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Best cyclists in the world: professional cycling Team of the Decade

Joe Robinson
7 Dec 2019

Check who made our eight rider team of the decade. Let us know if you agree with our choices or not

With 2019 coming to an end and 2020 quickly approaching, one final question remains: who would be in the professional cycling team of the decade? It’s a tough task condensing the cream of this decade’s crop into eight riders but when you consider not only the results, but the context of those victories, some riders truly stand head and shoulders above the rest.

We asked our Twitter followers for suggestions. Plenty of the same names popped up as well as some surprises, while some of you forgot that this decade is more than just the season just gone.

Also, for all those suggesting Tom Boonen, yes, he was a great rider but only two of his seven Monument wins came this side of the decade so we can simply not include him.

So, below is Cyclist magazine’s team of the decade

1. Marianne Vos

Victories this decade - 180
Biggest win this decade - Olympic Road Race, 2012

Sometimes I have to think: is Marianne Vos real or just a figment of our imagination? 

She is the greatest cyclist of all time, sorry Eddy Merckx, she is. Her capabilities know no bounds, whether that be on the road, track or in cyclocross. She wins sprints, she wins on mountains, she wins in the wind, she wins in the rain.

Even though she suffered a mid-career burnout due to her unrelenting success, she quickly returned to dominating racing again.

The above photo comes from the London Olympics road race back in 2012 and typifies a Vos win. Before the race had begun, it had already been decided that Vos was the winner. There was no ifs, buts or maybes, just an absolute.

Others would crumble under that sort of expectation but ultimately, Vos thrived. What a champion.

2. Philippe Gilbert

Victories - 58
Biggest win - Tour of Flanders, 2017

Some careers are defined by a season. A year of unprecedented form in which everything they touch turns to gold.

For Philippe Gilbert, it seemed like it was going to be a little more like two. Starting with victory at Il Lombardia in the October of 2010, he rounded it off by becoming World Champion in September 2012.

Between those two dates, came a perfect sweep of the Ardennes Classics - victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Brabantse Pijl - plus Classica San Sebastian, Strade Bianche, a stage and a day in yellow at the 2011 Tour de France, the road and time trial titles of Belgium, third at Milan-San Remo, eighth in defence of his Il Lombardia title and ninth at the Tour of Flanders.

It was a phenomenon.

But, then things kind of faded and during his time at BMC Racing, Gilbert faded to black and never really returned to that stellar 2011 form.

That was until he signed for Deceuninck-QuickStep in 2017. Patrick Lefevere gave him a modest deal but the promises of riches he delivered.

That spring, he’d solo for over 50km to win the Tour of Flanders. Two years later, he had conquered the pave of Northern France to take home a Paris-Roubaix cobble.

Gilbert bookended this decade with some phenomenal performances that took home memorable wins and cemented him as the most successful rider in the one-day Classics since Sean Kelly in the 1980s.

3. Annemiek van Vleuten

Victories - 77
Biggest win - UCI World Championships road race, 2019

Can we just talk about the Yorkshire World Championships for a minute? Because I think that was probably the greatest single performance of this decade.

105km to go, Annemiek van Vleuten attacks on the climb of Lofthouse. It’s devastating, nobody can follow. She never looks back, she builds her time gap and she never gives a second up. She crosses the line two minutes ahead of teammate Anna van der Breggen and earns her first road race World Championships. It was controlled, calculated and powerful.

At 37 years old, it seemed to be a cherry on the top of Van Vleuten’s decade. She doesn’t just win, she crushes her competition. She’s the greatest climber in women’s cycling.

What makes this all the sweeter is that in 2016, at the Rio Olympics, for a flash second it looked as if her career had ended when she hit that high curb descending back into the city. How far she went, how far she’s come.

4. Chris Froome

Victories - 55
Biggest win - Giro d’Italia, 2018

At the beginning of this decade, things looked very different for Chris Froome. Struggling around the Eneco Tour and not finishing the Giro d’Italia, he was at risk of being let go by Dave Brailsford, who actively contacted fellow teams to offer up his services.

But then came the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. A performance from seemingly nowhere, he went from being an everyday domestique to Bradley Wiggins to leader of the team, reaching Madrid second on the podium behind Juan Jose Cobo and above teammate Wiggins.*

Now, we end the decade with Froome as one of the greatest Grand Tour riders of all time.

