"Best of" stories and polls fall from the media like snowflakes in "It's A Wonderful Life" during the holiday season, and it's a safe bet Marc Marquez won Rider of the Year in nearly every one of them.
It's an easy choice. Marquez won a rookie-record six races and, at 20, became the youngest rider to win a premier-class race and world title. He also was the first rookie to win a MotoGP or 500cc World Championship since Kenny Roberts in 1978.
Jorge Lorenzo probably would be a consensus runner-up in fan and media polls. He won a class-leading eight races on his Yamaha M1, finished just four points behind Marquez in the title race and showed balls of tungsten to race at TT Assen just 36 hours after surgeons inserted titanium screws and a plate into his fractured collarbone.
Few would put Spanish rider Aleix Espargaro third on the list of top riders in 2013. They should. No rider on the grid - not even Marquez or Lorenzo - wrung more from less than Espargaro.
Espargaro finished 11th in the season points aboard the Aspar ART Claiming Rules Team machine. His best finish was eighth. But he single-handedly obliterated his rivals also on the production-based CRT machinery and took those bikes into rarefied air few thought they could reach after a troubled, gremlin-filled debut season on the MotoGP grid in 2012.
The numbers produced by Espargaro were impressive. He scored 93 points, more than double the 41 points scored by his closest CRT pursuer, Colin Edwards II on an FTR-Kawasaki. Espargaro crushed his Aspar teammate, Randy De Puniet, who scored just 36 points.
Espargaro also led the CRTs in top-10 finishes with six. He rode his ART into the second round of qualifying an impressive 13 times, including stunning qualifying spots of seventh at Assen and fifth at Sachsenring in consecutive races during the early summer.
But perhaps this is the most impressive stat: Espargaro out-qualified at least one of the Ducati Team factory GP13 machines at six of the 18 events this season. That caused faces on Borgo Panigale to turn as red as the color of their iconic, troubled machines.
Oddly enough, Espargaro's performance didn't attract more lucrative bait from proven satellite teams that he challenged frequently. Tech 3 signed his younger brother, Moto2 World Champion Pol Espargaro, to pair with Bradley Smith on its satellite Yamaha M1's next season. Gresini hired Moto2 standout Scott Redding to ride a customer Honda alongside Alvaro Bautista on factory machinery next season.
Aleix Espargaro's prospects for 2014 looked better when Aspar was negotiating with Aprilia to get an upgraded, almost customer-spec prototype machine for next season. But that deal floated in the ozone of indecision while Aspar waited to learn if Aprilia would commit to building that upgraded bike.
Espargaro then attracted a courtship from Forward Racing, which had committed to a Yamaha customer prototype for 2014. Espargaro decided to jump ship to Forward once he and Forward team owner Giovanni Cuzari pooled their piggy banks to pay a reported 400,000-euro escape clause to Aspar.
The move to Forward was just as smooth as some of Espargaro's racecraft this season. Forward's Yamaha M1 customer bike was quick at the postseason Valencia test, and Espargaro will benefit from the experience, development skill and good-natured, laid-back humor of teammate Edwards in 2014. Plus Aspar's chances to secure an upgraded Aprilia collapsed when Aprilia Racing boss Gigi Dall'Igna left the team for a similar role with Ducati Corse.