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Cyclingnews 2006 Reader Poll Results
Most improved rider
Team CSC has done it again: grabbing the top two spots of Cyclingnews' Most Improved rider category. Last year it was Bobby Julich and David Zabriskie taking the top with nearly the same amount of votes but this year it Fränk Schleck was the clear winner over his Swiss teammate, Fabian Cancellara.
The results prove that team boss Bjarne Riis knows how to take a rider's raw talent and produce the best possible results. At just 26-years-of-age the Luxembourg rider is still budding but was able to accomplish what riders many years older dream of.
A fifth overall in early March at the Paris-Nice stage race showed he was up to something good for the season. The race to the sun is no gimme and Schleck proved the form was really there by winning one of cycling's big one-day races, the Amstel Gold. Moving free with under ten kilometres to go, in Holland he showed the grit of a seasoned professional; eventually winning the race with 22 seconds over Wesemann and Boogerd.
Though there were no wins, Schleck kept the train a-rollin' through the Ardennes. A fourth in La Flèche Wallonne and seventh in Liège-Bastogne-Liège shows that rivals won't be able to ever again count out the little rider in the one day races.
And not only one-day races.
Schleck came back three months later to claim l1th overall in the big one, the Tour de France. Chaos at CSC, resulting in a lack of a team leader, meant he and his teammate were able to ride their own race. Schleck did just that by battling up cycling's famed slopes of Alpe d'Huez against Damiano Cunego (scoring nine in this poll) to take the win; the first Luxemburger in cycling history to achieve victory atop the 21-hairpinned climb.
"I'm a bit afraid to attack," said Schleck on that day in July. "But today I had to attack ... If you get the chance to win the stage on Alpe d'Huez, you need to grab that chance." Grabbing the reins, attacking and taking control gave him two grand wins win 2006 and top spot on Cyclingnews' Most improved rider list.
Votes %ge 1 Fränk Schleck 2637 24.3 2 Fabian Cancellara 1170 10.8 3 Alejandro Valverde 1144 10.5 4 Floyd Landis 1081 9.9 5 Oscar Pereiro 906 8.3 6 Andrey Kashechkin 736 6.8 7 Stefan Schumacher 619 5.7 8 Samuel Sanchez 453 4.2 9 Damiano Cunego 407 3.7 10 Cyril Dessel 260 2.4 11 Vladimir Gusev 255 2.3 12 Nicole Cooke 245 2.3 13 Alessandro Ballan 238 2.2 14 Stijn Devolder 219 2.0 15 Pippo Pozzato 156 1.4 16 Bernhard Kohl 116 1.1 17 Markus Fothen 111 1.0 18 Heather Irmiger 91 0.8 19 José Enrique Gutierrez Cataluna 20 0.2 20 Loes Gunnewijk 6 0.1 Total: 10870