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Classics Riders of the Year: Cancellara and Armitstead

Fabian Cancellara and Lizzie Armitstead show their class with consistent podiums and a few high-profile wins in the early-season races

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Fabian Cancellara

When it comes to the spring classics, Fabian Cancellara remains in a league of his own. Though 2014 wasn’t his best classics season ever — he’s won the Flanders-Roubiax double on two occasions, in 2010 and 2013 — Cancellara was without question the most consistent performer at the monuments, the sport’s biggest one-day races. With his second-place at Milano-Sanremo behind Alexander Kristoff, his win at the Tour of Flanders, and his third-place finish at Paris-Roubaix behind Niki Terpstra and John Degenkolb, Cancellara kept an impressive streak alive — he’s finished on the podium of the last 12 monuments he’s finished, dating back to the 2010 Tour of Flanders, interrupted only by a race-ending crash at the 2012 Tour of Flanders.

As has been the case for years, Cancellara entered the spring classics as the strongest man in the race, which served as both a benefit and a detriment. At Sanremo, he was marked heavily, as usual, and was out-sprinted by Kristoff from a group of 25 riders. At Roubaix, a strong headwind created a larger-than-usual 11-man front group, giving Omega Pharma-Quick Step, which had three men in the move, an insurmountable advantage.

But at De Ronde, Cancellara once again delivered. Again marked heavily, the rider known as Spartacus forced the selection on the final climb up Oude Kwaremont, and only Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) was able to follow. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) were already up the road, and once together, it was clear the winner would come from this four-man group. Cancellara handled the finale with the finesse of a veteran, forcing Vanmarcke to chase down an attack by Vandenbergh with 3km to go. In the final sprint, the 33-year-old Swiss rider edged out Van Avermaet to take one of his most beautiful victories, and to remind the cycling world that he is the best classics rider of his era.

Asked to put the 12-monument podium streak in perspective, Cancellara replied, “It’s phenomenal.” He’s right.

Lizzie Armitstead

When it came to one-day racing in 2014, no woman could boast the results of British rider Lizzie Armitstead. The Boels-Dolmans rider won the opening World Cup event, the Ronde van Drenthe in March and followed up with three successive second-place finishes at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the Tour of Flanders, and La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. In early March, Armitstead also won the Omloop van het Hageland and finished third at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a pair of difficult Belgian semi-classics that are not part of the World Cup series; she also placed third at the March 13 Drentse 8, in the Netherlands.

Armitstead’s lead in the World Cup standings meant that she could afford to skip the Sparkassen Giro, in Germany, in order to compete in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where she took gold in the road race. She then returned to the World Cup at the Open de Suède Vargarda, where she finished eighth, a strong enough finish to secure her World Cup series title with one race to spare.

At the World Cup series finale, the GP de Plouay, Armitstead again finished eighth, and she finished the season off with a seventh-place finish at the world road championship in Ponferrada. Her season didn’t end as it began, but between March 1 and April 6, Armitstead was unstoppable at the spring classics, registering two wins, two second-place finishes, and two third-place finishes.