The Giro d'Italia provided the most excitement of the year, from cobblestones to dirt roads to the emergence of young talents to a hard battle in the final week of mountains, to claim the Cyclingnews Reader Poll Stage Race of the Year title.
The race started in Amsterdam with a spectacular city time trial, and saw the first new name burst onto the scene, the previously unknown Brent Bookwalter of BMC Racing Team. The wind and traffic circles caused a lot of suffering on the next two days in the Netherlands.
No doubt the teams would have been happier to be back in Italy if they hadn't had to immediately take on a team time trial, with many teams riding in heavy rain.
The bad weather had moved in to stay, and turned the strade bianche, white roads, into roads brown with mud. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) took over the lead on this seventh stage, but it was BMC's Cadel Evans who won the stage, his world champion rainbow striped jersey barely visible under the mud.
The rain stayed with the peloton, and on stage 11, the favourites decided to take it easy. Perhaps too easy, as a break group stayed away and crossed the finish line 12 minutes ahead of the field. This led to the next young talent to make a stunning breakthrough, Saxo Bank's neo-pro Richie Porte, who promptly wore the maglia rosa for three days.
There were sprint finishes along the way, but no one dominant sprinter. Garmin-Transitions' Tyler Farrar won two of them, while HTC-Columbia's Andre Greipel disappointed with only one victory.
It looked as if Liquigas could have its pick of winners, as both Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso rode strongly. But Nibali obeyed the team pecking order and supported Basso, who had won the race in 2006.
He was challenged by Evans up until the 15th stage, a mountaintop finish at the Monte Zoncolan. The Australian cracked while Basso, who won the stage, continued to work his way up closer to the overall lead.
The weather gods finally had mercy on the riders, and the sun shone on them as they went up the dirt roads of the feared Plan de Corones in a time trial. “Old-timer” Stefano Garzelli was the surprise winner, with Evans making up over half a minute on Basso.
The 19th and 20th stages were mountain stages which sealed the overall rankings. Nibali worked hard to help Basso get the pink jersey in Aprica, as his rivals faded away with injuries, illness and exhaustion, on stage 19.
In the end, Basso proved that he had fully come back from his two-year doping suspension, taking the overall victory by 1:51 over David Arroyo of Caisse d'Epargne, with Nibali in third place.
Second place in the poll went to the Tour de France, which received less than 50 votes fewer than its Italian equivalent. The race was noted for its incredible number of crashes, including the carnage on the cobbles in the third stage. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) dominated the time trials and sprints respectively, but the race came down to Alberto vs. Andy. The key moment came in the 15th stage, as Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck dropped his chain on a mountain stage and Alberto Contador (Astana) attacked. The Spaniard took the yellow jersey on that stage and held on to until the end, winning by only 39 seconds after 3,642 km.
Third place went not to the third Grand Tour, but to the closest thing that the USA has: the Amgen Tour of California. The fifth edition of the race had moved on the calendar, taking on the Giro. For the first time since 2006, the winner was not Levi Leipheimer, and for the first time ever, not an American. Australian Michael Rogers of HTC-Columbia took his second overall stage-race win of the season, but it was a close one. Garmin-Transitions' David Zabriskie was only nine seconds back in second place, with Leipheimer (RadioShack) in third place at 25 seconds.
Cyclingnews Reader Poll Results – Best Stage Race of the Year
Giro d'Italia, 7071 votes (42.1%)
Tour de France, 7028 (41.9%)
Amgen Tour of California, 1151 (6.9%)
Vuelta a Espana,798 (4.8%)
Tour de Suisse, 245 (1.5%)
TransRockies, 123 (0.7%)
Cape Epic, 114 (0.7%)
Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, 100 (0.6%)
Tirreno-Adriatico, 73 (0.4%)
Three Days of De Panne, 54 (0.3%)
Tour of Oman, 30 (0.2%)