’22 Preview: Chapter 4 – The Pack (2): The Opportunists

Our pack may not be top of the list of favourites for every race they are involved in, but they are up there fighting, and have plenty of opportunities to take big wins. The previous chapter looked at those teams who are challenging the top dogs for supremacy. This piece will focus on a set of teams who take their chances when they can; they spread their resources and play to their strengths, and there will be no shortage of names from these teams on the list of victories come the end of the season.

ICYMI: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 looked at the Top Dogs, and Chapter 3 focused on the Challengers.

EF Education First-EasyPost

Everyone’s second favourite team (or something like that), EF are certainly a unique bunch; one of the few outfits in the contemporary peloton with a discernable identity, a vibe perhaps would be a more adequate term. The American team headed by Jonathan Vaughters is a diverse bunch of individuals, yet there’s no shortage of opportunities and you can never rule them out as they possess quite the range of talent.

Ins and Outs

EF brought together a seemingly incongruous bunch of new signings across the off-season, but they have recruited bags of talent, along with a group of characters who on the surface of it, seem to fit the mould. From seasoned pros like the smiliest man in cycling Esteban Chaves, to older riders looking for another shot at success such as Brits Owain Doull and James Shaw, to rising stars like Marijn van den Berg and Ben Healy.; but perhaps their most intriguing signing is their most recent: climbing sensation Mark Padun. The Ukrainian made waves at the Dauphiné before being frustrated by his team’s tactics at La Vuelta which prevented him from taking his own chances. Instinctively, this feels like a good fit for an interesting and off-beat character, who can expect more freedom with his new team.

2021 Highlights

EF made headlines in all kinds of different ways in 2021. Lachlan Morton, adventurer without portfolio, completed his alternative Tour de France, going off-piste in the most hipster and yet hardcore fashion to generate incredible headlines and raise loads of money for a good cause.

It’s so EF to start with something that isn’t even connected to racing, isn’t it? Racing, at which they did extremely well, remaining on brand as predictably unpredictable, the wins coming from different riders in the most unexpected ways. Neilson Powless won at San Sebastian, Magnus Cort ran riot at La Vuelta, and Michael Valgren once again had a late surge of form to podium at the World Championships.

The team arguably fell short on their GC goals, though. Following a podium spot for Hugh Carthy at La Vuelta in 2020, hopes were high for the lanky northerner to achieve in the Grand Tours. He managed 8th on GC at the Giro and retired from La Vuelta through illness, before finishing a troubled season with a spate of DNFs at the Italian Classics.

2022 Goals

EF are one of those teams who lack a standout leader and as a result, it’s easy forget that they are still absolutely stacked. Where other teams flounder without clear leadership, EF thrive on variety and you get the impression there’s no hierarchy, and anyone could take their chance on the day if they were feeling good. It gives them the advantage of adaptability and the ability to be spontaneous, and let’s not forget they have a rider for almost any circumstance. Alberto Bettiol, Hugh Carthy, Magnus Cort, Neilson Powless, Michael Valgren – their roster sparkles with potential race-winners. They are somewhat lacking in the sprinting department but plenty of their riders have strong finishes, and with young fast man Marijn van den Berg on board, they may have chances on flat stages too. They are likely to target breakaways, stage wins and one-day races.


With a mixed bag of brilliant talents and a general vibe of positivity, it will be intriguing to see how EF put together their season. With Bettiol revitalised, Mark Padun given a new lease of life and Magnus Cort in ominous form last season, there’s every chance they will take some big wins in 2022.


Another team who have a strong sense of identity, the Trek team strikes me as a unified force who set sensible and realistic goals, that they occasionally achieve. Refocusing their attention to one-day racing and stage hunting

Ins and Outs

Trek lose a key man in Vincenzo Nibali; the Shark was only with Trek for two seasons, but he will ride his final season with Astana. Trek have added a fair few names to their roster, with a mix of younger riders such as Antwan Tolhoek and Daan Hoole, and more experienced heads: the likes of Tony Gallopin and Jon Aberasturi. Their most exciting acquisition is one Filippo Baroncini. The young Italian won the U23 World Championship road race in 2021 and is a strong rider with a big engine, who will likely do well in one-day races as he begins his first season as a pro.

Jasper Stuyven celebrates victory at Milano-Sanremo

2021 Highlights

There were highs and lows for Trek last season. Their year opened with success, as 2019 world Champion Mads Pedersen won at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and Jasper Stuyven won the first Monument of the year, powering to victory at Milano-Sanremo. Things did not go so well in the Grand Tours, with Giulio Ciccone crashing out of both the Giro and La Vuelta, and although Bauke Mollema was able to win a stage at the Tour de France, the second half of the season was less successful, with very little to show for their efforts and continued bad luck for Mads Pedersen, who might hold some sort of record for the number of times he crashed in 2021. Jasper Stuyven finished 4th in the World Championship road race in Leuven after a day to forget for the Belgian team.

2022 Goals

Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven are two big hitters who can challenge the best riders out there over their favoured terrain. If they are on form they will both be dangerous and Trek will look to them for wins in one-day races and on trickier flat stages of longer races. Giulio Ciccone will lead the team at the Giro, a race at which he has been steadily improving over the years. A podium finish is likely his aim. The Tour and La Vuelta are less certain but it’s likely the team will go stage hunting once more in France with the hope of repeating Bauke Mollema’s 2021 success.


While Trek sometimes fly under the radar, if their key riders can time their form and stay upright, and they continue to aim for realistic targets, it could be a really good year for the American team.


It may only have been their their first season as a WorldTour team, but everyone’s favourite neon-sleeved Belgians looked right at home in the peloton, and they didn’t waste time in making their presence felt.

Ins and Outs

The Belgian team have been very active in the transfer market, picking up a number of young riders as well as a few more experienced racers including sprinter Alexander Kristoff to bolster their ranks, as Danny van Poppel departed. Perhaps their most exciting new signing is U23 World Championship runner up, Eritrean Biniam Girmay, a powerhouse of a rider who has already picked up his first win of the season at the Trofeo Alcudia, and at the age of 21 looks to be an incredible talent.

2021 Highlights

Intermarché were anything but wallflowers at the Grand Tours. They dominated for much of La Vuelta, with Rein Taaramäe taking a stage and the red jersey in the first week, perennial nearly-man Louis Meintjes challenging on GC before he sadly crashed out on stage 19 and Odd Christian Eiking the unlikely bearer of the red jersey for a whole week before Primož Roglič wrested it from his shoulders. Let’s not forget the Giro d’Italia, where the team produced one of the most memorable moments of the season courtesy of the fantastic breakaway win of Taco van der Hoorn.

The team grabbed a couple of other odd wins on one-day and stage races, mostly courtesy of van der Hoorn and Danny van Poppel, but all in all, it’s fair to say they were probably pretty happy with how things went.

2022 Goals

If you were to offer Intermarché a repeat of last year’s level of success in 2022, they would probably bite your hand off. However, that’s not to say they are lacking in ambition. Some would argue the team performed beyond expectation last season and as such, to aim for similar goals would be prudent. They will look to Girmay to fulfil his potential in his first year with the team and lead them in one-day races, Taco van der Hoorn to repeat his breakaway antics and Lorenzo Rota to improve on his recent close calls and achieve some wins.


A popular team among cycling fans, many will hope to see Intermarché repeat their successes of 2021, but they may truly have to harness the power of opportunism to grab their chances when they arise.


The first French team to feature in the preview, AG2R were also the most successful of the French World Tour teams in 2021. They made headlines before a bike had been ridden in anger with the revelation of their new kit, the brown bib shorts dividing the crowd like marmite. They retain the shorts this year along with the sense of promise that their good run of form will continue.

Ins and Outs

The team have made barely a ripple in the big pond of the transfer market, losing a couple of riders, including Tony Gallopin, and bringing a couple on board, including Clément Berthet from Delko and Felix Gall from DSM. They consolidate by retaining the core of their team, aiming for consistency going into the new season.

2021 Highlights

AG2R’s moments of last season can be distilled quite simply: one stage win in each Grand Tour, courtesy of Andrea Vendrame (at the Giro), Ben O’Connor (at the Tour de France) and Clement Champoussin (at La Vuelta). The wins were all memorable in their own way and reflected the team’s plentiful climbing talent. Ben O’Connor’s win almost propelled the team into the yellow jersey following an impressive solo effort where he rode away from the pairing of Sergio Higuita and Nairo Quintana in grim conditions to win in the Alps.

The team’s classics unit was less successful, with veterans Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen falling short in one-day races, although van Avermaet’s third place at the Tour of Flanders was arguably an achievement worth noting, in the year which marked the end of his reign in the infamous golden helmet.

2022 Goals

Following a lack of results in the classics it’s likely that the team will dedicate a portion of their resources to rectifying this in the upcoming season. Benoit Cosnefroy is rising to his best form has the potential to become AG2R’s primary focus in terms of wins, with Aurélien Paret-Peintre another rider who promises much and could come good this season. Beyond them, there are potential stage winners scattered throughout the team: Dorian Godon, Clement Champoussin and Andrea Vendrame along with Ben O’Connor who will try his luck on GC at the Tour de France again this year, aiming for the yellow jersey which narrowly evaded him in 2021.


The brown shorts remain and as far as I’m concerned, the most stylish French team in the peloton is also the strongest. They will try their luck across various forms of the sport and they will likely surprise a few once again.


Keep up with the ‘22 Preview series over the next couple of weeks to find out which teams are aiming for what in the coming season. Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss a post, and if you’d like to support the site, I’d be hugely grateful – you can do so at my Ko-Fi page. Thanks for reading!

’22 Preview: Chapter 3 – The Pack (1): The Challengers

Welcome back to ’22 Preview, a series of articles in which I take a look at each of the men’s World Tour teams (and a few added extras) in an effort to see what the future holds for them in this new season. In Chapters One and Two, I examined the fortunes of the Top Dogs – the four teams who are likely to challenge for the biggest prizes this year. The next two posts will look at the Pack – eight teams who will try to keep up with, or even, outshine their wealthier rivals, as the season unfolds.

The Challengers are four teams who aren’t just making up the numbers; they’re causing the favourites some significant headaches, or are even turning the tables and becoming the favourites themselves, in certain circumstances. Check out my previews of Bahrain Victorious, Movistar, Alpecin-Fenix and BORA-Hansgrohe, below.


2021 was a good year for the Bahrain team, as they made good on the promise of their new name and actually won some stuff.

They arguably over-achieved in all of the Grand Tours, and were never far from the headlines both on and off the bike. Will they remain in the limelight in 2022?

Ins and Outs

Although Bahrain haven’t been a major player in the transfer market this season, they’ve made some sensible acquisitions, adding stars of the future such as Danish U23 time trial champion Johan Price-Pejtersen as well as seasoned old hand Luis Leon Sanchez. They’ve retained their full core of key personnel and look to continue their form as a strong unit going into the new season, with the only notable mover being Mark Padun, who had a chequered season but showed great promise in the mountains.

2021 Highlights

With stage victories in all three Grand Tours, and podiums in two, Bahrain shone over three weeks, but they also picked up wins on other ground. Sonny Colbrelli had a stand-out season, winning the European Championships, the Benelux Tour overall (with teammate Matej Mohoric in second) and finally putting together an unforgettable ride to win Paris-Roubaix. There were other reasons to celebrate, too. Damiano Caruso pulled out a surprise second place at the Giro and topped it off with a stage at La Vuelta. The spirited GC effort at La Vuelta was as welcome as it was unexpected, and Gino Mäder rose to the challenge as super domestique for Jack Haig, securing the white jersey in the process to top off a breakout year.

Iconic: Sonny Colbrelli’s Paris-Roubaix victory was arguably the standout moment of Bahrain’s season

2022 Goals

If Bahrain can match 2021’s achievements in the coming season they would doubtless be content. It will be very much ‘as you were’, with the key players all targeting similar goals – one-day races for Colbrelli, week-long targets for Mohoric, and Haig likely to go for GC once again in at least one Grand Tour. There’s likely to be a fair amount of stage-hunting along the way, and following another disappointing season in 2021, the big question for the team will be: can Mikel Landa produce a result? He targets the pink jersey at the Giro and it’s fair to say that, with the talent Bahrain has besides Landa, the Spaniard could find himself increasingly adrift in a career which has faltered in recent years.


