As a new generation of young superstars led by the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel take over the peloton, many of the old guard have chosen this year as the one to finally bow out of the sport.
Rarely has there been such an illustrious list of names all retiring during the same season, and between them the retirees have been responsible for some of the sport’s most definitive moments over the past decade or so.
We’ve picked six of the riders whose absence will be most sorely missed, and chosen the very best moments of their brilliant careers.
Giro d’Italia 2016
Sure, the 2014 Tour de France is by default the biggest of his full-set of Grand Tour victories, but as a patriotic Italian, his Giro titles might have meant more to Nibali. Whereas that yellow jersey was won in a relatively simple, drama-free fashion, the Giro 2016 epitomised everything the Sicilian was about: an irrepressible desire to win, a fighting spirit with his back against the wall, and the gumption to take necessary risks to achieve maximum glory. The 4-43 he overturned from the moment Steven Kruijswijk dramatically crashed on the descent of Colle dell’Agnello during stage 19, to taking the pink jersey the following day at Sant'Anna di Vinadio, remains one of the greatest turnarounds in Grand Tour history.
Vincenzo Nibali at the 2016 Giro d'Italia (Getty Images)
Milan-San Remo 2018
Nibali might have been primarily a climber and Grand Tour specialist, but he could also flourish in the Classics when he wanted to. His home Monuments were inevitably of most interest to him, but whereas the hilly parcours and fast downhills of Il Lombardia (which he won twice) played greatly to his strengths, to win Milan-San Remo required something special. He delivered just that on his 10th attempt in 2018, when he attacked solo over the Poggio, and held off for a victory that was memorable by even his standards.
World Championships Road Race 2018
With well over a hundred wins to his name over a career spanning two whole decades, it’s difficult to pick just one that can be considered the greatest in Valverde’s career. But the World Championships in 2018 does stand out for various reasons — it came when the Spaniard was already defying his age by still riding at the top level at the grand age of 38, and brought to an end a career of frustrating near misses in which he’d twice won silver and four time times the bronze without ever taking the top prize.
Alejandro Valverde wins the 2018 Road World Championships (Getty Images)
La Flèche Wallonne 2014
The Mur de Huy will forever be Valverde’s climb, thanks to his record-breaking five victories at La Flèche Wallonne. Its steep gradients make it one of the most notorious landmarks in cycling, and for four years between 2014 to 2017, Valverde was untouchable on it. Of those consecutive victories, the first might have been the most impressive due to the ease with which the Spaniard defeated everyone else — after distancing the rest of the field with a devastating acceleration inside the final 200 metres, he had time to ease up, celebrate, and still win with a gap of three seconds.
Rarely had a rider enjoyed a more prolific purple patch than Philippe Gilbert did in 2011. From Strade Bianche in the spring to San Sebastian in the summer, the Belgian simply could not stop winning, and during that time he landed a historic quartet of triumphs in the Ardennes Classics. Of those four wins, Liège–Bastogne–Liège was the most stunning, considering how the parcours plays less to his strengths. Despite its tough climbs, Gilbert was able to subdue and follow both of the Schleck brothers working in tandem to try and drop him, and beat them both in the final sprint.
Philippe Gilbert rides solo to victory at the 2017 Tour of Flanders (Getty Images)
Tour of Flanders 2017
Despite the occasional big win, as at the Worlds in 2012 and Amstel Gold in 2014, Gilbert never again quite reached the ludicrous highs of 2011 — until an extraordinary comeback upon signing for Quick-Step in 2017. Following a lean season the year before, at the age of 34 Gilbert rebranded himself as a cobbled Classics rider, and to roaring success as he won the Tour of Flanders with a sublime long-range attack. So big was his winning margin that he had time to dismount and hold his bike triumphantly in the air on the finish line, adorned in the Belgian national champion’s jersey, perhaps the most memorable image of his whole career.
Giro d’Italia 2017
In the case of a rider as big and powerful as Tom Dumoulin, there are always questions regarding whether or not they are capable of climbing well enough to win a Grand Tour. Sure, he could gain huge chunks of time in the time trials, and sure, he could pace himself well in the mountains, but could he ever climb well enough and consistently enough over three weeks? He proved any doubters comprehensively wrong at the 2017 Giro d’Italia, where he withstood an onslaught of attacks from pure climbers as destructive as Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, and overcame stomach problems and an infamous comfort break at the Umbrail Pass, to win the pink jersey.
Tom Dumoulin rides to victory in the 2017 Road World Championships time trial (Getty Images)
World Championships Individual Time Trial 2017
From the supremacy of Tony Martin early in the decade to the emergence of Rohan Dennis later on, being crowned the world’s best time triallist during the 2010s was no mean feat, especially for a rider like Dumoulin, who had bigger targets besides just racing against the clock. Despite this the Dutchman won the hallowed rainbow stripes in 2017 with a storming ride in Bergen, with a winning margin that wasn’t even close. This was the Dutchman at the very peak of his powers, and proof that he was one of the generation’s best time trialists as well as Grand Tour riders.
World Championship Individual Time Trial 2014
For a rider known for her consistency at both stage races and classics, Brennauer was also a prolific winner, amassing over half a century of victories in her career on the road. The biggest of these came at the 2014 World Championships in Ponferrada, where she adapted best to the significant challenge of what was then one of the longest women’s Worlds time trials to date to ride a brilliantly judged negative split, winning gold at the expense of defending champion Ellen van Dijk among others.
Lisa Brennauer was part of the successful German women's team pursuit squad at the Tokyo Olympic Games (SWPix)
Olympics Team Pursuit
As well as the road, Brennauer also enjoyed a glittering career on the track, where she collected an array of medals and titles throughout her career. Her crowning achievement came at Tokyo 2020 where she was part of the German team that broke the world record and ended Great Britain’s supremacy in the team pursuit, earning her her first and only Olympic medal. Coming at the twilight of her career soon after she’d turned 33, the result ensured that she will always be an Olympic champion.
While much is made of Porte’s many frustrations and misfortunes at Grand Tours, it should not go overlooked just how brilliant a rider he was in shorter stage races. He won eight WorldTour stage race titles in total, which is more than just about every one of his contemporary rivals.
Paris-Nice was where he often shone the brightest, especially in 2013, where he dominated the race to win both the queen stage in the Alps and the final time trial at Col d'Èze to claim a crushing overall victory by almost a minute.
Richie Porte rode to a hard-earned third place at the 2013 Tour de France (SWPix)
Tour de France 2013
Porte’s crowning achievement in his career was not his own individual success, but rather the Tour de France titles he gained as part of Team Sky’s formidable line-up. In 2013 he was Chris Froome’s most important lieutenant, dropping every single one of their rivals on the first mountain top finish of the race at Ax-3 Domaines to complete a 1-2 for the team, effectively demoralising them all before the race had really begun.
Cover image by Charly Lopez/Unipublic