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Who was the best rider of the 2019 season?

Joe Robinson
15 Oct 2019

From the Classics to the Grand Tours, Cyclist ranks the top male riders of 2019

Who was the best male road rider of the 2019 season? It’s a question that’s both subjective and objective. Objectively, it could be the rider who won the most races or the rider who won the biggest races. Subjectively, it could be the individual who gave us the most memorable moments.

Casting your mind back, there are plenty of riders who fall into both categories and to our mind, there are seven stand-out contenders: Julian Alaphilippe, Primoz Roglic, Jakob Fuglsang, Egan Bernal, Mathieu van der Poel, Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogacar.

All of these riders combined the objective and subjective approach, taking major victories in memorable fashion. It’s worth noting some of those who can feel hard done by to be left out, too.

Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Groenewegen has more victories than any other rider this season (15), Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan won stages at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, while Sam Bennett managed 13 victories despite being in dispute with his Bora-Hansgrohe team for most of the year.

Richard Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian to win the Giro d’Italia, Alejandro Valverde was his usual highly-consistent self and Philippe Gilbert won Paris-Roubaix to mark the fourth of the five Monuments from his career tick sheet.

Usually, having a season like any of the above would be noteworthy, yet such were the exploits of the very best, and the context in which they were achieved, simply winning the Queen of the Classics was not enough in 2019.

This year, to be the best rider of the season, you had to do a little bit more.

The front runners

Dipping back into your 2019 pro cycling memory banks, three names really dominate the headlines - Julian Alaphilippe, Egan Bernal and Primoz Roglic.

A total of 30 wins between them, two Grand Tours, one Monument, five WorldTour one-week stage races, five further one-day Classics, 32 days leading Grand Tours.

Roglic rode five stage races this season (Vuelta a Espana, Giro d’Italia, UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico Tour de Romandie). He won four of those and finished third at the Giro. He took at least one stage victory in four of these five races, too.

Then, adding a perfectly sweet glace cherry on top of his season, the Slovenian raced the Italian Autumn Classics, winning Giro dell’Emilia and Tre Valli Varesine.

Not bad for a rider who is still so new to the sport that it’s enshrined in law that all commentators and writers have to precede his name with ‘former ski jumper’.

Egan Bernal is only 22-years-old and has already won a Tour de France. Let that sink in. A boy who was born in the same year Tony Blair’s New Labour promised ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ has already won the biggest race in professional cycling.

It was a strange Tour de France where the final ‘race-deciding’ week was deflated by the eminent threat of climate change, yet there was never any doubt surrounding who the strongest rider in the race was.

Had the Tour played out to its fullest conclusion, chances are Bernal’s margin of victory in Paris would have been bigger than the 1 minute 11 seconds to teammate Geraint Thomas.

It’s also worth noting that Bernal became Colombia’s first-ever Tour champion. It’s something we knew would happen eventually, but you cannot deny the magnitude of such an achievement. Colombia is a nation obsessed with cycling, Bernal won the sport’s biggest race, Bernal is now a national icon. And all while still being 22-years-old.

When you take a step back and look at it, Alaphilippe had a better season than both Bernal and Roglic.

He won Milan-San Remo, a Monument that his capabilities shouldn’t suit. He won Strade Bianche and Fleche Wallonne, two races that he won at a canter. He then won at least one stage at the Colombia 2.1, Vuelta San Juan, Itzulia Basque Country, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Criterium du Dauphine.

But, most importantly, the 27-year-old rode this year’s Tour with such enigmatic panache that he gave the entire nation of France a hope in its home Grand Tour that it hasn’t had for almost four decades.

For 14 days Alaphilippe rode in yellow, building momentum and belief with every town he passed. Each day he defended the jersey, the more people would begin to believe that he might actually be able to do it.

Eventually, he fell three days short but the nature in which he battled day after day, with an uncompromising swagger and charm created a national love affair in a race crying out for a new protagonist to get behind.

The new kid on the block

Mathieu van der Poel only raced for 43 days on the road this season, half the number of most of his rivals, but still caused a major earthquake in 2019.

The mutterings of just how good Van der Poel would be on the road have been rumbling for a few years now but this was our first opportunity to see what he really could do and, boy, he did not disappoint.

The Dutchman’s win rate was just under 25%. Within that were WorldTour one-day races, week-long stage races and even the odd bunch sprint. Amstel Gold, Brabantse Pijl, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Britain already banked into his palmares and he hasn’t even fully committed to riding road yet.

Even more impressive than these wins was the nature in which he raced.

There was refreshing naivety to Van der Poel’s approach. What other rider would crash into a flower pot in their first-ever Tour of Flanders, look certain to abandon, get back on their bike, chase for 60km alone and then attack the leading group immediately after catching back on?

And how often would you see a rider go so far into the red for victory, they would blow as catastrophically as Van der Poel did at the World Championships. It was an act that you feel really earned Van der Poel the admiration of those watching, a relatability to his often superhuman persona.

Van der Poel also produced the single most impressive victory of 2019, single-handedly closing a minute gap to Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang over 10km, launching a 400m sprint and winning the Amstel Gold Race back in April.

The one you may have forgotten

Fuglsang's year could see you forget that, up until July, the veteran rider was on course for the season of his career.

By July, he was one of the favourites for the Tour, such was the wave of success he had been riding but, eventually, Fuglsang was a DNF following a crash. With that, people forgot about how omnipresent the Dane was throughout the spring.

Podiums at Strade Bianche, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne eventually led to an impressive solo win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Third at Tirreno-Adriatico and fourth at Itzulia Basque Country and he eventually earned victory at the Criterium du Dauphine.

The early part of the season saw an unmissable drama play out between Fuglsang and Alaphilippe as the pair seemed to go toe-to-toe each week, both earning an equal share of the spoils. Fuglsang's 2019 will not be one to forget.

The Young Guns

The last two riders who could lay down a worthy claim for rider of the season are Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogacar.

Both are first-year pros, one is still a teenager, the other won a race in the USA despite not legally being able to drink the champagne he was gifted on the podium. Both are the future and the present of the sport.

Slovenian Pogacar broke onto the scene in May winning the Tour of California. By September, he was winning three stages of the Vuelta a Espana and finishing on a Grand Tour podium at his first attempt.

Pogacar will win a Grand Tour if he continues this progression and it could very well be next year. Incredible considering he is only 21, but that seems the norm now.

And as for Evenepoel. Well, what were you doing at 19-years-old? Because I can guarantee it was not winning the European Championships time trial, Classica San Sebastien and the Tour of Belgium within a two-month period during your first season as a professional bike rider.

And I bet you did not finish second at the time trial World Championships either. It's easy to forget that what Evenepoel is doing right now is phenomenal as a result of how natural it looks for the generational talent.

For both Evenepoel and Pogacar, there really are no limits to how far they can go and 2019 was only the beginning.

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