Bahrain bring a well-rounded unit to the new season capable of challenging in every area. While some may say they over-achieved last season, their success announced them as contenders to the traditional top teams, and it’s likely they will continue on this trajectory in 2022.


Arguably Movistar’s greatest achievement of the past season has been the continuing popularity of their Netflix show ‘The Least Expected Day’. It’s raised the profile of the team while simultaneously providing fodder for the team’s detractors, as their questionable tactics and ongoing internal politics gave the impression of a team without a plan.

Ins and Outs

Miguel Angel Lopez is the biggest name to leave the team, following the Vuelta drama that saw him stepping off the race on stage 20. Movistar have sustained a few other notable losses, with the unsettled Marc Soler lured by Team UAE, and loyal servants David Villella and Dario Cataldo also departing. The team go some way to replacing them with a further pair of Spaniards, Gorka Izagirre and Alex Aranburu.

2021 Highlights

The Spanish outfit have long been derided for their inability to unite behind one leader and the strategy certainly proved problematic for them once again in 2021. They picked up a few small wins, including a couple for the perennially competitive Alejandro Valverde, but the best they could do at a Grand Tour was a single stage win at La Vuelta. Granted, they came second on GC through Enric Mas, but only after an ignominious display from Miguel Angel Lopez as the joint leader policy once again failed to translate into a coherent plan. A costly strategy as they were left with no choice but to part ways with Superman.

2022 Goals

Losing Lopez and Soler is a blow and finding victories may be a more difficult proposition this season. However, wins will be secondary to ‘La Ultima Bala’ as the veteran has finally decided to end his long career. Expect overblown emotional montages and plenty of hopeful but ultimately fruitless attacks at Grand Tours as the man who has arguably run the show at Movistar for several of his eleven years milks his final year of competitive racing for all it’s worth (update: he’s already taken his first win of the season at the Trofeo Andratx, so it’s started out well). Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him resurface at a Pro level team a la Davide Rebellin once he realises life off the bike isn’t for him.

Outside of the Valverde circus, and in a startling turn of events, the team have already announced they will go to the Tour de France with just one leader: Enric Mas. Valverde will ride the Giro and La Vuelta where he will be hoping for a stage win, the perfect fairytale ending.

The team will look to Aranburu to bring about some success in one-day races; he was 6th at Omloop and 7th at Milano-San Remo in 2021 so it’s not out of the question to imagine that he might be able to produce something for the team on his day.


It’s always been Bala. At least, it sure feels that way. This season will mark the end of an era but, if there is any mercy in the world, a new beginning for the likes of Enric Mas who has a good few years of his peak ahead of him and, outside of the shadow of Valverde, could remake the team into a more cohesive and unified force. Maybe.


The top ranking UCI ProTeam in 2020 proved yet again in 2021 that they deserved their spot alongside the World Tour teams. They ranked in the top five in terms of wins across the season. While much of the spotlight inevitably falls on Mathieu van der Poel, the team have proven beyond a doubt that they are not a one-man band, with nine separate riders chalking up victories throughout the year.

Ins and Outs

Alpecin have maintained their steady state in the off-season, retaining their core riders and MVPs and bringing in new talent from their development squad, along with one or two new signings, the most significant arguably the Austrian Michael Gogl, who had a decent season in 2021, most notably making up the final member of the Strade Bianche breakaway supergroup as the understudy more commonly known as ‘and Michael Gogl.’ He finished an impressive 6th.

2021 Highlights

It was a great year for Alpecin-Fenix, as they racked up victories across various forms of racing, including a stage win at each of the three Grand Tours, with five overall. Mathieu van der Poel’s Strade Bianche win must surely go down as one of the most memorable cycling wins of all time. Besides these, there were plenty of wins at both week-long stage races and one-day races at various levels, including van der Poel’s unforgettable 50km solo effort on stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico, van der Poel’s sprint win in the first WT race of the season at UAE, and van der Poel’s unexpected romp around Switerland in the yellow jersey after two early stage wins at the Tour de Suisse. It wasn’t all about the Dutch superstar though; his Belgian compatriots Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen notched up numerous sprint wins between them.

MVDP in all his glory at Strade Bianche

2022 Goals

The team have established themselves as hitters both in one-day racing and at Grand Tours. With two of the strongest sprinters in the peloton in Merlier and Philipsen, if there’s a flat stage or a one-day race that offers the chance of a sprint finish, expect Alpecin-Fenix to be in the mix.

The team goals in terms of one-day racing may be somewhat scaled back as Mathieu van der Poel’s back injury continues to plague him, and his fitness will likely dictate their success at the Monuments. He had given a hint that he might challenge long-time rival Wout van Aert for the green jersey at the Tour de France, but the feasibility of such a goal will very much depend on his ability to rehabilitate in time.


It’s likely to be another good year for the Belgian team with two world class sprinters and a strong supporting cast, but they feel the absence of MVDP if he continues to struggle with injury.


Following a season of mixed fortunes, the German team look quite different going into 2022, and with arguably the hottest kit in the peloton, will this season be a new start for a team that has lost one of its major assets?

Ins and Outs

BORA’s roster has seen some significant changes, primarily as a result of the departure of Peter Sagan and his entourage. This left some fairly hefty gaps to be filled. Sam Bennett is the most notable of the new arrivals; following his acrimonious split with Quick-Step the Irish sprinter will be keen to prove a point this season. Further quality additions to the team’s ranks include Aleksandr Vlasov, Sergio Higuita, Marco Haller and Jai Hindley. Young Belgian talent Cian Uijtdebroeks rides his first year pro with the team and will be one to watch.

2021 Highlights

BORA suffered some bad luck last year, beginning with a training accident in which a number of their riders were hurt. It set a precedent for a year in which their GC hopes were dashed in the Giro as Emanuel Buchmann crashed out, and Peter Sagan failed to live up to his own high standards after he contracted covid-19 at the end of 2020 and struggled to return to form.

There was still some success; the overall win at Paris-Nice for Max Schachmann at the expense of Primož Roglič, two breakaway Tour de France victories, a handful of sprint victories for the departing Pascal Ackermann, a stage of the Giro and the green jersey for Sagan and victory at Gran Piemonte for British track star Matt Walls.

2022 Goals

The team look to be a more well-rounded unit going into the new season and have a sense of positivity that they will hope to translate into results. Perennial nearly-man Wilco Kelderman targets the Giro alongside co-leaders Emanuel Buchmann and Jai Hindley, and the main focus at the Tour de France will be the green jersey for Sam Bennett. There will be plenty of stage hunting opportunities for the likes of Lennard Kämna and Nils Pollitt, and with the array of sprinting talent the team have accrued any relatively flat one day race will offer opportunities for all-important victories.


It should be a better year for the German team in terms of overall number of wins, and in Sagan’s absence other riders will have their chance to shine. However their ability to perform at the highest levels in GC battles remains in doubt.

Keep up with the ‘22 Preview series over the next couple of weeks to find out which teams are aiming for what in the coming season. Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss a post, and if you’d like to support the site, I’d be hugely grateful – you can do so at my Ko-Fi page. Thanks for reading!

Fayetteville 2022: Cyclocross World Championships Preview

Following a thrilling 2021/2022 cyclocross winter, the season culminates this weekend for the ultimate showdown: the World Championships. The competition will be held outside of Europe for the first time since 2013 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and whilst recent headlines have focused largely on who won’t be there, the array of talent making the trip across the Atlantic is quite frankly top class across the board, and with many riders in peak form, the competition should be electric and is difficult to predict in almost every category.


It’s understandable that fans of the sport are disappointed at the lack of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert at the biggest contest of the year. The two miss the race due a back injury, and an incompatible schedule respectively. There are no shortage of hopefuls relishing their absence, however, as the upshot of it is that the rainbow stripes will be worn by someone other than the sport’s dominant pairing for the first time in 8 years: expect sparks to fly as this rare opportunity promises a fierce battle.

What we learned: Hamme and Hoogerheide edition

With Pidcock failing to take a win at either of the two races before the biggest test of the season, fans have been quick to assume weakness. There are a few caveats to bear in mind here: Pidcock came to the weekend straight from road training camp with INEOS in Mallorca, and apparently rode a three-hour training ride on the morning of Hamme. He seemed to start sluggishly, either suffering a technical issue or just taking a while to get into his rhythm, but when he chose to put in efforts, he was impressive, and would have been away were it not for the mistakes that plagued him in the final lap. Similarly at Hoogerheide, Pidcock’s attacks were incisive, but ultimately he was let down by fatigue and a rampaging Eli Iserbyt.

Is it a sign of weakness? Or a calculated attempt to test himself in two final training rides where ultimately, the results were unimportant when compared with the big goal – the rainbow jersey. I expect that he will come good on the day.

We learned too that attention is shifting to Lars van der Haar, and for good reason. The Dutchman rode brilliantly at Hoogerheide, recovering from two crashes and putting in a tenacious ride. Van der Haar is a real mood rider, and when he is on a good day he can put up a stern challenge.

The elite men were closely matched at Hoogerheide


Eli Iserbyt has managed to uphold his form this season where in previous years he has faded by the time the World Championships rolls around. He has declared his intention to race as sole leader for Belgium; a troublesome conundrum as the Belgians once again battle with internal politics. They have one less name on the team-sheet to worry about as Quinten Hermans, the winner in Fayetteville at the World Cup event in October sadly scratches due to a positive covid test. Toon Aerts may be reluctant to lead out Iserbyt, a especially in a rivalry where no love has been lost this season, or in previous. However, despite a strong start, Aerts has struggled in the latter part of the season, succumbing to a number of accidents and making mistakes more frequently. He rides from the front but more often than not is picked off later in races. Laurens Sweeck and Michael Vantourenhout may be team mates of Iserbyt but with Sweeck winning at Hamme, it’s unlikely Iserbyt is going to have things all his own way within his own national team, let alone in the race as a whole.


Pidcock has proven to be somewhat error-prone in recent weeks, however, he has a winning mentality and has shown his ability to pull out big results. He came second to Mathieu van der Poel in 2020 and with the chance to be the first ever British world champion, and with his sights set on all three world titles in three different disciplines, he will not let this one get away.

Podium: (1) Pidcock (2) Iserbyt (3) van der Haar


The undisputed queen of cross this season is Lucinda Brand. The Dutch Baloise Trek rider won in Fayetteville in October, and despite a period of losing form following the trip, has taken six of a possible thirteen World Cup wins in a highly competitive field. However, she faces the biggest test to her dominance in the shape of Marianne Vos who has limited her calendar this year and as a result, comes into the race as perhaps the less fancied of the two, in terms of odds.

Form Guide

The weekend’s racing was fierce but with the under-23’s giving the elite women a major headache, as they have all season, the dynamics among the elite women’s category alone are perhaps more difficult to gauge. Brand was predictably victorious at Hamme on Saturday, pushed closest by Shirin van Anrooij, but Sunday was a different proposition, the return of Marianne Vos to the field right before Worlds striking a psychological blow to the current World Champion, especially given the performance she put in. Vos lay in wait for almost the entire race, riding within herself and looking ominous, and when she struck, it was fatal – her burst of acceleration to take the lead in the final lap was devastating and may give Brand a few sleepless nights ahead of Saturday’s challenge.


Annemarie Worst* has performed consistently this season and could pose a threat on a good day. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado by contrast has had a rollercoaster season, with more bad days than good, but she will be keen to make an impression. Denise Betsema* is perhaps the best rider who can confidently be stated as having no chance, should the top riders stay upright. She has performed with staggering consistency across the season, but has never found a way past Brand or Vos, and third place looks to be the best she could hope to achieve.

Hungarian Kata Blanka Vas opts to ride up at elite level and may prove problematic if she is feeling good; she won in Overijse, came second at the European championships and third at Flamanville, so is a decent outside bet for a podium spot, or potential upset.

The North American contingent will be keen to make an impression, but with Klara Honsinger struggling to find form, Canadian Maghalie Rochette is probably the most likely of the non-European riders to cause an upset.


Marianne Vos is not called the Greatest of All Time for nothing. She has timed her form to perfection and despite what will undoubtedly be an epic battle, I see her holding off Brand to take the win.

