Who were the best riders of the 2010s?

As the decade comes to a close, we take a look at the best riders of the 2010s

10. Lizzie Deignan

Lizzie Deignan has been selected for the Yorkshire 2019 World Championships (Picture: Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having emerged in the early 2010s as one of Marianne Vos’ major rivals, best epitomised by her memorably combative display to finish second behind the Dutchwoman at the London 2012 road race, Lizzie Deignan gradually worked her way up to the very top of the sport, winning successive World Cups in 2014-15 and a Worlds road title in 2015.

Although her decade peaked the following spring when she swept up virtually all the major Classics adorned in the rainbow jersey, Deignan merits considerable praise for the way she returned to the top level following the birth of her first child in 2018, the highlight being overall victory at this year’s Women’s Tour.

9. Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde is the new men's world champion (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Few at the start of the decade would have predicted that Alejandro Valverde - who at the time was embroiled in a doping scandal that would see him banned until 2012 - would not only still be plying his trade 10 years later at the age of 39, but remain as one of the very best in the world.

That scandal and his refusal to admit any wrongdoing cast a shadow over the rest of his career, but in racing terms has been a model of consistency, winning two Liège-Bastogne-Liège title, a record-breaking four successive editions of Flèche Wallone and the World Championships in 2018, as well as sealing six more Grand Tour podiums.

8. Annemiek van Vleuten

Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton - Scott) during the 5th Strade Bianche 2019, Women. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The defining moment of Annemiek van Vleuten’s decade might have been the horrible crash she suffered at the 2016 Rio Olympics, an incident that cost her the biggest prize in women’s cycling and looked as though it might even end her career altogether.

However, the Dutchwoman showed remarkable resolve to come back stronger than ever, and in three prolific seasons since has won the Giro Rosa twice, multiple Classics, and two world time trial titles, capped off with a truly spectacular long-range victory at the Yorkshire Worlds road race this year - a ride that should expunge the memory of that crash in Rio once and for all.

7. Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish on stage 20 of the 2012 Tour de France (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Already a sprinting legend going into the decade, Mark Cavendish solidified his status by adding a further 20 Tour de France stage wins to his career total of 30, and enjoying an annus mirabilis In 2011 by claiming a career-first green jersey and Worlds road race title. His form dipped in subsequent years as Marcel Kittel became the new sprinting sheriff, but the Manx-Missile bounced back with a vengeance in 2016, storming his way to four more Tour stages to bring himself within just four of Eddy Merckx’s all-time record.

Though complications resulting from the Epstein-Barr virus might look set to keep that record out of reach, we ought to be careful not to underrate Cavendish’s extraordinary achievements.

6. Fabian Cancellara

Fabian Cancellara at the 2010 Tour of Flanders (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Ten years ago, Fabian Cancellara had already firmly established himself as one of the greatest time triallists of all-time. However, it was only when he won the rare Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double in 2010 that he also demonstrated what he was capable of in the Classics.

Two more Tours of Flanders and one more Paris-Roubaix would follow, plus a host of other semi-Classics, as ‘Spartacus’ became the decade’s master of the cobblestones, and his career ended with one last hurrah through a long-awaited Olympic gold medal in the time trial at Rio 2016.

5. Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali rides to victory on stage 13 of the 2014 Tour de France (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

No other rider in the world was as consistently successful from the very beginning to the very end of the decade as Vincenzo Nibali - in fact, he’s achieved either a Grand Tour overall victory or Monument win in seven of the last 10 years.

One of those wins was, of course, the 2014 Tour de France, but it’s the fact that so much of his success was on home roads, like the Giro d’Italia, Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia, and that he did so with such style and panache that made him such a romantic figure so beloved by the Tifosi.

4. Anna van der Breggen

Anna van der Breggen wins the women's World Championship road race (Photo: Yuzuru SUNADA)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

There’s barely a race that Anna van der Breggen hasn’t won this decade. Her peerless climbing has made her a dominant force in stage races and winner of two Giro Rosa editions; she’s reigned supreme in the Ardennes Classics since the introduction of a women’s Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2017; and boasts a range of many of the other major Classics on her palmarès, most notably the Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche and La Course.

Two victories above all stand out - the jaw-droppingly one-sided 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, which she won through a long-range solo attack with a huge margin of nearly four minutes; and her crowning achievement, the Olympics road race in 2016.

3. Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan wins the 2018 Paris-Roubaix (Photo: Yuzuru SUNADA)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

In January 2010, a 19-year-old Peter Sagan made his WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under, making an immediate impression with a couple of top five finishes. Thus began his stratospheric rise to stardom - soon followed the first of over one hundred professional wins this decade at Paris-Nice, then a couple of years later the first of a record-breaking seven green jersey victories at the Tour de France, and in 2015 the first of a record-breaking run of three successive World Championships road titles.

The Slovakian has grown as a person in that time too, learning and maturing from past misdemeanors while never losing his boyish charisma, and has become an all-time superstar of the sport thanks to his commitment to entertaining and pleasing the fans both off and on the bike.

2. Chris Froome

Chris Froome on the Colle della Finestre at the 2018 Giro d'Italia (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Most decades have one standout rider who dominates at the Tour de France - Jacques Anquetil in the ‘60s, Eddy Merckx in the ‘70s, Bernard Hinault in the ‘80s, Miguel Indurain in the ‘90s and... well, let’s not get into the ‘00s. In the 2010s, that rider was categorically Chris Froome, who rode his way to within just one yellow jersey behind the aforementioned quartet’s shared record of five.

Supported by the formidable unit of Team Sky, Froome appeared virtually invincible every July, physically capable of mastering whatever challenges the organisers threw his way, and exercising a mental ruthlessness that you wouldn’t have guessed from his calm, polite manner off the bike. The addition of Vuelta and Giro victories saw him complete the full set of Grand Tours, making him comfortably the best male stage racer of the last 10 years.

1. Marianne Vos

Marianne Vos at the 2012 Road World Championships (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Marianne Vos was already established as a bonafide superstar at just 22 years old 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until the first half of this decade that the extent of her once-in-a-generation talent was revealed to the world. The Dutchwoman enjoyed a period of dominance that no other road cyclist besides maybe Eddy Merckx had ever achieved, winning an astonishing total of 112 wins in the years between 2010-2015 alone.

Those wins didn’t come in just any races, either, but the very biggest the sport has to offer offer - one Olympic and two Worlds golds, three Giro Rosas, multiple major Classics, and the inaugural Women’s Tour and La Course (the latter of which she was herself instrumental in creating).

Injury problems in 2015 brought about a leaner period, but Vos’ considerable influence has continued to resonate through her role as an articulate and passionate spokesperson for women’s cycling, and has been instrumental in the sport’s growth over the decade.

And she’s not finished as a racer just yet - last year she enjoyed her best season since 2015, hinting that yet more majestic moments might be in store come the new decade.

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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.