Rivalries. The word alone evokes the best (and worst) of bike racing.
Greg LeMond vs. Bernard Hinault. Fabian Cancellara facing off against Tom Boonen. Connie Carpenter against the world.
These epic clashes of ego, ambition, and brawn help make professional cycling among the most engaging and interesting sports in the world.
Cycling’s changing with the times. Riders and teams still want to win, but more than ever, today’s generation leaves the angst and anger at the finish line.
That’s not to say there isn’t some superb rivalries inside the bunch these days.
Going into 2022, the peloton is packed with drama and good stories. So we asked our European reporting team a simple question:
Which rivalry or duel do you expect to drive the narrative this season?
Sadhbh O’Shea: Annemiek van Vleuten versus … TBD
Now that Anna van der Breggen has hung up her racing wheels, Annemiek van Vleuten will need someone else to spar off in 2022. It may not be just one rider that takes up van der Breggen’s mantle as thorn in the side of van Vleuten, but whoever does will likely see themselves in a yearlong rivalry that will make many of the big races.
Chief contender to step into AVDB’s role is her protege and teammate, Demi Vollering. The Dutch rider has different characteristics to the former multiple world champion but she has the all-around capability to take it to van Vleuten on many terrains.
Vollering is still just 25 and she has plenty more to give in her development. It will be fascinating to see what a solid year of racing with SD Worx, and under the wing of AVDB, has done for her.
She took some huge victories in 2021 with Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course, and the Women’s Tour. This season holds plenty of promise for her and van Vleuten will have to fend her off to keep her position as top dog.
Other riders that we could see entering the fray as a van Vleuten rival are Elisa Longo Borghini, who had a brilliant 2021 season, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Kasia Niewiadoma, and new SD Worx signing Marlen Reusser.
Jim Cotton: Mark Cavendish vs. Fabio Jakobsen
What’s better than a season-long showdown between two top stars? A rivalry between two teammates, that’s what.
Cavendish was the darling of the 2021 season, the good-news comeback story that everyone got choked up about. After winning four stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France, everyone thought the Manxman would be the light of his team’s life for some time yet.
And then Jakobsen came along and spoiled the party.
The young Dutchman blasted back from his horrific injury and stormed the sprints at the Vuelta a España, notching up three wins and the points prize along the way. Jakobsen has now got the backing of team boss Patrick Lefevre for the 2022 Tour in a reversal of fortunes for Cav and an indication of Lefevere’s long-term commitment to his returning 25-year-old.
Jakobsen and Cavendish are both as bullish as you’d expect an alpha sprinter to be, and there’s sure to be some beef bubbling aboard the team bus. Throw the firework of Lefevere and his ruthless approach into the mix, and the Cavendish-Jakobsen scrap has all the hallmarks of Dynasty-level drama.
Andrew Hood: Rogo vs. Pogo
This is the only rivalry that counts in men’s racing in 2022.
Of course, rivalries don’t necessarily need to mean bad ju-ju. In fact, it appears that there is no bad blood between the two Slovenians, either on or off the bike. That alone is a testament to their strong self-confidence as well as easiness in life.
Anyone who’s followed cycling knows how rivalries can turn into bitter resentment and outright hatred. But so far, these two easy-going fellas leave it all out on the road and don’t carry it home with them.
For me, Roglič is the only rider in the peloton capable of matching Pogačar and taking it directly to him during the Tour de France.
Backed by the mighty Jumbo-Visma, the team is determined to make up for its face-plant in 2020, and finally deliver “Primo” to the top step in Paris.
UAE Emirates is upping the depth of their squad, in part to protect Pogačar’s flanks. With two going on three, if no one can stop Pogačar this season, it’s hard to imagine it happening further down the road if he manages to stay healthy and upright.
Both are favorites in every race they start. The real fun happens when they’re both at the start line in the same race.