Podium: (1) Vos (2) Brand (3) Vas


Yet another category that’s hard to call, each of the main contenders in the men’s under-23 has shone at some point this season. Last year’s champion Pim Ronhaar has taken three wins in U23 races and has made the elite podium, with his best result a 3rd place at Besancon. European champion Ryan Kamp has claimed a couple of second places at World Cup U23 races. Scot Cameron Mason won in Dendermonde and has racked up three further second place finishes. Belgian darling Thibau Nys will always be a threat, despite his propensity to hit the deck; he did so in fact the last time he visited the USA, in Waterloo in October. He has won a few of the X2O Trofee events but sustained an injury to his collarbone once again at the Belgian National Championships, so may not be in his best form.

Ones to Watch

Where do we begin?

Full disclosure, I’d never really heard of Joran Wyseure prior to his second place in the (admittedly under-represented) elite race in Gullegem two weekends prior. It seems he’s not just flown under the radar for many cross fans, so much as not registered on it at all. All that changed this past weekend though, as in the under-23 race at Hoogerheide Wyseure took victory, and ensured the rest of the field, if not the cycling media, would remember his name.

The field is stacked with riders capable of performing on their day; both Emiel Verstrynge and Niels Vandeputte are having strong seasons, and it could perhaps be down to team work to bring about victory. Unlike at the elite level where it’s all about Belgium, both the Belgians and the Dutch have strength in numbers at U23 level, and the Dutch will be out to ruin the Belgian party with Mees Hendrikx to add to the challenge from Kamp and Ronhaar.


This one is really hard to call. If you go with form, Wyseure is the man to beat. Mason had a bad day at Hoogerheide, but will be fired up to make good at Worlds. The verdict? Pim Ronhaar has been up there with the best at times this season; he will rise to the occasion to take the victory.

Podium: (1) Ronhaar (2) Mason (3) Wyseure


If you haven’t been gripped by the talent in this category across the course of this season, you might want to check your pulse. With very few under-23 events, those who will contend for the rainbow bands on Sunday have been mixing it with the elites all season, and they’ve pushed them close week after week, and outridden them in many cases.

Fem van Empel and Puck Pieterse’s contrasting styles during their epic battle at Flamanville

Future Proof

The future of cyclocross is in safe hands with the likes of Puck Pieterse, Fem van Empel and Shirin van Anrooij. These explosive, fearless young riders have been tearing up courses and giving the elite women plenty to think about. Fem van Empel’s poise as Marianne Vos crashed right in front of her in the snow of Val di Sole, only to calmly overtake her for the win, will live long in the memory as one of the coolest moments of the season. Puck Pieterse has been redefining women’s cross, bunnyhopping her way to an amazing 7 podiums in elite events across the course of the season and riding with such tenacity it’s impossible not to love her. And Shirin van Anrooij won the European Championships and pushed Lucinda Brand close at Hamme at the weekend so will arrive in Fayetteville confident in her form.


I predict this will be the most exciting race of the weekend. Fireworks will detonate, angels will sing, and amazing young women will absolute crush the course at Fayetteville. I think Pieterse will edge out the others for the victory.

Podium: (1) Pieterse (2) van Empel (3) van Anrooij


Like the women’s elite, the men’s junior category is another where there has been a dominant force winning everything in sight all season, and that force goes by the name of David Haverdings.

Can anyone beat him?

Much was made of the rivalry between Haverdings and his Belgian rival Aaron Dockx early in the season, with murmurings of a future rivalry on the level of van Aert/van der Poel. However following an injury mid-season, Dockx hasn’t quite found his way back to his earlier form, and in recent weeks Haverdings has been pushed closer by Dockx’s countryman, Yordi Corsus. It’s unclear who will be the team leader for the race, if there is a leader at all, but the Belgians may have to unite in order to try and find a way around the Dutchman. Outside of the low countries, Britain’s Nathan Smith has had a good season and could challenge.


It’s impossible to see past Haverdings in rainbow stripes after the weekend.

Podium: (1) Haverdings (2) Corsus (3) Smith


The World Cup has been a close-run thing this season in terms of the overall result, with Britain’s Zoe Backstedt and Leonie Bentveld from the Netherlands the two stand-out performers across the season. Bentveld took the overall victory as a result of Backstedt missing the final event after contracting covid-19. Backstedt is the clear favourite however, winning every junior race she has entered this season and achieving comparatively strong results at elite level, given her age.

Backstedt v Bentveld v…?

The two leaders are likely to take first and second spot on the podium but like David Haverdings in the men’s junior category, Backstedt is racing at a level that far exceeds her competition. Leonie Bentveld hasn’t found her way past the British rider once this season and that trend looks set to continue bar incident or accident. Backstedt missed out on her opportunity to ride for the British national jersey during her isolation, however from the weekend’s evidence it doesn’t seem to have harmed her fitness as she scored an impressive 13th place in the elite field at Hoogerheide.

In terms of their closest competition, Italy’s Valentina Corvi has pushed Bentveld close on a couple of occasions but has been ruled out due to a close contact with covid-19. The Czech pair of Katerina Hladíková and Julia Kopecky, and British junior champion Ella Maclean-Howell may all be in with a chance of a podium spot, but the fight will be among themselves for the third step.


The young Brit will make up for missing the national championship and will wear rainbows in 2022.

Podium: (1) Backstedt (2) Bentveld (3) Hladíková

Overall, assuming covid doesn’t take out any more riders, we are in for one hell of a championship weekend. With the timezone difference, for those of us in Europe who are used to watching lunchtime racing it’s the perfect opportunity to grab a beverage of your choice and enjoy an evening of thrilling competition. Don’t miss it!

*riders who have been ruled out through sickness/covid-19

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’22 Preview: Chapter 2 – Top Dogs (2)

In case you missed it: my last post introduced my new team preview series, in which I take a look at each of the men’s World Tour teams (and a select few Pro teams), their performance in 2021, their comings and goings, and their goals for 2022. Because let’s face it: we all need something to do while we count down to road season, don’t we? Check out Chapter 1 featuring INEOS Grenadiers and Team Jumbo Visma if you haven’t already.

Today’s it’s the turn of two of the biggest success stories of 2021: the most successful team, and the team containing the most successful individual rider: Quick-Step and UAE Team Emirates. It’s fair to say these two teams take two very different approaches to racing and with both set to stick to their guns and continue doing what works in the coming season, let’s break down just what it is that makes each of these cycling superpowers so good at what they do.


The team formerly known as Deceuninck, who have ditched the windows sponsor and doubled down on the flooring, will aim to begin 2022 in a similar vein to 2021. Not only did they boast the most wins of any team, they also proved their reputation for espousing the trusty adage ‘teamwork makes the dreamwork,’ with the widest spread of victories amongst their collective of riders of any team. Everyone gets a fair bite at the cherry at Quick-Step; it’s a tried and tested method that really came into its own in 2021. Unless of course, you didn’t see eye-to-eye with the top brass.

Ins and Outs

The team have incurred a few losses to their ranks, the most significant being Irish sprint sensation Sam Bennett, off to BORA-Hansgrohe with Shane Archbold following a long-running and egregious war of words with owner Patrick Lefevre. João Almeida also preferred to try his luck elsewhere, heading to UAE Team Emirates.

Despite this though, the Wolfpack retain their core personnel and continue adding young talent, snapping up the likes of unsettled Belgian Ilan van Wilder from Team DSM, British track talent Ethan Vernon and Giro 2021 stage winner Mauro Schmid.

Pack of wolves: Quick-Step doing Quick-Step things behind World Champion Julian Alaphillippe

2021 Highlights

Where do you begin? Literally at the very beginning: Davide Ballerini took the first two stages and the overall at the Tour de la Provence in early February, followed by surging to victory on opening weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The team’s success continued apace after that: Kasper Asgreen’s last gasp victory at the Tour of Flanders, Mark Cavendish’s fairytale, Merckx-equalling four stages at the Tour de France and Julian Alaphillippe’s perfectly timed, brilliant solo attack to defend the rainbow stripes in Leuven were arguably the team’s crowning achievements, but they only told part of the story. A total of nine Grand Tour stages, one-day victories at Brugge-de-Panne, E3 and Fleche Wallonie, plus a clutch of wins at stage races in Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Denmark… the list goes on.

2022 Goals

It’s probably quicker to outline what Quick-Step WON’T be targeting in 2022, because with their strength in depth they will be going all out to ensure they top the UCI World Tour Team rankings for the fifth year in six. Historically, the Belgian outfit tend to avoid GC battles, so take the Grand Tours out of the mix, and what’s left are the team’s main goals… Right?

Well, not exactly. Aside from the fact you can never quite rule out Julian Alaphillippe having a crack at the Tour, should the wind be blowing the right way, Quick-Step will this year send Remco Evenepoel to La Vuelta a España, for arguably the team’s best chance at a Grand Tour GC since Alaphillippe in 2019.

So, are they doing a reverse-INEOS, and diversifying away from concentrating solely on the classics to focus on Grand Tour domination? Perhaps not entirely. The Belgian team have always focused on their sprinting, and last year at the Tour de France was no exception. The wins, however, came from a different source than expected. This year, their number one sprinter is likely to be Fabio Jakobsen, who will face off against one of the strongest sprinting fields in a good few years in the hunt for stage wins. Kasper Asgreen will have designs on the yellow jersey too, one of a number of time trial specialists going for the win on the opening day test against the clock. The location, in his home country of Denmark, makes the goal even more appealing for Asgreen.

Of course it’s inevitable that the main goal for Quick-Step will be one day classics, but with INEOS looking more closely at the classics, Jumbo Visma strengthening their one-day squad and Tadej Pogačar aiming at four of the five monuments, they cannot expect to have things all their own way in 2022.

Key Players

There’s no ‘I’ in Wolfpack, and the Belgian team have thrived on their trademark ‘sharing is caring’ approach. That by no means precludes them from having a few aces in the pack though, and when you have the World Champion in your team, it’s not a bad start. Julian Alaphillippe will have his sights set on defending the rainbow bands and will undoubtedly have the likes of Liège–Bastogne–Liège and a stage or two at the Tour on his agenda.

Remco Evenepoel is targeting La Vuelta, and following his ill-advised tilt at the Giro d’Italia, his first race back after his lengthy recovery from the Il Lombardia horror crash, the 2022 Vuelta is undoubtedly a better prospect for the young superstar.

Fabio Jakobsen will be the team’s top sprinter following the departure of Sam Bennett, with Mark Cavendish likely to play more of a background role this season.


It’s a case of ‘as you were’ for Quick-Step, who go into the new season as strong as ever and with a range of achievable goals for a team with many cards to play.


By contrast to the wide spread of winners at Quick-Step, UAE Team Emirates quite clearly placed all their proverbial eggs in one Slovenian basket in 2021. When you have arguably the most valuable rider in the peloton, that’s fair enough, right?

Ins and Outs

Arguably the main downfall of Pogačar’s back-up squad in 2021 was the lack of strength in depth; when the going got tough, Pog quite often had to get going… by himself. When you’re Tadej Pogačar it’s not a huge issue but the team management have used their not inconsiderable wealth to add to the squad, strengthening Pogačar’s security detail in the mountains with the likes of George Bennett from Jumbo Visma and Marc Soler from Movistar and upgrading luxury domestiques, with David de la Cruz out and João Almeida in. The ex-Quick-Step man is likely to play a support role for Pog at La Vuelta in exchange for his own shot at leadership.

They’ve done a straight sprinter swap, trading Alexander Kristoff in for a younger model in the shape of Pascal Ackermann, and arguably their most significant acquisition is Spanish wunderkind Juan Ayuso, who will ride his first full year at world tour level with great expectations on his young shoulders.

2021 Highlights

It was a stellar year for Tadej Pogačar, and his team basked in the reflected glory. It started out on home turf, with the overall victory at the UAE Tour in February – would anything less have been accepted? Probably not, but it set a precedent for the rest of the year, and one which he was confidently able to follow through on.

The tuft-haired prince of Slovenia won in Tirreno-Adriatico and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, before defending his Tour de France title and truly proving he could do it all. There was a late season surge to add another Monument, Il Lombardia, and while the team picked up a few lesser wins from the likes of Juan Sebastian Molano and Matteo Trentin, the top ranked UCI rider of the year was the man of the moment. In almost all of the moments.

Tadej doing some winning. As he does.

2022 Goals

The defence of the Tour de France for the third year running will be top of the agenda for Team UAE, but with a wider range of talent on the books this year the Emirati team can look to other goals, too. João Almeida will relish the opportunity to fight for pink in Italy come May, in a race where he has shown great promise but has been frustrated for the past two years.

