Following the truncated, scrambled and often spectator-free 2020 season, 2021 was about as much a return to a normal racing calendar as we could have hoped for while still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pretty much all the major races took place, back mostly in their usual order, giving us a comprehensive racing season with all of the biggest names competing for all the top prizes.
So, after watching all that cycling, we’ve decided to embark upon the (possibly futile) quest of ranking the 100 best riders of the year, spanning both the men’s and women’s pelotons, and all disciplines across the road.
Despite the UCI’s attempt through the WorldTour, there does not exist an adequate world ranking or league table the same way there is in other sports. In many ways, cycling is like several sports within a sport, with many overlapping layers but no single means of establishing a clear hierarchy encompassing all its various elements.
How do you compare the achievement of winning a Classic with winning a stage race? Or placing, say, in the top ten of the Tour de France, versus winning a minor non-WorldTour ranked race? To what extent is it possible to evaluate riders in the men’s and women’s peloton?
Should consistency be valued higher than someone who’s largely absent but lands one big result? And what about the efforts of domestiques, whose personal sacrifices often go uncredited despite their crucial role in enabling a team-mate’s success?
One of the beauties of cycling is that there is no objective answer to any of these questions, which is what can make debating the merits of one rider over another such fun.
So without further ado, here’s the first half of our pick of the best 100 riders of the 2021 road season, from number 100-51.
100 - 91
100 Michael Mørkøv (36, Denmark, Deceuninck - Quick-Step)
He might not have won any races himself, but no domestique was more influential in delivering others to victory than Mørkøv, whose lead-outs continued to set the standard and played a crucial role in Cavendish’s Tour de France haul.
99 Arlenis Sierra (28, Cuba, A.R. Monex)
Sierra’s six wins this season might all have come at sub-WorldTour level, but fifth at the World Championships in Flanders proved her capable of being in the mix at the very biggest of races.
98 Davide Ballerini (27, Italy, Deceuninck - Quick-Step)
While it’s true he didn’t do much after February, in that month alone Ballerini did enough to make his 2021 a success, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad plus a couple of stages of the Tour de la Provence.
97 Victor Campanaerts (30, Belgium, Qhubeka-NextHash)
No longer just a time trial specialist, Campanaerts rebranded as an attacking breakaway specialist this year, and was rewarded with a stage win at the Giro and third overall at the Benelux Tour.
96 Florian Vermeersch (22, Belgium, Lotto-Soudal)
Only hardcore racing fans will have known anything about Vermeersch prior to his shock second-place finish at Paris-Roubaix in October, but that ride alone was enough to make this a huge breakthrough season for the second-year pro.
95 Tom Dumoulin (31, Netherlands, Jumbo-Visma)
It seemed we might never again see Dumoulin compete at the highest level when he chose to take an indefinite break from the sport back in January, but a roaring ride for Olympic silver in July little more than a month after returning to racing was the Dutchman at his time trialling best.
94 Mikkel Honoré (24, Denmark, Deceuninck - Quick-Step)
Starting the season without a pro win to his name, Honoré quickly put that right with stages at Coppi e Bartali and Tour of the Basque Country, before later earning a handful of podium finishes at the summertime Classics, including San Sebastian.
93 Juliette Labous (23, France, DSM)
Even before delivering a season’s-best ride to finish second overall at the Women’s Tour, Labous had impressed by picking up sixth-place finishes at Flèche Wallonne and the Worlds time trial, plus seventh overall at Giro Donne.
92 Guillaume Martin (28, France, Cofidis)
Having spells in the top two on GC at both the Giro and the Tour, Martin was one of the most prominent riders in the Grand Tours this season, and ultimately registered top 10 finishes in both — the first time he has done so in his career.
91 Greg Van Avermaet (36, Belgium, Ag2r Citroën Team)
There’s no denying that Van Avermaet has been overtaken by a new generation of Classics stars, but third at the Tour of Flanders, plus a handful of other top ten finishes during the spring, shows he’s still capable of keeping up with them on his day.
90 - 81
90 Rigoberto Urán (34, Colombia, EF Education-Nippo)
A penultimate stage time trial win to seal second overall at the Tour de Suisse was one of the best rides of Uran’s whole career, in which context 10th overall at the Tour de France was a tad underwhelming. Also placed eighth in both the Olympics road and time trial races.
