The 2015 CT Awards: the season’s best performers

by Matt de Neef


The UCI held its awards gala dinner earlier this week, coinciding with the final stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour. To us, the awards seemed somewhat lacking — most people who received awards had already done so, such as Chris Froome getting an award for his Tour de France win.

Here at CyclingTips we took it upon ourselves to come up with a list of 10 awards that, in our opinion, reward some of the best achievements of the 2015 season, beyond those who won Grand Tours and rainbow jerseys.

So, without further ado, here are the CT Award winners for the men’s peloton in season 2015. To see the equivalent list of winners from the women’s peloton, be sure to check out this post at our sister site, Ella CyclingTips.

Best overall season

It’s a rare rider that can perform well throughout the entire season. The winner of this award achieved impressive results throughout the year, not just in one run of good form. They also demonstrated a sense of versatility along the way.

Winner: Alexander Kristoff

No rider in the world won more races in 2015 than Alexander Kristoff. The Norwegian strongman claimed no fewer than 20 scalps, plus three second places and eight third places. But it was Kristoff’s versatility that was most impressive.

His prowess in the bunch sprints is undeniable, but it was his victory in the Tour of Flanders that is most memorable. Kristoff matched it with the best on the race’s many cobbled ascents and was able to get away with Niki Terpstra in the closing kilometres, Kristoff proving the stronger of the two uphill. By the time Kristoff arrived at the final sprint with Niki Terpstra, the result was a near-certainty.

Kristoff now has two Momuments victories to his name as well as two stages of the Tour de France. If his dominance this year is anything to go by we can expect further victories of that magnitude in the years to come.

Honourable mentions: Alejandro Valverde for his versatility and success in the Spring Classics, week-long stage races and Grand Tours. Peter Sagan for his versatility, his never-say-die attitude, his consistency and his silencing of the critics at the World Championships.

Most impressive breakout performance

All it takes is one big result and suddenly everyone is talking about you. The winner of this award hit the big-time with a memorable result this season and will be talked about for the next few years.

Winner: Esteban Chaves

Season 2015 provided no shortage of great breakout performances and choosing a winner for this category proved a challenging task. But while there were three riders that were deserving of this award (see honourable mentions below), it’s Esteban Chaves that, to us, best delivered on his potential in 2015.

The Colombian climber had long been recognised as a future star but it was at this year’s Vuelta that he really took the next step. He won two stages, spent a total of six days in the leader’s red jersey, and ended up fifth overall. Not only that but he proved a charismatic and likeable race leader; a rider that fans from around the world could get behind.

Chaves rounded out his season with a stage win and the overall at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour. He benefited from a mote of luck, to be sure, (see video above) but his attack on the Jebel Hefeet climb was pure class and the sign of much more aggressive racing to come.

Honourable mentions: Julian Alaphilippe for his Ardennes Classics campaign and Tom Dumoulin for his Vuelta a España.

Ultimate team player

Only one rider can take glory at the end of a road race but, invariably, there’s a whole team of riders behind that winner, deserving of just as much praise. The winner of this award is the perfect teammate; a rider who excels at their job of supporting their leader.

Winner: Richie Porte

Richie Porte hates being called a domestique and with good reason — he’s Grand Tour leader in his own right and has won a handful of the biggest week-long stage races. Which makes him all the more valuable when he does step into the role of helper, like he did at the Tour de France again this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDYInF6kXnU

Porte was instrumental in helping his good mate Chris Froome secure a second Tour victory. Consider stage 17 when Porte was in the race-winning breakaway. With a mountain-top finish looming and as the strongest climber in the break, Porte had his best chance yet of a Tour de France stage win. But when the call came to sit up and wait for Froome, Porte did exactly that.

And when the race was on the line, on the penultimate stage up Alpe d’Huez, it was Porte that proved unshakeable in his support of Froome (see video above). Nairo Quintana was up the road, potentially riding away to win the Tour, but Porte rode his support role perfectly, helping Froome save the Tour de France.

Porte will be hoping that his move to BMC means more time leading rather than supporting, but anyone that does have Porte riding for them will be well supported indeed.

Honourable mention: Marcel Sieberg, particularly for stepping up at the Tour de France when Greg Henderson withdrew and Adam Hansen was injured.

The year’s biggest feel-good victory

We all have our favourites but sometimes there’s a winner that everyone can get behind. It might be the journey the rider’s been on to get to that point, it might be something to do with the race itself – regardless, this win was a popular one.

Winner: Steve Cummings, stage 14 of the Tour de France

There’s no question: MTN-Qhubeka was the feel-good story of the 2015 Tour de France. The team’s participation in the race was exciting enough, and then when Daniel Teklehaimanot rode his way into the polka dot jersey of the king of the mountains classification, there was plenty for the African team to celebrate.

But on stage 14, a masterclass from wily veteran Steve Cummings netted MTN-Qhubeka its biggest success yet. Cummings outclassed Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot on the downhill run to the finish line punching clear to win on Mandela Day, of all days.

The feeling at the finish was unmistakably positive. For MTN-Qhubeka the win was a case of mission accomplished at the Tour; for neutral onlookers it was hard not to be buoyed by the result.

Honourable mention: Taylor Phinney’s USA Pro Challenge win.