Tadej Pogačar ambition cannot be called in question as he targets not only the hat-trick at the Tour but also La Vuelta, not to mention the small matter of four of the five Monuments, and you’d be a fool to write him off achieving everything he sets his mind to this season.

Other new additions have been assured they will get their own chances, so expect to see the likes of Marc Soler and Davide Formolo go stage hunting at Grand Tours, should Pog put the GC out of sight early on as he did at least year’s Tour.

Key Players

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed the name Tadej Pogačar crop up once or twice over the past few years on the cycling scene. The kid’s clearly got a big future ahead of him. All joking aside, where INEOS sometimes struggle with too many leaders, and Quick-Step invest in shares of one vast super-ego, UAE Team Emirates are secure in their conviction that there is only one man for the job, and that man is Pogačar. His contract is good until 2026 and there’s no reason to think his dominance won’t last at least that long; UAE are sitting pretty and with the likes of Almeida, McNulty and Soler to support him, as well as pick up a win or two along the way, and Ayuso looking to follow in his footsteps, they are likely to be dominant for many years to come.


Things look bright for UAE Team Emirates, but with the sport developing and masses of young talent coming through across the sport, their reliance on one man could backfire if he gets injured or fatigued. Yet, Tadej Pogačar has an air of the invincible around him, and for 2022 at least, that trend looks likely to continue. In short, the man from Slovenia will win. A lot. The End.


Keep up with the ‘22 Preview series over the next couple of weeks to find out which teams are aiming for what in the coming season. Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss a post, and if you’d like to support the site, I’d be hugely grateful – you can support the site at my Ko-Fi page. Thanks for reading!

’22 Preview: Chapter 1 – Top Dogs (1)

The off-season in cycling is a slippery beast. One moment you’re flopping dramatically on the sofa, bemoaning the loss of your beloved sport, and smashing dates into ‘how many days until’ calculators to torture yourself by finding out just how long it is until you can stare at a bunch of men on bikes for six hours a day again. And the next… The new season is just around the corner.

Time has stretched and warped and compressed, because, well, it does that. Festive seasons and muddy cyclocross races and endless debates about new kits have come and gone, and what do you know, suddenly it’s mid-January and we find ourselves counting down to the 2022 season (and still waiting for EF to announce their new kit, because some things never change).

What is in store for the 18 World Tour teams this upcoming season? What are our expectations of each team, following an electrifying 2021 season? Who are the key players, and what goals does each team hope to accomplish as we enter another year of fierce competition?

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will be posting a series of previews taking a look at how each team fared in 2021, and their aims for this fresh, bright and hopeful new year in cycling. Featuring all 18 World Tour teams, and a select few Pro teams too.

First up, two posts on the Top Dogs. The four richest teams in the sport were in the top 5 most successful in 2021 in terms of world tour victories: can they stay on top for 2022?


Following a long period of Tour de France domination, the British powerhouse are undoubtedly in something of a transition phase at the moment, with the likes of Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter bringing a fresh perspective and realistic hopes for a different kind of future. Despite bagging one Grand Tour victory in each, the past couple of years have fallen short in terms of the type of success the team aspires to, and there’s no doubt they will be looking to rectify that in 2022.

Ins and Outs

The transition period is reflected in the shifting personnel at INEOS. With a cluster of veterans still on the books and hoping to make the most of their last couple of seasons, and an influx of new blood nipping at their heels, INEOS are backing up their diversification by signing the likes of Ben Tullett and Ben Turner, both successful in cyclocross and on the road. They’ve also added youngsters Kim Heiduk and Magnus Sheffield, and more experienced riders Omar Fraile and Elia Viviani, with Rohan Dennis and Gianni Moscon their most significant departures.

Most recently they have secured the services of aerodynamics expert Dan Bigham on staff in an effort to hone their time trialling skills, and they have extended the contract of Egan Bernal for another five years, putting faith in the Colombian’s ability to manage his chronic spine condition and deliver results in what should be the prime of his career.

INEOS Grenadiers: weathering the storm in style since 2021

2021 Highlights

If you look at the results and the personnel INEOS lavished on them, you’d be forgiven for thinking that week-long stage races were top of the team’s list of priorities in 2021. They threw resources at the proverbial wall to see what stuck, and as a result, they were utterly dominant in most of the week-long races they competed in, taking victory and multiple podium spots in Catalunya, Tour de Suisse, Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine. Their embarrassment of riches highlighted a bigger problem in the team though: too many chiefs. With multiple leaders for many races, the team often seemed disorganised, and the sharing is caring policy did not translate into the ultimate prize that the team covet – the Tour de France general classification. Despite taking Thomas, Carapaz, Porte and Geogehan-Hart, and achieving a third place for their trouble, it was a second year in a row without success at the race the British team have prioritised above all others.

But while their Tour de France dominance seems in decline, there is one grand tour the Grenadiers have made their own. Following Giro success in the covid-hit season of 2020, the maglia rosa belonged to INEOS in 2021 too. They showed what it meant to unite behind one leader, and Egan Bernal showed flashes of the brilliance he has always promised in Italy, on the gravel roads of Montalcino and emerging victorious from the mists over Passo Giau, but he faded in the final week to give the faithful a scare.

Later in the year there was a mountain biking Olympic gold for Tom Pidcock and rainbow bands for Fillippo Ganna at the World Championship time trial.

And lest we forget amid the remonstrations over a disappointing Tour de France performance, 2021 was the year when INEOS began to make their mark on one-day racing. Dylan van Baarle won Dwars door Vlaanderen and took an impressive second place at the World Championship road race in Leuven, and Tom Pidcock took victory at Brabantse Pijl and lost out by a hair’s breadth to Wout van Aert at Amstel Gold Race, as the beginnings of a classics outfit began to rise from the ashes of dashed yellow jersey dreams.

2022 Goals

Tour de France redemption, Giro d’Italia defence and a continuation of the development of a one-day team will be top of the list for the Grenadiers in the new season. They will be in no mood to mess around and are likely to have a clearer plan for leadership, and with a core group of young British riders ready to take on one-day racing, expect to see them play a far more prominent role at the Spring Classics.

Tom Pidcock is likely to aim for the rainbow stripes in Australia in September following his bold statement that he intends to go for three world titles in three different disciplines in the same year.

Key Players

Egan Bernal will be top of the tree in 2022, taking on the leadership role at the Tour de France in an attempt to prove that 2019 wasn’t a flash in the pan. He will have to take on two Slovenians embroiled in a three-tour-long grudge match, in order to succeed.

Richard Carapaz is arguably the team’s big hope for a grand tour overall at the Giro, and the team will undoubtedly be throwing more of their considerable resource into one-day racing, with both Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter stating their intentions to target Monuments.

Away from the road, Fillippo Ganna has stated his intention to go for the hour record on the track, and with Dan Bigham now on his side, you’d be a fool to bet against him.


After a couple of years of reinvention, 2022 could be the year in which INEOS begin a new chapter in their story, embracing the many facets of the sport to become a more well-rounded giant of the sport.


It was a rollercoaster of a year for the Dutch team. They achieved a lot despite a few significant setbacks, the first coming with the decision of Tom Dumoulin to take a step back from the sport in January. They were beset by injuries and crashes, beginning with Primož Roglič’s anguish at Paris-Nice, but they rallied and showed the true meaning of their motto ‘samen winnen’, coming together despite the loss of 50% of their team at the Tour to secure four incredible stage victories and second place in the GC.

Ins and Outs

The loss of Tony Martin, who retired at the end of 2021 after a long and successful career, is a real body blow to not only the team, but the whole peloton. In his absence Jumbo Visma will need to look to new leaders to fill the considerable void the German will leave in his wake. They have made some smart acquisitions in the transfer market, bolstering their one-day resources with Tosh van der Sande, Christophe Laporte and most recently rescuing Tiesj Benoot from the conveyor belt of Team DSM escapees, as well as going some way to replacing the significant presence of Tony Martin with Rohan Dennis, who has recently been quite vocal in his disapproval of his former team’s so-called ‘copying’ of his new team.

Also in: Milan Vader, a multi-disciplinarian with a background in mountain biking, is an intriguing and unknown prospect, and the team have added some talent from their development squad including promising time trial specialist Mick van Dijke, his twin brother Tim, and Michel Hessman.

2021 Highlights

The team had mixed fortunes in week-long stage races last season. Wout van Aert put up stern resistance to Pogačar at Tirreno-Adriatico while Primož Roglič rose and fell at Paris-Nice. The team bounced back, winning Itzulia Basque Country in a display of dominance that saw the beginnings of an unexpected rivalry between Danish domestique Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar that would keep us entertained all season.

They had a decent performance in the Spring Classics with Wout van Aert picking up two victories, at Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race, and they pocketed three Olympic medals and a silver at Worlds, half of those courtesy of Wout van Aert, and the others a time trial gold for Primož Roglič that would reinvigorate the Slovenian’s season, and a silver for Tom Dumoulin in the same event.

In the Grand Tours, the team were slow to warm up. After a disappointing Giro, there followed a Tour de France both to remember and forget, with incredible highs following devastating lows. La Vuelta proved to be the highlight as they took the GC and four stage wins courtesy of a resurgent Roglič, who also went on to pick up a couple of victories in the autumn Italian classics.

Joy for Jumbo at La Vuelta: Sepp Kuss passes his victorious team leader Primož Roglič

2022 Goals

Ever since that moment on Les Planches des Belles Filles in September 2020, it has seemed inevitable that the Pog v Rog narrative will be the centre of gravity around which entire seasons revolve. The whole world of cycling was denied the opportunity to see the rematch in 2021 following an accident-riddled first week, and it goes without saying that it will be Take 3 this summer. Yellow at the Tour is the primary goal for the team but, in an ambitious move, the team will also go for green with Wout van Aert, the saviour of last year’s lost hopes. Will it be a reach too far, or can they pull off the unthinkable?

Key Players

Primož Roglič will go for the holy grail once more: the Tour de France General Classification. Jonas Vingegaard will also make the Tour de France his main goal. The team were careful not to name him ‘co-leader’ but, as one of the few, arguably the only, rider who can make an impression on Pogačar on long climbs, the Danish rider will serve in multiple roles: as helper, agitator and fall-back option.

Wout van Aert’s ambitious set of goals include a Monument – he’s aiming for Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – along with the green jersey at the Tour. He has not mentioned the World Championships in Willunga yet but undoubtedly, after last year’s disappointment on home soil, the rainbow stripes will be high on his agenda.

Tom Dumoulin is back in action for the Dutch team. It’s unclear the type of form he’s in, but he’ll target pink at the Giro in May, with co-leader Tobias Foss at his side.


If luck can stay on their side, and with ambitious goals set out for them, 2022 could be a great year for Jumbo Visma.


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7 reasons to watch women’s cycling in 2022

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Never was the old adage more evident than in 2020, when the pandemic curtailed the cycling season and we were left bereft and grasping at the memories of 2019 and wondering when it would be back.

As a result of another old adage ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ (along with a side order of poor mental health), when cycling returned, in August of 2020, I stepped up my level of interest from ‘semi-obsessive’ to ‘beyond help.’ 

I wanted all the cycling. ALL. OF. IT. I got into cyclocross, I devoured mountain biking, and I watched smaller races that I’d never even heard of prior to 2020 except in passing on commentary for bigger races. I also watched quite a bit of women’s racing.

Here comes the confession. Buckle up.

Until this year, I’m embarrassed to say, I had only watched a minimal amount of women’s bike racing. The Olympics. The World Championships. And not a whole lot else.

Why? Well, partially for the same reason as many other men’s cycling fans: access. I didn’t even have GCN prior to 2020, and it didn’t cross my mind to seek it out elsewhere. If I had, I wouldn’t have found much. Coverage of women’s racing has been sketchy at best over the years.

So, it was a whole new world I entered at the beginning of 2021. Getting to know the women’s peloton. The characters. The dynamics. The brilliant but somewhat confusing array of purple jerseys. New races on the calendar both for the riders and for me, as a fan.

When I was able to catch a race, I was instantly drawn in. Here were a bunch of dogged, determined athletes, working their butts off for not all that much money, many of them fitting in their sporting goals around jobs and families. And it was different to men’s racing. I wanted to be IN from day 1. Invested. Take my money, I’m a paid-up, card-carrying member of the women’s cycling supporters club. (Is there one?).

