As I write, Vincenzo Nibali turned 36 years of age on November 14th. This great Italian, a winner of all three Grand Tours and the only man (until this year) to halt the progress of the Dave Brailsford Dominators in the Tour de France since 2012, realised that his own dominant period was over. He as much as said so when he finished seventh in the Giro d’Italia in October recognising that the young riders had taken over and were making him feel very old.
We have talked about the new generation for a couple of years since, and in this curtailed season which produced some of the best action in years, it was confirmed that anyone over 26, especially among the male riders, being competitive in 2021 may not be an option for the Nibalis of the pro scene.
As we look here at the winners of the Road Book awards let us remember that we had a season in 2020 and COVID 19 was, happily the loser! Chapeau to the UCI, the organisers and the federal and local governments who worked to bring a kind of normality in a year we will all want to forget. However, what we will remember, is a brilliantly exciting series of races led by the Grand Tours (France won by 59sec, Italy by 39 and Spain by 24). Record margins in one season.
These are the Road Book champions of a short but great year or professional cycling.
Anna van der Breggen – Female Rider of the Year
The Dutch keep on presenting us with the best female riders of the year and Anna, who won this title also in 2018, never looked back after winning her first Dutch road title in August. Two days later, she had added the European time trial title and then into September she added her third Giro d’Italia title. Watching her was a delight; she could not put a pedal wrong as she rode to both the World time trial and road titles. She won her first race as World Champion, the classic Fleche Wallone, and although retirement is now on the horizon, it will not come until December 2021.
Wout van Aert– Male Rider of the Year
Wout, at 26, has taken a while to impress on the road, but his arrival was never in doubt. A World Championship cyclo-cross medalist since 2015 (including three titles) he can do just about anything – time trial, sprint….and win big road races. Joining the World Tour only last year, he won Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, the Belgian time trial title and two stages of the Tour de France, to bring his overall total to three. What a comeback from his horrendous accident in the Tour during the time trial of 2019. In a year of outstanding competition, he deserved his title of Male Rider of the Year.
Chloé Dygert – Young Female Rider of the Year
Can you believe that Chloe is only 23? She has done so much in her career already, and there is plenty more to come. She defended her 2019 Road Book title despite her serious crash while trying to defend her World time trial title. At the top since a junior in 2015 when she won the two world junior road titles, she has also dominated on the track (and still does). Chloe is so well thought of she has a pro contract until end of 2024.
Tadej Pogačar – Young Male Rider of the Year
Another who defended his award at the ripe old age of 22, Tadej’s biggest challenge is for him to get commentators to say his name the same way twice! An intelligent, talented rider, his future is limitless. The youngest rider to win the Tour since 1904 he improved on his youngest podium in La Vuelta of 2019. Here’s to the next 10 years of Tadej.
Annemiek van Vleuten– Combative Female Rider of the Year
After her life-threatening crash in the Rio Olympic road race, who would have thought this highly courageous women could have achieved so much in the four years since? She had to get an award in 2020, and this is it for a second straight year! Unbeatable until finishing second to Van der Breggen in the Dutch championship, she listed Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche and European road race champion among her seven wins of the year. Not to mention another second to VDB in the World road race where she was the defending champion.
Marc Hirschi– Combative Male Rider of the Year
For me, Marc was the find of the year and no sooner had his mentor Fabian Cancellara said he could win a classic, then he did! Fleche Wallonne was in the bag. This exciting Swiss former u23 World road race champion enjoyed a September he will never forget with a stage win in the Tour de France, third in the World elite road championship and then FW. In case you missed it, a few days later he also had second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege meaning he was the combined champion of the old Ardennais Weekend when FW and LBL fell over two consecutive days..
Not 23 until August 2021, he will find Pogačar his constant rival over the next decade.
Tao Geoghegan Hart- Road Book Society Readers’ Award
Tao’s Giro performance has been well signalled and when Geraint Thomas had the misfortune to crash and retire, Tao took his chance to become a star in his own right. Yet another young talent to emerge from Axel Merckx’ nursery squad in the USA. Son of Eddy, Axel has sent at least 40 young riders to World Tour teams and we have watched them develop with stand-out performances Tao, who joined Team Sky in 2017 from Axeon Hagens Berman, will not be a domestique when he starts his next Grand Tour in 2021.
And the others………
There were so many deserving recipients of the Road Book Awards and the judges clearly saw it the same way. Among those missing a winning vote still left us with indelible memories of 2020.
Primož Roglič, repeated his win in the Vuelta a Espana, but had a fight on his hands with Ricahard Carapaz, last year’s Giro winner. He was a breath of fresh air to the GTs and with a fighting second in the Tour de France, he must wonder what has to do to win the Road Boak’s top award! Julien Alaphilippe, the entertainer as ever, got the most coveted title of all when his attacking riding brought him a rainbow jersey of World road race champion. Italy stepped in at a moment’s notice to stage the title races and with Filippo Ganna, they also got a deserved winner of the World time trial. Future star, Remco Evenepoel , was stopped in his tracks with a serious crash in il Lombardia,.This ended his season on the spot, b ut not before he became, at 20, the youngest winner of a World Tour race (the Tour of Poland).
Among the women, Lizzie Deignan was clearly back and settled after taking time out in 2018 to start a family. Her attacking riding gave her a third victory in Brittany in La Plouay, a classic in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and sixth in the World road title. Roll on Tokyo in July, where she could well start favourite to win gold at the Olympics.