Sign up for our newsletter

The 2021 Pro Cycling Season in Review

3 Nov 2021

A look back at the good, the bad and the ugly that the 2021 cycling season threw at us

Words: Joe Robinson

In the words of Tommy Cooper, 'just like that' the 2021 cycling season is over.

If 2020 was the season of rescheduled races, team bubbles and wearing masks then 2021 was all about, well, rescheduled races, race bubbles and wearing masks – just this time it was Nairo Quintana on the Colombian Masked Singer.

It was also the year when Bahrain became Victorious, Vos remained boss, Slovenian PogRog notched up to 11, Deignan became the Queen of the Classics and slapbacks, Cofidis were vampires and Sonny Colbrelli actually won something. The 2021 season really was a wild one to remember for the good, bad and ugly.

To start with, the Grand Tours this year did not feel so grand at all. Over 63 stages and nine weeks of riding, we probably got one Grand Tour’s worth of decent racing. If we’re honest, the outcome in all three races was decided long before the final finish line.

Primož Roglič is dominating the Vuelta a Espana in the same way Manchester City did the League Cup for five years. Three wins in a row and yet nobody is particularly impressed because, after all, it’s just the Vuelta. Egan Bernal won the Giro d'Italia and the best bit of that was a stage which we got almost zero live coverage of due to adverse weather conditions. So, a bit like how it feels most of the time for anyone wanting to watch women’s cycling.

Then there was the Tour de France or as it became in 2021, 'The Tour de Tadej Pogačar. It took the baby-faced Slovenian Assassin precisely eight days to win a 21-day race – he was truly on another level in a year of Merckxian proportions with victories at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia too.

In fact, the only things that could have beaten Pogačar at this year's Tour would have been a landslide, a rocket attack or an oblivious spectator trying to get her grandparents' attention on national television. Honestly, thank God there were stories beyond the GC battle otherwise the biggest talking point of this year’s race would literally have been a tweet by 50 Cent.

The most heartwarming side-plot of them all was Mark Cavendish, who pulled off the biggest comeback since Take That dropped Patience back in 2006. Cavendish's career appeared over last autumn as he blubbered on the Gent-Wevelgem finish line. Fast forward to this summer and it was tears of happiness as he equalled Eddy Merckx's Tour de France record of 34 stage wins and took the second sprinter’s green jersey of his career. No one, not even his own caring, loving, considerate, thoughtful boss Patrick Lefevere, saw that coming.

And still eclipsing both Cav and Pog as the Tour's main character was Wout.

Wout Van Aert became the first rider to win a bunch sprint, time-trial and mountain stage in a single edition of the Tour since the great badger himself, Bernard Hinault. Van Aert is honestly stacking up Tour stages quicker than Team DSM are losing riders mid-contract, which takes some going.

Add those three Tour stage wins to his Tour of Britain domination, Gent-Wevelgem success and a fag-paper thin Amstel Gold Race victory and you end up asking yourself 'what can't Wout do?'. Well, win a Monument or a home World Championships with a course basically designed for him to win, by the looks of things. You can hear Merckx and De Vlaeminck's disdain from here. We blame pizza boy Remco Evenepoel.

What's weird is that arch-nemesis Mathieu van der Poel also won exactly zero Monuments this year yet only added to the concrete argument that he is extra-terrestrial.

If his ridiculous attacks at Strade Bianche in March made you go 'blimey', his even more audacious acts on Stage 2 of the Tour de France probably made you go 'good lord'. We haven't seen this sort of thing on a bicycle since E.T. was at the helm.

And yet, despite all that, Van der Poel's 2021 will still probably be best remembered for moments he will be wanting to forget. Being outsprinted on the line at the Tour of Flanders, coming third in a one-horse race at Paris-Roubaix and that time he fell off a massive rock on the first lap on the Olympic cross-country mountain bike race – insert the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme here.

Like her Dutch compatriot, Marianne Vos also continued to prove she is no human, rather a goat. Or at least that’s what the third-most searched-for term on Google told me. The legendary rider etched more history into her legacy with victories at Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race, two of the rare races missing from her frankly ridiculous palmares. Just a Hillingdon crit league win and she will have got the lot.

Vos also won her 30th Giro d'Italia Donne stage this year – not that you would have noticed as live coverage of this year's race was limited to the final 15km of each stage (I know, I know, a women's race not being given sufficient live coverage, hard to believe).

One terrain that didnt seem suitable for goats this year were the wet cobbles of northern France, as Vos was nudged into second place by Lizzie Deignan at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

Vos gave it her best but it was ultimately Deignan who was strongest on the day, launching her savvy race-winning move 79km from the finish. Or so we’re told, live coverage only kicked in at 50km to go so we're just taking people’s words for it (a common theme is occurring here).

And don't get us started on the prize money issue either. I think two of the four original members of Bucks Fizz got paid more for playing the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent in 2004 than Deignan was handed for winning Roubaix.

Anyway, adding that Roubaix cobble to her existing results saw Deignan take a third Monument title making her equal with Tom Simpson as Britain's most successful one-day cyclist. Three, that really is a poignant number for Deignan, isn’t it?

In all seriousness, it was genuinely amazing to see an inaugural women's Roubaix this year. It showed progress, albeit slow progress, but at least it is an actual step in the right direction for women's cycling in a year that saw it take eight months for a man found guilty of sexual harassment to be removed from his role as team manager of a women’s team. Sometimes it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall with these things as you ask what the UCI are doing.

Then you remember they handed Turkmenistan's Covid-denying dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow the 2021 Track World Championships. Oh well, it will all be better next year when that bastion of women's rights, the United Arab Emirates, gets its team in the women's WorldTour.

At least there is the return of the Tour de France Femmes to look forward to, a race we cannot wait to see Annemiek van Vleuten win. Providing Anna Kiesenhofer doesn’t turn up, of course.

2021 also sees us wave goodbye to some icons of the sport. Anna van der Breggen, sick of riding to that rubbish zoo in Huy every April, has called time alongside Kirsten Wild, Jolien d’Hoore, Ruth Winder and many more.

Andre Greipel has decided now is also a good time to hang up his wheels alongside Nico Roche, a man who has an entire Ed Sheeran song unironically tattooed on himself. Meanwhile time-trial giant Tony Martin and double Monument winner Dan Martin are also leaving the sport to form their long-awaited dance duo, The House Martins.

It won’t be long until the 2022 season will be in full swing and we'll all be in the Middle East wondering where the time has gone, arguing as to whether the real start of the season is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad again. But before we go, we’ll leave you with this little thought. If Primoz Roglič had gifted Gino Mader the win on Stage 7 of Paris-Nice to La Colmiane, do we reckon he'd have won the Tour?