Panache 2014 – The Season So Far

Panache is a quality that is hard to define, but that you know instinctively when you see it. In each of my round-ups of road racing panache, I think I have come closer to pinning down my own definition of it – panache is about daring and flirting with danger, and is a blend of class, courage, style and character. Athletic prowess is laudable, but it’s not enough on its own to be considered ‘panache’. Similarly, a glorious failure may be compelling, but it’s not necessarily an example of panache. In the article below I have pulled together the top ten examples of panache from the professional peloton in the first half of 2014 – I believe these are moments that fans of road racing will remember and talk about in years to come, distillations of the sport’s finest qualities.

Eric Marcotte, US national championships

Eric Marcotte’s victory in the US national championships was remarkable for its style, its unexpectedness and its worthiness. Marcotte’s team – SmartStop, who also provided second place finisher Travis McCabe – have shown what is possible with a limited budget supplemented by talent and dedication. Marcotte is a chiropractor when he’s not winning races, an example to all of us with a day job. As shown in this race, he’s an exceptionally canny racer – the finale was delicately balanced until the final moments, and Marcotte and McCabe played their cards perfectly to come away with a one-two despite the presence of far more feted racers. The importance of the victory perfectly encapsulated by the reaction of directeur sportif Mike Creed, shown below. (Hopefully Creed will spend some time remedying Marcotte’s apparent fondness for baseball caps).

Greg Van Avermaet, the Spring Classics

Reviews of the Spring Classics in much of the cycling media might lead you to believe that Greg Van Avermaet had a season to forget. While he didn’t win a race, this list is a place to recognise the perseverance and panache hidden away in the results sheets. Van Avermaet rode with purpose, unafraid to animate the front of the race while other favourites preferred to watch each other’s wheels. Then, at the tail end of it all, he put in a truly selfless performance in service of Philippe Gilbert on Amstel’s hills – no small feat for a tired rider on the wrong side of 70kg.

Emma Pooley, Women’s Tour

Photo © Cyclingweekly

For any rider, there are races you are destined to lose. With no prospect of victory, the only thing you can control is the valiance of your fight. The Women’s Tour was just such a race for Emma Pooley, Lotto-Bellisol’s diminutive climber. Pooley took on each stage with an astounding ferocity, by turn fighting to be in the break, establishing the break, bringing it back, protecting a team-mate and leading out sprinters. It was a display of absolute determination and talent.

Lieuwe Westra , Stage 7, Critérium de Dauphiné

The phrase ‘race within a race’ is a cycling commentary cliché, but Stage 7 of the Critérium de Dauphiné had so many races within races that Westra’s efforts to take the stage win went almost unnoticed until the final 300m. The stage included five categorised climbs, and Westra was dropped from the break on the final of these. Television didn’t do justice to the drama, mistakenly cutting between images of the leading duo from Katusha, Egor Silin and Yury Trofimov, and of Froome and Contador slightly further down the hill. Most spectators remained unaware of Westra’s heroic efforts as he clawed his way back to the front of the race. He caught the leaders in the final straight, blowing straight past – the looks on the faces of Silin and Trofimov was a heart-breaking mixture of disbelief and despondency.

Geraint Thomas, Bradley Wiggins & Chris Jones, Paris-Roubaix

This joint award is for three riders who demonstrated absolute respect for the Queen of the Classics. United Healthcare’s Chris Jones (formerly of Rapha Focus) is usually at the forefront of the US domestic peloton, lined up for his first Paris-Roubaix. He and his team made a pact that all of the riders were to finish, no matter the difficulty of the racing and conditions. Jones and his team did just that, with tears from some visible as they entered the velodrome. At the front of the race, Thomas and Wiggins embodied much the same spirit. Wiggins put in a huge turn to bring Thomas and a few select others up to the leaders (an effort mostly missed by the television coverage), setting the pair up for top-ten placings. In doing so, the former Tour de France winner earned the respect of the peloton, and Thomas showed that his junior Paris-Roubaix title might soon be paired with a senior one.

RCJLT, Tour of Korea

Rapha Condor JLT in Korea
Photo © Tour de Korea/Aaron Lee

Rapha Condor JLT’s performance at this year’s Tour of Korea was dominant, but that’s not the reason they’ve earnt their place on the mid-year panache round up. It’s more that their time there was a display of both panache and the promise of panache to come. Highlights include Mike Cummings, wearing the number one dossard, winning a stage and then working tirelessly for his team-mate, and eventual winner, Hugh Carthy; Hugh’s maturity and race-sense at only 19; and directeur sportif Tom Southam’s dedication to both his young charges and to his panama hat.

Tony Martin, Two days on the front, Tour de France

Tony Martin’s style is quite distinct. He has the broad stance of a time triallist, an inscrutable, open-mouthed stare, and one of the smoothest pedal strokes in the peloton. If he isn’t preparing for a time trial, he is doing one of two things: dragging a team-mate to the head of affairs, or setting out on long, solo breakaways that come within a hair’s breadth of glory. On Stages 9 and 10, we were treated to both of Martin’s party tricks. He rode some 59km alone, finishing 7:45 ahead of the peloton and more than two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the next best finisher. The very next day, Martin hauled his young Polish team-mate Michał Kwiatkowski to the base of the final climb. When his work was done he blew in the most spectacular fashion, weaving across the slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles in a state of near delirium. These two days proved Martin to be a man of true panache, able to challenge for personal glory and yet willing to bury himself to assist others.

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, La Flèche Wallonne Féminine

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot may look like a true grimpeur, but her palmarès attests to her status as one of the sport’s true all-rounders. The 22-year-old currently holds the French national road, time trial, mountain bike and cyclocross championships – a feat only bettered by her team-mate, Marianne Vos. Prévot’s Flèche win was an assured performance. With the most super of super-domestiques, Vos, to protect her, Prévot closed gaps to Stevens, Borghini and Armistead with ease, keeping just enough in reserve to overhaul Armistead on the Mur de Huy.

Nacer Bouhanni, Stage 4, Giro d’Italia

Sprinters rarely get a look-in when it comes to compilations of panache. Their trade is a little too prosaic, relying on calculations, lead-outs and brute force – which is sometimes thrilling but too often leaves fans cold. Bouhanni’s victory in Stage 4 of the Giro was the antithesis of ‘calculated’ sprinting. The stage saw rain of such severity that the peloton petitioned the race director to have the majority of the stage neutralized, and for the times to not count towards the general classification. Shortly after the racing started in earnest, Bouhanni punctured. With the help of team-mates he charged through the bunch, tracking sideways on rain-slick streets, diving through corners that other riders treated with extreme caution. His sprint was launched from leagues behind Luka Mezgec yet managed to overhaul the young Slovenian to take one of the most courageous sprint wins of recent years.

Nibali on the pavé, Stage 5, Tour de France

We’ve come to expect a certain level of prudence from our leaders in the world’s greatest race. We understand that too much is at stake – the racing will only be swashbuckling at the most crucial moments, and we should learn to enjoy the tactical effort-matching of most stages. In light of this, Vincenzo Nibali’s performance in Stage 5 of the Tour felt like something from a different age. He rode the cobbles like a seasoned classics specialist, following the lines of the Omega Pharma and Belkin squads with apparent ease. Considering the perennial debate about the parcours design of the biggest races, and whether cobbles belong in a Grand Tour, Nibali showed what it means to be a complete rider.