Who was better in 2018: Annemiek van Vleuten or Anna van der Breggen? Dane Cash and Fred Dreier debate the merits of each.

Van Vleuten was tops

THE WAY THEY BATTLED throughout the 2017 season, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen seemed destined to fight for the peloton’s top spot again this season. They did not disappoint.

Hats off to van der Breggen for making it a compelling battle. But van Vleuten ultimately proved with her big engine, her climbing prowess, and her tactical ability that she’s the best female cyclist on the planet.

Her victory at La Course, her Giro Rosa win, a dominant performance at the Boels Ladies Tour, and a successful defense of the rainbow jersey in the time trial — van Vleuten’s results speak for themselves.

It is the consistency and the breadth of her achievements that puts van Vleuten above her peers. Van Vleuten proved she could do it all, winning across all terrains, in a wide range of races: individual time trials, mountain climbs, lumpy circuits, and even flat races. Results that stellar are often amassed by an entire team — think Dutch super team Boels-Dolmans. Van Vleuten accomplished it on her own.

La Course
Van Vleuten got the better of van der Breggen at La Course. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

While her Mitchelton-Scott team has some talent, van Vleuten does not rely on a Murderer’s Row of star teammates to control the peloton, as Boels-Dolmans can. In any case, her legs are usually enough to get the job done, even with a small army of orange jerseys dead-set on keeping her in check. The dominance of Boels-Dolmans was the talk of women’s cycling in 2017, but the powerhouse Dutch team was not enough to rein in one dominant Dutch rival this season.

And to accomplish all of this at age 35? Two seasons removed from the heartbreaking crash that derailed her dreams of an Olympic gold medal, van Vleuten should take at least some consolation that she’s the female Cyclist of the Year in 2018.

— DANE CASH

Van der Breggen won the grand prize

PRIOR TO 2018, Anna van der Breggen had won the Giro Rosa, La Course by Le Tour de France, and the UCI Women’s WorldTour overall. She had won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Amstel Gold Race, and too many La Flèche Wallonne titles to count. And who could forget her Olympic gold medal from 2016?

Prior to 2018, however, one prize had consistently eluded van der Breggen’s grasp: the rainbow stripes of the world championship.

On a balmy day in September, van der Breggen played her hand to perfection. She followed wheels in the safety of the peloton as early attacks wore down the group. Then, following a series of surges, she accelerated out of the main peloton of favorites, sprinted past a breakaway, and then embarked on a 40-kilometer solo mission to nab the world title. The dominating victory earned van der Breggen the rainbow jersey and a spot in history as perhaps the best women’s road racer of all time.

Van der Breggen
It was all smiles for van der Breggen as she showed off her gold medal on the podium of the 2018 world road championships. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

In my opinion, van der Breggen’s 2018 world title solidified her place as the best female road racer of 2018. Why? Van der Breggen had just one goal this season. She crafted a personal schedule aimed at that objective, going so far as to skip the Giro Rosa to rest her legs and build her motivation. And when the time came for van der Breggen to snatch the jersey, she did so without hesitation.

Is it better to be consistently good, or to be the best at the moment that matters the most? This question is often debated within sports that have both a series-long title and a one-day championship up for grabs.

There are some years when it is best to be most consistent, and chapeau to Annemiek van Vleuten for being the best racer over the course of 2018. Van der Breggen has already accomplished that goal, winning the Women’s WorldTour title in 2017. For her, it was all about one race.

— FRED DREIER