89 Elise Chabbey (28, Switzerland, Canyon SRAM)
Now focussing totally on racing after working as a doctor treating Covid patients during lockdown last year, Chabbey excelled in stage races, making the podium at both Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta and the Tour de Suisse, and winning a stage in the latter.
88 Nils Politt (27, Germany, Bora-Hansgrohe)
Despite being off the pace for the second successive northern Classics campaign, Politt bounced back in the summer to win a Tour de France stage — the biggest result of his career so far — plus the overall at the Deutschland Tour.
87 Miguel Ángel López (27, Colombia, Movistar Team)
López would have ranked much higher had he survived the final weekend of the Vuelta with his podium place intact rather than abandon amid a fallout that would see his contract with Movistar terminated, capping a rollercoaster season that on one hand saw him storm to wins at Ruta del Sol and Mont Ventoux Challenge, and on the other saw him crash out of contention at the Tour.
86 Fausto Masnada (28, Italy, Deceuninck - Quick-Step)
Having already defied expectations by finishing third overall at the Tour de Romandie earlier in the season, Masnada produced the ride of his life at Il Lombardia, clinging on to Tadej Pogačar's wheel after everyone else had been distended to finish second.
85 Gianni Moscon (27, Italy, Ineos Grenadiers)
For once, the peloton’s bad boy made positive rather than negative headlines, winning two stages of the Tour of the Alps, and finishing fourth at Paris-Roubaix — a race he had even appeared on the brink of winning before being held up by a flat tyre.
84 Marta Cavalli (23, France, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope)
A big breakthrough win eluded her, but upon turning 23 Cavalli proved herself capable of mixing it up with the biggest names in all terrains, posting top six finishes in races as diverse as the Giro Donne, the European Championships, and the Tour of Flanders.
83 Arnaud Démare (30, France, Groupama-FDJ)
He might not have been off the pace at the Grand Tours and the WorldTour races, but Démare remained prolific during the first half of the season in minor races, picking up eight wins by mid-June, and ended the subsequent four-month drought with his biggest of the year, Paris-Tours.
82 Matteo Trentin (32, Italy, UAE Team Emirates)
From the northern spring Classics to the autumnal Italian Classics via the Vuelta a España, Trentin spent so much of 2021 at the business end of races that it’s surprising to remember that he only actually won one race (the Trofeo Matteotti) all year
81 Christope Laporte (28, France, Cofidis)
2021 saw Laporte make a leap from being a solid sprinter to becoming one of the best riders in the cobbled Classics, enjoying a breakthrough spring campaign before finishing sixth at the autumnal Paris-Roubaix.
80 - 71
80 Dan Martin (35, Ireland, Israel Start-Up Nation)
There was a sense of completion to the retiring Martin’s final season in the peloton, as a 10th place finish at the Giro d’Italia plus a fine win at Sega di Ala saw him complete the full set of top 10 finishes and stage wins at all three Grand Tours.
79 Giacomo Nizzolo (32, Italy, Team Qhubeka-NextHash)
Victories in a couple of Spanish semi-Classics and second at Ghent-Wevelgem solidified the improvements Nizzolo made in 2020, but his season highlight was undoubtedly his Giro d’Italia stage win, which at long last ended his run of countless runner-up finishes in Grand Tour stages without a win.
78 Michael Matthews (31, Australia, Team BikeExchange)
The highest ranked sprinter on this list without a win in 2021, Matthews nevertheless remains so high because he’s more of a Classics specialist than a sprinter these days, reflected by top six finishes at Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race. Versatility also saw him rank second in the Tour de France points classification.
77 Ruth Winder (28, USA, Trek-Segafredo)
When she wasn’t playing a supporting role for her star teammates Elisa Longo-Borghini and Lizzie Deignan, Winder excelled when given the freedom to ride for herself, placing second at the Clásica de San Sebastián and winning Brabantse Pijl — a fine way to bow out of the sport before retiring.
