Riders 11-15 in our countdown of the 100 Best Road Riders of 2016

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11. Romain Bardet

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25, France, Ag2r-La Mondiale
2016 wins: 1

Fans of the Tour de France, especially in France, have a lot to thank Romain Bardet for.

Not content to fall in line with the Chris Froome club ride, Bardet attacked hard on stage 19 and won the summit finish to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc to elevate himself from fifth to second overall.

Attacking racing had been sorely lacking from the top of the GC as riders seemed happy to conserve a top 10 placing rather than attempt to better their position in the standings.

Bardet changed that, and in so doing gave France its first stage win of the 2016 race – at the time there was a growing concern that there’d be no home victory across the 21 stages.

Earlier in the year Bardet had finished the Critérium du Dauphiné second to Froome, only shipping 12 seconds across the seven stages, which showed his continued move towards the top of professional cycling.

Previously billed alongside Thibaut Pinot as one of France’s future Grand Tour hopes, Bardet is now the hope and looks capable of being the first Frenchman to claim the final maillot jaune since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

That said, there is wealth of talent currently on the WorldTour so the 25-year-old will have to get everything right, every day of the three weeks if he is to top the final podium.

Securely placed within Ag2r La Mondiale until at least the end of the 2018 season, Bardet has the platform and support of being the uncontested team leader to keep him competitive.

Added to the fact he is significantly younger than most of his GC rivals, with the exception of Nairo Quintana (and possibly the Yates twins), age and time are on the ever-smiling Frenchman’s side.

My favourite rider…

By Jack Elton-Walters, news writer

The winner of your favourite race, although deserving of credit, isn’t necessarily the your favourite rider (sorry Mat Hayman).

Like many – but not all – fans watching the Tour de France, I found the inevitable nature of Chris Froome’s win and the consolidation of position by those lower down in the top-10 both annoying and at times pretty dull.

Then on stage 19, off went Romain Bardet.

Intelligent, attacking racing from someone who clearly loves being on his bike and thinks little of the pressure from the home fans and media (in stark contrast to the temperament of his compatriot Thibaut Pinot).

Bardet won the stage, and with it moved up from fifth to second overall. The top step of the Tour podium is a very real possibility in the near future. Chapeau Romain.


12. Alejandro Valverde

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36, Spain, Movistar
2016 wins: 7

Professional riders are supposed to ride less and specialise more as they got older. Not Alejandro Valverde. Despite turning 36 in April, the Spaniard opted to increase rather than reduce his workload, riding and completing all three Grand Tours for the first time in his career while continuing to target the spring and autumn Classics, as well as the Olympics in the summer.

Professional riders are also supposed to get slower as they enter their mid-thirties, but again Valverde, who has made a career out of defying conventional cycling wisdom (it’s not usual for riders to return from a doping ban quicker, either), has bucked that trend too.

Not only did he complete each of the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, he was also up in there on GC in all three. On his first ever Giro he rode consistently to finish on the podium, at the Tour he sealed sixth overall despite working in service of Nairo Quintana, and he remained in the top three of the Vuelta until deep into the second week before finally losing time and ultimately finishing twelfth.

Prior to all those races he won La Flèche Wallonne, a race he currently looks unbeatable in – for three editions in a row he’s simply sprinted up the Mur de Huy without anyone getting anywhere near him.

He wasn’t quite the force he usually is in the other major Classics, posting his lowest finishes at both Liège-Bastogne-Liège (15th) and Il Lombardia (sixth) for four years. But these results, as well as his decision to skip favourite races like Amstel Gold and the Worlds, can perhaps be attributed to a shift in emphasis away from the Classics and towards the Grand Tours.

The evidence suggests that Valverde, somehow, remains at the peak of his powers. With a refocusing on the Classics expected, yet more success in 2017 seems likely.


13. Chantal Blaak

 

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27, Netherlands, Boels-Dolmans
2016 wins: 9

Boels-Dolmans team manager Danny Stam seems to have the knack of identifying and developing talent, and Chantal Blaak is a perfect example of that. Since joining the squad for 2015 the 27-year-old Dutchwoman has flourished, notching up 11 wins, nine this year.

Two WorldTour victories at Ronde van Drenthe and Ghent-Wevelgem saw her briefly lead the series, one of three Boels-Dolmans riders to do so.

Overall victory at September’s Boels Rental Ladies Tour proved Blaak had overcome the disappointment of being left out of the Dutch Olympic team.

Though she defended her GC lead with the powerful sprint which brought her top-10 placings all year, Blaak originally won the jersey in the stage two team time trial win, a discipline the Dutch outfit dominated this year.

Blaak won the 2014 World Championship TTT with Specialized-Lululemon and was brought to Boels-Dolmans to strengthen the team in that discipline, a move which paid off in Doha this year.



14. Marcel Kittel

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28, Germany, Etixx-QuickStep
2016 wins: 12

One win would have made it better year for Marcel Kittel than his underwhelming 2015, which was blighted by illness.

But the German stormed back to full force in 2016, kicking-off his season with an impressive overall win at the Dubai Tour where he even had to do some climbing to take victory.

Things just continued on an upward trajectory from there for the 28-year-old sprinter, taking numerous wins in stage races before taking a fourth career victory at one-day Classic Scheldeprijs in April.

His move to Etixx-Quick Step appeared to have fully cured his woes when he took two consecutive stage wins at the Giro d’Italia as well as a stint in pink, before pulling out to focus on the Tour de France.

Not quite the dominant rider he was in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Tour, he still managed to grab an impressive stage win to Limoges.

Mark Cavendish’s return to imperious form during the Tour may have left Kittel with fewer wins than he would have liked, but his presence back among the world’s fastest proved the work Etixx have put into him is beginning to pay off.

Things went much more quiet for Kittel after the Tour, but he looked impressive in the Etixx team time trial train at the World Championships, bagging a gold medal, before he played the role of selfless teammate in the road race for André Greipel.

One thing’s for certain, if Kittel can continue the rise of form he’s experienced this year going into 2017, there might be no stopping him come July.


15. Wout Poels

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29, Netherlands, Team Sky
2016 wins: 6

Wout Poels started his year by winning the opening time trial of the Volta a Valenciana and then staying in the leader’s jersey for the rest of the race, a hint of his stage race leadership potential. It was his ride in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, however, that his season will be remembered for.

The Dutchman took the win on a weather-beaten day in Wallonia, a victory that was Team Sky’s first in a Monument. From there he fell back into a support role and was instrumental in Chris Froome’s third Tour de France GC win.

By far the strongest domestique in the three-week Grand Boucle, Poels could have been competitive in his own right if he’d been leading a different team. Signed to the British squad until at least the end of 2019, he’ll only have his chance to lead if he rides separate to Froome.

So good was Poels at the Tour that some once again bemoaned the stifling nature of Team Sky’s wealth of talent afforded to them by their superior budget. On national duties Poels was selected for the Dutch squad at the Olympics and was seen as a possibility for gold.

Understandably fatigued from his Tour de France performance, the 29-year-old was way off the pace and didn’t finish the race. He then took the start as Team Sky leader at the Tour of Britain but capitulated on stage two and lost all hope of a high GC placing. A later stage win was some consolation, but not what he was at the race for.