The pro cycling season is drawing to a close and the UCI World Tour wrapped up earlier this month with Il Lombardia. As we prepare for frosty rides to work and a winter’s hibernation from Eurosport, let’s look back on five riders who made their mark in 2016.
Where better to start than with the most obvious selection and recently crowned World Champion. There’s little left to say about the Slovakian superstar but the 2016 season really was the best of his career. There was plenty he’d done before (the Tour de France points classification, a handful of wins in California) but he also cracked a Monument for the first time when sweeping the Tour of Flanders in exceptional fashion. Sagan also catapulted a monkey off his back when claiming three fantastic Tour de France stages; his first wins in the race since 2013. Early success bred a renewed confidence and the wins kept coming. He crowned it all by defending the world title last weekend, showcasing his sprinting skills after a challenging ride through the Doha desert.
Greg Van Avermaet
If anybody can get vaguely close to mirroring Sagan’s unique set of skills, it’s Greg Van Avermaet. The Belgian is the one rider who seems capable of defeating Sagan as he did in February at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and again in the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. The campaign could have gone down as a disappointment after he crashed out of the Tour of Flanders and subsequently missed Paris-Roubaix; the two Monuments were big targets and he failed to contest either. However, by the Tour de France he was back in form and surprised when riding away from climber Thomas de Gendt for a summit victory in Le Lorian. It was far from a typical Van Avermaet victory and displayed a new side to his riding. He took the yellow jersey that day and actually increased his lead two days later as part of another escape. His form held to the Rio Olympics and he took a landmark win to confirm he is one of the peloton’s strongest aggressors.
The most smiley rider on the World Tour has rapidly become one of the very best climbers. Chaves had a superb season achieving good results at each of his target races. First up was the Giro d’Italia where he danced over a number of gruelling climbs, won Stage 14, and took the Maglia Rosa on the penultimate mountain stage. Unfortunately, Vincenzo Nibali’s comeback was written in the stars and Chaves slipped to second on the final summit. After an expected lull, Chaves returned for the Vuelta a Espana where he spent much of the race in the GC top five. On the Alto di Aitana he distanced podium rival Alberto Contador and made third place his own. In previous efforts Chaves had faded after a Grand Tour’s opening week but this season showed that going the distance is no longer a problem. The cherry on top of Chaves’ season came in the autumn at Il Lombardia. After escaping with a trio of rivals, Chaves surprised us all by taking the sprint and claiming a Monument.
Bardet made a couple of sizeable steps forward this year culminating in a second place finish at the Tour de France. After building form in the first few months of the season, he finished second to Chris Froome at the Criterium du Dauphine. He had improved throughout the week and finished one of the strongest riders in a competitive edition of the race. The Dauphine foreshadowed his exploits at the Tour de France where he consistently rode well and finished second to Froome once again. He sat sixth at the start of the final week before gaining time with a surprisingly good time trial and dealing further damage – in more familiar style – with a bold attack on Mont Blanc. He was a pleasant surprise on the final podium but had shown signs of improvement all year. From Oman’s Green Mountain all the way to Il Lombardia, Bardet pieced together his most complete season to date.
Admittedly the majority of Bob Jungels’ highlights came in just one race but the 24 year-old still managed to make a fantastic impression. The season started with a smash-and-grab victory at the Tour of Oman but it was at the Giro d’Italia where Jungels made the world take note. A strong opening time trial put Jungels in the top ten and he improved his position throughout the first week. He lost ground on the white roads of the Alpe di Poti but bounced back on the second time trial and took the race lead the following day. An honourable defence followed before he relinquished the Maglia Rosa on Stage 14. His best days were yet to come and during a brutal final week Jungels found himself climbing better than he ever had. He finished sixth overall and was easily the surprise of the race. The Luxembourg native was pencilled in as a time trial strongman (he finished tenth at the World Championships) but has emerged as a potential GC contender. His first season at Etixx saw some big developments and there must be more to come.
About the Author: Mike Franchetti owns the site www.justprocycling.com, producing race previews, top five lists and rider profiles, as well as tweeting predictions and other nonsense off @justprocycling.