Normally relegated to the background, the domestiques of the peloton have rarely gotten the attention they deserve. Riders like Jens Voigt, Bert Grabsch and George Hincapie have made careers out of ticking off endless kilometers on the front of the peloton, but despite their inherent value to the sport and their teams, domestiques don't always get a chance to ride for themselves.
That changed somewhat in 2011 when an unprecedented number of support riders earned their day in the spotlight. Cyclingnews pays tribute to all of the sport's unsung heroes while recognizing the outstanding achievements of the following emerging riders:
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
The British rider came into the Vuelta a España as a climbing domestique for teammate Bradley Wiggins, who was looking for top results after crashing out of the Tour de France. After staying glued to Wiggins' side in the first mountain stages, Froome stunned everyone by taking second in the time trial to Tony Martin, coming in 23 seconds ahead of his captain, and the pair were neck-and-neck for the race lead until Wiggins cracked on the Anglirú.
Froome collected his first Grand Tour stage win in Peña Cabarga and while he could not overcome race winner Juanjo Cobo, he stood on the podium in second place, one step above Wiggins in Madrid.
Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Cervélo)
The unlikely Paris-Roubaix winner was more of a rabbit for Fabian Cancellara to chase while Vansummeren's team leader Thor Hushovd sat on, but after being denied in the Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo, the Swiss star wasn't biting. ‘Summie’ just kept hammering away off the front until he crossed the line to collect the famed cobblestone with arms so weak they could hardly hoist the trophy overhead. He rode the final kilometers with the flat tyre too.
Matthew Busche (RadioShack)
The second-year professional and late-comer to the sport proved his mettle in the Tour of California, where overall winner Chris Horner credited the American for his victory, pointing to Busche's vicious pace-setting on the Sierra Road and Mt. Baldy climbs as critical to his success. Busche carried his stellar form to the US Championships, where he narrowly defeated Hincapie to take the road race title.
Photo: Jonathan Devich
Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
While Omega Pharma-Lotto's star rider Philippe Gilbert dominated the Spring Classics, it's safe to say he could not have won the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège - Bastogne - Liège without the help of his loyal domestique, Jelle Vanendert, who was the last man standing from the team behind Gilbert in all three races.
The 26-year-old was awarded with free reign in the Tour de France to pursue his own results, and seized the opportunity taking second on Luz Ardiden and then a stage win on Plateau de Beille, and held onto the polka dot jersey until Alpe d'Huez.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar)
When Thomas Voeckler took the maillot jaune in Saint-Flour, nobody expected him to hold onto it as long as he did, but it was largely due to the work of Pierre Rolland that he survived mountain after mountain. It was only Voeckler's own stubborn refusal to give up chasing the leaders on the Alpe d'Huez stage that lost him the yellow jersey, but at least Rolland earned his reward with a stage victory atop the famed ascent.
Annamiek Van Vleuten (Nederland Bloeit)
In women's cycling, domestiques don't always operate the same way they do in the men's peloton. Often times tactics are more decisive than brute strength and with a World Cup series to be concerned with, top riders often times put themselves in a support role for the good of the team.
Annamiek Van Vleuten has been a critical factor in the success of the Nederland Bloeit team, but this year stepped up and put herself on equal footing with team captain Marianne Vos. No other pair of riders worked as well together as Vos and Van Vleuten. Together they claimed six World Cup rounds, Van Vleuten won the overall series, while Vos emerged as top-ranked rider by the UCI with an astonishing number of wins, only the world championship eluded her.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM)
He's spent countless kilometers in breakaways over the course of his career, throwing caution to the wind in order to let his team save its energy. After earning a spot in the WorldTour on Vacansoleil-DCM, De Gendt suddently began making the moves work. After being denied in Tour Down Under by Cameron Meyer, De Gendt went onto bigger and better wins in Paris-Nice, where he won stage 1 and took the leader's jersey, lost it, then got it back. He repeated the feat in Circuit de Lorraine, and then again in the Tour de Suisse, where he jettisoned none other than Andy Schleck to win a stage.
Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD)
The men who usher their sprinters to the line risk their necks threading their way through the madness of the final kilometer in a bunch gallop. They must have nerves of steel to pick just the right moment to accelerate while fending off the assault of the other lead-out trains. The Renshaw/Cavendish duo has been enormously successful, but we can't discount the efforts of Thomas for Boasson Hagen and Hondo for Alessandro Petacchi.
Renshaw earned his chance in the Tour of Qatar, and seized the day, taking a stage and the overall. Thomas netted an overall win in the Bayern-Rundfahrt, while Hondo was shut out of the victories, he held his own as patron of the sprinter's peloton.
Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Cervélo)
The Lithuanian was a surprise on the American team's roster for the Tour de France, having been chosen over Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren. The 23-year-old quickly proved his worth by helping the team to a win in the team time trial, and then setting a blistering pace in the defence of Thor Hushvod's yellow jersey. A stinging pace set on stage 3 helped set up Tyler Farrar for his first Tour de France stage victory. His reward was a trip onto the podium for the team classification prize in Paris.
Photo: James Huang
Amanda Miller (HTC-Highroad)
Amanda Miller has been quietly working her way up the ladder in women's cycling, first demonstrating her strength for the USA National Team and then with Tibco before being noticed by the HTC-Highroad squad.
Miller served as a valuable support rider for Amber Neben during the Redlands Classsic and after taking a bronze in the US road championships, for Judith Arndt at the Giro Donne.
Miller proved she's able to win as well, taking stages of the Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and Giro Toscana.
Nobody wins the Tour de France without a team, and the lanky pair of BMC riders George Hincapie and Markus Burghardt were critical to Cadel Evans's success, including setting him up for his only stage win of the Tour on the Mûr-de-Bretagne. The pair had to launch a furious chase after Evans had a mechanical with 15km to go. Burghardt got him back into position, and Evans pipped Alberto Contador in the sprint to take home the stage win.
Others: Oliver Zaugg for a shocking Il Lombardia win, Mathew Hayman for an amazing third in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Danny Pate for gutting out the breakaway in Montreal, Craig Lewis for nearly literally giving his left leg for the team in the Giro d'Italia, Marco Pinotti for donning the maglia rosa after the team time trial in the Giro.
Cyclingnews can't capture all of the brilliant performances by support riders in 2011, but you can share the ones we missed or discuss who is your favorite domestique in our forum.