A to Z of Men’s Cycling 2019 : From New stage winners to Zdenek (part 2)

We finish our round-up of the 2019 men’s pro cycling season – it’s N through Z …

N is for New stage winners

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We had a lot of first time grand tour stage winners this year. They are:

Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe); Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec); Pello Bilbao (Astana); Cesare Benedetti (Bora-hansgrohe); Nans Peters (Ag2r La Mondiale); Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizane); Chad Haga (EF-Education First); Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma); Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida); Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma); Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep); Angel Madrazo (Burgos BH); Jesus Herrada (Cofidis); Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates); Mikel Iturria (Euskadi-Murias); Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma); Sergio Higuita (EF Education First); and Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

O is for Outrageous Finish

That has to go to Amstel Gold. Mathieu van der Poel decided to throw the gauntlet down – a warning to all riders who faff around out front while van der Poel still has some energy …

P is for Pinot noir

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France had one of the best Tours in years in 2019, thanks to Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot. Both had their share of glory with dashing stage raids (often working together), roadside fans cheering them on and moments in the spotlight. But they also both had their share of disappointments, tears and the eternal question of what if? However, whereas Alaphilippe seems to wear the good, the bad and the visits from Macron quite lightly, Pinot seems to have a far more complex relationship with cycling and his place in it. And it was for all the world to see during six days in July.

Stage 14 and Pinot and his teammate David Gaudu played a blinder to take Thibaut stomping to the top of the Tourmalet. The exuberance of Marc Madiot was on full display. When Pinot turns it on, he really turns it on – Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez in 2015, Col de la Croix 2012 – and it looked like he was coming into brilliant form for the final week of the Tour and might just be able to make up his time deficit to podium and – dare we dream? – to win the 2019 edition.

Stage 19 – Alaphilippe was still in yellow, 1.30sec ahead of 2nd place Egan Bernal, but the profile of the stage and the all-out swashbuckling nature of LouLou’s racing (breaking the Grand Tour rule of conserving energy for victory) meant that it was almost a given that he would finally be dislodged from the top of the GC. With that in mind, Pinot was only 20sec behind Bernal, 15sec behind Geraint Thomas and 3sec behind Steven Kruijswijk, so if Alaphilippe failed, there was a good chance Pinot could be on the podium, possibly even in the top spot. … And then this …

There wasn’t a dry eye on Twitter. I still can’t watch the footage of him being consoled by his teammate as he realised he would have to abandon due to a fluke thigh muscle injury he incurred after Stage 18 without tearing up. Once again, Pinot would have to suffer for his cycling (who can forget him having to abandon the Giro 2018 in the last weekend, when he had every chance of taking a podium place, due to pneumonia) and come away crushed. A French documentary film crew caught Pinot’s utter desolation and the quiet words of comfort and encouragement from Madiot on film, giving us a rare insight into the dark night of the soul for Pinot. There’s no one I’d rather win the Tour than that man.

Q is for QuickStep

The winningest team of the year with 68 wins in the season. Julian Alaphilippe led the team with 12 wins, including his first Monument and two stages of the Tour de France (not to mention wearing the maillot jaune like he was born to it). Elia Viviani took 10 wins, including one stage of the Tour, Philippe Gilbert won Paris-Roubaix and took two stages of the Vuelta, and Zdenek Stybar took his first Omloop. Breakthrough riders were Remi Cavagna (1 Vuelta stage), Fabio Jakobsen (2 Vuelta stages), and Remco Evenpoel (Clasica San Sebastian and Baloise Belgium Tour). The national champion’s jerseys seen in the peloton were: Argentine Road Race (Max Richeze); Danish time trial (Kasper Asgreen) and road race (Michael Morkov); Luxembourg TT and road race (Jungels! BOB JUNGELS!) and even European track champion in the Madison (Michael Morkov).

One thing was for sure – one-day races, one-week stage races, national championships or grand tours … QuickStep were there to race – and win. How the team will shake out next season is another thing as they are losing PhilGil (Lotto-Soudal), Viviani and Sabatini (Cofidis), Enric Mas to Movistar and Max Richeze to UAE. They do, however, get Sam Bennett

R is for Retiring

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There were some big names retiring this year and some stalwarts who seemed to go on forever. Marcel Kittel [see K for Kittel], Taylor Phinney, Matti Breschel, Steve Cummings, Mark Renshaw, Ruben Plaza, Peter Stetina, Lars Bak, Daniele Bennati, Maxime Monfort, Adam Blythe and Laurens Ten Dam.

