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5 memorable moments from the 2021 UCI World Championships

Joe Robinson
27 Sep 2021

A remarkable week of racing across Flanders will live long in the memory for cycling fans everywhere

The 100th anniversary of the UCI road race World Championships in Flanders, Belgium certainly lived up to its billing. It was an utterly wild week of racing throughout cycling’s true heartland across 11 events that culminated in a memorable defence of the elite men’s title by Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.

Across the week, a thousand stories were told in every race and much more than just those who went home in a rainbow jersey and that's not even mentioning the incredible crowds that lined the route of each and every race.

Below, Cyclist recalls five of its most memorable moments from this year's World Championships.

1. Zoe Backstedt and Magnus Backstedt

No, I’m not crying, you’re crying. No, you’re not crying, Magnus Backstedt is crying. Of course he is, he has just watched his youngest daughter Zoe become Junior road race World Champion. And better yet, he was commentating on the race!

For Cyclist, this was undoubtedly the moment of the World Championships. Think Pat Cash climbing the Wimbledon stands or Darren Clarke at the 2006 Ryder Cup event – moments that left us choked up at what was happening before us live on television. We watched a father commentating on his daughter becoming a World Champion, and the raw emotion of it was overwhelming. 

Thanks to a camera set up in the GCN/Eurosport commentary booth, we were able to share this special moment with the Backstedts as Magnus watched his daughter become champion. It is one we will not forget.

2. Binaim Ghirmay, remember the name

History was made on the roads of Leuven last week. Eritrean Binaim Ghirmay became the first black African athlete to win a medal at the road race World Championships when he powered to silver in the Under-23 men’s road race on Friday.

After the race, the Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux rider was embraced by the wall of Eritrean supporters who had made the journey to Flanders, rejoicing at how Ghirmay had repaid their unwavering support.

‘I’m very proud of what I just achieved, this silver medal means a lot to Eritrea, and also for Africa,’ Ghrimay said post-race.

‘I’m convinced that the future of my country is bright, because we have great potential. We've been working hard for several years already to develop it and with some additional experience more results like this will follow.'

This could be a defining moment for the world of road cycling for Africa. A watershed result. With the Worlds heading to Africa in 2025, Rwanda acting as host nation, you hope that Ghirmay's result is the start of something big for the continent.

3. Flanders, cycling's home

If ever you needed convincing that Flanders is the home of road cycling, last week supplied the proof. On the 100th anniversary of the UCI road World Championships, we were treated to crowds unlike any we've seen in cycling for an awfully long time. As Tom Pidcock put it, ‘It was like racing through a stadium, not on roads.'

This was cycling’s equivalent to a European night at Anfield. Every inch of the Leuven and Flemish circuit was packed with rabid cycling fans, 10-deep at points, raucous in song urging on their home favourites. The climb of Wijnpers on the Leuven circuit was akin to The Kop. Every time the peloton passed the crowd roared with deafening encouragement. You could see it in the faces of those racing, this was unlike anything any of them had experienced before.

It was estimated that over 1.5 million fans turned out across the week. Not bad for a country of just 11 million people.

4. Tony Martin’s golden goodbye

‘Der Panzerwagen’ Tony Martin bowed out on his remarkable 14-year professional career in the very manner that he spent most of it, wearing a rainbow jersey.

Sadly, the 36-year-old called time on his career after stating he ‘just didn’t feel safe in cycling anymore’, with the German claiming the sport was as unsafe as at any point in the past decade.

Thankfully, the four-time individual time trial World Champion got to leave the sport on a high as he added a fifth title to his illustrious palmares, this time representing Germany in the mixed relay team time-trial.

It was a fitting end to Martin’s career which will be long remembered for the pain and suffering he caused to those trying to stay on his wheel.

5. The Greatest Showman

Merci Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman is cycling’s ultimate showman, a man who embodies panache, oozes class and personifies desire. He's a rider who understands that winning a bike race is not enough – you must put on a show with it too.

Sunday’s men’s road race was one of the great World Championship battles in recent memory. From Remco Evenpoel’s heroic feats working for Wout van Aert to the helter-skelter tactics of the French team, the entire 268km of racing had us on the edge of our seats.

And it seemed truly fitting that the winner after such an enthralling, nail-biting day was the one rider who really races with his heart on his sleeve.

Alaphilippe tried, tried and tried again yesterday until it eventually worked, his explosive acceleration on the Sint-Antoniusberg too much for Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Sonny Colbrelli to follow. What followed was 20 or so kilometres of trademark Alaphilippe, thrashing and bashing his bike to the finish line, all with the facial expression of an over-excited puppy.

Any Flandrien hearts broken by Alaphilippe in his defence of the rainbow jersey were quickly mended when the new World Champion then took to the stage and proved, once again, he was born to entertain.