10 unforgettable moments of the 2021 racing season

Historic wins, historic losses, and a couple of unfortunate victory celebrations make our list...

Zeo Backstedt wins world championships celebration
(Image credit: Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

10. Bäckstedt wins Worlds while father commentates

One of the most touching moments of the year came at the junior women’s road race at the World Championships, which Welsh teenager Zoe Bäckstedt won, while her father, former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt, watched while on commentary duty for Eurosport. Having sounded nervous for much of the race after his daughter had put herself in a great position by riding away from the rest of the field with American Kaia Schmid, Magnus could barely keep it together on air when the two began their sprint for gold. You could just about hear him fighting back the tears when Zoe came out on top, and footage of him celebrating in the commentary box was a joy to watch.

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9. Evenepoel dropped on the dirt roads at the Giro

evenpoel dropped giro ditalia stage 11

(Image credit: Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Having made it to the end of the first week in second overall, it appeared that Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) really could win the pink jersey on what was his debut Grand Tour, despite having not raced for the previous nine months through injury. That made it all the more dramatic when his GC bid for glory unravelled on the first day of the second week, when he was dropped on the white dirt roads of Montalcino on stage 11. The moment when he tossed away his radio was a rare sign of friction in what is usually such a harmonious Deceuninck-QuickStep team, and intensified the scandal already being gossiped about regarding why exactly his teammate Joao Almeida had not dropped back to help him.

8. Vos' 30th Giro Donne stage win

Vos wins giro donne stage 7

(Image credit: Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

”It was not really something I was thinking of,” said Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) at the end of stage 7 of the Giro Donne, referring to the fact that that victory had just won her 30th career stage win of that race. Her celebration upon charging past Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) in the final 200 metres, which was delighted but no more so than usual, indicated as much, but for fans of the sport the reaching of this milestone prompted us to take stock of her unprecedented career. Her first stage win came as many as fourteen years ago, and here she was in 2021 winning as prolifically as ever, and showing no signs of slowing down. Given how no other rider is within 10 wins of her total, it’s a record that will remain hers for a long, long time.

7. Vollering and Winder inseparable in photo finish at Brabantse Pijl

de brabantse pijl vollering winder sprint

(Image credit: Photo by Mark Van Hecke/Getty Images)

Never underestimate the effectiveness of a good bike lunge. That’s the mistake Demi Vollering (SD Worx) made at Brabantse Pijl, when she used her arms to celebrate what she mistakenly believed to be her victorious sprint, while to her right Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) used hers to help edge her bike ahead at the line. The finish was one of the closest we’ve ever seen, and prompted much speculation online about the accuracy of photo finishes, a debate that was reignited mere days later when Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) were involved in an equally close to call finish at the men’s Amstel Gold. 

6. Asgreen outsprints Van der Poel at the Tour of Flanders

Kasper Asgreen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) has in the past won bunch sprints against some of the world’s fastest specialists. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), so far as we can recall, has never won a sprint in his career. So when the pair raced away together from everyone else during a fast, frantic Tour of Flanders, there could only be one winner, right?

Not so. As has so often been said, a sprint at the end of 250km of brutal, draining racing is very different to a normal sprint, and in these circumstances pedigree often goes out the window in favour of simply who is the least exhausted. In this case it was Asgreen, and he stormed to a victory that shocked everyone, as Van der Poel, with a resigned shake of the head, sat up in the sprint, finding he simply had nothing else in his legs left to give.

5. Deignan slides in the mud at Paris-Roubaix

Lizzie Deignan

(Image credit: Getty)

The history of Paris-Roubaix is packed with iconic images and memorable moments, and already after just one edition the women’s Paris-Roubaix produced many more for the annals. The muddy conditions made for a cycling photographer’s dream, and riders dropped like flies in the treacherous conditions — but it was a rider managing to stay upright, rather than one who fell, that was the race’s defining moment. Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) looked certain to hit the muddy cobbled ground of the Camphin-en-Pevele when she swerved drastically to the right of the road, but somehow, after another less severe swerve to the left, retained her balance. Given that she was up alone at the front of the race, and went on to take victory, the outcome of the race might have been very different were it not for her skilled bike-handling.

4. Unwitting spectator takes out the peloton at the Tour de France

Opi omi tour de france stage one 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Every edition of the great soap opera that is the Tour de France throws up incidents that transcend the bubble of the cycling world and make international headlines; this year, the story that had all your non-cycling mates asking ‘what was that all about?’ was the shocking crash took out virtually the entire peloton during the opening stage. The spectator responsible — a sunglasses-wearing woman courtesy of whom we all now know the German for ‘Grandpa and Grandma’ — was public enemy number one for a while, and even went into hiding, but perhaps made a convenient scapegoat for race organisers and the UCI given the number of crashes resulting from negligence regarding ride safety in recent years.

3. Van Vleuten unwittingly celebrates at the Olympics

van cleuten silver

(Image credit: Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images)

Watching the Olympics road race, where a lax chase meant Anna Kiesenhofer claimed gold at the expense of the all-star Dutch team and every other of the sport’s major names, you couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss, but exactly what had happened only became unbelievably, horribly clear when Annemiek van Vleuten lifted her arms in celebration when crossing the line. A serial winner like her would not have been so ecstatic upon winning a silver medal — evidently, she was simply not aware that Kiesenhofer had already crossed the line a minute earlier to take gold. Occurrences like this are often amusing in smaller races, but on a level as grand as the Olympics, the grim expression of Van Vleuten once she’d been told what had happened made for devastating high drama. 

2. Cavendish’s comeback Tour stage win

mark cavendish stage 4

(Image credit: hoto by TIM DE WAELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Sports writers are often accused of hyperbole, but the claim that Mark Cavendish’s performance at this year’s Tour de France made for one of the all-time great sporting comeback stories feels entirely justified. His mere appearance at the race following three years of illness and injuries was a triumph in itself, yet that turned out to be only the beginning of a story worthy of Hollywood. 

The single moment that marked the emotional high-point should any producers from tinseltown have the idea of making a biopic was the sprint in Fougeres at the end of stage four, when he won the first of what would be four stage wins, and tearfully hugged each of his Deceuninck-QuickStep team in turn having done something he hadn’t for five whole years, and that many thought we’d never see again. 

1. Colbrelli hysterically celebrations Paris-Roubaix victory

Sonny Colbrelli's Paris-Roubaix bike

(Image credit: Bernard Papon - Pool/Getty Images)

It’s often said that when a rider wins the very biggest of races, it takes a long time for the enormity of their achievement to sink in. However, if you want to know what it feels like when someone immediately grasps what they’ve just done, watch Sonny Colbrelli’s (Bahrain-Victorious) immediate reaction at the end of Paris-Roubaix. Upon winning the three-man sprint at the end of what had been one of the most gruelling, epic races of modern times, the Italian lifted his bike in triumph, before slumping to the floor and emitting a noise that at once expressed hysterical joy, overwhelming exhaustion, and sheer disbelieving laughter. It’s a sound that encapsulated the magnitude of what he had just done, and, caked in a layer of mud from, was an expression of raw emotion we’ll never forget.

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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.