|It's a little early to be giving these out, sure, but the season's almost over, and I think we can at least think about them. I certainly am :p
Rider of the Year: Vincenzo Nibali Finishing two Grand Tours in one year is something that not every rider can do. Getting in the top ten of one is a very good achievement. Getting in the top ten of both is pretty uncommon. Finishing on the podium in both is something only some of the sport's all-time greats (and a few flukes) have done. Getting a podium and an overall win in two races he wasn't even planning to ride at the beginning of the season is just astounding. I'm not sure everyone fully appreciates what a staggering accomplishment this is. Throw in overall and stage wins at the Tour de San Luis and the Tour de Slovenie, along with the Trofeo Melinda, and you've got an enviable palmarès for the season.
Other contenders - Joaquim Rodríguez (breakout season for Purrito highlighted by winning the UCI World Ranking. Fine performances in every race he entered, including the overall in the Volta a Catalunya), Alberto Contador (he won the Tour and his favorite short stage races, and even podiumed La Flèche Wallonne, but he looked as human as he ever has in so doing), Fabian Cancellara (one of the best classics campaigns in recent memory, won the Tour of Oman, plus the obligatory prologue TT and ~week in yellow at the Tour)
Most Improved: Xavier Tondó You could make a case for Nibali or Rodríguez, but they've arguably always had the talent they were only this year able to put on display. Tondó came pretty much out of nowhere. I thought he was a fine signing for Cervélo TestTeam last offseason and that he would be a valuable asset to Carlos Sastre. Little did I know the team probably would have been better off having Sastre ride for Tondó. He was third on GC after two weeks at the Giro before getting sick, and took sixth in the Vuelta while all the while insisting he was there to help Sastre. His Vuelta sixth place was the first Grand Tour he ever finished. A stage win and podium finish at the Volta a Catalunya and a stage win in Paris-Nice were also impressive.
Other contenders - Nibali and Rodríguez (as described above), Ryder Hesjedal (coming into his own as a single-day racer, with podiums at Amstel Gold and the GP Montreal), Chris Horner (previously a domestique with almost nothing outside of USA national events on his personal palmarès, Horner's top ten in the Tour de France and victory in the Tour of the Basque Country make him a solid candidate here), Richie Porte (talk about coming out of nowhere - white jersey, pink for a time, and top 10 overall in the Giro, plus a stage win in Romandie)
Team of the Year: Liquigas-Doimo Nobody rides a stage race as well as the boys in acid green. They came up absolute aces in the Giro and the Vuelta, and Peter Sagan looks like he'll be tremendously fun to watch in the coming years. And might I say that Roman Kreuziger will be sorely missed, especially as he departs for another team that could contend for this honor...
Other contenders - Astana (Contador had a good season, so did the asswipe, and very quietly Maxim Iglinsky and to a lesser extent Enrico Gasparotto soaked up a lot of UCI points. Contador's posse ride a good stage race, too), Team HTC-Columbia (hard to argue with over 60 wins on a season, well over 100 including the women's team), Team Saxo Bank (perhaps the single most well-rounded team in the peloton, with successes in every kind of race this season)
Race of the Year: Giro d'Italia This year's Tour of Italy had an epic route and some unforgettable moments and performances. Rain nearly every day, mud on the strade bianche, the L'Aquila breakaway, the Zoncolan, Mortirolo, Plan de Corones, snow on the Gavia, even the fog over the Terminillo in the race's first week is an enduring image. The image of Ivan Basso just holding the pink jersey for a moment after claiming it in Aprica, clearly moved deeply and seeming to fight back tears, is one that not a lot of people talk about but it's one that got me big time. This is not even to mention the chaos in the Netherlands that began the race. What an incredible bike race this was.
Other contenders - Tour de France (the Tourmalet was pretty special, and the cobbled stage was wicked fun, but beyond that and Chaingate, what do you really have from this race?) Vuelta a España (the Bola del Mundo was unreal, though the other major image of the race is the sad one of Igor Antón leaving the race wearing a tattered red jersey), Tour of the Basque Country (as always, some monstrous climbs in this race proved to be big fun, and following Chris Horner's come-from-behind win on the last day in the ITT was pretty swell)
Those are the big ones. What do YOU think?