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The only rider to win two of cycling’s five “monuments” in 2015, John Degenkolb established himself as a bona fide star in the one-day races. The Giant-Alpecin rider kicked off his classics campaign in March at Milano-Sanremo, winning the storied Italian race in a tightly contested finish. After waiting patiently for defending champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to open the sprint, Degenkolb came around the Norwegian in the final few meters to take the victory.
Kristoff won the next monument-level bout at the Tour of Flanders, surprising the peloton by getting into a two-man move a long way from the finish line. Perhaps that inspired Degenkolb to unveil a surprise of his own the following weekend at Paris-Roubaix. The German gambled on an attempt to bridge into a late escape group, and it paid off. Degenkolb rolled into the Roubaix velodrome as one of seven lead riders, and he convincingly out-sprinted the competition to earn his second colossal win in as many months.
Degenkolb’s steady rise to classics stardom is a success story of consistent growth over several years, supported by a Giant-Alpecin team dedicated to developing talent. His 2014 spring campaign, highlighted by a Gent-Wevelgem win and runner-up honors at Paris-Roubaix, prefigured the sort of success he enjoyed in 2015. The writing was on the wall.
“At the start of the season, we certainly knew that he was capable of winning multiple classics,” says teammate Chad Haga, who rode in support of Degenkolb’s victory at Milano-Sanremo.
“That he won not just one monument this year, but two, is testament to his talent, hard work, and the total commitment of our team behind him.”
Capable of winning a field sprint, undaunted by challenging terrain, and with enough power to get clear of the bunch if need be, Degenkolb is a rare talent. And at only 26, Degenkolb seems likely to add to his already impressive palmares in the future.
“For the years to come, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see John winning more monuments and classics, as well as stages of the biggest races,” Haga says. “He’s proven that he is very versatile when it comes to hard races and is quickly becoming a favorite just about any time he pins a number on.”
Honorable mention: Alexander Kristoff
Alexander Kristoff delivered one of the most stunning results of the season when he eschewed his powerful sprint to win the Tour of Flanders as an escapee. But it wasn’t his only impressive showing this spring. In addition to his Flanders win and his Sanremo second-place, he notched top 10s in E3, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix, and took a clear win in Scheldeprijs to boot.
He dominated the three days of de Panne, winning three of the four stages. Kristoff was a consistent threat all spring (all year, really) and his one-day showdowns with Degenkolb should provide plenty more excitement in the coming season and beyond.