The WorldTour is over for another year and the pros are off enjoying a well-earned break. The 2020 season will be here before we know it but before it is, let’s look back at the season that just finished.
In this post we dive into the most impressive performance in men’s road cycling in 2019. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the biggest moments from women’s road cycling.
Alberto Bettiol’s Tour of Flanders upset: Bettiol’s rivals clearly weren’t too worried when the Italian attacked solo on the Oude Kwaremont. No one chased and Bettiol was able to open a lead that he defended all the way to the finish.
As far as first pro victories go, Bettiol’s was a doozy. He won’t be given as much latitude next time around.
Kasper Asgreen at the Tour of Flanders: While the day went to Bettiol, Asgreen was just as impressive. The young Dane spent much of the final 50km with his face in the wind, then attacked his way to second place. Great signs for a star in the making.
Jakob Fuglsang’s career-best season: Fuglsang mightn’t have taken the Grand Tour win he’s long been after but he did have an excellent year. He won Ruta del Sol, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Criterium du Dauphine, plus stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta. Chapeau Jakob.
Philippe Gilbert’s Paris-Roubaix victory.
Only three riders in history have won all five of cycling’s Monuments (pop quiz: can you name them?) Philippe Gilbert is just one race away from joining that illustrious club, courtesy of a stellar ride at Paris-Roubaix in April.
Gilbert got clear with Nils Politt with about 65km to go and was soon joined by a few other riders. But when Gilbert ramped up the pace a little later on, only Politt was able to follow. When they got to the famous Roubaix velodrome, Gilbert easily dispatched his German rival in the sprint, to take a stirring win.
It wasn’t just how Gilbert won that made this performance stand out. It was the fact that Gilbert had specifically targeted this race from a long way out, transforming himself from a rider who excelled on short, punchy climbs, to a rider who was at home on the cobbles of northern France. Talk about working towards a goal.
Just one Monument remains for Gilbert: Milan-San Remo. He’s back at Lotto-Soudal in 2020 and you can bet he’ll be gunning for team leadership on that Saturday in March. Caleb Ewan might have something to say about that though …
Mathieu van der Poel’s Amstel Gold Race.
Rarely do we see a display of individual brilliance like Van der Poel’s ride at the 2019 Amstel Gold Race.
Racing in the colours of Dutch champion, Van der Poel had the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He was on the attack with about 45km to go, but was soon caught and then missed a key counterattack from Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang. Before too long it looked like the local hero was out of contention.
What followed was a truly remarkable pursuit. With no one in the chase willing to help Van der Poel, the Dutchman took it upon himself and led the chase for over 10km. With 4km to go he and his group were still around 35 seconds down and seemed likely to fall just short.
But, somehow, Van der Poel dragged the chase group up to the leaders, making the catch with just a few hundred metres to go. No sooner had the catch been made than the sprint was on. In an effort that defies explanation, Van der Poel managed to outsprint everyone, despite the volume of work he’d done in the run-in.
It was a win for the ages. The replay of the final moments is simply spine-tingling, thanks in no small part to Rob Hatch’s phenomenal commentary.
Tadej Pogacar vs Sergio Higuita at the Tour of California.
If this year’s Tour of California is anything to go by, the future is very bright for men’s road cycling.
On the upper slopes of Mt. Baldy, on the race’s queen stage, the battle came down to 20-year-old Pogacar, in his first WorldTour season, and Higuita, in his first race on a WorldTour team. Pogacar took the stage win, courtesy of a better line on the final corner, and went on to win the race overall ahead of Higuita.
Both riders went on to have excellent neo-pro seasons, especially Pogacar. More on him in a moment.
Richard Carapaz’s breakthrough Giro win.
It’s been a swift rise to the top of the sport of Richard Carapaz. It was little more than two years between joining the WorldTour and winning the Giro d’Italia — a very speedy turnaround indeed.
Carapaz came to most people’s attention in early 2018 when he won the Vuelta Asturias and then rode to fourth in his Giro debut (only his second Grand Tour). A year later he won Asturias again, then came back to the Giro as one of the favourites. He quickly established himself as the best climber at the race, he won stage 4 on a tricky uphill drag, and then gradually worked his way up the GC.
He moved into the overall lead on stage 14 when his rivals gave him a bit too much space on the final climb, and that was that. For the next week Carapaz defended the maglia rosa with aplomb, becoming the first Ecuadorian to win a Grand Tour.
It will be intriguing to see what sort of opportunities he gets at Ineos in 2020 given the team’s stacked roster of Grand Tour winners.
Julian Alaphilippe’s Tour de France.
Alaphilippe had already had an excellent season before the Tour even began. He’d taken 10 wins including Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, Fleche Wallonne, plus stages at Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphine — all WorldTour races.
At the Tour, Alaphilippe elevated his season to another level entirely.
His race would already have been a success by the end of stage 3. That day he attacked solo on the lumpy run-in to Epernay to take a thoroughly entertaining stage win and the yellow jersey. But the Frenchman was just getting started.
He fought bravely to defend yellow on the uphill finish to La Planche des Belles Filles, but ultimately relinquished the lead. But it was just two days later when he earned it back, courtesy of a wily late attack.
