By Luke Batten and Hannah Burtness
With his string of thrilling spring classic victories, and his stage one victory at the Tour de France, no one would argue that Philippe Gilbert has had a great year. In April, his timing and strength on the steep gradients of his native land were something to behold. His selection by any number of websites as this year’s golden boy, though expected, is a deserved one. Early on in the TdF he challenged Mark “Cav” Cavendish for the Green Jersey, but he appeared to be chasing it out of opportunity instead of cold determination. Had he managed to slip on that Maillot Vert in Paris it would have been a brilliant and unexpected honor, but in the end his desire for all-out stage wins overshadowed the battle for points. We Heroes feel it may have been a missed opportunity, as it turned out that the Tour’s green jersey points would balance between the pure sprinter and those of the all-rounder.
As end of the year nods of approval go, the Heroes would like you to bend your attention away from Gilbert’s stunning bleach blond buzz cut, Belgium National Champions Jersey, and boyish smile. We ask you to turn, and to see one Marianne Vos.
Of course, just a cursory glance at Marrianne Vos’s year would show her narrow loss at the World Championships, but with a slightly deeper look you see her first place finishes at the Dutch National Championships, the 2011 Cyclocross Championships, UCI track World Championships, Ronde van Drenthe, La Fleche Wallone Feminine, Grand Prix Elsy Jacobs, Holland Ladies tour and her most important victory: the Giro Donne Femminile. Take in her recent string of wins at the beginning of the 2011-2012 cyclocross season and you have cycling’s version of baseball’s five tool player. She can climb, sprint, and attack, and calmly handles her bike through the mud, ice, snow, and melted tarmac. She moves like a confident trapeze artist suspended between two wheels.
There is one race we would like you to think about especially: on July 7th, while Edvald Boasson Hagen was notching up his first victory in the Tour de France, Marianne Vos and Emmy Pooley were climbing the feared 1,852 meter-high Passo di Motirolo during the Giro Donne on stage 7. Vos, committed to surviving the stage with limited time lost to the climbers, held on to Pooley and company with every acceleration. Then, on the decent, she dropped Pooley and a crew of chasers to the line, besting them all by a minute. We here in Chicago would like to doff our jaunty chapeaux to Ms. Vos for an excellent 2011; by all measures she is our Rider of the Year.
Since the days of Merckx, there has not been an all-rounder that fans can appreciate throughout the entire year. Look no further than this very Marianne. Like a great actor, Vos takes on varying roles and inhabits them to perfection. It is a shame that cycling has not developed corresponding Monuments with more grand tours for women’s cycling. If it had, Marianne Vos would be one of those rare riders like Merckx, Hinault, Gimondi, Bobet and Coppi; capable of winning the most grueling of one day classics, Paris-Roubaix, as well as such a race as the Tour de France.
Just one more moment of Pro Cycling from this year of 2011 that we would like to discuss: Stage 4 of the Tour de France, Lorient to Mûr-de-Bretagne. Our acknowledgement here goes to Big George Hincapie, and of course Cadel Evans. For Cadel, the stage win on the Mûr was one of his many emphatic assertions that he was in France to win. No one could have doubted his form with this, his first TdF 2011 stage win. And for George, this stage was a testament to his strength and reputation as Grand Tour Captain. Though not the most statistically driven sport, if cycling should develop the category for Assists, Big George would be near the very top.
The photograph above of Marrianne Vos is from 2009. We think it captures the many qualities of Ms. Vos that make her a Hero favorite. Thank You Cindy Trossaert!