76 Neilson Powless (25, USA, EF Education-Nippo)
Victory at Clásica de San Sebastián was a huge breakthrough moment for the Native American, and by following it up with a fifth-place finish at the Worlds in Leuven, he proved that result to be no fluke.
75 Coryn Labecki (29, USA, DSM)
A stage win on the final day of the Giro Donne saw Labecki (née Rivera) back to her best for the first time since the pandemic. She followed that result up with several runner-up finishes at the Tour of Norway and Ceratizit Challenge by Vuelta, plus seventh at the Olympics.
74 Michael Valgren (29, Denmark, EF Education-Nippo)
Following several years of failing to live up to expectations Valgren at last rediscovered his 2018 form in the final months of this season, winning back-to-back semi-Classics in Italy before claiming a Worlds bronze medal in Leuven.
73 Amy Pieters (30, Netherlands, Team SD Worx)
Although Pieters played more of a secondary role in the major races to her more eminent Team SD Worx team-mates, she was a taliswoman for the team in smaller races, winning Nokere Koerse among a host of other high finishes. Victory in Walsall at the Women’s Tour was her biggest of the season.
72 Stefan Bissegger (23, Switzerland, EF Education-Nippo)
With victories at Paris-Nice and the Benelux Tour plus multiple runners-up finishes at other WorldTour races, Bissegger announced himself as the hot new thing in time trialling, even if he lacked the legs to bag a medal in any of the major late-season time trials.
71 Marta Bastianelli (34, Italy, Alé-BTC-Ljubljana)
Though still not hitting the heights of her pre-pandemic form, Bastianelli nevertheless won competitive sprints at races like the Women’s Tour and the Tour de Suisse as part of her solid season total of four, and was in the mix for some of the spring Classics.
70 - 61
70 Sam Bennett (31, Ireland, Deceuninck - Quick-Step)
A knee injury and acrimonious fallout with a typically brash Patrick Lefevere saw Bennett’s season fizzle out before the summer, but during the spring the Irishman was every bit as good as he was in 2020, dominating the sprints at Paris-Nice and the UAE Tour, and improving in the Classics to win the Classic Brugge-De Panne and place second at Scheldeprijs.
69 Michael Storer (24, Australia, Team DSM)
After winning the Tour de l’Ain in July, Storer announced himself on the Grand Tour stage with two wins and the King of the Mountains classification at the Vuelta a España, showing real talent as a climber that suggests he could compete for GC next year for new team Groupama-FDJ.
68 Florian Sénéchal (28, France, Deceuninck - Quick-Step)
A key member of Deceuninck - Quick-Step’s Classics line-up, Sénéchal was in the mix for many of the major spring races, and capitalised on a chance to sprint for himself on stage 13 of the Vuelta when he claimed career-first Grand Tour stage win.
67 Bauke Mollema (35, Netherlands, Trek-Segafredo)
Continuing his late-career switch from GC rider to stage-hunter and hilly Classics specialist, Mollema achieved a memorable Tour de France stage win from a long solo breakaway, and only narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal in Tokyo.
66 Romain Bardet (31, France, Team DSM)
A transfer to Team DSM proved to be reinvigorating for Bardet, who ended a run of three years without either a win or a Grand Tour top ten finish with stage wins at the Vuelta a España and Vuelta a Burgos, and seventh overall at the Giro.
65 Rohan Dennis (31, Australia, Ineos Grenadiers)
Dennis is no longer the best time triallist in the world, but he’s not far off. 2021 saw the Australian refocus on time trialling having starred as a climbing super-domestique at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, claiming Olympic bronze in Tokyo plus WorldTour wins at the Tour de Romandie and Volta a Catalunya.
64 Ethan Hayter (23, Great Britain, Ineos Grenadiers)
Though it’s true that his successes came exclusively at sub-WorldTour level, the fact that less than half a dozen male riders bettered his total of nine wins was still some feat. The way he pushed the one and only Wout van Aert for overall victory at the Tour of Britain indicated that he can compete against the very best.
63 Alexey Lutsenko (29, Kazakhstan, Astana-Premier Tech)
For the first time in his career Lutsenko prioritised riding for GC at a Grand Tour, and he turned out to be very good at it, finishing seventh overall, having earlier been second at the Critérium du Dauphiné.