We all thought he would lose yellow in the Pyrenees. He didn’t just keep it, courtesy of a stunning second place on the Col du Tourmalet, he actually extended his lead with an unlikely but brilliant win in the stage 13 individual time trial.
It took a couple days of relentless attacking in the Alps to finally dislodge Alaphilippe from the top of the GC. Even then he was able to hang on for fifth overall. It was a simply brilliant Tour from the most talented all-rounder in men’s road cycling.
Egan Bernal’s Tour de France win.
Egan Bernal came into the Tour de France as one of the big favourites, despite not wanting that mantle, and despite having the defending champion, Geraint Thomas, on his team. Bernal had won Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse in the lead-up and a Tour victory seemed a very strong possibility.
He nibbled away inside the top 10 for the first two weeks while Thomas did the same. It wasn’t clear who was the stronger and who Ineos would back when it mattered most.
When it came to the Alps, Bernal was best able to capitalise on the high altitude. He rode into second overall on stage 18 by putting time into virtually all the other GC men, including Thomas. On stage 19 he went on the attack again, and was leading proceedings when the race was sensationally halted due to snow and a landslide. With times taken at the top of the last pass before the neutralisation, Bernal had enough of a lead to take yellow.
He defended that lead for the final two days to become the third-youngest Tour winner in history (at 22) and the first Colombian to win the world’s biggest race. Barring something dramatic happening, it certainly won’t be Bernal’s last Grand Tour victory. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this is just the start of something legendary.
Remco Evenepoel’s first season as a pro.
If you had to sum up men’s road racing in 2019 in one phrase, it would probably be something like “The year of the youngster”. Belgian wonder-kid Remco Evenepoel is perhaps the most exciting of the bunch.
After dominating in the junior ranks, Evenepoel skipped the U23 system and stepped straight into the WorldTour at just 18. His results suggest that gamble has well and truly paid off.
He impressed as early as January, when he ran third in the Vuelta a San Juan’s individual time trial, but the best was yet to come. He was brilliant at Hammer Limburg and won the Belgium Tour courtesy of a solo victory on stage 2. He also won the European time trial title and a stage of the Adriatica Ionica Race, but his most impressive results came at much bigger races.
At the Clasica San Sebastian in August, Evenepoel was in the lead group when he was dropped on the penultimate climb. He chased back on the next descent, grabbing some bottles for teammates on the way through, then followed an attack from Tom Skujins in the closing kilometres.
Evenepoel attacked Skujins on the final climb, with 8km to go, then soloed his way to the finish to win his first WorldTour race. It was a stunning result for a 19-year-old neo-pro who became the youngest ever winner of a WorldTour race.
A month later, when the Road World Championships rolled around, Evenepoel’s name was being thrown around as a contender for the time trial. It seemed unlikely, but the 19-year-old finished in a staggering second place, with only the defending champion Rohan Dennis ahead of him.
All of this was just a year after winning the junior world time trial title. Evenepoel isn’t just a star of the future, he’s a bona fide star already.
Tadej Pogacar’s Vuelta a España.
Speaking of young stars, how about Tadej Pogacar at the Vuelta? It takes a very special rider to be among the GC contenders in their debut Grand Tour, and an even more special rider to finish on the podium.
Pogacar didn’t just finish third overall — a remarkable achievement for 20 — he also won three mountain stages, two of them with open road behind him. The final of those, on stage 20, was the standout.
Pogacar had dropped down to fifth overall a few days earlier and clearly wanted to move back into podium contention. With around 35km to go, the Slovenian set off alone and put daylight between himself and the rest of the field. The Slovenian won the stage by over 90 seconds, moved back up to third, and showed yet again that the hype surrounding him is more than justified.
Primoz Roglic’s first Grand Tour victory.
Roglic began the year in terrific form, winning the first three stage races he started (UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Tour de Romandie). He went into the Giro as the big favourite and despite starting well (he spent five days in pink) the Slovenian faded (did he peak too early in the year?) and had to settle for third. The Vuelta, then, would be a chance for Roglic to make amends.
He was sitting pretty inside the top 10 from stage 2 onwards, then moved into the lead on stage 10 with a storming win in the individual time trial. He led from that day until the end, courtesy of some terrific defensive riding.
It would be little surprise to see further Grand Tour victories follow this one for Roglic, particularly now that Jumbo-Visma has established itself as a genuine challenger to the Grand Tour juggernaut that is Team Ineos.
Mads Pedersen’s surprise Worlds win.
Who doesn’t love a good underdog victory? Mads Pedersen certainly does. On the rain-soaked roads of Yorkshire, in the Worlds road race, Pedersen got in a promising move with 45km to go. Van der Poel was in the group but cracked, leaving just Pedersen, Matteo Trentin and Stefan Kung at the front of the race as the finish approached.
Coming into the final dash Trentin was the near-unbackable favourite — the Italian has made a career of winning sprints at the end of long hard days. But Pedersen has a sneaky-strong sprint and was able to overpower Trentin and Kung to become the first Danish man to win a Worlds road race title.
Pedersen will never be the underdog again — rainbow bands aren’t the best way to stay anonymous in the bunch.