While That Boy Phinney has gone to pursue a more creative career in art and music, Adam Blythe had a test run of post-rider work by being a part of Eurosport’s grand tour commentating team with Orla Chennaoui. His wardrobe alone made him a sure-fire hit!

S is for Sprinters

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The most winningest rider of the year was a sprinter. And that sprinter was Dylan Groenewegen from Jumbo-Visma with 15 wins, including 2 stages each in the Tour de France, Tour of Britain, ZLM Tour and Paris-Nice. Sam Bennett was second on the list of winners, with 13 in the season, including 3 stages at BinckBank, 2 each at Vuelta and Paris-Nice and 1 stage at the Dauphine. Caleb Ewan won 3 stages at the Tour de France, including on the Champs, and 2 stages in the Giro, while Pascal Ackermann also won 2 stages at the Giro and took the points jersey home with him. Looks like the next wave of sprinters are well and truly here.

T is for Team Tactics

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What are we going to do next year without the three-pronged attack of Movistar? What are going to do when we can’t watch one Movistar rider leading the peloton to chase after … the attacking Movistar rider? The sheer number of press conferences where they say ‘We’re riding for Quintana/Landa/Anyone’ and doing the exact opposite? With Mikel Landa moving to Bahrain Merida, Giro-winner Richard Carapaz to Ineos (how many leaders will they have in July, I wonder?) and Nairo Quintana to Arkea-Samsic, it looks like Alejandro Valverde will have the leadership role to himself … But will they be able to retain their clean sweep of Grand Tour Team wins?

U is for Unfinished business

Road racing is a sport performed outdoors, in all weathers – we’ve seen riders battling sandstorms, ice and sleet, and boiling heat. But this year, well, Mother Nature got even more creative. And that creativity, unfortunately, hit the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. The Italian weather erred on the side of torrential rain and thunderstorms in May, making for a soaked and hypothermic peloton.

The Gavia – one of the most anticipated climbs of the Giro – had to be dropped from the queen stage because of, well, a wall of snow with a real risk of avalanches.

But it was four seasons in one day on stage 19 of the Tour de France – hail, rain, a mudslide, and flooding put paid to the finish. The stage was neutralised, Bernal took yellow and won the Tour de France. It was a wild finish to one of the most exciting Tours in years but it was also an unsatisfactory one. Could Alaphilippe have made up time on the descents, like he’d been doing throughout the last week? Or would he have fallen even further down the GC instead of finishing 5th? We’ll never know. But who can forget the pictures?

Even the World Championships in Yorkshire had problems with torrential rain – the men’s race had a shortened parcours due to flooding.

V is for Visma … Jumbo-Visma

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When it comes to winning seasons, Jumbo-Visma was second with 52 – 16 less than QuickStep. But what wins they were! Primoz Roglic‘s Vuelta win and Giro podium were the big name wins but he won a total of 13 races – the same as Bora-hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackermann and just 2 less than his sprinter teammate, Dylan Groenewegen [see S for Sprinters]. He also won Tour of Romandie, the UAE Tour, and Tirreno-Adriatico – and ended the season at the top of the UCI ranking. The team has 8 grand tour stages between them (2 in the Giro, 4 in the Tour and 2 in the Vuelta). They also had four national champions (Amund Grøndahl Jansen, Road Race, Norway; Tony Martin, ITT, Germany; Wout Van Aert, ITT, Belgium; Jos Van Emden, ITT, Netherlands).

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In addition to the wins, a Jumbo-Visma rider has stood on each of the Grand Tour podiums this year – in addition to Roglic’s Vuelta and Giro podiums, Steven Kruijswijk was third in this year’s Tour de France.

While so far it seems the team is good at managing both the fast wins of their premier sprinter, Dylan Groenewegen, and their GC leader, Primoz Roglic, there will be a lot of riders vying for both next year. It will be interesting to see how they manage the possible sprinting rivalry between Groenewegen and Wout Van Aert (once he comes back from that horrific TdF injury) and between Roglic, Kruijswijk and the formidable Tom Dumoulin when he joins the team for the 2020 season. Could it be the Dutch version of Movistar next year?