It wasn’t as easy as all that, though. Work, family life, and trying to establish myself as a writer as my various revenue streams changed and shifted meant that when I wrote, I focused on what I did know: men’s racing. But goodness knows, I did my best. And I hereby promise, that 2022 will be the year I become a master of all facets of bike racing. Or at least, work my butt off trying. I’m shedding the ‘L’ plates and becoming a fully licensed fan of ALL cycling.

So, if like me, you are keen to dive into the world of women’s racing, but you’re not sure where to start, allow me in my limited wisdom to give you seven, count them, SEVEN reasons why you absolutely cannot miss the 2022 Women’s World Tour.

  1. Bona fide sporting legends

Far from a collection of unknowns trying to find their way on a global stage, women’s cycling is replete with incredibly talented athletes who have achieved a huge amount. However unfamiliar you are with the ins and outs of the women’s side of the sport, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of some of cycling’s most formidable champions.

Dutch woman Marianne Vos is widely regarded as the GOAT (Greatest of all time) not just in women’s racing, but cycling as a whole. Vos has achieved success across multiple disciplines during her extraordinary long career, including multiple World Championship titles on the track, road and in cyclocross. Alongside her, Annemiek van Vleuten, a highly decorated legend in her own right and absolute machine of a rider. Whilst their compatriot and fellow legend Anna van der Breggen retired this year, the three Dutch queens have inspired a new generation of talent.

And let’s not forget about the queens of the track. German Olympic medallists Lisa Brennauer and Mieke Kröger, Belgian World Champion Lotte Kopecky and all around British track legend Katie Archibald amongst many others all ride on the road too, so you might find there are more familiar faces among the bunch than you expect.

2. Young talent

With the increasing investment in women’s racing, has followed increasing visibility for young, hungry racers with a point to prove. They are ready to take the world by storm and they are going to be with us for years to come, so learn their names.

On the road, a trio of 22-year-old powerhouses, have all been making waves this season: Lorena Wiebes of Team DSM, Chiara Consonni of Valcar-Travel & Service and Emma Norsgaard of Movistar are all names to look out for in 2022.

In cyclocross, Dutch women Fem Van Empel and Puck Pieterse are redefining the discipline, bringing exciting racing every week and beating legends such as Marianne Vos and Lucinda Brand in the process.

Not to be outdone, young Brits Zoe Backstedt and Josie Nelson, and Hungarian Kata Blanka Vas are showing flair and grit both on and off-road, and promise to bring explosive racing in the future to all arenas.

3. Multi disciplinarians

Like their male counterparts, the desire and ability to transcend disciplines is prevalent in the womens’ side of the sport too. Whether it’s a result of improved training and nutrition, or simply a desire to compete all year around and stay fresh, the road/cross combination is working wonders for a great many women in the peloton. It’s arguably even more important on the womens’ side as their calendar presents fewer racing opportunities than the men’s world tour offers, so the women are grasping their chances with both hands.

As a result, the field is packed with talent and they’re evenly matched, leading to exciting racing every week in cyclocross. It’s fair to say that women’s ‘cross is often closer and more and unpredictable than men’s, and is always worth watching. This cross-disciplinary skill improves bike handling, resilience and power over short, hard efforts and adds another dimension to road racing. If you haven’t checked it out yet, now is the time: with 6 races in 8 days over Christmas (covid restrictions permitting) there’s never been a better time to get into ‘cross.

4. Unpredictability

Cycling is unpredictable. Route planning, weather, fitness, nutrition, injuries, crashes, team composition, tactics – myriad reasons why picking a winner to any bike race is a pretty challenging task. In men’s racing though, you generally have a strong sense of who might come out on top in any given scenario.

In the women’s peloton, though, unpredictability is basically a USP. Take this year’s Tokyo Olympic road race as a prime example. Austrian rider Anna Kiesenhofer, not registered to any pro team at the time of the race, took off in the break with three other women, and ended up taking home the greatest prize of all: the gold medal. It was a beautifully calculated ride that, combined with a comedy of errors from the other race favourites, most notably the Dutch team, produced the most unexpected result, and a fairytale story that cycling fans will remember for years to come.

The unpredictability could stem in part from the fact that the sport is growing and with it the desire to stamp a mark on it. This, and the aforementioned fewer opportunities mean that women’s racing is hard-fought and unforgiving. But more than that, women’s physiological differences result in a slightly different style of racing to men. Women think differently and ride differently; the peloton is smaller, teams are smaller, and the distances are less overall. There’s a shedload of attacking, and with no long stage races the women’s peloton just can’t afford boring days. When you’re used to watching men’s racing it’s a refreshing change to see the differences.

5. The Inaugural Tour de France Femmes

If you missed the first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix in October, you missed the women’s world tour peloton making history. It was pure joy to see the faces of the riders on the start line, and at the end as they rode into the famous Roubaix velodrome.

A moment in history: the women take to the pave for the first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes

Truth be told, though, we all missed a large proportion of the race, including the decisive move that resulted in Lizzie Deignan’s solo break which eventually brought victory. This is because the broadcasters only saw fit to show the final 50-something kilometres of the race. We are entering a period of increased investment and exposure for the sport and although it’s a start, there’s still a long way to go.

Having said that, in 2022, we will see another first – the inaugural Tour de France Femmes. A proper stage race in France, to replace the annual – and let’s face it, wholly inadequate – La Course by Le Tour one day race. With an interesting and varied parcours the race will form the centre of the women’s calendar and will feature the absolute best riders battling it out for the first ever yellow jersey.

Even better, it occupies its own space on the calendar, following on immediately after the Tour de France (Hommes). So there’s absolutely no excuse not to get involved. It promises to be spectacular, and did I mention it’s the first one EVER. The impact of this cannot be overstated – in years to come when men’s and women’s cycling come closer into line in terms of exposure, this will not seem so out of place. Savour these firsts; remember them. You can tell your kids where you were when [INSERT NAME HERE] won the first Tour de France Femmes ever. That’s no small thing.

6. New sponsors, new teams, new races

The UCI announced on 9th December the expansion of the Women’s World Tour to fourteen teams, almost doubling their current number following the addition or promotion of six teams to World Tour status. Large investors have been attracted to the sport this year as its presence grows and more broadcasters commit to showing women’s races. Big name men’s teams are putting their backing behind women’s teams as well as the established women’s teams continuing to fly the flag for the sport. It can only be a good thing, as the more investment in the sport, the more exposure it will gain and the more traction with broadcasters and events organisers capable of bringing the sport into more homes and to more potential fans.

Questions have been raised over the nature of some of the investors, for example Team UAE Emirates, whose involvement seems in direct conflict with the country’s gender inequalities, and the furore surrounding Deceuninck, their split from QuickStep, and Patrick Lefevre, who has now done an extraordinary u-turn and has committed sponsorship money from a company he co-owns for the NXTG Racing Team.

Is all investment good investment? At this stage, the more talented women who can sustain a living from cycling, and the greater the sport grows, the better. Morally grey sponsors aren’t a new thing to the sport so for now, it will be a case of seeing past the name on the jersey to the riders being afforded a huge opportunity that they might not otherwise have been handed.

Even better news for female riders is the increasing number of race days for the women’s World Tour: from 37 in 2021, to 70 in 2022. This is incredible, exciting growth and while we may see some lag time in the response from broadcasters, it’s fair to say that there will be more women’s cycling available to watch in 2022 than ever before. More of all of this, please!

7. Being a part of somethiing

It’s OK to admit that you don’t know everything about womens’ cycling. Not all that many people do, statistically speaking. Proportionally, for many reasons, there is a wider, more knowledgeable audience for mens’ racing. But that doesn’t make you an outsider. You’re not excluded from the fun. So, do you want in? Because I sure as hell do. Being a part of the growth of a sport is special, and wanting to be involved is enough, for now. So long as we’re willing to admit we don’t know it all, to stay open-minded, and to learn from the experts, it will all lead to a stronger, bigger community of womens’ cycling fans.

Women’s sport is growing and gaining power across the board right now and we are all here for it. So, let’s do what we can: watching. Consuming. Enjoying. Being a part of the conversation. And being a student of bike racing. Isn’t that why we’re all here, after all?

It’s fine not to know your Canyon S/RAMs from your SD Worx for now. You’ll get to know them all in time. You’ll pick a favourite, for completely arbitrary reasons like the colour of their jerseys (er, they’re mostly orangey pink this year), the way they power up a climb, or because one has your Mum’s middle name; whatever reason you have for picking your people. But then you’ll get to know them, the way you know your favourite male riders, and there’s no backing out then: you’re invested.

To return to the opening of this post, you don’ t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. It seems that the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ applies even more in the case of women’s cycling. Broadcasters need to know we want to see these girls race. So don’t miss your opportunity to get involved: switch on, learn about and revel in brilliant sporting endeavour. Now is the time. You’re a part of the future of the sport. And you won’t regret it.


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Week-Long Stage Races: Goldilocks Bike Racing

Think back through some of the highlights of the 2021 cycling season and you’ll inevitably find yourself focusing on classic one day races such as the Monuments or World Championships and their all-or-nothing full-gas bids for glory; or at the other end of the spectrum, the three Grand Tours and their endless array of nuance, varying days and layered stories.

Where does the week-long stage race fit in this picture? Is it the best of both worlds? Or, by occupying the middle ground – neither short enough to propel the peloton into immediate action nor long enough to expound upon the myriad narratives that can unfold over an extended period – does it lose out on the defining features that attract fans to bike racing?

Arguably, it’s both, and looking at the week-long races that unfolded across the 2021 season, it’s possible to justify that this middle ground IS the defining feature of a week-long race, and by teetering on the fence of possibility, the potential of a week-long stage race to be both incredible, and a massive disappointment, creates a Schrodinger’s Bike Race scenario, in which until the bike race plays out, it could genuinely occupy either possibility.

Of course you could argue that Monuments can be dull (rarely, I grant you), and even Grand Tours have been known to drag on a bit in the past. But there’s something to the mystique, the history, the expectation, and the incredible ensemble cast that virtually guarantees worthy stories will arise from both the short and long forms of bike racing. Yet the medium-sized race? That’s the Goldilocks race.

The key to a mesmerising week-long race seems to depend much more heavily on external factors: the route, the composition of the peloton, even the timing – perhaps, as will become clear as we remember the best races, the timing is, in fact, everything. The spoon in the porridge. The blankets on the medium-sized bed (OK, I’m willing to accept that this analogy is perhaps somewhat flawed).

Taking a trip down memory lane I’ll revisit some of the most memorable moments of the season that arose from these ‘Goldilocks’ bike races, and also spare a thought for those races which didn’t live up to the hype.

February: UAE Tour

Included here for reasons of completion, the Emirati race now arrives first in the calendar, and with it, the first sighting of bike riders in the wild, following their off-season escapades.

The UAE Tour: basically just Milton Keynes in the desert.

There’s not a lot to love about the race as a spectacle. If you like your scenery dry and your racing drier, perhaps the UAE Tour is for you. But there’s only so much gruelling charging across flat desert around a glorified car park that one can stomach. Thankfully, this year’s edition came with some decent talking points in terms of the racing.

Mathieu van der Poel! He was there. And didn’t everyone else know it. Fresh from a cyclocross season which ended in him regaining his world champion rainbow bands, was it any wonder that MVDP arrived in explosive form, taking the first stage on the sprint and announcing that bike racing was BACK. Sadly, the spectre of covid-19 was ever-present, and following a positive case in the team, Alpecin-Fenix withdrew from the race, leaving us to speculate just how many of the flat stages MVDP would have won (answer: er, all of them obviously).

Flat bit, sandy bit, car park, repeat x 1000. There was little else to see other than to take comfort in the fact that thanks to taking place in A MASSIVE DESERT, the UAE is one of the few places to provide almost guaranteed crosswinds, and you know what crosswinds mean: echelons. And lord knows, cycling fans love an echelon.

Other than that, there were two massive sand dunes. Tadej Pogačar was victorious atop Jebel Hafeet on stage 3, much to the delight of his Emirati sponsors for whom anything less than victory would have been disastrous, and, on stage 5, Jonas Vingegaard announced himself as the climber to watch out for in 2021, storming up Jebel Jais leaving Adam Yates quite literally in his dust.

