The domestique is a key to any level of success in professional cycling but it is often one of the most undervalued and overlooked roles in the peloton.
In 2016 there were several major performances by domestiques which helped their team leaders win; be that spending 100km riding the front of the peloton, giving up a wheel at the crucial moment, sparking an echelon or sheltering them from the wind in a decisive attack.
Some of the riders included in our list of the 10 best domestiques of 2016 also enjoyed great personal success but it was their selflessness and commitment to the team across the season that secured their inclusion.
Wout Poels (Team Sky)
Wout Poels broke Team Sky's monument duck at Liege-Bastogne-Liege but the Dutchman makes this list due to his Tour de France exploits where he assisted Chris Froome in the high mountains to seal a third title. Poels was also instrumental in 2015 as he and Richie Porte swapped the role of the last man standing for Froome. With the Australian an antagonist in 2016 with BMC, Poels rose to the occasion, even improving his own result from last year to 28th place.
The 29-year-old, who came close to losing a kidney at the 2012 Tour in a crash dubbed the 'metz massacre', has been a key buy for Team Sky with year-on-year improvement. His performances at the Tour over the last two years, and 2016 in particular, didn't go unnoticed by team management who handed Poels a three-year contract extension. A deal usually only for the likes of a Froome or Peter Sagan in the current market.
Poels' Tour ride had many, including himself, suggesting he is ready to lead a Grand Tour team at the Giro or Vuelta and challenge for personal glory. In the meantime, he is key man for Froome when the roads go upwards and Team Sky will again need him firing for July as it gears for a third straight win.
Sébastien Reichenbach (FDJ)
FDJ boss Marc Madiot regards Swiss rider Sébastien Reichenbach as one of the most important signings the team has ever made. Reichenbach arrived at the French team with little fanfare as a climbing domestique for Thibaut Pinot on a one-year deal and ends the year as the third ranked Swiss rider in the WorldTour and a two-year contract extension.
Fourth place overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, tied on time with Pinot, was Reichenbach's best ever result in a WorldTour stage race and suggested FDJ as an early candidate for transfer coup of 2016. Pinot's early season success in the one-week stage races was off the back of his own improvements on the climbs and against the clock, but also due to Reichenbach's work for the Frenchman. The duo's working relationship appeared to click quickly with Pinot finding the last man for the mountains he was lacking, and Reichenbach finding a leader to ride for that he lacked at IAM Cycling.
When Pinot got sick and abandoned the Tour de France, Reichenbach took over the role as the team's GC rider and rode into Paris 14th on GC in an otherwise bare race for the team. The ride elevated Reichenbach's media profile but the Swiss was simply doing his job for the team. While Pinot is yet to decide which Grand Tour he'll target in 2017, expect to Reichenbach to receive the same race programme as they aim for more success in their second year together.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo)
With the retirement of Fabian Cancellara, Trek-Segafredo was always going to have a huge gap to fill regarding its aims for classics domination. A stirling Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne ride by, at the time, 23-year-old Jasper Stuyven, suggested that perhaps the solution was already on the books. John Degenkolb will undoubtedly bolster Trek-Segafredo's classics squad but in Stuyven, it also has a versatile man for the Classics who can ride in support of his teammates, or his own personal ambitions.
The junior Paris-Roubaix winner played crucial roles for Trek-Segafredo and Cancellara over the Classics period, demonstrating his strength on numerous occasions by chasing down attacks or making his own. His ride at the Worlds for Belgium was another display of his selflessness on a bike and his immense strength and ability to dictate terms while at threshold.
Stuyven will be elevated to a protected role at the Classics for the majority of the spring next year off the strength of his 2016 season. His ability to bury himself for teammates will in turn motivate his teammates to do the same with Stuyven demonstrating a level of maturity and selfless beyond that of a young Belgian Classics favourite. With the Classics his bread and butter, Stuyven is then likely to be utilised as a 'domestique de luxe' across the rest of the season.
Damien Howson (Orica-BikeExchange)
A former under 23 world time trial champion, Damien Howson first displayed his domestique skills at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana, helping teammate Esteban Chaves to fifth place overall. All while on his Grand Tour debut no less.
Reward for effort saw the 24-year-old earn a contract extension and selection for the 2016 Giro d'Italia team, which was built around the best possible overall result for Chaves. Along with Spanish duo Ruben Plaza and Amets Txurruka, Howson was a key man for Chaves in the high mountains, shepherding the Colombian into position when called upon and keeping him fresh for the finals. Howson's work was largely done behind the scenes but it was effective and helped Chaves to second place overall and ensured he was one of the first riders picked for the Vuelta a España squad.
In Spain, Howson improved on his work at the Giro adding a level of aggression to his riding that was most evident on stage 20 when Orica-BikeExchange split the race and moved Chaves up from fourth to third overall. Adding to Howson's work was the fact that he had never previously ridden two grand tours in the one season. His role wasn't just for the three-week races though, as he closed out the season in support of Chaves, helping his teammate to Giro dell'Emilia and Il Lombardia victories. Considering 2016 was Howson's first season as a Grand Tour domestique, expect the South Australian to again play a key role for Chaves' bid for Grand Tour glory next year.
Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff)
Stage 11 of the Tour de France featured some of the most exciting racing all season. World champion Peter Sagan, wearing the green jersey, and Chris Froome, in the yellow jersey, had attacked in the crosswinds and split the race to pieces. Maciej Bodnar played a key role in the stage-winning move, which also featured Froome's teammate Geraint Thomas, with his time trial prowess coming to the fore.
