Each year we ask the cycling community to vote in our reader poll. One category that always stands out is the Legend of the Year award. In most cases it's awarded to a rider who has retired - a farewell token of thanks as they leave the peloton for the real world - or in last year's case to Laurent Fignon, who gave so much to our sport.
Both men were hugely popular within the sport and touched so many fans with their racing styles and personalities. They are, and will be, greatly missed.
Personally, I only got the chance to interview each rider on few occasions. At the start of Amstel Gold Race in 2010 I remember talking to Xavier. He'd just driven all the way up from Girona, Spain, to Holland in order to take part in the race. The drive, brought on by an ash cloud, meant a race against time in order to make the weekend start but as the Spaniard lined up he was a jovial as ever, chatting freely with the press and fans. He made it clear that he was here to respect the race and that it was an event he dearly enjoyed.
My only interview with Wouter came almost a year later and on the eve of Paris-Roubaix. He'd crashed a few days earlier but at the Leopard pre-race press conference, he remained strong and full of confidence that he could pull out a performance to help his teammates. He was clearly uncomfortable and in pain as he patiently answered questions, but his resolve as well as Xavier's spirit go a long way to show just how special our sport can be: the dedication, sacrifice, hard work but most of all love everyone even remotely associated with a bike can identify with.
Every now and then an event takes place that touches everyone and unlike the controversy, racing and petty grudges we all have, unites all who hold the sport close.
This award goes to both Xavier and Wouter. May they both rest in peace.
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