More sand, bit of sprinting. The End.

March: Paris-Nice/Tirreno-Adriatico

Despite being usurped by the sportwashing newcomer as the first world tour week-long stage races of the year, the titanic pairing of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico are not to be outdone. Traditionally, the races present a difficult choice for teams and their riders: who goes where, with which goals in mind? Either way, it’s a week that feels full of promise, the peloton brimming with pent-up enthusiasm following the off-season; or tense as they work they back to something resembling form. It’s the start, PROPER.

But while Paris-Nice was fraught with the usual tension and crashes, Tirreno had an air of freedom and beauty around it, the sun shone (well, some of the time) and Wout van Aert beat Caleb Ewan in a sprint on the opening day. The world was open to new possibilities.

Over in Paris, Primož Roglič looked in dominant form. Jumbo Visma fans went wild as his first stage victory came within 5 minutes of Wout’s sprint victory in Tirreno, and with a second stage win two days later the writing looked to be on the wall. Then things took an unexpected turn.

On stage 7 Roglič closed down solo breakaway leader Gino Mäder, crossing the line ahead of him to snatch the stage victory and the bonus seconds. It sparked massive debate amongst fans as the ethics of beating the breakaway versus racing for the win were argued, but many predicted consequences within the peloton. The cycling gods took matters into their own hands: the next day, Roglič suffered multiple crashes, re-set his own dislocated shoulder, and tore after his rapidly diminishing lead like a crazed shark-attack victim, as he rode hell for leather after the pack, his jersey ripped and his skin too, beneath it. The repercussions of his actions the previous day seemed to be borne out through the lack of help he was afforded by the peloton, despite his status as race leader, and the result was that he lost the lead, and the GC, to BORA-Hansgrohe’s Max Schachmann.

Outside of the GC battles, there was plenty more going on, as the races gave rise to two of the most memorable moments of the 2021 cycling season…

Belgian breakaway at Paris-Nice Oliver Naesen hatched a scheme to go up the road with ten of his fellow Belgians, livening up an otherwise quiet flat stage of the race. He selected his crack squad of riders, quickly communicated the plot, and they were gone before anyone knew what was happening. Listening to Ned Boulting on the commentary as it slowly dawned on him that every rider in the breakaway was Belgian was in itself a glorious thing. The organic nature of the move, coupled with the seamless execution as they pulled clear of the bunch, was poetic. The move sadly didn’t outlast the peloton’s desire for the expected bunch sprint but it was beautiful while it lasted, and like a murmuration of starlings that forms without warning at dawn on a brisk February morning, cycling fans will be forever awaiting the reoccurrence of a such a move. I suspect, we won’t have to wait all that long.

Go to Italy in Spring, they said. It will be warm and sunny, they said. Mathieu van der Poel: doesn’t LOOK that cold. Until you spot the people with fur-lined hoods at the roadside.

MVDP attacks because he was cold In Italy the weather closed in and by Stage 5, the land was shrouded in cloud, mist and rain. The race resembles a Belgian one-day race as they grimly power around Castelfidardo. And when Mathieu van der Poel takes his leave of the front group with 50km still remaining on the stage, piling food into his mouth, little do we realise that that’s him for the day. He is gone. By the time the rest of the riders realise, it’s too late. Van Aert tries and fails to make an impression on the lead, his jaw shaking with the cold, a vision of pure misery. Pogačar, wearing the leader’s jersey, is the only man left capable of challenging. He heads up the road and began to close the gap at an alarming rate. Mathieu continues to fill his face with gels and power on. It’s clear that with 20km or so to go, he’s starting to fade. But he is too stubborn to give in. He hangs on, crosses the line, wobbles and falls from his bike, completely spent. He’ll feel the effects of this effort for a long while after the race is over, but when questioned about his tactics, he simply states that he attacked ‘because he was cold’.

Volta a Catalunya

Hot on the heels of the Franco-Italian double-header, the Spanish stage race promised a decent end to March. It featured some big climbs late on and had the potential to be a brilliant race but INEOS rocked up with a stacked team and the GC battle looked to be an in-fight between Adam Yates, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas, setting the tone for what would be a season of too many chiefs for the British team.

The race was somewhat saved as a spectacle by the formidable Spanish mountains, and some excellent stage wins from likeable favourites such as Esteban Chaves, picking his moment to re-establish his pure climbing form and taking a rare victory for Team BikeExchange, and Thomas de Gendt, who did Thomas de Gendt things on the final stage, digging in on the multiple loops of the challenging final Barcelona circuit that took in six ascents of the same fiendish climb of del Castell de Montjuic to finally distance Matej Mohorič, who struggled in the face of de Gendt’s sheer will and the punishing repetition of the climbs. Still, it was an INEOS 1-2-3, and it’s unlikely anyone will remember the race this time next year.

April: Itzulia Basque Country/Tour de Romandie

The agenda for April featured two races with six stages apiece.

Itzulia was touted as the first head-to-head battle between Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar since the dramatic occurrences on La Planches de Belle Filles the previous September. The main question was over team strength: did UAE Team Emirates have what it would take to keep their man at the top? Few predicted the intriguing tactical turn of events that unfolded, as Jumbo Visma, who had been leading with Primož Roglič in the early stages of the race, seemingly surrendered the jersey to UAE’s Brandon McNulty on stage 4. It seemed a calculated risk and one that could have backfired spectacularly.  

But on the final stage the Jumbo Visma tactics paid off in dramatic fashion. Jonas Vingegaard’s dogged pursuit of Pogačar’s wheel on the final stage into Arrate, as his leader broke free and headed up the road with a 3-man break, was one of the tactical moves of the season. For Roglič, it was a move that would seem him lay to rest not only the ghosts of the previous Tour de France, but also the accusations of ruthlessness that had followed him since the previous month at Paris-Nice. With the GC win secured, the Slovenian shared a few kind words with the last man standing, Groupama FDJ’s David Gaudu, before sending him off up the road to claim the stage victory, a magnanimous gesture that answered critics of his decision-making at Paris-Nice, and closed the karmic loop ripped open by his alleged earlier misdemeanour.

Pantomime king Jonas Vingegaard: he’s behiiiiiind you!

The podium featured Roglič and Vingegaard on the top two steps, and the ascendancy of the young Dane foreshadowed his role at the Tour de France where he once again he would pursue Pogačar for the entirety of the race, this time as a stand-in for his team leader Roglič who retired with an injury. The master and protégé dynamic between the two Jumbo Visma riders came full circle and although Vingegaard could not oust Pogačar from the top spot in France, he was the only one in the race who could push the younger Slovenian over the limit.

Romandie, by contrast, was somewhat underwhelming. Long days with endless flat stretches and some hideous weather conditions contributed to some attritional, grim racing, and aside from the man on the back of the main camera moto with his little lens squeegie, the highlight of the week the mountainous stage from Sion to Thyon (reportedly a favourite of the late Bob Marley). The climb produced an afternoon’s entertainment which concluded with a bizarre incident in which Geraint Thomas’ hands slipped from his handlebars in the last few hundred metres to deny him the victory, Michael Woods snapping it up following the Welshman’s sudden absence. Despite this, Thomas topped the GC, although it could be argued he didn’t face much of a challenge; his teammate Richie Porte finished in second and like Catalunya, it was more a matter of which INEOS rider would take the prize.

May/June: Critérium du Dauphiné/Tour du Suisse

Aaaaand then it all fell a bit flat.

The Dauphiné is arguably the highest profile of all the week-long stage races, given that’s it’s often treated as a rehearsal for the Tour de France. It regularly features a strong line-up of riders and usually has a seriously challenging route; stages of the Dauphiné are often discussed in the same breath as Grand Tour stages, such is their status.

This year though, it didn’t have the je ne sais quois that usually makes the French prequel so compelling a spectacle.

It had its moments, granted. Brent van Moer’s redemption on stage 1, taking a stage victory after he was denied agonisingly at Tour of Limburg the previous week (read about it here). Lukas Pöstlberger’s happy-go-lucky personality and unexpected 4-day defence of the yellow jersey, arguably due to a lack of ambition on the part of any other team to take the proverbial bull by the horns. Geraint Thomas’ kilometre long effort to take the stage victory on stage 5. And the emergence of Bahrain Victorious’ relatively unknown Ukrainian Mark Padun on the final two stages, showing a hitherto undiscovered climbing prowess that completely demolished a field of significant competition. But as a complete package, the whole thing felt lacking; the isolated incidents that entertained us let down by a lack of overall narrative.

Meanwhile at the Tour de Suisse, there were flashes of brilliance. Mathieu van der Poel ripping up the rulebook, taking the yellow jersey on a jaunt in the breakaway before sacking it off once again before the going got tough in the big mountains. Jumbo-Visma’s Tom Dumoulin returned to the peloton after his break from the sport, Rigoberto Uran surprised everyone by winning a time trial, and Gino Mäder finally reaped his rewards, taking the final mountain stage.

Richard Carapaz took the overall victory almost by default in the end, despite a dominant performance in particular on stage 5, although it could be argued the result on that stage was somewhat skewed by Esteban Chaves riding up a driveway by accident.

Going out in style: MVDP takes the yellow jersey down in a blaze of glory at the Tour de Suisse


(bonus points to anyone who recognises the musical reference)

There were other week-long stage races. At World Tour level, Poland failed to register, on my radar at least, although Benelux had its moments. It was here, as the season stuttered to its end, that fatigue set in, after standards had been raised by three spectacular grand tours. The summer came and went with its array of non-cycling commitments and time was at a premium. The theory seems to hold that the races held early in the season are more memorable; whether it be from a stronger desire to get stuck into racing from the peloton, or a more discerning application of quality control from us as fans, is unclear.

The winners were the lower level races, where last ditch attempts to salvage seasons were launched, resulting in blows being traded between future team mates Joao Almeida and Marc Hirschi at the Tour of Luxembourg, and the rise and rise of INEOS’ young neo pro and Olympic silver medalist Ethan Hayter at the Tour of Britain, vying for dominance amid stellar company as Julian Alaphillippe and Wout van Aert duked it out up the staggeringly difficult finish on the Great Orme, and prepared themselves for their World Championship efforts.


It was all about the timing after all, wasn’t it.

If you want to ensure your week-long stage race is all killer, no filler, have it in the early season. If you can’t do that, here are some other recommendations:

  • don’t let INEOS bring more than one leader
  • big GC hitters essential: if the GC battle isn’t exciting the whole thing falls flat
  • if you have climbs, preferably make sure they’re real mountains rather than sand dunes
  • invite Mathieu van der Poel

I’d love to make a sweeping statement about the state of bike racing in the 2020s as a result of my (deeply scientific) research but inevitably, it all comes down to MVDP. If you want a decent week-long stage race, he’s your man. He’ll come, he’ll attack, he’ll complain about the conditions and win anyway, and he’ll more than likely leave before it’s even finished because he just can’t be bothered with you anymore. He makes cycling unpredictable, thrilling and memorable and frankly, who doesn’t need a bit of that in these dark times. Honourable mention for Jonas Vingegaard whose few appearances foreshadowed his astonishing Tour de France performance and gave us plenty to talk about. Even if we did sometimes mistake him for Chris Harper (I’m looking at you, Carlton Kirby).

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11 riders who stole our hearts in 2021

For the first in a series of pieces reviewing the 2021 season, I’m considering some of the riders who won hearts and minds this year. Be it from their full gas riding, their sparkling personalities or their memorable victories, there are a few shining stars who have won a place in my affections for the foreseeable future.

*Disclaimer – they may have won your hearts prior to 2021 but this is my article so you’ll have to forgive the poetic license

1. Taco van der Hoorn – up there with everyone’s top moments of the season, Taco’s breakaway win on Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia catapulted the Dutch Intermarche rider right into the hearts of many cycling fans. His utter shock as he crossed the line, with the peloton bearing down behind him, remains up there with the gifts that the cycling gods have bestowed upon us in 2021. He’s continued his great form, riding in numerous breakaways and taking more wins, and it probably helps that he’s named after a Mexican foodstuff; you can’t very well forget THAT name.

