Which cyclist is more valuable: the Tour de France victor or the world champion? For decades, fans and media alike have argued over questions of this nature. Unlike mainstream American sports, pro cycling does not award a Most Valuable Player prize to its greatest champions. Instead, that title has been determined by debates on the group ride or at the pub.
In our annual Season Preview issue of VeloNews magazine, we were determined to rank the top 50 riders, male and female, based on their perceived value. We created a methodology that took into account race results, marketability, social following, teamwork, and other qualities. We then reached out to a group of experts to help us vote. We kept them anonymous to prevent personal relationships from swaying their votes. Our group of mystery voters included agents, team directors, Olympic champions, and even a grand tour winner or two. Their votes helped inform our final list, which was chosen by the VeloNews editorial team.
Did we get it right? It is up for debate — and that’s the point.
25. Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott)
With his ebullient smile, Chaves has the personality and approachability that his countryman, Nairo Quintana, does not. On the other hand, Quintana has grand tour wins, and Chaves only has podiums. Chaves does have the ability to win one-day races, as he did at Lombardia in 2016. His social media following, especially on Instagram (229,000 followers), far exceeds the riders above him.
24. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)
It wasn’t long ago that Pinot was the talk of France. His third place in the 2014 Tour spurred the predictable chatter that soon he would break his country’s losing streak in July. And then Romain Bardet came along. Pinot doesn’t win a lot, but he’s near the front plenty, from one-day races to grand tours. The rabid French fans appreciate his flair for the dramatic.
23. Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates)
It’s been several years since Costa was at his best, but a former world champion and three-time Tour de Suisse overall winner surely deserves a place on the list. His attacking style doesn’t always yield victories, but it nets him and his team plenty of exposure. As UAE-Emirates adds more stars to its roster, Costa’s value continues to decline.
22. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)
Degenkolb won Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015. A training crash in early 2016 severely hampered his career trajectory. Still, Trek-Segafredo brought him on last season to replace Fabian Cancellara and has built its classics ambitions around him. This will be a make or break season: A third monument win would boost his value, but another empty season and he’d be off of the list.
21. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal)
One of the winningest sprinters of his generation, Greipel’s best years are behind him. That said, with 34 grand tour stage wins, you can count on the German to be in the mix on the greatest stages. Greipel has always been the unassuming, quiet killer. He’s in the final year of a two- year contract with Lotto-Soudal, which could put pressure on him to win more in 2018.
20. Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates)
Dan Martin can ride with the best in the Ardennes classics. (He’s won Liège and Il Lombardia.) He also recently transitioned to be a leader at grand tours, though he’s been less successful. Will his transfer to UAE, where Fabio Aru joins him, mean less opportunity or more assistance? The effort the team showed in signing him would indicate it is heavily invested in his success.
19. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
While Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere chose Fernando Gaviria over Marcel Kittel, we did not. Kittel’s five Tour victories in 2017 and his pedigree grant him more overall value for 2018. Still, Gaviria is on a skyward trajectory, having won four Giro stages in 2017 and the points competition. He’s also just 23, and he can survive the climbs to win events like Milano-Sanremo. Some see him as a future foil to Peter Sagan at the classics, which delights his Belgian team.
18. Mikel Landa (Movistar)
There’s a ton of momentum behind Landa heading into 2018, due to his fourth place finish and super- domestique role at the 2017 Tour. After Alberto Contador’s retirement, Spanish fans are hungry for
a grand tour contender. Could Landa be it? Perhaps. There’s an unfortunate precedent however. In 2016 and ’17 Landa was given leadership roles at the Giro. In both instances, he flamed out. At No. 18, Landa could be on his way up, or he could be a flavor of the month.
17. Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin)
Winning four world individual time trial titles would traditionally elevate a rider like Tony Martin to the peak of the sport. One problem: Fabian Cancellara did that and he won seven monuments. Martin will always live in Cancellara’s shadow, no matter how many time trials he wins. Still, the German’s huge engine makes him an invaluable teammate, especially at Katusha, where the team lives and dies by its sprint train.
16. Michael Matthews (Sunweb)
“Bling” made this list due to his green jersey victory at the 2017 Tour. Let’s face it—he won that title because Peter Sagan was kicked out. Remove that result, and Matthews would fall much lower on this list. Still, he has the finishing speed to win grand tour stages, and the legs to survive nasty uphills. Matthews could eventually be the foil to Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet. If he can regularly beat one of those two, expect Matthew’s value to rise.
15. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac)
Urán’s value soared in 2017 thanks to his second-place finish at the Tour. It was a huge result for a rider who had been knocking on the door of greatness for the last decade. Several months after his Tour result, Urán showed his true value, helping to save his Cannondale-Drapac squad after it nearly collapsed due to sponsorship woes. While other riders jumped ship, Urán publicly committed to the team. His involvement undoubtedly helped the team land EF Education First.
14. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale)
Will Bardet ever win the Tour de France? Who knows? But enough French fans have faith in Bardet to make him cycling’s most popular Frenchman in a generation. Ag2r La Mondiale has quickly shaped its ambitions around Bardet’s legs. His third-place finish at the 2017 Tour — just one year after finishing second — boosted his position within the hearts and minds of cycling’s largest market.
13. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates)
With two monument victories and the finishing speed to win Tour sprints, Kristoff has all of the physical skills to be one of the top-10 most valuable riders in the peloton. So why isn’t he? The Norwegian suffered through two inconsistent seasons — the drought reportedly caused a rift at Katusha, which decided not to re-sign him. Kristoff found a home with UAE-Emirates, but the team’s GC ambitions hurt his chances of winning big races.
12. Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates)
When he claimed the red jersey at the Vuelta back in 2015, Fabio Aru seemed destined for success. Yet he hasn’t matched that result since. Still, like Nairo Quintana, there’s plenty of time for Aru to develop, particularly against the clock. Aru signed with the big budget UAE-Emirates squad for 2018. All eyes will be on him at his home race, the Giro d’Italia.
11. Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Quintana’s disappointing 2017 campaign does not diminish the fact that he already owns two grand tour titles. His success at the 2013 Tour awakened Colombia’s throngs of cycling fans. Quintana boasts nearly one million followers on both Instagram and Twitter. Having risen from a peasant town to cycling greatness, Quintana’s story alone is worth millions.
10. Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
After several stagnant years, Kwiatkowski joined Team Sky in 2016. In 2017 the Polish rider showed he was worth every penny, winning Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, and Clásica San Sebastian, before shepherding Chris Froome to his fourth Tour de France title. The 2014 world champion has extra value because, unlike past Froome support riders, he seems to have no grand tour GC ambitions of his own.
9. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb)
Dumoulin’s Giro d’Italia and world time trial wins in 2017 instantly made him one of the most successful Dutch riders. The victories also put him on a crash course with Froome. Dumoulin is perhaps the only current rider with the skillset to challenge the Brit at the Tour de France. While his lifetime results are still thin, Dumoulin’s value is soaring based on immense potential.
8. Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors)
In 2017, Gilbert saved Quick-Step from a season of post-Tom Boonen doldrums, which may have helped the team survive its brush with financial ruin. His victories at the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race netted him a two-year deal with the team, and came after two seasons of disappointment at BMC. Alongside Valverde, Gilbert has the most monument victories of any active rider with four.
7. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)
Cavendish’s career results bring him a level of cachet that few riders in history have ever attained. He has the second most Tour wins in history (30), and is tied for the most grand tour stage wins (48). His transfer to Dimension Data in 2016 saved the team’s WorldTour ambitions. His half a million Instagram and 1.43 million Twitter followers make up for his 2017 results drought.
6. Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin)
The 2017 season was a huge success for Kittel, who powered to five stage wins at the Tour. And when his Quick-Step team couldn’t guarantee him the leadership role in 2018, he brought his talents to Katusha-Alpecin. Kittel is one of several Germans leading that nation’s revitalized cycling scene. His coif makes him the ideal spokesman for Alpecin shampoo.
5. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
Greg Van Avermaet is finally coming into his own, after riding in the shadow of Tom Boonen for much of his early career. Though he only has one monument win to his name, his victory at the Rio Olympics started a wave of success that has yet to subside. His performance across last year’s classics season was among the best in history, and included victories at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix, as well as second at the Tour of Flanders. At home in Belgium, no one will soon replace Boonen. Nor will Van Avermaet ever have the personality to compete with the likes of Tommeke or the other Lions of Flanders who preceded him. Outside of Belgium, Van Avermaet now operates in the shadow of Peter Sagan, a rider with many of the same skills, but with gobs more charisma. With his BMC team rumored to end after 2018, Van Avermaet could front a team of his own — a story that would only increase his value.
