From the World Championships to Paris-Roubaix: Cycling Weekly's wins of 2022
It is hard to look past Annemiek van Vleuten, but we tried, so here is the best win of the year, plus eight more
There were 168 race days across the men's WorldTour season, with the World Championships added in, and 75 race days in the Women's WorldTour, meaning deciding which were the best triumphs of 2022 is a quite difficult endeavour.
I mean, it would be difficult were it not clear which was the best win of the year already: Annemiek van Vleuten's World Championship road race victory in Wollongong was the most memorable end to a race of the year, and possibly one of the most incredible finishes ever, such was the drama.
However, it would be quite a boring list were this to just contain Van Vleuten's Australian adventure, so there are eight more on here for you to recall; some you might have forgotten, and some you almost definitely have not.
Seeing as there is such a breadth of racing to take a pick from, from both women's and men's races, there should probably be some ground rules.
Firstly, all these races are from the WorldTour, the highest level of racing, or the World Championships, or we would get stuck in a never ending list of our own making. Secondly, there can only be one pick per race, otherwise some would dominate while others were forgotten.
The Tour de France and the Tour de France Femmes were great, but they can only be represented once. Interestingly, one wonders whether these seem so great in our memory because they were the events of the year, with all the hype; memory is a fickle thing.
Finally, only one pick per rider, or it could be a bit imbalanced towards certain riders, so only one win from Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar or Annemiek van Vleuten.
So, off the back of these rules, honourable mentions must go to Mark Cavendish at the British nationals, Tom Pidcock at the Tour, Annemiek van Vleuten at the Giro d'Italia Donne, and Lotte Kopecky at the Tour of Flanders, among others. If you disagree, please feel free to get angry, but remember, this is just my opinion, not a comprehensive list.
Anyway, here we go, chronologically...
Lotte Kopecky - Strade Bianche
Lotte Kopecky had a great season, which was made all the more impressive by it being her first year with SD Worx, a super team where she could have been crowded out by other talents. Instead, she thrived under pressure. I could have picked her victory at the Tour of Flanders, which I was there for, with all the emotion of a Belgian winning in the Belgian tricolor, but her win at Strade Bianche was more impressive.
The 27-year-old was off the front of the race on three separate occasions, twice with Annemiek van Vleuten, the only rider to have ever won the race twice. The all-conquering Dutchwoman was clearly the rider to watch, and was part of the large group which came into Siena together, along with Kopecky.
However, with the help of her teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, the Belgian timed her attacks perfectly, sprinting around the final corner into the Piazza del Campo in front of Van Vleuten, preventing her from winning a third, and showing what a powerful and shrewd racer she has become.
She used the right line around that last bend, forcing Van Vleuten wide in the process, guaranteeing her the best shot at that famous finish in the middle of the medieval city. It was a perfect start to her time at SD Worx.
"You’re never confident [of beating van Vleuten], but I had a good feeling today, and I knew the person to follow was Annemiek and first, I had to let her go a bit," Kopecky said after. "I don’t know what happened in my head, but I just kept going, and when we turned to the right, I passed her, but then the other corner, she passed me again, and it was really just one sprint to the last corner. It is amazing to win this race."
Tadej Pogačar - Strade Bianche
Back to Tuscany once again - there is something about Strade Bianche that makes it a must-watch, and seems to always produce fantastic racing.
Back in March Tadej Pogačar took a different approach to Kopecky had done earlier the same day, and rather than sticking with the favourites until the final climb, decided to go it alone from far out, very far out in fact. The kilometres to go ticker had barely gone down past 50km when the Slovenian powered off the front on a gravel sector.
It wasn't as much a stinging attack as gliding away, and then holding onto that lead for well over an hour. By the final climb into Siena the race was over, and it looked like a year in which Pogačar would conquer all again - this might not have exactly come true, but there were still golden moments.
Christophe Laporte - Paris-Nice, stage one
Jumbo-Visma seemed on fire throughout the year, and we will come back to their brilliant teamwork a bit later, but this statement victory at the beginning of Paris-Nice set the tone.
Jumbo-Visma used a short third category climb six kilometres from the finish to unleash panic in the peloton and to put themselves into a commanding position that set them up for the win and denied the sprinters the chance they had been hoping would arise.
The trio of Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte flew up the final ascent with the peloton behind them unable to respond, before the three riders descended in unison and then crossed the line as one, Laporte being afforded the honours of taking the stage win with Roglič coming home in second. The peloton were 22 seconds in arrears.
Roglič ended up winning overall, after his team controlled the race from start to finish. Not a bad start to the stage racing season.
Matej Mohorič - Milan-San Remo
With the help of an innovation - a dropper seat post - Matej Mohorič descended to victory at Milan-San Remo, taking his first Monument in the process.
With the bunch settling momentarily as the Poggio was crested, the Slovenian took his chance to attack, descending with nerves of steel and managing to create a slender gap back to the bunch. There were a couple of nervy moments as he went wide into a corner or two, but he kept it going to power to the line.
As he told Cycling Weekly before Christmas: “To have a plan come together like this is probably a once in a lifetime experience.”
Marta Cavalli - Amstel Gold Race
As we will see, when Annemiek van Vleuten makes a decisive attack, that is usually that, race over. However, back at the Amstel Gold Race it did not go the Dutchwoman's way - although it would at Liège-Bastogne-Liège three weeks later. On this Sunday, though, on her home roads, it was not a day for AVV but for Marta Cavalli.
The Italian caught her companions in the lead group by surprise with just under 2km to go, on the final ascent of the Cauberg, and stormed to victory. In an FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope shorn of their natural leader in Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, the French squad had to get inventive, and were aggressive all day. That spirit did not end, with Cavalli proving her mettle.
