Last year, your author touted Leonardo Piepoli for le grimpeur de l’année. Noted as the only black spot on his record of outstanding climbing was his ‘positive’ doping test at that year’s Giro. This year, of course, it would seem that the farmer caught up with the old fox and Piepoli was ejected from the Tour for using the third-generation EPO drug CERA.
We may never know how long Piepoli had been doping as many unanswered questions remain about CERA (such as how long it has been available) and indeed about Piepoli himself. Once again, outstanding performances in the current season – and perhaps previous seasons as well – were thrown into doubt by the revelations of cheating. A shame.
There were other outstanding efforts in the mountains this year that we now know were frauds. The most obvious were Emanuele Sella’s stage wins in the Giro, as he racked up the wins seemingly impervious to fatigue and the effects of gravity. Also, there was Riccardo Ricco and Bernard Kohl, and – in the case of the latter – we are forced to questions his performance not just at the Tour but in events all year.
Who then was the best climber of the year? Carlos Sastre rode a magnificent stage on Alpe d’Huez to cement his Tour win, which this blog has discussed here in detail. With Kohl disqualified, he also tied with teammate Frank Schleck for the mountains prize. Alberto Contador, however, showed his climbing brilliance with the overall titles of both the Giro and the Vuelta, which were particularly tough in the mountains this year.
Perhaps we might nominate Vasili Kiryienka, second behind Sella in the mountains competition at the Giro, or Gilberto Simoni – still a climbing force – for his second place in the super-tough Passo del Mortirolo stage. Levi Leipheimer won the uphill time-trial stage at the Vuelta, but teammate Contador made ‘Spain’s most feared climb’, Alto de l’Angliru, his own with a superb ride. How about a nod to David Moncoutié, back from a broken leg, for winning the mountains prize at the Vuelta. Young French climber Pierre Rolland looked promising for the future with a fine ride at Paris-Nice and the pois rouges at the Dauphiné Libéré – upstaging Rémy Di Grégorio.
There have been many fine performances this year. Your author spoke with commentator Paul Sherwen recently, for an interview for PEZ. Both Contador and Sastre impressed Sherwen this year. He said that Sastre benefited from the unselfish work of his team at the Tour. Riders like Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara worked impossibly hard for the team’s victory. Cancellara, in particular, sacrificed his personal chances by hauling himself over the mountains for the team’s GC contenders and working hard on the front of the peloton to make the other teams suffer. Cancellara may never be a true grimpeur but he showed how a non-climber can step up to a more prominent role in the mountains through true grit – much like teammate Voigt did on Mont Ventoux at Paris-Nice.
So, who takes top honours? With the risk of revisionism always present, there will be no le grimpeur de l’année awarded by this writer this year. Readers, I’m sure, will have their favourites – perhaps from some of the performances mentioned above.
An additional ride that warrants a mention. CSC’s Chris Anker Sørensen won the sixth stage of this year’s Dauphiné Libéré, the queen mountain stage of 233 kilometres from Morzine to La Toussuire, climbing the Croix-de-Fer then finishing up to La Toussuire. This is a beautiful area of the Alps and your author had the privilege of seeing some of the Dauphiné this year, the first and final stages but unfortunately not the mountains stages. The Dauphiné is a fantastic race – not as frantic or mammoth as the Grand Tours, but a condensed version of professional cycling action that takes in glorious landscapes but still retains its local colour.
For Sørensen it was a beautiful win, and he was reported saying: “I hope to become the new Danish climber. My first pro win couldn’t be a greater one than the queen stage of the Dauphiné, which is a great race, with the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, which is one of France’s most beautiful climbs. I used to watch the Tour de France pass through it when I was a kid. It’s a dream come true for me to win here.”
The 23-year old Sørensen could well have a bright future ahead of him as a mountains specialist, a true grimpeur (he also won a stage at the Tour of Austria this year). He is definitely one to watch and will hopefully delivery some fantastic climbing to us in the future.
In the interim, another year is almost at its end. Thanks again to all those who have visited this site and hopefully enjoyed its contributions, and to those who took the time to leave feedback and comments. Many festive beverages will be enjoyed over this period, and suggestions in this area have been mentioned here and here. This season, I will be enjoying the perfectly-labelled ‘Mad sprint Merlot’, adorned with a label from exceptional cycling artist Richard, whose work readers have no doubt already admired on his website.
Bon Noël and Happy Holidays to all!