This week’s edition of ‘Rider of the Week’ falls into one of the greatest and most spectacular weeks of racing this cycling season has seen. Possibly one that will go down in history, especially for those riders that claimed victories in La Vuelta, the Tour of Britain and the two Canadian Classics. With such a wealth of riders performing well this week, this ‘Rider of the Week’ shortlist will focus solely on those who performed incredibly in the final week of La Vuelta, next week the focus will shift to the Tour of Britain and the two Canadian classics.
The diminutive, climbing Colombian and his award-winning smile made a huge impact on the final week of this year’s edition of La Vuelta a Espana; unafraid to attack the stage racing veterans, he put time into all of the other GC riders with his heroic attacks on both stage 14 and stage 20. If the Vuelta only timed the final week, then Chaves may have just taken the victory. Nevertheless he still claimed an extremely respectable third place and podium finish, it was the way in which he broke into this podium position that sees him nominated on this ‘Rider of the Week’ shortlist.
After stage 14 and Chaves’ attack that went unfilmed by host broadcasters, he broke onto the tight provisional podium. But then the race defining stage 15 came along and Chaves had to relinquish his third place position to Spaniard and home favourite, Alberto Contador.
His youthful naivety is what kept Chaves’ podium dreams alive, any other experienced rider would have deemed it impossible to take back 1:20 on Contador in one stage, especially across terrain which suits him down to a tee. This didn’t stir Chaves however, along with teammate Damien Howson, he drove a gap that eventually saw him reach the final climb with more than the 1:20 required to surpass Contador. Chaves then built on this further, climbing at speeds sometimes faster than the chasing peloton, he took a further 13 seconds from Contador, affirming his rightful place on this year’s podium.
Chaves has demonstrated that he is no longer an inexperienced youth with a cocky and naive attitude, he is becoming a real grand tour contender, up there with the likes of Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana. This Vuelta may mark the start of Chaves’ rise to become one of the greatest grand tour riders of this generation.
The young Dane came to the Vuelta as a relatively unknown rider, unsure of his specialised ability we, as fans, could not predict what he had in store for us in the final week of this race.
In the first two weeks, we saw him play the domestique role, on stage 14 he drove Simon Yates across the flat lands between two mountainous climbs to propel him up to fourth in the GC. If Cort-Nielsen stopped there we would have still been suitably impressed, especially considering his age and inexperience.
Then the final week of La Vuelta came along. On stage 18 Cort-Nielsen out-sprinted all the other fast men to a clear win in Gandia. Delivered to the line by Jens Keukeleire, another stage winner for Orica, Cort-Nielsen accelerated past the other sprinters, seemingly traveling in slow motion compared to the speed of the ‘Great Dane’.
Cort-Nielsen then repeated this feat on the final stage of La Vuelta into Madrid, affirming that he was definitely one to watch in terms of young, youthful sprinters. Again he won by clear bike lengths, accelerating through a field of sprinters and beating the likes of veteran fast men, Bennati and Meersman. After his performances in this Vuelta, one can imagine that he may suddenly become a slight favourite to take a World Championship win in Qatar come October.
Never has a rider, in my time watching cycling, been so relentless in attacking the peloton. Frank must have spent the majority of this year’s Vuelta out front in a breakaway, forever searching for an elusive stage win. He came close on numerous occasions but always fell victim to his own strengths; an incredible rouleur, other weaker riders looked to him to drive the escape which eventually lead to stages falling through his fingers in the final kilometers.
Stage 17 saw Franks elusive stage win finally come to fruition, an impressive display of defiance and ‘on the rivet’ riding saw him crest the Alto Mas de la Costa first and alone, 6 seconds in front of rapidly catching Leopold Konig. What made the stage win even sweeter was the type of terrain he won on and who he beat to the line as he bulldozed his large Swiss frame over the finish.
He certainly animated this edition of La Vuelta, without his presence in breakaways, many may not have made it to the finish to contend the stage win; not only did Frank take a stage win, he probably assisted in a few others through his efforts in driving escapes over the whole three weeks. When the final stage finished last Sunday, all eyes turned to Frank to be named most combative rider. In what can only be described as Spanish redemption for having no home riders take any classification, it was awarded to Alberto Contador instead. Frank undoubtedly deserved this award, maybe being crowned ‘Rider of the Week’ will lift his spirits…
No rider in the history of the sport has ever fitted the role of pure domestique more than Damien Howson has. He showed this across the three weeks of this Vuelta a Espana, namely in the final week when he served as Chaves’ personal bodyguard across the vicious mountainous climbs of Northern Spain.
The ‘Rider of the Week’ award is not just about who has taken the most wins or scored a victory in a prestigious race; it is about those riders who continually lay it all out on the road for everyone to see. Howson fitted this bill perfectly, day after day he drove the peloton for Orica’s GC ambitions, he protected his leaders and most of all he served as a testament for other riders to aspire to. His heroic efforts spurred on the team of Orica Bike-Exchange, on this Vuelta a Espana, Howson demonstrated the very definition of selfless riding.
Even when Howson joined breakaways searching for stage wins, he showed no personal ambitions of his own, he had one ambition and that was to do all he could for his team leaders of Chaves and Yates. His selfless riding was best seen on the final mountain stage, he joined the day’s early break with a plan in mind. He waited atop one of the Cat 2 climbs until his team leader Chaves caught him, only 30 seconds or so in front of the peloton. He then drove himself into the ground to deliver Chaves to the final super category climb 1:30 ahead of nearest rival, Alberto Contador. Howson then came to a standstill, exhausted from his effort but receiving admiration from every single fan of this incredibly tough sport.
Voting will commence as soon as this article is released and will be live until Wednesday evening when the winner of Rider of the Week will be announced. Make sure you keep checking to see how your favourite rider is fairing in the polls throughout the day! Poll will be released on twitter, search @insidepeloton96.