10 Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Volta a Catalunya stage three
The peloton’s most notorious breakaway specialist was up to his usual tricks this year – in fact, we could easily also have included on this list the stage at the Tour de Romandie where he single-handedly defied the expected bunch sprint to win by over two minutes. But the way he fought a charging peloton of GC contenders and headwinds riding solo in the final 25km of an undulating stage three at the Volta a Catalunya, having spent the previous 100km in the day’s small break, was an even greater display of fortitude.
9 Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Giro d’Italia stage 12
The year’s best sprint must surely have been Sam Bennett’s implausibly explosive acceleration to win his second Giro on the Imola motor racing circuit. The expected bunch finish seemed at risk as Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) and Carlos Betancur (Movistar) remained out in front with 500 metres to go, but Bennett – having already outdone arch rival Elia Viviani (Quick-Step), who had been dropped amid the cold and rain – was determined to not let the opportunity pass.
Despite being about 10th in line in the peloton, which was itself another good 10 bike-lengths adrift from the leading duo, the Irishman audaciously burst out of the peloton (in what was more of an attack than a sprint), used their slipstream as a slingshot while no-one followed his wheel, then hung on for grim death for what must have felt like an eternity to ultimately win at a canter.
8 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tour de France stage 12
It may not have resulted in a victory, but Steven Kruijswijk’s epic attack in the Alps, when he took all of his Tour de France rivals by surprise by getting into a breakaway with 70km left to ride, still lingers vividly in the memory for its bravery and sheer daring. He spent most of the day climbing alone at the head of the race as the virtual maillot jaune, and was only prevented from completely upending the race when the Team Sky train was put into maximum effect on Alpe d’Huez, catching him with less than a third of the climb still to ride.
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Milan-San Remo
Winning Milan-San Remo with an attack on the Poggio is one of the trickiest feats to pull off in cycling. Every year several of the world’s best attempt to do so, but only once in a blue moon does anyone actually succeed. But this year Vincenzo Nibali defied the odds, producing an unanswerable acceleration on the slopes of the iconic climb and resisting the desperate attempts to catch him, to become the first rider since Fabian Cancellara in 2008 to reach the finish line of La Primavera alone and with time to celebrate.
6 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), Strade Bianche
Anna van der Breggen has made a habit of triumphant long-range attacks, and the move 17km from the finish she made to win Strade Bianche this spring ranks among her very best. Freezing temperatures and torrential rain that transformed the race’s famous dirt roads into a mud-drenched mess made for a horrendous day of racing, the kind that only the very toughest athletes can endure. Van der Breggen proved herself to be among that crop by riding decisively away from the floundering opposition.
5 Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis), Tour de Yorkshire stage four
The rolling, relentless roads of God’s Own Country ensures that the Tour de Yorkshire is always full of attacking, exciting racing, but nothing could quite prepare us for what Stephane Rossetto would do on the final stage of this year’s edition.
Having broken clear with Max Steadman (Canyon-Eisberg) towards the start of the stage, the little-known Frenchman took the seemingly suicidal decision to strike out alone with a whole 113km still to ride, yet somehow managed to hang on out there for several hours over painfully hilly terrain to claim victory in Leeds.
4 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), Giro Rosa stage nine
Monte Zoncolan was always going to be a highlight not just of the Giro Rosa, but of the season as a whole. It was the first time the legendary mountain had been used in the race for over 20 years, and provided a rare chance for the best riders in the women’s peloton to test themselves against what many consider to be the hardest climb in cycling. Ultimately it was Annemiek van Vleuten who was comprehensively the strongest, defending her pink jersey with ease before striking with a race-winning attack 2km from the summit.
3 Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Paris-Roubaix
It’s easy to forget in hindsight, but at the time there were doubts whether Peter Sagan – who had previously only managed one top-10 finish from six attempts – had the specific attributes to ever win Paris-Roubaix. In his typically impudent manner, the Slovakian dismissed such suggestions in the most categorical way possible, not only winning the Queen of the Classics, but doing so with a brazen attack over 50km from the finish that left the mighty Quick-Step Floors line-up and every other major Classics specialists lost for dust.
2 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), World Championships Road Race
Usually an attack from a group of favourites made 40km from the finish should be no cause for immediate panic, given the huge amount of road still to be ridden. But when that rider is Anna van der Breggen, there’s every chance you won’t see her again for the rest of the race – which is exactly what happened when the Dutchwoman accelerated on the second ascent of the Igles climb at the Innsbruck Worlds.
For all the sense of inevitability of victory from that point, it should not be taken for granted just what a remarkable a ride it was. Simply riding away from and then holding off the world’s best over such a prolonged time is one thing, but to actually steadily extend the lead without ever letting up, so that runner-up Amanda Spratt finished an enormous 3-42 adrift, was the stuff of a particularly special performance.
1 Chris Froome (Sky), Giro d’Italia stage 19
What Froome did on the Colle delle Finestre was not supposed to be possible anymore in cycling. Blowing a whole race open with an attack 80km from the finish is the kind of thing reserved for grainy, archival footage from the distant past, featuring mythical names like Fausto Coppi or Charly Gaul.
But Froome did it, and with astonishing success, defying logic to move further and further away from his pink jersey rivals up and down Sestriere, through the following the sparse valleys, and finally up the Jafferau summit finish, sealing both stage victory and an implausible lead on GC.
Whereas he had won all his Tours de France with an implacable consistency over three weeks, his Giro triumph here was mostly due to this one astonishing performance, which must surely be the greatest day on the bike of his whole career.