As the most complete season since the Covid pandemic disrupted the calendar in 2020, it felt like there was more cycling than ever this year. Amid all the excitement and historic achievements that occurred with such regularity, some fantastic performances went relatively under the radar, and maybe didn’t receive their due praise. Here are our picks...
Richard Carapaz and Sergio Higuita, Volta a Catalunya stage six
In a year of many successful long-range attacks, none were quite as ambitious as Richard Carapaz and Sergio Higuita’s two-man ambush on the penultimate day of the Volta a Catalunya. With both within one minute of João Almeida who sat at the top of GC, they took off out of the peloton a whole 130km from the finish on a rainy day in the mountains, with Carapaz ultimately winning the two-up sprint for the stage, but Higuita taking the leader’s jersey. Coming at a week-long WorldTour race rather than one of the Grand Tours, it might not have received the same amount of attention as other efforts this year from the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar, but the way the pair launched themselves to first and second on GC, and held onto those positions on the final stage the following day, proved it to be as tactically astute as it was brazen.
Dylan van Baarle, Paris-Roubaix
At this year’s spring classics, fans were spoilt for stunning performances and stirring moments. There was Matej Mohorič’s descending masterclass at Milan-San Remo, Biniam Girmay’s history-making Gent-Wevelgem triumph, Mathieu van der Poel’s daring risk at the Tour of Flanders finale, plus Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel’s respective long-range masterpieces to win Strade Bianche and Liège–Bastogne–Liège respectively.
But the most comprehensive win of all came not from these star riders, but the less heralded Dylan van Baarle at Paris-Roubaix. After making his race-winning attack on Camphin-en-Pévèle cobbled sector 18km from the finish, he became the first man since Niki Terpstra in 2014 to reach the Roubaix velodrome alone, and his winning margin of 1-47 was the biggest at the race since Fabian Cancellara in 2010. Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Thibaut Pinot, Tour of the Alps stage five
A cycling season wouldn’t feel complete without at least one Thibaut Pinot-centred emotional rollercoaster. This year it came at the Tour of the Alps, where he came agonisingly close to winning stage four only to be passed by Miguel Ángel López before the finish at the Kals am Grossglockner summit, then bounced back the very next day to once again get into the breakaway, and this time outsprinted López’s teammate David de la Cruz to take victory. That this came after a winless streak lasting over 1,000 days spoke of Pinot’s stubborn resilience to prove that he’s not finished at the top level just yet, and the tears he shed upon winning illustrated just how much an emotional toil it took out of him.
Jumbo-Visma, Critérium du Dauphiné stage eight
After the team’s memorable 1-2-3 the opening stage of Paris-Nice, and Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte’s similarly jaw-dropping 1-2 at E3 Harelbeke, it was becoming easy to take for granted just how brilliant these Jumbo-Visma’s collective performances were by the time Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič once again treated photographers to the sight of Jumbo-Visma riders celebrating victory together while crossing the finish line on the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. That deserves to be heralded as a crucial moment in their season, as does Steven Kruijswijk’s devastating turn up the Plateau de Solaison to drop all of the team’s rivals bar Ben O’Connor not only sealed Roglič’s overall victory with ease, but also foreshadowed their victorious ride to win the Tour de France the following month.
Michael Matthews, Tour de France stage 14
The drama and excitement at this year’s Tour de France was so relentless that it was difficult to give each outstanding performance its due praise; Bob Jungels, for instance, probably deserved more accolades for his 60km solo attack, as did Simon Clarke and Hugo Houle for their unlikely triumphs. We’re going to single out Michael Matthews’ victory on stage 14 as especially worthy of note. This was a ruthlessly determined performance of which we didn’t know the Australian was capable, involving him out-climbing a number of purists on the steep finish to the Mende Aerodrome, and digging stunningly deep to catch and pass riders who shortly before seemed to have left him for dead — all in the baking heat of a July afternoon.Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Wout van Aert, Tour de France stage five
Wout van Aert’s sublime Tour de France was not only special for his personal success of winning three stages and the attacking joie de vivre with which he rode, but also the essential support role he played in ensuring Jonas Vingegaard won the yellow jersey. In particular, his ride during on the cobblestones of stage five, when he dropped back to help pace Vingegaard after the Dane had fallen almost a minute adrift from Tadej Pogačar and the other GC contenders following a mechanical, was of invaluable importance to the team.
Considering just how much time can be lost on the cobblestones, and how the crash of Primož Roglič had stretched the team’s resources to breaking point, it’s no exaggeration to say that without Van Aert’s physical strength and calmness under pressure on that day – that virtually single-handedly limited Vingegaard's losses from what might have been several minutes to just 13 seconds – Vingegaard would not have won the Tour de France.
Remco Evenepoel, San Sebastian
Remco Evenepoel’s coming-of-age season will be best remembered for his victories at the Vuelta a España, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the World Championships, but even amid all that brilliance, his ride to win the San Sebastian classic in August might just have been his masterpiece. Repeating the same strategy that had seen him win at Liège in the spring, Evenepoel triumphed from a long-range attack, only this time from the even greater distance of 45km from the finish, and, unlike at the Worlds, rode totally alone with no assistance from anyone else. The evidence for this ride’s exceptionality was in the winning margin, which, at 1-58, was the highest of any World Tour one-day race since Fabian Cancellara at the 2010 Paris-Roubaix.
Cover image: Getty