The moment that had the cycling world collectively jumping up and down – Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia

2. Hour record holder Victor Campanaerts is known for his time trialling abilities but this season he’s transformed into an altogether different beast. He has ridden two of the three grand tours and many one day races and if there’s movement to be had at the front of a race, he’s more often than not involved. His commitment to animating races and working for his team in the breakaway is second to none; his victory in the Giro was so well deserved and he also played a part in one of the most memorable moments of the season, the great Belgian Breakaway of Paris-Nice. Departing the sinking ship that is Qhubeka-Assos, despite being one of its most vociferous supporters, Victor will reportedly find a new home, and hopefully a huge amount of success, at Lotto Soudal next year. He really deserves all the nice things.

3. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. I know I know, I’m late to the party, but this has been my breakout season in terms of engaging with women’s cycling and it’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know just a few of the incredible characters within the womens’ peloton. Cecilie, already well known for her hilarious interviews, symbolises everything amazing about womens’ cycling. She’s passionate, positive and vibrant as well as being a brilliant rider, and she can more often than not be found animating the business end of races and proving that Danes are a force to be reckoned with on two wheels. I became an instant fan of hers this season and can’t wait to see her in 2022.

4. Filippo Ganna. It seems like an obvious choice, but 2021 showed every facet of the mighty Italian’s game, and he staked his claim as arguably the MVP of the season. Not only did he employ his sizeable engine in the pursuit of his own goals, taking time trial gold in the World Championships and winning a stage at the Giro d’Italia (not to mention THAT Olympic team pursuit performance), he devoted it selflessly to his team, and, one could argue, to the peloton in general.

With the usual suspects – the likes of Tony Martin and Tim Declercq – absent from the Giro d’Italia, Pippo took it upon himself to drive the race through his home nation, and unlike the intimidating patrons of old (Tony and Tim not included here), he did it with a smile on his face. An unrelenting rouleur of machine-like proportions, with his winning combination of power, endurance and all-round good guy vibes, Ganna looks set to become the new ‘Peloton Dad’ (term coined by Cycling Twitter’s @AnnaMac), and gives the front of the Sky Train of old a much-needed revamp.

5. After a promising start to the season, with a second place on stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico, Lotto Soudal rider Brent van Moer caused a collective ripple of shock and disappointment at the Ronde van Limburg. In a nail-biting slog to the finish following an immense solo breakaway effort, van Moer was closing in on victory, when with all but 700m to go, he was sent the wrong way by one of the officials on the road.

There could be no more agonising way to lose the race; so close and yet so far. Tim Merlier on the sprint that was left in van Moer’s wake, proving that Alpecin-Fenix are living a charmed life this season, and van Moer was left heartbroken, and DNF’ed the race in protest (presumably: I would have done the same). Widely touted as the new Thomas de Gendt, the Belgian veteran himself posted in support of his Lotto Soudal colleague and when van Moer went on the attack again on stage 1 of the Dauphine seeking redemption, there were few who would have been cheering against him. He took the stage victory and finally had a reason to smile, as his hard work paid off.

6. Lorenzo Fortunato – Relatively unknown prior to this year’s Giro, Fortunato thrilled his EOLO Kometa team manager Alberto Contador and catapulted himself into legend with an absolutely HUGE ride up Monte Zoncolan on Stage 14 of this year’s Giro d’Italia. It was followed by a truly joyful post-race interview where we were first acquainted with THAT smile… need I say more? (See pictorial evidence below, if you have yet to be convinced, or somehow managed to miss it).

Lorenzo Fortunato, with the smile that lit up the grim Italian Spring

7. Ide Schelling – the Dutch BORA rider has been a revelation this season, lighting up races with his attacking style. At the Tour de France he was front and centre in the King of the Mountains competition and did the polka dots proud, fighting for every point in the first week of the race and retaining the jersey for 5 days. His smiley demeanour and lively riding style instantly endeared him to a whole new audience of cycling fans and at just 23, we have many years of Ide to look forward to, and I could not be happier about this.

Schelling and Perez fight full gas for the KOM points on Stage 2 of the Tour de France. As you do.

8. Stefan de Bod – there’s nothing more heart-rending than riders missing the time cut after a hard day in the mountains on a Grand Tour. This was perfectly encapsulated following the gruelling slog that was Stage 9 of the Tour de France this year, when the young Astana rider from South Africa rolled over the line and asked ‘did I make it?’ He hadn’t. The internet’s collective heart shattered into a thousand pieces, and I’ve been rooting for him ever since. 2022 may only bring good things to Stefan. Because I said so.

9. Anna Kiesenhofer – it’s fair to say that despite my relative lack of familiarity with the womens’ peloton, I wasn’t the only one who was surprised when the Austrian came through to take a stunning victory at the Tokyo Olympic road race back in August. Kiesenhofer was part of the day’s original break, and worked with three other riders most of the day, before striking out alone to take gold as the team of Dutch powerhouses failed to work together in her wake. Kiesenhofer was out of contract and had never taken a professional win in her career, but she timed her attack to perfection and measured her effort to put the victory beyond doubt. Hopefully she will be back in the pro peloton in 2022, she has proven her worth and of course, we want to see the golden accessories befitting of her status.

Golden girl – Anna Kiesenhofer after her incredible Olympic victory in Tokyo

10. Jay Vine – the young Aussie had his break-out season with Alpecin-Fenix in 2021 after winning a place on the team through the Zwift Academy programme, and La Vuelta was his break-out ride. He fought valiantly in breakaways and was almost successful on Stage 12, if it weren’t for a crash with his own team car, which he brushed off like it was nothing. He’s lively, talented and has grit and enthusiasm for days (at least three weeks, in fact) and I’ll be watching out for him in 2022. You should too.

11. Riejanne Markus – the Jumbo Visma women’s team have a great thing going. They seem like a cohesive, united front both on and off their bikes, and the young Dutch rider’s social media presence has given us a window into the life of a world tour pro rider this year, with the joyous, smiley group photos before Strade Bianche one of the highlights of the early season, bubbling over with friendship and the joie de vivre that seems to encapsulate he womens’ world tour. Not just a happy face, Riejanne is also a talented rider, making the selection for the Netherlands for the World Championships time trial, having a great ride at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes and winning a stage at the Tour of Norway, finishing 7th on GC.

CONCLUSION: Yes, it seems that many of the riders who’ve made this illustrious selection have earned their place not simply for their achievements, but largely because they’re very smiley (apart from Stefan de Bod. Sorry Stefan). I will not apologise for this shameless promotion of happy people. What is sport about, if not about the expression of the joy of using the body, pushing it to its limits, and realising dreams. It’s the riders who give their all who capture my heart, and the more they give, the greater the reward. And the greatest reward is a smile.

OK the off-season is already getting to me, it seems. Stay tuned for more lists remembering the highlights of this unforgettable year in cycling.

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Two Weekends, A Lifetime of Stories

This weekend, after a year and a half of waiting, I finally said goodbye to my Dad. He died in April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic (not from covid, I might add) and it’s taken this long for us to able to gather the family and friends who would have wanted to celebrate his life with us, together in one place.

How does this fit in with cycling? You are well within your right to ask. I’ll try to explain.

Remember the World Championships? It wasn’t so long ago, yet as a result of the stress and anxiety I’ve been carrying, time has warped out of its usual shape and it feels more like months ago than just a couple of weeks. I laughed out loud at the notion of trying to write about that epic road race, grateful for my status as a freelance writer as I tried, without success, to recall the order of events as they unfolded in Flanders for a podcast. An unenviable task, to write comprehensively about a race that was contested so hard, and in such incredible circumstances, that any word count would be like a restraining order. I exercised my right to pass on that one, given that I had other things on my mind.

It flew in the face of everything that makes me who I am though, not to channel my emotions about a race through my fingers onto the screen. I started trying to summarise the key moments; to keep it brief; a series of snapshots of arguably the most memorable race of the season, perhaps of the century so far. I didn’t get beyond 100 words then, frustrated that I wasn’t telling the whole story. To write snatches of the middle without a beginning or an end felt incomplete. So, it remained unwritten.

Then came Paris-Roubaix weekend. The sheer weight of history, with the first women’s race, the hallowed deluge that fans had dreamed of producing the most horrific conditions in almost 20 years, and the titanic battles that ensued across the famous cobbles. I couldn’t watch either race live as I was travelling back to my birthplace, where the majority of my Dad’s family live, for the aforementioned gathering.

The week prior to the memorial, I agonised over writing a speech, and spent anxious nights awake wondering whether or not I would be able to deliver it. In the end it was a fitting tribute to him that we all got together to celebrate his life (and I read the speech, and it was fine). Torrential rain poured outside as the first guests drifted in, and throughout the celebration I shared my own memories and savoured the fond recollections of others; accounts from his friends and family that gave me a whole new insight into his life. I left feeling recharged, and as though I had some kind of closure. Yet there are so many memories, and fragments of his life, that remain untold.

In a Premier Inn next to a service station in Hemel Hempstead tears ran down my cheeks as I watched Lizzie Deignan become the first woman to win Paris-Roubaix, and marvelled at the extent to which I project my emotional state onto cycling, as the iconic photo of her in the famous showers at the Roubaix velodrome prompted further tears over the momentous nature of her achievement, and I shed the burden that I’d been carrying ever since my Dad passed. The two things completely unconnected, and yet strangely intertwined in the way that emotions can become, when you’re feeling vulnerable.

Sunday we travelled home, the weather brisk and breezy, the torrents of the previous day dried up, in the UK at least. I sat in the passenger seat of the car, juggling phones, chargers and headsets to try and follow along with the men’s race on the journey. Gasping at the conditions, evident despite the small screen as we hurtled back up the M1 to try and make it home in time to take in some of the racing live (it didn’t happen, and I endured a late night as I caught up on the action).

It was all too much to take in; the treacherous cobblestones, the dirt-caked faces of the battle-hardened warriors who somehow kept going through indescribable hardship. The inability to distinguish one from the next as the mud coated their kits, their faces, their helmets; blocking their vision and obliterating their identities. They became one mass of driving, grimacing, relentless misery. The euphoric screams of the eventual winner, Sonny Colbrelli, as he collapsed dramatically to the ground, a physical manifestation of the momentous nature of the victory. The last man to stagger across the line, Emils Liepins, his identity concealed behind inches of crusted mud.

I didn’t sleep that night, despite the weight that I thought I had shed. The race played over in my head, and the words from my speech echoed as I regretted all the things I hadn’t said. It was a long night.

Another day, another race I couldn’t begin to express in words. Impostor syndrome ate away at me. What sort of cycling writer can’t write about THAT? It had been such a long, long weekend. Both races were so incredibly nuanced, with so many intricacies, missed moments and conflicting narratives, how could I possibly hope to tell them, when I hadn’t even watched them properly, or been emotionally invested as I so often am with cycling?

It took a day or two and the clarity that a lack of sleep sometimes casts to realise that sometimes, a story is too big to be told in one go; like my imperfect memory and incomplete picture of my Dad’s life, supplemented on the day of his memorial by photographs, anecdotes, tales told by others who knew him in a different way to me. That everyone’s experience – whether it be of a race, a person, or a life, is equally valid, yet every one incomplete. That it’s OK to recount the parts that stand out in your memory and leave the rest, to rest. These stories are a patchwork, after all: neither a legendary one-day bike race nor a person’s entire life span can be adequately summarised by one individual, no matter their expertise. I can’t tell the story of the riders who crashed, those who surrendered everything for their team mates, and those who reached but did not quite attain their goals, no more than I can recollect every detail of my Dad’s life. Instead, stories will be pieced together based on the experiences, perceptions, perspectives and memories of the collective. Be it fans, journalists or the riders themselves. Or for my Dad, all his family and friends, gathering together, sharing their memories. Together, perhaps, these accounts can come somewhere close to recreating a sense of a life, or the life of a race such as this.

After my speech, My Dad’s best friend of around 40 years spoke too. He and my Dad shared many things I can never begin to comprehend. Like the riders in the peloton, on any given race day; some are team mates, working for one another. Some are thrown together as a result of the vagaries of chance, conditions or good legs, forced to become an awkward unit for an hour or two. They share something on the day of a race that we as fans, or even in an official capacity, as the media, can never be a party to. My Dad’s friend and I were both inextricably connected to him, and our memories can never map onto one another’s, due to time and perspective and lived experience. Yet by some strange coincidence, because of our shared love for the man, we ended up speaking on similar themes, his stories complementing mine in a way we didn’t discuss or plan beforehand. They shared one unified cause: a man loved by many, and known so well by us. The narrative of a race, then, can be told; imperfectly, severally, and these varying plotlines add up to a beautiful, fractured whole.