In the final few hundred metres, Sagan tried to engineer the finale to ensure Bodnar could take the win but with Froome deciding to sprint for the win and bonus seconds, Sagan was forced into winning for himself. Bodnar finished third but it was his performance rather than the result which proved his importance to Sagan and Tinkoff.
The Polish rider has been a key domestiques for Sagan, contributing to some of his biggest wins in recent years. A fractured jaw from a training ride pre-Tour of Flanders was undoubtedly a blow for Sagan, however the world champion would prove to be unbeatable with or without Bodnar.
A good indication of a valued domestique is whether they join a leader, such as Sagan, when they move teams. For 2017, Sagan has taken Bodnar with him to Bora-Hansgrohe in a three-year deal to contribute the working relationship that started back at Liquigas in 2010.
Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal)
Ever reliable, and ever consistent, Adam Hansen rode his 16th consecutive Grand Tour at the Vuelta a Espana in September. The 35-year-old has contributed to numerous stage wins for the team since the start of his run back in 2011 at the Vuelta. The Australian is equally at home as an animator of the breakaway to ensure Lotto Soudal presence and chase stage wins, or powering the sprint lead out train in the final kilometres for Andre Greipel.
While the Grand Tours make up the majority of Hansen's race programme, he regularly lines out for both the Tour Down Under and Tour of Turkey. Two races where he is committed to ensuring as many stage sprint wins as possible for Greipel.
In recent years, Hansen has become well known for his Grand Tour streak but it's also his commitment to the team cause and selflessness that has enhanced his opinion. His role with the riders union, CPA also suggests a rider committed to bettering conditions for teammates and colleagues in the peloton with his domestique work continuing 'off' the bike.
Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep)
A professional since 2010, Gianluca Brambilla enjoyed a breakthrough 2016 but not just for his personal successes. A stage win and stint in pink at the Giro d'Italia elevated Brambilla into the hearts of the tifosi but his sacrifice on stage 10 to push teammate Bob Jungels into the race lead was arguably of greater importance.
Jungels described the actions of his teammate, to bury himself and forgo the opportunity to lead the race for another day, as one that isn't seen "a lot in cycling". Brambilla also sacrificed himself on stage 18 with teammate Matteo Trentin the beneficiary on this occasion as he enjoyed the stage win. Capable of making his own results, Brambilla represents the valuable 'utility' who can be trusted to fulfil a given role by his teammates and sports directors without a word of complaint.
The 'Energizer Bunny' on a bike, Brambilla was often seen animating breakaways in 2016, lessening the pressure on his teammates to chase and allowing them to focus on recovery. His presence in the stage 15 Vuelta breakaway led to a second Grand Tour stage win, this time over Nairo Quintana, to ensure that Brambilla enjoyed his moment in the spotlight but always committed to the team cause. While Brambilla enjoyed great personal success in 2016, he ensured that Etixx-QuickStep had stints in pink at the Giro, red at the Vuelta and won stages through a variety of riders.
Diego Rosa (Astana)
Last year, Mikel Landa's role as ‘domestique de luxe' for Astana saw the Basque rider snapped up by Team Sky to simultaneously weaken its rival and strengthen its own team. In 2016, Team Sky repeated the trick by signing Italy's Diego Rosa.
The former mountain bike rider was a key ally for Fabio Aru in his two years with Astana and could also ride himself when given the opportunity. Rosa was on hand for Aru as the duo made their Tour de France debuts in July. While the race slipped away from Aru, Rosa rode within himself and remained loyal to his leader.
At Team Sky Rosa is unlikely to have opportunity for his personal results in the Grand Tours with his domestique skills sure to be called upon in July. The hilly one-day races look more likely being free reign for Rosa who managed to be on both the 'Aru' and 'Nibali' camps at Astana with both riders recognising his ability and wanting him in their respective 'teams'.
Michael Schar (BMC)
Michael Schar is easy rider to spot in the bunch due his size and regular presence on the front of the peloton. Externally there is little fanfare for the versatile Schar but internally, he is key rider across the season for BMC.
Whether it is in the Classics or Grand Tours, Schar has become one of the most reliable and selfless domestiques in the bunch. His ability to hold off a chasing bunch at the 2014 Tour of Utah by just a few seconds was a demonstration of his strength and ability in full view that is usually done away from the spotlight.
Schar first rode the Tour de France in 2011, helping Cadel Evans to the overall victory. He hasn't missed a July in France since and this year was again invaluable as Richie Porte finished fifth. The Australian has since stated that Schar would be one the first riders he would pick for next year's race.
Tanel Kangert (Astana)
When Vincenzo Nibali won the 2013 Giro d'Italia, Estonian Tanel Kangert was one his key allies in the mountains. It was no surprise that Nibali and Astana again selected Kangert for the assault on the 2016 Giro. Particularly after his two stage win and second place overall at the Giro del Trentino.
With Nibali on the ropes at the Giro and deserted by all but his teammates, Kangert played a crucial role in the Italian bouncing back with a vengeance on the road to Sant'Anna di Vinadio. Nibali ended the day in pink to seal a Giro win that would have been unlikely had it not been for Kangert.
While Nibali and Kangert won't be teammates in 2017, the duo ended their time at Astana together with a role reversal as the Italian helped Kangert to overall Abu Dhabi Tour success, expressing his gratitude for helping him win a Tour and two editions of the Giro.
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