Another season complete - and with 2021 housing a one-year delayed Olympics, so close to the Tour de France, it was always going to be an exciting one.
We've looked back over the key performances, and selected out very own 'dream team' - here's who we'd pick to be on our winning roster in 2022.
Leader: Tadej Pogačar
Winning the biggest race in the world is by itself a sure-fire way of being considered the number one rider in the world, but Pogačar’s Tour de France triumph was only one of many successes in 2021. From overall victory at the UAE Tour in February to his Tour title defense in July, Pogačar was just one race short (Itzulia Basque Country, where he placed third) from being unbeaten in all five of his stage race appearances this season; and with his victories at both Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia, a convincing case could be made for Pogačar as being not just the best stage racer of 2021, but also the best one-day rider.
Climber: Primož Roglič
In races that climaxed with uphill finishes this season, virtually no-one could stop Primoz Roglič. The Slovenian used his climbing prowess and unparalleled uphill finishing kick to win six summit finishes in total, and not just in the short, punchy efforts he is so famed for — the fearsome mountains of Valdeblore La Colmiane (at the queen stage of Paris-Nice) and Lagos de Covadonga were also among his conquests. Nowhere was his invulnerability in the mountains more evident than at the Vuelta, where his rivals found themselves incapable of dropping him, leaving him to once again comfortably take the overall title.
Sprinter: Mark Cavendish
Even at the age of 36, having for years battled with the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus, there’s still no sprinter who can compare with Mark Cavendish when he’s on a roll like he was at the Tour de France this summer. The five years that have passed since he last won a stage there had seen the likes of Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria, Elia Viviani, Arnaud Demare, Caleb Ewan and Sam Bennett all emerge as candidates to be his successor as the world’s fastest sprinter, yet none of them have in that time managed as large a haul as Cav’s four stage wins this year. Add to that four Tour of Turkey stage wins plus one at the Tour of Belgium, Cavendish has, against all the odds, reclaimed his status as the best in the world.
Classics specialist: Mathieu van der Poel
Kasper Asgreen deserves a special mention for achieving the Tour of Flanders / E3 Saxo Bank doubles, but we couldn’t neglect to include Mathieu Van der Poel in the team of the year given the starring role he played throughout the season in the classics. He rode brilliantly on the cobbled without quite claiming a monument win, making the final 2-man and 3-man selections at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix respectively only to lose out in both in the sprint. Add to those podium finishes a fifth-place at Milan-San Remo, and Van der Poel already has top ten finishes in all five monuments less than three years after riding his first, and a superb victory at Strade Bianche ensured he finished the spring with a major victory alongside his string of near misses.
Puncheur: Julian Alaphilippe
The Ardennes Classics are where the top puncheurs do battle, and Alaphilippe was the star during that week of racing this year, winning Fleche-Wallonne and being narrowly pipped on the line to place second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. But it was at the World Championships where he really asserted himself as the world’s best puncheur. We all know the power Alaphilippe can produce with his uphill accelerations, but what made this performance so special was the way he kept managing to recharge his batteries and launch attack after attack, eventually producing the winning move and solo to victory.
Time trialist: Filippo Ganna
A case could be made for Primož Roglič as being the best time trialist of 2021 seeing as it was he who triumphed in the biggest meet of the season, the Tokyo Olympics. But with his priorities lying elsewhere, he was not present at the World Championships, leaving Filippo Ganna to defend his title in a thrilling battle with Wout van Aert. Ganna might not have been as dominant as during his extraordinary season last year, but still managed to win five time trials in total, including two stages at his beloved Giro d’Italia, and continued to delight purists and tech nerds with his wonderful aerodynamics.
Domestique: Michael Mørkøv
Climbing domestiques like Dani Martinez and Sepp Kuss might have produced outstanding performances to help their team leaders with Grand Tours, but no domestique delivered his leaders to as many victories spread across the season in its entirety as Michael Mørkøv. The Dane has perfected the art of the lead-out, and was the common thread in all of Deceuninck-QuickStep’s bunch sprint success this year. First, he assisted Sam Bennett to seven sprint wins during the spring; then, most memorably of all, he was Cavendish’s right-hand man for his four-stage haul at the Tour de France.
All-rounder: Wout van Aert
Cycling is now well and truly in a post-specialisation era, and nobody encapsulates this better than Wout van Aert. The Belgian targeted everything from classics to stage races to time trials in 2021, and had huge success in all disciplines, winning races diverse as Amstel Gold and Gent-Wevelgem, placing second overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, and being crowned the world’s second best against the clock at the Worlds in Flanders. But above all it was his Tour de France exploits that made his year, with stage wins on the Mont Ventoux mountain, Champs Elysees sprint and Saint-Emilion time trial making-up one of the all-time great all-round performances at a Grand Tour.
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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.
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