What were the best one-day races of 2021?
Paris-Roubaix Femmes topped the list for us - which 2021 one-day race did you enjoy the most?
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10. Men’s European Championships
Remco Evenepoel’s restless attacks were once again the source of much excitement in 2021, and in September his aggressive approach brought to life the European Championships in Trento. But unlike his other long-range attacks to win several minor classics, this time he couldn’t quite shake off the stubborn resistance of Sonny Colbrelli, who hung on for dear life when Evenepoel attacked about 20km from the finish, and again later when their companion Benoit Cosnefroy was dropped. The hard part over, Colbrelli was able to comfortably outsprint Evenepoel in the finale, in a raucous atmosphere of hundreds of cheering Italian fans.
9. Women’s Gent-Wevelgem
It took a while for this year’s edition of Gent-Wevelgem to get going, but the action that kicked off upon arrival at the Kemmelberg made it well worth the wait. The finale had everything, with attacks flying off the front of the race (including a memorable effort by Jumbo-Visma’s young Brit Anna Henderson), full-on echelon-forming racing in the crosswinds, and an agonisingly late catch of Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing). That left a competitive big group sprint to determine the winner of the race, with esteemed fast finishers Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) and Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) losing out to Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma).
8. Men’s Amstel Gold
The revised post-Cauberg finish version of Amstel Gold continues to bear fruit, as the 2021 edition treated us to another exhibition of aggressive, unpredictable racing, with a too-close-to-call photo finish to top it off. Though not quite as extraordinary as the Mathieu van der Poel-driven spectacle of the race’s last edition in 2019, the lack of an uphill finish once again prompted multiple attacks from riders knowing they couldn’t afford to hang about and wait for a sprint finish. The dramatic zenith was to come at the finish line, when Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) were so close that it took ten minutes of commissary scrutiny to determine that Van Aert had won — and so close that some fans remain convinced that the win should actually have been Pidcock’s.
7. Women’s Amstel Gold
This year’s Amstel Gold was one of those great races where the likely winner constantly changed inside of the final few kilometres. First, Grace Brown (BikeExchange) built a lead with a solo attack during the last lap big enough to potentially win; then, after she was caught 2.5km from the line, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) broke clear and appeared destined to contest the victory, only for their move to dramatically break down with just a few hundred metres left to ride after Borghini stopped taking her turn, much to a vocal Niewiadoma’s vocal exasperation; and finally, even as Vos lifted her arms in celebration at the line in the resulting 8-woman sprint, it looked for a moment as though Demi Vollering (SD Worx) might have snatched victory at the line with a late surge.
6. Men’s Olympics road race
The inclusion of a climb as difficult as the Mikuni Pass over 30km from the finish meant it was always likely that the endgame of the Olympic road race would kick off early, and indeed the race ignited on the climb with an attack by Tadej Pogačar. The hot topic prior to the race was whether or not Wout van Aert could survive such a tough climb, and the Belgian thrillingly managed to neutralise the attack. Everything was therefore still to play for at the top of the climb with about a dozen riders still in the lead group, prompting multiple attacks, with Richard Carapaz and, surprisingly, Brandon McNulty eventually going clear; and the gripping tension continued until 6km from the line, when Carapaz dropped his companion to solo to gold.
5. Men’s Strade Bianche
In what other race do you get the likes of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) doing battle with star climbers Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)? Strade Bianche’s unique parcours make it a one-off meeting point for a diverse range of the best riders in the world, and this year’s was the best edition yet in terms of star quality. The aforementioned riders were part of an eight-man group that went clear on the brutal Monte Sante Marie gravel section 50km from the finish, and entertained us all by attacking each other, with Van der Poel triumphing with a couple of truly jaw-dropping accelerations.
4. Men’s Paris-Roubaix
Cycling fans had waited nineteen years for a wet Paris-Roubaix, and it did not disappoint. The images of the mud-caked riders speak for themselves, and will surely be reminisced about for years to come. As well as providing such a visual spectacle, the wet conditions also contributed to what was a wildly entertaining race, with decisive moves being made early, great tension as the controversial Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) hopes for victory were dramatically denied by a late flat tyre and crash, and a surprising but very worthy winner in Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), whose ecstatic celebration at the finish graphically illustrated just how much winning this race means.
3. Women’s Olympic road race
Some argue that the Olympic road race was a farce that did not do justice to the women’s sport, especially the exasperated stars berating the absence of race radios, who made the fatal error of not realising that they had not brought back the final rider from the day’s breakaway, Anna Kisenhofer. But this confusion contributed to the high drama of the occasion, as did the subsequent fall-out between the Dutch riders, whose cryptic barbs against unnamed teammates had us still unpacking what exactly had happened for long after it had finished. They were the hot favourites for victory, so for them to get their tactics so horribly wrong and allow a rider who had even lost her professional contract four years ago made this one of the all-time great upsets and a fairy-tale triumph of an underdog battling against the odds.
2. World Championships men’s elite road race
In a year of aggressive racing, during which long-range attacks are becoming more and more fashionable in the men’s peloton, no race better exemplified the new gung-ho atmosphere than the World Championships road race. As recently as a few years ago, the notion of a team blowing the race to pieces almost 200km to ride with some of their star riders would have been unthinkable, but this is exactly what the French did in Flanders, nearly causing the race’s decisive selection absurdly early.
The French were far from the only aggressors, as other teams got in on the act in what became something of a free-for-all; the irrepressible Remco Evenepoel was inevitably involved, his attacks resulting in a post-race fallout among the Belgian camp that continue to rumble on today. But it was France who were the protagonists throughout the day, with Julian Alaphilippe’s multiple attacks animating the race in the endgame just as his teammate’s had done previously, and resulting in a stunning victory.
1. Women’s Paris-Roubaix
Even before the first weather forecasts predicting potential rain ahead of the race, the inaugural women’ Paris-Roubaix had been enormously anticipated, with a Covid-enforced postponement from the spring to October further whetting the appetite. Those biblical conditions served only to heighten what was already guaranteed to be a momentous spectacle, the like of which we hadn't seen for decades, and never before in the women’s sport.
The slippery surface made the race a ferocious war of survival, where even the act of merely staying upright took an enormous amount of skill — pre-race favourites Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing), Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) were among those to dramatically go down. Fittingly, the race came down to a duel between old masters of the sport Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), with the former for once getting the better of her long-standing rival with an epic solo attack worthy of the occasion.
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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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