Best race of the season

Most bike races provide an element of drama and excitement somewhere along the way but occasionally there’s a race that just stands out from the rest. It might have been a tight finish, an explosive selection or some other moment that stood out. Here’s our pick of the year.

Winner: Tour of California

No race this year provided as much excitement as the final two stages of the Tour of California. After riding his way into the overall lead with three second places, a sprint victory and then a very impressive time trial win, Peter Sagan went into the queen stage with an almighty task ahead of him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA2XOptd78Q

With a lead of just 28 seconds he would have to put in the ride of his life to keep the overall lead. What followed was one of the Slovakian showman’s greatest ever days on the bike. He utterly buried himself on the brutal Mt. Baldy climb, finishing just 47 seconds behind stage winner Julian Alaphilippe and keeping himself within just two seconds of the overall lead.

To win the Tour of California, Sagan needed to finish third or better on the final stage, with race leader Alaphilippe behind him. In the end it was a bike throw that decided the race; Sagan beating Tyler Farrar into third by mere millimetres:

A great win indeed.

The future star

You can tell some riders are going to be a star quite early in their career. Their focus, their attention to detail, their early-career results — they all point towards future success. We expect the winner of this award to attract plenty of attention in the years to come.

Winner: Caleb Ewan

In many ways this is an award Caleb Ewan could and should have won three years ago. His talent was obvious even then. But now, after his first season in the WorldTour, he’s shown that he’s right at home at the sport’s highest level and that he’s one of the most exciting prospects in years to come.

Orica-GreenEdge gave the young speedster a goal of five UCI-classified victories in 2015. He managed 11, including four stages and the overall at the Tour of Korea, two stages at the Tour de Langkawi and, most notably, a stage win at the Vuelta a España.

Almost all of Ewan’s wins thus far have come from bunch sprints but he himself believes he’s not a pure sprinter. One gets the feeling the best is yet to come.

Most surprising victory

Sometimes the winner of a race is one of the last people you would have picked for that victory. But often it’s the unlikely victories that are the most memorable.

Winner: Ilnur Zakarin at the Tour de Romandie

Even with his chequered past, Ilnur Zakarin’s win at the Tour de Romandie in May was arguably the surprise of the year. The Russian finished second on the mountain-top finish to the penultimate stage before finishing third in the race-ending individual time trial. In doing so, Zakarin defended his overall lead, beating the likes of Chris Froome, Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana.

The result had many people scratching their heads, wondering where Zakarin had come from. His form and ability was confirmed a few weeks later when he won a wet stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia after attacking from the day-long breakaway.

For some, Zakarin’s rise is yet another example of a former cheat achieving undeserved success. Either way, his Tour de Romandie victory remains, for us, the most surprising win of the year.

Best victory salute/celebration

If you’re going to win a race, you might as well do it in style. The winner of this award went the extra mile to making their win memorable, rather than just sticking their hands in the air.

Winner: Peter Sagan at the Road World Championships

Peter Sagan is no stranger to an extravagant victory salute. The hulk, the running man — these are just a few the former mountain biker has wheeled out in recent times. But none was more stirring than his muted celebration after winning the Worlds road race in Richmond.

After getting away solo and holding off the chasing bunch, Sagan barely threw his hands in the air before dismounting and strutting around the finish line. The way he threw his bike to the race attendant, threw his helmet into the crowd, and then high-fived fellow racers as they crossed the line? Brilliant.

Most impressive team

The UCI provides a ranking for WorldTour teams based on the performance of those teams in the highest-level events throughout the season. But we’d argue that’s only part of the story.

Winner: Sky

Movistar might have won the WorldTour rankings and Etixx-Quick-Step might have taken the most UCI-classified victories in 2015, but we’d argue that Sky was strongest team throughout the season.

In addition to Chris Froome’s Tour de France victory, Sky proved a dominant force in the week-long and shorter stage races. It won the Volta ao Algarve, the Vuelta a Andalucia, Paris-Nice, the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the Tour de Yorkshire and the Criterium du Dauphine.

And while the team is yet to achieve a long-awaited Monument victory, it did have notable success in the Spring Classics courtesy of Ian Stannard (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad) and Geraint Thomas (E3 Harelbeke). Add to that Elia Viviani’s eight sprint wins and stage victories at all three Grand Tours and Sky was, to us, the most well-rounded team of the year.

Honourable mention: Katusha

Greatest injury comeback

Getting injured is part and parcel of being a professional bike rider. Everyone gets injured, but not everyone comes back at the same level they were at beforehand.

Winner: Taylor Phinney

To overlook Taylor Phinney for this award would be to neglect one of the greatest stories of the past few years, not just the best comeback story.

That story has been well-told by now — a devastating leg injury at the 2014 USA Road Nationals, 15 months away from racing and then a return to competition that many thought would never happen.

He nearly hit the winners list right away, coming third on stage 1 of his first race back, the Tour of Utah. But a few weeks later he actually did hit the winners list. On the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge Phinney hit out from the bunch inside the closing kilometre and managed to hold off the fast finishing peloton.

Few could begrudge Phinney his celebration — he’d been through the wringer, come back to racing, then won in emphatic fashion, all in his home state of Colorado. Stirring stuff.

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