We take a look at the performances that left us in awe in 2019.
10. Marianne Vos, La Course
2019 was the year that Marianne Vos emerged from her relative slumber to return to something like her very best. Perhaps her victories weren’t quite in the swashbuckling manner of her peak years, but she did establish a habit of winning through a mixture of sprints and punchy late accelerations, best epitomised by her devastating acceleration to win La Course.
With 400 metres to go Vos burst out of the peloton, catching Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) – who had moments earlier still seemed capable of surviving – in a flash, then sprinting all the way to the finish line without anyone else getting anywhere near her. She had time to sit up, celebrate, and still finish several seconds ahead of everyone else.
9. Remco Evenepoel, Clásica San Sebastián
If the peloton had maybe underestimated Remco Evenepoel before the junior sensation made his WorldTour debut at San Sebastián, they certainly won’t anymore after what happened in that race. When he attacked with Toms Skujiņš 20km from the finish, it initially was interpreted as a covering move in service of his more senior team-mates, with little urgency shown by the favourites for the race to chase them down.
Fast forward half an hour, however, and Evenepoel was crossing the line with his arms aloft and not another rider in sight, having used the diesel engine that would see him win the European time trial title a week later and silver at the Worlds a month later to drop Skujiņš and solo to victory.
8. Thomas De Gendt, Tour de France stage eight
Every year the breakaway specialist-par excellence Thomas De Gendt produces at least one of the season’s best rides, and two of his wins from 2019 could easily have made this list. Ultimately we went for his triumph at the Tour de France over the Volta a Catalunya stage he won by over two-and-a-half-minutes due to the unmatched prestige of the race and considerable calibre of the opposition.
De Gendt himself ranks this as one of his very best, perhaps better even than his famous success on the Stelvio seven years ago, and it’s easy to see why. From the moment he slipped into the breakaway at the start of the day to when he crossed the finish line five hours later, he was forced to dig deep, first battling with his breakaway companion Alessandro De Marchi over relentlessly undulating terrain, then holding off a chasing group of stars to seal a typically hardy victory .
7. Annemiek van Vleuten, Giro Rosa stage five
Annemiek van Vleuten wasted no time in making her move on the queen stage of the Giro Rosa in June. After landslides forced a redesigned route that removed the Passo di Gavia, the Dutchwoman was determined to make the very most of the climbing that did remain, and attacked from the very bottom of the revised finishing climb, the Passo Fraele.
She immediately opened up a gap, which got bigger and bigger throughout the climb, and she eventually reached the summit with a huge advantage of nearly three minutes. That such a crushing ride does not even rank as Van Vleuten’s best this year (more on that later) demonstrates just what an exceptional 2019 she had.
6. Mathieu van der Poel, Tour of Flanders
Finishing fourth on debut at the Tour of Flanders, one of the world’s toughest races, is a fine achievement in itself, but that result alone doesn’t tell half the story of what Mathieu van der Poel did that day. At 60km from the finish, the Dutchman had a lapse in concentration while looking to dismount for a mechanical, tumbling over the handlebars and hitting the tarmac hard.
It looked like his race was over there and then, and he spent a considerable amount of time nursing his injuries before remounting. However, he refused to give up, and demonstrated extraordinary resilience to slowly work his way back up the field to eventually rejoin the group of favourites, and sprint for fourth. Without the crash, it’s fair to say that he probably would have won the race by a country mile.
5. Tadej Pogačar, Vuelta a España stage 20
A star was born in 2019 in the form of Tadej Pogačar, and his star-making ride came on the penultimate day of the Vuelta a España. The 20-year-old Slovenian had already wowed everyone on his Grand Tour debut by winning two stages to place fifth overall going into the stage, but he wasn’t done there.
Showing considerable ambition as well as bold endeavour, he caught everyone off guard by attacking with almost 40km still to ride, and somehow – despite having for the first time in his career accumulated three whole weeks of racing in his young legs – managed to distance all the other GC riders to not only win the stage, but leap all the way up to third overall.
4. Julian Alaphilippe, Tour de France stage 14
Many of Julian Alalphilippe’s performances could have made this list – his late attack to win Milan-San Remo, his untouchable sprint up the Mur de Huy to win Flèche Wallonne, and an unexpected Tour de France time trial victory in a discipline that had been perceived as a weakness.
But the one ride that we think best reflects his combative spirit was his defence of the yellow jersey on the Col du Tourmalet. He had already defied the odds on La Planche des Belles Filles and the aforementioned time trial to retain the overall lead, but going wheel-to-wheel with the peloton’s establishment of climbers on one of the world’s most iconic climbs to finish second behind Thibaut Pinot at the summit was his zenith.
3. Chloe Dygart, World Championships elite women’s time trial
Heading into the women’s time trial at the Yorkshire Worlds this year, 22-year-old prodigy Chloe Dygart had been touted as a potential contender on the basis of her exploits on the track and in domestic road time trials. But no-one was prepared for the extent to which she would trounce the field on this blustery day in Harrogate.
The young American produced one of the all-time great performances against the clock, defeating runner-up Anna van der Breggen by 1-33, the biggest ever margin in an individual Worlds time trial, and passing a whole seven different riders who started out on the course before her. Whatever she goes on to achieve in the future, this extraordinary ride will live long in the memory.
2. Mathieu van der Poel, Amstel Gold Race
Prior to Amstel Gold Race, we’d seen enough of cyclocross superstar Mathieu van der Poel to know that he was going to be good on the road. We just didn’t realise he was this good.
In just one race the 24-year-old seemed to rewrite the laws of what was possible in road racing. Received wisdom has it that anyone foolhardy enough to chase down a breakaway on their own without the help of any of the riders around him would find himself too tired to triumph come the finishing sprint.
However, the reverse happened in this case – instead of Van der Poel, who was doing all the pulling, it was the riders clinging onto his wheel who had nothing left at the finish, allowing the Dutchman to pull-off a jaw-dropping victory. It was a performance that whet the appetite for what he might go on to achieve in the future.
1. Annemiek van Vleuten, World Championships elite women’s road race
Winning from a solo attack 100km from the finish in any circumstances would be enough to make headlines. To do so in the biggest race of the season, with some of the best riders in the world chasing you down on relentlessly challenging terrain, is to put in a performance for the ages.
“All day I thought it was super stupid, what I was doing,” Annemiek van Vleuten admitted after pulling off her remarkable feat in Yorkshire, yet what initially looked at best a decoy move in service of her teammates and at worst an overamibitous folly turned out to be a masterstroke, as Van Vleuten kept going and going to ultimatley win by over two minutes.
Three months on, you still feel that the enormity of her achievement hasn’t quite sunk in, but there will be plenty of time to reflect next season as the Dutchwoman proudly sports the rainbow jersey.