I’ve been tasked with writing a review of the cycling year that was 2021 by my co-editor at Bicycle Magazine here in Taiwan, and I said ‘Sure but as it will be a Facebook post, I’d better condense the year into 500 words, or no one will read it.’
I soon realised that would be impossible, so, I’ve gone for the three standouts. (ok so I just finished the first one and it may become 4… if I’m not careful I’ll be here til 2022).
What a year it was for the world: just as Covid seemed to be under control, it’s all gone crazy again. But let’s forget about that for a few moments, and look at the year of pro cycling…
And what a great year it was! And where should we start as we review it? There were so many highlights, but let’s start, for once, at the end…
The Men’s World Road Race Champs, September 26th, Flanders, Belgium
Julian Alaphilippe defended his 2020 Worlds victory with a stunning series of almost superhuman efforts to defend his title with a fine – no, a remarkable, a truly stunning – solo victory in the home of cycling.
Quite often the World’s races are more procession than blockbuster, featuring at the core of the narrative a slow and very long (who said dull?) build up where all the stars watch and negate each other, only for the explosion of attacks to come in the last handful of kilometres. When Alaphilippe won in 2020, you only had to watch the last few moments to understand the story of the whole race.
2021 was different. Very different! My eyes were glued to the TV from the off. The top riders were mostly all in great form, Pogacar and Roglic had won the Tour and the Vuelta respectively and were on the same team of course, the WVA / VDP thread was burning bright, there was the sub-plot in the Belgian team with Remco and would he follow orders when needed (answer: no), and, it was in Belgium, Flanders.
What more could you ask for?
The drama unfolded almost from the start. Benoît Cosnefroy launched a move with 178km to go, signalling France’s intent to stand up and scrap, and the tension did not drop one iota from then on in. Wout Van Art then started a series of serious attacks with 168km to go. Madness, surely! But then… well, it is Van Aert, so who knows?
Alaphilippe attacked with still 58km to ride and pulled with him many of the other favourites, then he attacked twice more only to be pulled back. It looked for all in the world that he’d burnt too many matches with his eagerness to go on the offensive, But no, he as just softening up the opposition for the knockout punch.
Astonishingly, he put in a 3rd attack and broke the lot of them, pushing on to the line with enough time to be able to truly enjoy his victory.
It was not a good win… nor a great win… it was a heroic win, and it was beautiful! And whilst the Belgian team was busying pissing them selves off with each other, Alaphilippe pissed off the Belgian fans all by himself, so thats a bonus.
After the race, Alaphilippe said:
‘This wasn’t planned. I went all out, I have no words! I thought of my child on the final lap. There were many supporters for Belgium, wanting Van Aert to win, and they asked me to slow down. They weren’t nice words but it gave me more motivation.”
Van Baarle (NED) was 2nd with Valgren of Denmark 3rd, both 32 seconds behind.