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)
Only six riders in history have won all three grand tours. Vincenzo Nibali is the only one who is currently racing. But the Italian is not a one-dimensional specimen. He’s also a stalwart contender at one-day classics and has taken two Il Lombardia titles as well as Milano-Sanremo. Nibali’s immense value was confirmed in 2017 when he became the marquee signing of the new WorldTour team launched by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain. In the team’s first year, Nibali brought them two grand tour podium finishes — a worthy return on the investment, a reported three million Euro salary. Finally, what better compliment is there than to have Mario Cipollini, the former world champion known for his candor, say about you with respect to the Italian talent pool: “We only have Vincenzo. He is the only real talent at our disposal.”
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
There are few riders in history with as prolific a career as Alejandro Valverde. Four Liège titles, five La Flèche Wallonne victories, a Vuelta overall win and nine stages, two Dauphine titles, and the list goes on and on. He has claimed 94 wins in total. For someone who isn’t a sprinter, that’s an enormous number. On ProCyclingStats’s all-time points list, he is ranked fourth, behind Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, and Bernard Hinault. Valverde wins when everyone expects him to win. That’s hard to do when the target is on your back. In 17 seasons, he has always been reliable.Valverde’s reputation took a hit after he was suspended in the Operacíon Puerto fiasco. It never returned in the United States, but in Europe, Valverde is still wildly popular. He has 392,000 followers on Twitter and 66,000 on Instagram. Finally, late in his career, he has mastered the balancing act of winning his target races, then sacrificing his chances to help his teammates be their best at their target races. Do some fans arch their eyebrows at his late-career greatness? Sure. And Valverde keeps winning.
2. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Let’s start with the obvious: If Chris Froome fails to clear his name of any wrongdoing in his salbutamol case, he could plummet down this list (or be left off altogether).
There are no denying Froome’s qualities: He is one of the greatest grand tour riders in history and shows no signs of slowing down. He is the star athlete for the world’s richest and most successful cycling team. Assuming he’s allowed to race them, he stands a good chance of completing the Giro-Tour sweep — something Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana both failed to do in recent years. His personable, gentlemanly nature give him star quality in the United Kingdom. He was granted Order of the British Empire status in 2016. This year he was nominated for both the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Laureus World Sportsman of the Year. (He did not win either.) Froome has tremendous value for sponsors — he almost singlehandedly made the Turbine nasal dilator a conversation topic at last year’s Tour. His reported five million Euro salary is perhaps the second largest in all of cycling; with the exposure he brings, it’s worth every cent.
1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)
It was unanimous.
It was undisputed.
It wasn’t even close. Peter Sagan earned top billing on every list submitted by our mystery voters, and he was also the top pick by every member of the VeloNews staff. Credit his rotating hairstyles, his post-race wheelies, and his viral videos on YouTube. Credit his three world championship kits and five Tour de France green jerseys. Credit his impressive collection of personal endorsements, and his 975,000 followers on Instagram. Peter Sagan is the most valuable rider in the peloton, hands down. The six million Euros that his Bora-Hansgrohe team pays him each year — Sagan is worth every one. And Sagan’s undisputed value comes on the heels of perhaps the most disappointing season of his young career. Indeed, the 2017 season was a year to forget for the Slovakian, due to his various blunders during the Belgian classics and his ejection from the Tour de France. Yet in 2017 Sagan defied cycling’s rules of popularity — he got more attention with worse results. Sagan’s Tour expulsion was the biggest story of the season. His crash at Flanders was more newsworthy than Philippe Gilbert’s victory. Does anybody care that Sagan has fewer monument wins than John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, and Dan Martin? Of course not. Sagan appears to understand the weight of his celebrity. In 2016 he agreed to market a little-known sports hydration company, Osmo Nutrition, to help rescue the product from financial ruin. “Peter’s participation saved the brand,” says owner Ben Capron. His decision to move from Tinkoff to Bora-Hansgrohe elevated that team from obscurity to the pinnacle of popularity. This fall, his participation in one charity ride for victims of California’s wildfires raised $70,000 in a few hours. To Sagan, his Midas touch seems to be part of a game, some greater mission to entertain his fans. Win or lose, Sagan is having fun. “We are actors,” Sagan said during the 2016 Tour de France. “No, we are artists.”