This has been the year that Australia fell in love with cycling. Well the Tour de France at least. Actually Cadel Evans.
Much of the debate after his triumph centered around how it rated as an Australian sporting achievement.
It's hard to compare sports, particularly when they span across different eras. How do you split the achievements of a Rod Laver, Cathy Freeman, Jack Brabham, Dawn Fraser or Don Bradman.
Nonetheless, keeping in mind my cycling bias, I rate Cadel’s Tour win as the single greatest achievement by an Australian athlete.
But despite the significance of that achievement, was Cadel Evans even the world cyclist of the year?
Evans hit all his key targets with victory at Terrino-Adriatico, Tour de Romandie and then the Tour - in any normal year this would be impossible to trump.
But 2011 was anything but a normal year for another rider, Philippe Gilbert.
He dominated the Spring Classics by doing the Ardennes treble with Fleche-Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Amstel Gold Race. He then went on a winning streak taking out the Tour of Belgium, the Ster ZLM Tour, his national road title and the opening stage of le Tour, which came with the first yellow jersey.
And while others went on a post-Tour holiday, Gilbert went to Spain and won the Classica San Sebastian, followed by Canada’s WorldTour race, the GP Montreal.
Interviewing the reigning Tour champion at a recent luncheon, Evans labeled Gilbert one of the riders he most respects.
He also said that if Gilbert wasn’t joining him at BMC next year he may have done more racing after the Tour de France in an effort to secure the top spot in the UCI rankings.
As it was, Gilbert ended the season at the head of the world rankings on 718 points with Evans in second place on 574.
But just as it’s hard to compare the sporting achievements of other Australians with what Cadel has accomplished, it’s hard to compare his performances with those of Gilbert’s.
There is no question winning the Tour de France is a greater achievement than any of the individual wins of Gilbert. Yet across the season Gilbert looked a potential winner of just about every race he started from February to October.
There’s no question most Belgians would argue that Gilbert was the rider of the year while most Australians would go with Evans.
It’s hard to be impartial, so in an effort to be objective, if Cadel was Ukrainian or French would that change the debate on who was the rider of the year?
It probably does, so in a photo finish lets go with a count back.
Stage four of the Tour de France, to Mur-de-Bretagne, seems a fair way to measure who was the better of the two as it was a stage perfectly suited to Gilbert, who was the short price favourite to win.
However, Evans showed his versatility, remained calm in a frantic finish and got the better of Gilbert on the Belgian’s favoured terrain.
So for me, it’s Evans by a nose.
What about you, Evans or Gilbert for rider of the year?