But really to me the accolade of Rider of the Year has to go to the rider who has impressed the whole year. Someone who didn't just "target" some races or wins only in certain terrains. Armstrong, for instance, has never been my rider of the year as, amazing as winning seven times the Tour is, he ignored the rest of the calendar or just rode to prepare for the one race that made commercial sense. Past winners for me would have been:
2005: Tom Boonen
2006: Paolo Bettini
2007: Cadel Evans
2008: Alberto Contador
2009: Fabian Cancellara
2010: Fabian Cancellara
For 2011, therefore, only one rider was outstanding all year and won everywhere he rode: Philippe Gilbert
His season was a blast from the past, showing glimpses of the great Eddy Merckx, even though Gilbert will never win a stage race (but that's a change in the nature of cycling). Strong everywhere he picked the races and he took them with gusto. The played he played with the Schleck brothers in Liege in the closing kms was very entertaining. He raced all year with conviction and verve. He attacked left, right and centre. He can sprint and climb.
The attack at the MontePaschi Strade Bianche's final ramp, winning the race by leading the attack from the start of the last climb;
Brabantse Pijl's win was the overture to the Ardenne Classics' scoop. It was like races were on sale!
Liege-Bastogne-Liege; becoming only the second rider after Rebellin to win the three in one year (also the only CLEAN rider to ever do the feat);
stages at Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico;
overall and stages at the Tour of Belgium and Ster ZLM Toer;
He became Belgian National Champion;
Won a stage of the Tour de France and wore the Yellow, Green and Polka dot jerseys;
Clasica de San Sebastian;
A stage at the Eneco Tour;
Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec;
Overall UCI world rankings.
Is that enough?
Now he's going to BMC which is a bold move, but if he finds a domestique as good as Vanendert there's no stopping him in 2012.