Despite the presence of two SD Worx riders - Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Demi Vollering - and other fast finishers like Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Balsamo chasing, Cavalli picked her moment to perfection, and once she got going, no one could stop her. It was an attack full of bravery.
The Frenchwoman would go on to triumph at Flèche Wallonne a fortnight later, proving herself as the Queen of the Ardennes races for 2022.
Elisa Longo Borghini - Paris-Roubaix
There have only been two editions of Paris-Roubaix Femmes to date, and yet we appear to have stumbled upon a formula for the race already: A Trek-Segafredo rider goes on a perfectly timed solo attack, and wins alone in the velodrome. We will have to wait until April to see if this stands up for a third time in a row.
In 2022 it was Elisa Longo Borghini's turn to power to victory across the cobbles. The Italian champion attacked solo with 38km of the race remaining, and though her lead was never secure, her Trek-Segafredo team mates behind made the case difficult.
Behind her, a group of seven women formed in pursuit, but with two team mates in attendance the chase was unable to gel and the Italian took a lead approaching 30 seconds into the Roubaix velodrome.
The win had been set up from early on, with Ellen van Dijk forcing the pace on the first cobbled sector, and by the time Longo Borghini went, no one could match her. A glorious day for the Italian.
Biniam Girmay - Giro d'Italia, stage 10
As landmark wins go, this was a big one, with Biniam Girmay becoming the first Eritrean and first black African rider to win a Grand Tour stage.
The win was a lot more than that though, with stage 10 of the Giro d'Italia becoming more and more chaotic on the run in to the finish in Jesi. The difficulty of the finalé can be seen in the varied names of competitors who finished behind Girmay: Mathieu van der Poel, Richard Carapaz and Romain Bardet were all close.
Coming into the final 500m, the Eritrean hit the front as he launched off of teammate Domenico Pozzovivo's rear wheel. The Eritrean superbly managed to fend off Van der Poel in the closing stages with his superior strength.
Recognising he didn't have the legs to beat Girmay, the Dutchman gave his rival a thumbs up while crossing the finish line. It was beautiful.
Sadly, an incident with the Prosecco cork on the podium meant he had to depart the race early, but the young man will be back at the top.
Wout van Aert - Tour de France, stage four
Another race in France, another masterclass from Jumbo-Visma. This time, Wout van Aert was the beneficiary of excellent teamwork from Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte, with the final categorised hill providing the launch pad for his audacious attack with 11km to go. Simply put, no one could catch the Belgian in yellow once he had gone.
Jumbo had dramatically upped the tempo on that final climb, splitting the peloton up the hill. Only Ineos Grenadiers were attempting to keep pace through Adam Yates, but Van Aert attacked again and was never seen again.
Such was the surprise of his solo attack that Jasper Philipsen didn't even realise that his sprint for the line was for second place, and the Belgian celebrated as if he had won. The problem was, Van Aert was already warming down ahead of the peloton.
It wasn't the last of Jumbo-Visma's impressive attacks at the Tour - the Col du Granon stage which saw Jonas Vingegaard crack Tadej Pogačar was a highlight, but the day in Calais stands out as a great win.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig - Tour de France Femmes, stage three
Uttrup Ludwig's biggest victory to date came at the end of a long, tough, lumpy day from Reims to Épernay, and from an elite group that contained the yellow jersey, Marianne Vos, and the eventual overall winner, Annemiek van Vleuten. It also followed an opening couple of days of the Tour where things had been tough for Uttrup Ludwig’s FDJ-Suez- Futuroscope team, with her losing lots of time on GC on stage two, and Marta Cavalli being forced to abandon.
Even with 200 metres to go, the Dane looked out of it, with Vos, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Kasia Niewiadoma looking like they were in the driving seat, but Uttrup Ludwig would surge around the trio in the final 100 metres, to take the biggest win of her career.
The whole race was a stunning advertisement for women's cycling, Van Vleuten's dominance excepted, and stage three was just another part of that.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly in December, Uttrup Ludwig could barely believe her success still: “The Tour definitely stands out as the highlight of the season. It was more the circumstances of that day having lost so much time on GC, and having lost Marta [Cavalli] the day before, and everything looking so black and dark, and the team being so down. The day after, to win, to go through such a roller coaster, was very special and kind of amazing.
“I didn’t know I had won until I had almost crossed the line. OK, the last few metres, when I couldn’t see anyone, but it was not until I crossed the line when I was like, ‘Did this happen?’ I didn’t really think that much, it was just getting to the line. I wanted to make sure no one could overtake me, I wanted this so bad. I was just fighting.”
Annemiek van Vleuten - World Championships road race
Just remember that Annemiek van Vleuten had a broken elbow when she did this, when she won the worlds for a second time. The Dutchwoman had crashed heavily in the mixed relay TTT just days before the road race, her participation was in doubt, the race looked decided, and then she just went and won the whole thing.
The race looked to be decided by a group of 13 riders heading into the final, with fast finishers like Lotte Kopecky and Arlenis Sierra up there, ready to pounce in the last hundred metres. However, Van Vleuten, who looked like she was out of it, suddenly came out of nowhere in the last kilometre, powering past to claim the win. The moment where nobody jumped onto her wheel decided the whole race; perhaps they were so surprised that they just could not make a decision.
Van Vleuten is a serial winner, but often her victories are not highly entertaining, such is the way she crushes her rivals into submission. But in a wet day in Wollongong, it was an incredible turn of speed which saw her sprint to victory. Simple.
"I’m still waiting for the moment for someone to tell me it’s not true,” Van Vleuten said after the race. “I had such a different plan beforehand. Today I was just a domestique with a broken elbow. And now I’m world champion."
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Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.
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