’91 Tour. Martin the Man-Machine rode solo for over 100 miles only to be caught on the line. He had an advantage of seven minutes at one point, which then dropped to just five seconds before he dug deeper than you can imagine to bring it back to about 20 seconds. Describing his ride as a ‘four hour time trial’, Martin added:

“My feelings are bittersweet, I felt like a winner who was only lacking just a little bit of luck.”

It was fascinating to watch a man at the peak of his abilities doing things that even some professionals can’t imagine. The fact that he came so close to victory (Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Mørkøv took the win) made it even more dramatic. Fantastic.

Honorable mentions:

Mark Cavendish and Omega Pharma in the wind on stage 13 of the Tour, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez with a cigar at the start of the final Tour stage, Pete Kennaugh on Ventoux, Visconti for attacks in the snow at the Vuelta, Riblon on the Alpe x 2, Voeckler for his continued aggression, Rui Costa at the Worlds, Kreuziger at Amstel Gold and Gerard Ciolek’s win at a frozen Milan-SanRemo.