For cycling fans, 2021 turned out to be not a terrible year with regards to great racing, amazing upsets, brilliant rivalries and an all-round feel good factor that put a smile on all our faces.
Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of cycling when she won the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, beating what was probably the strongest female national team ever assembled by the Dutch.
Wout Van Aert became only the second man in history to win a sprint, mountains and time trial stage in the Tour de France. Matthieu Van Der Poel also sparkled at the Tour, winning an incredible Stage 2 to wear Yellow for six days in his first ever Tour.
Marianne Vos sealed her reputation as the most dominant female of all time (many consider her better even than the great Eddy Merckx) by taking wins at Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race, and she then won her 30th stage in the Giro Donne – incredible!
Oh, and at the World Cyclocross champs, #8 in the bag…
We also saw the very first women’s Paris-Roubaix in 2020, long overdue, a race that was won by a mesmerising and quite brutal solo long-range effort by Britain’s Lizzie Deignan. It was such a fitting win for an inaugural P-R, and a dream advertisement for the women’s sport.
Another Brit brought a tear to many a fan’s eye when he pulled off something of a miraculous comeback at the Tour de France. Yes, Mark Cavendish turned back the clock to win four stages, take the Green Sprint jersey and move equal to Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins.
Slovenia proved itself again to have the two best Grand Tour riders in the world in Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic. Pogacar simply dominated the competition at the Tour and seemed to be able to win whenever he wanted to. Roglic was just as impressive at the Vuelta, where he won his third straight title, as well as the Olympic Time trial title.
Yes, it was quite a year, but what about 2022? Let’s take a look at the potential high points of the upcoming season.
- The Women’s Tour de France 24th – 31st July
Known as the Tour de France Femme. It has been more than 30 years since there has been a women’s Tour. The event was first started in the 80s but never really got going and was something of an on-off affair, due to lack of sponsorship and what was deemed to be a lack of interest in the women’s side of cycling. Often overlooked however is the fact that the world governing body, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) simply lacked the motivation to truly support the women’s teams.
Kathryn Bertine, a writer and cyclist who helped push for the race, commented on this:
“It’s not that the women’s Tour de France lost money in the eighties, it’s that the organisers didn’t choose to invest in the women’s race,” Bertine said. “They treated it as a secondary sideshow. But it was very apparent that the fans loved it!”
In recent times however, interest in women’s cycling has blossomed, both with potential sponsors and fans alike. Several of the men’s World Tour teams now have women’s teams and all major women’s top level races are now covered on television.
“This is a huge moment for professional women’s cycling,” said Dutch pro Anna van der Breggen. Noting the Tour’s status as a marquee event, she added, “It’s long been a dream for many of us to compete in a women’s Tour de France.”
Anna won’t be there however, as she announced her retirement at the end of last year.
The 2022 version will be 1,029 km over eight stages. It has two mountain stages, four stages for the sprinters, and two that would suit strong flat road riders
2. Wout van Aert versus Mathieu van der Poel versus… Tom Pidcock?
Yes, I tried to leave this off the list of things to look forward to in 2022 because these two will be mentioned in everyone’s list, but I just couldn’t. The Belgian Van Aert and the Dutchman Van Der Poel are the most bankable stars in the sport right now, and without one, it seems, we could not have the other.
This pair have been racing against each other since they were 8 years old. If they’re not battling it out as favourites for cyclocross World Championships then they’re doing the same in races like Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France.
Whatever you can do, I can do better – these two seem to live by this motto.
One day, Van Aert pulls off a spectacular move in a race. Then Van Der Poel does something equally if not more amazing. Never has anyone made the transition from top tier cyclocross to road racing as smoothly and successfully and actually there have been few pure road riders who have racked up results equal to these two.
Both riders missed the World Cyclocross Champs this year in January but we will definitely see them battling it to at the Spring Classics and, let’s hope, again at the Tour de France.
The World Road Race Championships course in Wollongong, Australia looks one for the sprinters, and we know both VDP and WVP can sprint. That would be a great 2-man battle to see.
But wait! Who is that on the horizon? Can it be… Superman? No, um, it’s just Pidcock and his odd victory pose winning last weekend’s Cyclocross World Champs.
I feel that Pidcock is still underrated by some commentators and journos and that some people just don’t know what quite to make of him. Without wanting to sound rude, he just doesn’t look like someone who should be this good.
Unlike WVA and VDP, Pidcock doesn’t look as powerful, weighing in at a trim 50kg. But has he got real power in those legs, allied with a sharp racing brain and a burning motivation to win. He’s been winning, too, since he started racing, and not just on the mud but road too.
Born in 1999 and now aged just 22, at 16 he won the World Junior ITT Champs and Paris-Roubaix Juniors, the same year he won the World and European Cyclocross championships – some going is that. The best juniors though often fade away, but not Pidcock.
In 2017, just 18, he won the UCI Cyclocross U23 World Cup, in 2019 on the road he won the Tour Alsace and Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. Remarkable as it is for a man that seems older than his years, it was just 18 months ago in Italy where he won the Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, aka the Baby Giro.
Then let’s mention the MTB side of things, lest we forget. Pidcock won the World U23 XCO Champs in 2020 and the Olympic title last year.