W is for World Champions

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Sometimes, world champs come out of the blue. Or, in this case, out of a sprint in the torrential rain. On a day when the heavens opened and never closed, it was Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) who made the most out of the fact that bigger names were having a rough time and therefore weren’t opening up attacks or taking chances, just waiting for the rain to force others to abandon. That’s usually a strategy that almost guarantees a surprise winner.

With a breakaway group of five gaining time on a lacklustre peloton (Pederson, Mathieu van der Poel, Matteo Trentin and teammate Gianni Moscon, and Stefan Kung), by the time they got to the flamme rouge, it was only Pederson, Trentin and Kung. It had been Trentin’s race to lose from the time the five men got away … and lose it he did, with Pedersen staying patient on Trentin’s wheel until kicking at 200m to go to leave Trentin wading through the water to second, Kung coming in third.

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In the ITT, Rohan Dennis got himself together after his dramatic exit from the Tour de France [see C for Conspiracy Theories] to take his second consecutive rainbow jersey for the ITT. Unlike Pedersen’s win, this was not a surprise. Remco Evenepoel and Filippo Ganna took silver and bronze respectively.

X is for X-overs

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It was quite a year for two of the great cyclocross riders on the road. Wout van Aert, Belgian wunderkind and three-time cyclocross world champion (2016-2018), moved to Jumbo-Visma from Vérandas Willems–Crelan and his first World Tour season saw him start with his second consecutive third step on the Strade Bianche podium, win two stages and the points classification in the Dauphine, and a thrilling stage 10 in the Tour de France before a horrific crash in the ITT put paid to the rest of the road season. He is back in cyclocross competition on the 27 December at Loenhout Azencross.

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And then there was Matheiu van der Poel. Cyclocross world champion (2015, 2019), European cyclocross champion (2017-2019) and Dutch national cyclocross champion (2015-2019), he also took the European mountain bike championship in 2019. As if that weren’t enough, his wheels were on fire on the road as well. Top steps included Amstel Gold, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Brabantse Pijl, and Grand Prix de Denain. He took a stage each in the Arctic Race of Norway and Tour of Antalya and three stages and the overall in the Tour of Britain. With his fourth places in both the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, he’ll definitely be one of the ones to watch in the spring classics.

Y is for Yates

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Last year, you couldn’t shake a stick at a Grand Tour without hitting Simon Yates … his time in the maglia rosa at the Giro before blowing it by not conserving his energy, then his dominant win at the Vuelta. He started the 2019 Grand Tour season talking all big and bad about being the favourite for the Giro title and ooooooh, how the rest of the field should be scared shitless. Seems no one got that memo because Richard Carapaz looked calm, cool and collected as he let Primoz Roglic ‘do a Yates’ (go from the top to struggling to stay on the podium in the final week) then rode to the top of the GC and collected the most beautiful trophy in cycling.

Simon did take two stages in the Tour de France, however, to remind us that Mitchelton-Scott were actually in the race. It was supposed to be his twin brother Adam’s time to shine but that never got going. But next year, with Bernal and Roglic looking like anything but one-GT wonders, the anticipated return of Froome and Dumoulin, and youngsters like Tadej Pogacar snapping at everyone’s heels, one wonders if the Year of Yates has come and gone.

Z is for Zdenek Stybar

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Zdenek Stybar had a memorable spring with his first wins at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Binckbank Classic. Stybar is one of those riders who has had some big ‘nearlys’ – posting up two second places in Paris-Roubaix, for instance – but who is always racing for his teammates. He always seems to have a certain bonhomie and sparkle both on the bike and off. He’s signed for another two years with Deceuninck-QuickStep and has been in the mud this December, going back to cyclocross, a discipline of which he held the rainbow stripes for three times.

For more retrospectives, how about: 

A to Z of 2019 Giro d’Italia Part 1 and Part 2 

A to Z of 2019 Tour de France Part 1 and Part 2 

A to Z of 2019 Vuelta Part 1 and Part 2

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