He has seven Grand Tour titles, one Giro d’Italia, two Vueltas and four Tour de France yellow jerseys. He has spearheaded the greatest Grand Tour team of all time and provided some of the sport’s most memorable moments.

Whether that be running up the side of Mont Ventoux or his do-or-die 90km solo attack on the Colle delle Finestre, they will be long remembered beyond his eventual retirement.

There was controversy, of course, like the Salbutamol case and drama, like last summer’s horror crash at the Criterium du Dauphine which spiralled into a massive conspiracy theory of cover-ups and fake photos, both things only add to the Froome narrative.

A rider who went from nothing to everything, is loved and despised in equal measure but shows an unrelenting burning, yearning desire to be the best ever.

*Eight years later, Froome was handed the Vuelta title after Cobo was stripped of the win after being retrospectively banned for doping

5. Peter Sagan

Victories - 145
Biggest win - Paris-Roubaix, 2018

When we asked the Cyclist Twitter following to suggest riders that they think should have been included in this team, one name was present among almost every response: Peter Sagan.

He's more than just a bike racer. His bewildering charm and alluring presence have made him into a demi-god of sorts.

His results are excellent - Roubaix, Flanders, six green Tour de France jerseys and three consecutive World titles - but they’re not Mercxian or even to the calibre of a Roger de Vlaeminck.

But what Sagan has done this decade is return character and individualism into a sport in which its athletes have largely become robotic clones of one another. We get excited when Sagan announces his presence, viewing figures are higher, interest is increased. His actions are palpable.

If he didn't ride bikes for a living he'd likely be a rock star or an award-winning actor. Peter Sagan is more than just a bike racer, he is a superstar.

6. Anna van der Breggen

Victories - 61
Biggest win - UCI World Championships road race, 2018

Only 19 when the decade began, Anna van der Breggen’s whirlwind five years has typified the Dutch domination that has overtaken women’s professional cycling.

Her strike rate in Fleche Wallonne would make Alejandro Valverde blush while her dismantling of the women’s peloton at the World Championships road race in 2018 will live long in the memory.

It's hard paving your own trail when you're a compatriot of Van Vleuten and Vos, but Van der Breggen has done just that and with such success that for long periods of this decade she was outperforming them both.

7. Vincenzo Nibali

Victories - 48
Biggest win - Milan San Remo, 2018

The most capable rider of his generation, the Shark of Messina has won races in all shapes and sizes over this previous decade.

He has won two Giro d’Italia titles, a Vuelta a Espana and absolutely obliterated the Tour de France in 2014. He has been Il Lombardia champion twice and even taken the sprinters' classic, Milan-San Remo.

Along the way there were valiant rides to snow-filled mountain tops, expert navigations of Roubaix’s rainsoaked cobbles, death-defying descents around Italy’s great lakes and even foxy attacks on the Ligurian coastline.

A lot of people write Nibali off quite routinely but may we remind you, every season between 2013 and 2018, he either won a Monument or a Grand Tour. And may we also remind you that of the 18 Grand Tours he started this decade, he reached at least the podium in 11 of those. Mr Consistent.

8. Mark Cavendish

Victories - 110
Biggest win - Stage 1, Tour de France, 2015

Remember Mark Cavendish for the rider he was for the majority of the decade, not for what he was at the end. Because the rider of 2010 to 2017 was the best sprinter that ever graced the sport of cycling.

For this decade, his results include 20 Tour de France stages, a sprinter’s jersey and a stint in leader’s yellow, 10 Giro d’Italia stages, a sprinter’s jersey and a stint in leader’s pink and three Vuelta a Espana stage, a sprinter’s jersey and a stint in leader’s red.

Sprinkle on top two Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne wins, a National road race title, Scheldeprijs and the UCI World Championships; it’s quite the haul.

But what makes Cavendish’s place worthy is how he defied the odds in 2015. He had left Etixx-QuickStep for Dimension Data and had been immediately written off as yesterday’s man. He couldn’t beat Marcel Kittel for love nor money and it seemed as if that terrifying acceleration had dwindled away.

Then came the Tour de France, Cavendish’s playground. He won four stages, wore the yellow jersey after Stage 1 and reminded the world, in comeback kid style, that he is undoubtedly the greatest sprinter that’s ever raced.

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