Then in his first proper year at the Classics, he showed clearly his intent, racking up a win at Brananste Pijl and coming very close indeed at 4 other Classics. with 2nd at Amstel after a fine ride. OK, I’ve gone a bit here but this is all to show that Pidcock is a very serious threat to riders like VDP and WVA and that he also may – may, mind – turn into a Grand Tour winner too. At 22, the Ineos is the limit!
Terrible jokes aside, and shoot me for this in 5 years if I am wrong but I think Pidcock may turn out to be the rider of his generation. Compare him to Remco? Maybe in another article!
3. The Grand Tour Showdowns: The Giro, the Tour & the Vuelta
I love a Grand Tour, and I know you do too. And what’s not to love? Time trials, sprint battles, mountain stages, pain, sweat and tears and the beautiful scenery, over three long weeks. That’s cycling fan heaven!
As mentioned in the introduction, Slovenians Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar have dominated the Vuelta and the Tour respectively in recent years, with Pogacar being the supreme rider having won against Roglic head-to-head at the Tour, specifically in 2020. Roglic though crashed out in France last year so it will be intriguing to see if he can bring a serious challenge to his countryman this year.
Before Pogacar burst onto the scene, Ineos Grenadiers (formerly Team Sky) had dominated the Grand Tours for several years, notably with Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, but their power waned. This year however they have a very strong squad, with 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, and also winner of the 2019 Tour and 2021 Giro Egan Bernal. 2020 Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, Olympic Gold Medalist Tom Pidcock and Spanish champion Omar Fraile being in the team make Ineos Grenadiers look like they could make a serious challenge to the Slovenians dominance and challenge for all three Grand Tours.
Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), and the extremely talented and young Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) could all be challeging too, given the right circumstances.
4. Mark Cavendish vs Eddy Merckx?
Aiming to beat Eddy Merckx’s 34 Tour de France stage wins last year, the veteran Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep), the Manx Missile rounds the final corner on the Champs-Elysee in a perfect position, sitting in 6th position, just on the wheel of Wout Van Aert. But then the Briton found himself boxed in on the left and Van Aert sprinted to victory, leaving Cavendish banging his handlebars in frustration.
To be fair to Cavendish, Merckx’s record 24 stage wins looked like a record that would never be beaten at the start of the 2021 Tour. Cavendish sat on 30 Tour victories at the start of the race but had been written off by both commentators and fans alike.
‘Too old’, some said.
‘Too slow’, said others.
Yet he was neither. Four incredibly moving victories followed, and almost that elusive 5th…
It was the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team boss, the wiley Partick Lefevre, who decided to give Cavendish another contract in 2021, and he’s done the same this year. On re-signing Cavendish last year, Lefevre said “In my opinion it’s one of the best moves I ever did.”
However, teammate Fabio Jakobsen has said that Cavendish will not be in the team at the Tour in 2022, that he will ride the Giro instead.
The 36-year-old had a troubled off-season in 2021, sustaining significant injuries in a crash on the track in Ghent, and was the victim of an assault and burglary at his home in November.
But… but! Well, you never know! Cavendish was not initially selected to ride the 2021 Tour either but he did, and it would be great to see him trying to beat Merckx’s record.
5. The Neo Pros To Watch
‘Neo-pro’ is a term used in cycling that simply means ‘new professional’ and is applied to anyone that is starting their career in a top-tier pro team.
Traditionally in pro cycling, a rider would need at least three or more years at the top pro level to develop the stamina, power and knowledge needed to compete for victories, usually coming to the peak of their powers in their late 20s.
Recently however, young riders such as Tadej Pogacar and Egan Bernal have exploded onto the scene and won major events, leading the top teams to bring on other young talents much earlier.
Let’s take a look a three stand out prospects.
Filippo Baroncini (Italy, 21 years) will be joining Trek Segafredo and already looks the finished article. He is the current Under 23 World road champion and Italian time trial champion. His time trialing and sprinting abilities means he is best suited to the hard one day Classics as well as sprint stages at the Grand Tours.
Luke Plapp (Australia, 21 years) signed for Ineos Grediers World Tour team from their development squad. A brilliant time trials, he won the Australian U23 TT in 2020 and then went one better when he beat the 4-time Australian TT winner Luke Durbridge (Team Bike Exchange) last year by an impressive 43 seconds, when he was just 20 years old.
In January Plapp put in a tremendous effort to win the Aussie Road Race Champs with a 30km solo effort. He looks to be a rider that dominate in Grand Tour and Worlds’ time trials in years to come, and be a force in the Classics.
Cian Uijtdebroeks (Belgium, 18 years)
Remember this name, if you can pronounce it! He’s been compared to his countryman Remco Evenepoel, who is one of the most exciting young riders on the World Tour, but some say Uijtderbroeks is even better. He will be riding for Bora-Hansgrohe this year.
Adept in time trials (he won both the Belgian Junior TT Champs and the ITT at the Trofeo Guido Dorigo-Solighetto in 2021) and in the mountains (he won the KOM and the overall at the Aubel–Thimister–Stavelot last year too), this is a young man used to winning.
He won several junior races last year, such as the one day Classique des Alpes race, 4 minutes ahead of the 2nd placed rider. The other teams tried everything to prevent him getting away but he destroyed the field.
This year he will likely be racing in smaller one week stage races but if he wins early in the season, we may well be hearing more of him.
Here’s Cian destroying the field at Classique Des Alpes, and you gotta love this video, more 1991 than 2001!