So here are the snapshots. The bits I remember. The bits that stood out. My imperfect memories of two weekends that I experienced in fragments, and that can never be repeated. They can stand alongside, correlate with and merge into the accounts from riders, journalists and fans who experienced the same race from myriad different angles, creating a bigger picture of the life of a race. Just as the stories collated at my Dad’s memorial were collected, and treasured, to tell part of the story of his life. And that it’s OK to hold onto just that, for now. It’s enough.

World Championships road races…

There are stories of the spine-tingling atmosphere as crowds gathered in the city of Leuven, singing and chanting like a football crowd, flags fluttering from windows and draped across the barriers. Multiple passes of the short, sharp climbs of the city circuit before the race headed into the more expansive Flandrian circuit, with its longer more unforgiving uphill slogs, characteristic of the spring classics, and wide open stretches where crosswinds threatened. The women experienced it all on the Saturday; the weather glorious, the peloton huddled together. Demi Vollering suffering multiple mechanical issues and running up the Flandrian cobbles with her bike like a cyclocrosser; the Dutch women controlling the race, making up for their mistakes in Tokyo. The hectic cornering of Kasia Niewiadoma on the Leuven circuit, and the incredible leadout of Elisa Longo Borghini to ensure yet another Italian winner, as Marianne Vos was beaten across the line by Elisa Balsamo, her shock and jubilation starkly contrasting with Vos’ distress at having lost. The continuation of Italy’s incredible year of sporting success, and the class of Vos, straightening Balsamo’s socks before she took to the podium to be crowned World Champion.

Champion of the World: Elisa Balsamo takes the final sprint from Marianne Vos

Next day, the action in the men’s race kicked off so early as to be almost unprecedented. The breakaway comprising representatives from the nations that were expected to battle all the way to the line, with the exception of Italy, who were forced to work in the bunch. Tim Declercq remonstrating with Remco Evenepoel, over riding too hard, or too soon; speculation abounded but we’d never know the truth, unless they chose to tell it. Pressure from repeated French attacks; Benoit Cosnefroy with Remco, and later, Valentin Madouas. The coming together and attacking again. The selfless sacrifice of the likes of Tim Declercq, Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin. Many more, who threw themselves into the race in service of their leaders and then left once their part had been played. The Italians caught short, and then the British. Remco pulling as hard as he could and then bowing out in Leuven, waving to the fans who sang his name. The heroic individual efforts of Tom Pidcock, Neilson Powless, Dylan van Baarle and the grim determination of Wout van Aert and Yves Lampaert to try and regain contact with the leaders. Mathieu van der Poel the quietest we’ve ever seen him, riding in the wheels and hoping he had the legs. Julian Alaphilippe hitting form just at the right time, putting on the show we have come to expect from him, light-footed as he bounced on the pedals yet contorting his face in pain, shaking his head as if in disbelief at his own audacity; coming within 8 seconds of letting it all go. Then clawing it back again, his self-belief eclipsing the doubts of all the others.

The roar of the fans, thunderous clapping of the boards, the final stretch as the champion once again became champion.  

The celebrations, dancing Frenchmen, Benoit Cosnefroy with the rainbow jersey in his teeth as the French relished the team success. The still ongoing fallout from the Wout/Remco debate. The memories…


The calm before the storm. The storm before the storm. The iconic photos of Marianne Vos in the showers. The women heading onto the battleground for the first time, yet their fans unable to witness the event because of the network’s reluctance to commit to showing the full race. The frustration and disappointment.

The reported crashes, taking out key contenders, Annemiek van Vleuten fracturing her pelvis. The very real and present danger presented by this crazy, foolhardy pursuit dressed up as sport. The warriors battling on. Lizzie Deignan striking out alone as the women hit the first cobbled sector with over 80km to go, and never being seen again. Her back wheel slipping around on the slick cobbles as the conditions deteriorated, safe to pick her own line as the women in the groups behind her clattered haphazardly to the ground like technicolour skittles. Marianne Vos attacking on the pave, the bitter defeat the previous weekend presumably driving her forward. Her incredible power and control, looking as though she were born on the cobbles. Elisa Longho Borghini doggedly pursuing her wheel.

Lizzie Deignan’s grimace as she neared the end of the race. Her gloveless hands raw on the handlebars. The smile that lit up the stadium as the bell rang in Roubaix velodrome. The first female winner of Paris-Roubaix, her name to be etched on a plaque and into history.

Sunday; chaos. The men rolling out in grim conditions. Slick roads and mists hanging low, the skies, when they were visible, slate grey and expressionless. The peloton lively, attacking on the kilometres they rode in anticipation of the pave to come. The crashes – too many to mention, some even before they hit the cobbled sectors. Peter Sagan, Groupama FDJ’s Stefan Kung crashing once, twice, then the third time, standing painted from head to toe in mud at the roadside, dejected.

The sectors approaching, then ticking down one by one, star ratings displaying the levels of endurance required, and signalling the dreaded names of legend: ‘Trouee d’Arenberg’; ‘Carrefour de l’Arbre’…

The image of Wout van Aert, stoic as he rode through the pain, face caked in mud and streaked with muddy tears, a visceral representation of the grim stoicism of the cobbled classic specialist. Complemented by the pure desolation on the face of Greg van Avermaet, his expression seeming to suggest ‘I’m too old for this shit.’

Warriors: MVDP, Sonny Colbrelli and Wout van Aert suffer through the Hell of the North

Vermeesch and Eekhoff leading into the Arenberg forest. Van Aert expertly steering around as Simon Clarke crashes out, only to see his greatest rival accelerate away from him across the most infamous cobbled sector in cycling. As if he would do it any other way. Luke Rowe and Mads Pedersen clattering onto the unforgiving pave. MVDP’s rain jacket flapping in the wind, then his knowing look as Wout reaches his wheel and the pair are reunited once more. He sits up and twists his back first one way, then the other, limbering up for the next phase of battle. Marvelling at how these two rivals draw the eye even as they are amongst many other strong contenders. Mathieu attacking again on the cobbles with 70km to go, because of course he does. Wout caught out of position and losing sight of him.

The breakaway riders prevailing at first, then succumbing one by one to disaster. Gianni Moscon the last man standing, and riding confidently, taking care of the cobbles with the assured dominance of a man on a Very Good Day. Yet the cycling gods see fit to punish him with first a puncture, then a crash as he teeters inelegantly across the cobbles on the too-hard tyres of his replacement bike.

The anticipation of what’s to come, the writing on the wall for Moscon as the chasing group of three bear down on him. MVDP doing what he does, riding hard, not smart, Colbrelli and Vermeesch on his wheel. Mathieu scooting too close to the bollards as he rides the edge of the second last cobbled sector; my knuckles in my mouth as I’m unable to watch.

And the eventual entry into the velodrome, the three last men standing locked together ready to battle to the line. All watching Mathieu, waiting for him to make the first move. He does, true to form, and just like at Flanders, he’s not strong enough to hold on for the win. Colbrelli powers over the line, his powder dry after a long day sitting in the wheels, and collapses to the ground, a dirt-gilded heap prostrate on the ground, paroxysms of joy and disbelief rocking through him.

It’s over. It’s finally over.

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Under the Radar: cycling stories you might have missed this week…

The calendar congestion in men’s pro cycling can be frustrating – having to choose between races to watch, trying to hedge your bets to decide which might offer the most entertainment, or using several devices at once in an effort to keep on top of all of the action.

Fear not – I’ve got you covered. Under the Radar will be a sporadically occurring, enthusiastic and all-encompassing tour around the cycling calendar to bring you memorable moments, exciting victories or general oddities that you otherwise might not have had the chance to experience. writebikerepeat: reaching the spots that other cycling news outlets may have missed!

Cyclocross is back!

Occupying the awkward crossover period where the road season is still in full swing, the first few dates of the cyclocross season understandably go by the wayside in terms of media attention. This week, the action came from Beringen in Belgium and it was none other than GCN’s initimable Rob Hatch on comms. He reliably proceeded to inform viewers that the course, only two years old in cyclocross terms, was in fact, built on top of a rubbish dump. Not adding to the glamour of the sport, there, especially without its most beloved sons MVDP and Wout van Aert involved until later in the season.

Pocket rocket Eli Iserbyt took the win, his second in two weeks, with good showings for Lars van der Haar and  Laurens Sweeck, whose slightly unsettling fanclub were out in force, see below pictoral evidence and judge for yourselves…

Tell me that painted flag of his face isn’t a bit… creepy?

Jasper Phillipsen! Winning! A Lot!

With fixture congestion all up in our grills what with the mountain biking and the World Championships, lovely little one day races like GP de Denain, featuring ACTUAL SECTIONS OF THE PARIS-ROUBAIX COBBLES, sadly fell by the wayside.

Those who watched such nuggets of cycling perfection were treated to a masterclass in sprinting by former Tour de France bridesmaid turned Bride Extraordinaire, Jasper Philipsen. No, he didn’t wear a white dress but he did raise his arms for the third time in the space of five days, the Alpecin-Fenix sprinter in scintillating form taking victories in the GP de Denain along with wins in two other countries, the Kampionschap van Vlaanderen and Eschhorn-Frankfurt. We’re still waiting for him to throw the bouquet and find out who’s the next sprinter in line for a run of form. Hint: it’ll probably be one of his teammates, as they’ve taken LOTS out of a possible LOADS of sprint wins in races they’ve participated in in 2021. Spectacular form (also, can I have a statto, stat!).

Jasper Phillipsen winning. Get used to it.

Leo Hayter is really good!

Flying well under most radars, not least because of the lack of coverage of the races he was competing in, was the success of Team DSM Development rider Leo Hayter. Hayter The Younger triumphed in the U23 version of Liege-Bastogne-Liege last week and this week he’s riding high at the Tour de Bretagne, where, not to be outdone by his brother’s recent Olympic medal and Tour of Britain successes, he stormed to a stage victory and sits 14th in the overall standings.

There is a lot to be excited about in the Hayter family right now, not least their absolutely startling gene pool. and after his recent admissions about his struggles and disillusionment with the sport, it’s great to see Leo out there performing at the top of his game.

The brothers are set to join the Nibalis, Sagans, van der Poels, Pidcocks and van Poppels and cause double trouble on the Pro Cycling scene in years to come, and with his latest showing, Leo proves that the Hayters will be a force to be reckoned with in future seasons.

Leo wins in Bretagne: the Hayter dynasty continues to impress in 2021

Deceuninck doing Deceuninck Things!

The Wolfpack know how to dominate races and with their incredible strength in depth, they proved over the weekend they can do it on multiple fronts, with Alvaro Hodeg and Jannik Steimle taking stages and holding on to the overall jersey for a while at the Tour de Slovaquie and Joao Almeida bossing the GC in Luxembourg with Mattea Cattaneo taking a stage win.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the Primus Classic played host to their classics all-stars. Despite Mathieu van der Poel going on the attack, it was Deceuninck’s day as they piled their one-day firepower into controlling the race, and the team could have won from any number of riders. It was Florian Senechal who raised his arms in the end, but with DQS riders making up an impressive 50% of the top ten, it really was the day of the wolf.

Pack of wolves: Julian Alaphilippe leads the DQS mob in the Primus Classic

Belgian Team Staff Especially Tender!

The most touching moment of the week was this lovely moment following the junior men’s world championship time trial in Flanders. After his valiant effort to take the bronze medal, Belgian star of the future Alex Segaert laid in the road and his soigneur gently placed a towel under his head so he could recline with comfort. If this isn’t nurturing young talent, I don’t know what is, so bravo that man.

Rose petals would have been better, but this will do at a pinch

Headlines that didn’t quite make the cut but are worth mentioning nonetheless:

Sagan wins in Slovakia!

An American wins the XCO mountain biking for the first time in 30 years!

Patrick Lefevre spouts misogynistic nonsense!

And the award for most inappropriate rumour of the week goes to… the potential launch of a UAE Team Emirates Women’s Team!

Join me again for ‘Stuff You Might Have Missed in other Weeks Where There’s Too Much Cycling On’ otherwise known as UNDER THE RADAR. Back… whenever there’s too much cycling on.

writebikerepeat, over and out.

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