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Throwback Thursday: Redux 2021 and the top European highlights

Our European road crew looks back at the highs and lows of the 2021 season.

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Believe it or not, the VeloNews crew actually went to a few bike races this past season.

The pandemic didn’t slow down the peloton too much, and by September and the world championships, things almost appeared to be returning to normal (hold that thought).

Also read:

For our veteran European correspondents, the 2021 racing season was one of the most impressive they’ve seen in awhile.

The racing was tight, fast, and unpredictable across the entire season.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, here are the top moments in 2021 from Andrew Hood and James Startt, who were on the road together at the Tour de France.

What was your standout moment of the 2021 season and why?

Tadej Pogačar cemented his place as the top rider in the peloton in 2021. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

James Startt: I would say Pogacar’s attack on stage eight of the Tour de France. No, he didn’t win the stage but he dropped the entire field, single-handedly, on the first mountain day in the race. And he did so in stunning fashion, attacking on the super-steep Col de Romme over 30 kilometers from the finish, in freezing rain no doubt.

I was photographing from a moto that day and instantly had my driver stop to wait for Pogačar. It was pouring down rain and it was freezing in the mountains. But Pogačar was just killing it!

For me it was one of the greatest solo attacks of the modern era, and not far from historic moves by Eddy Merckx on the Tourmalet in the 1969 Tour, or Louison Bobet on the Mont Ventoux in 1955.

Sure it was only 30 kilometers, but then the stage was only 150 kilometers.

At that point it was clear to me that the Slovenian was more than the strongest rider in the race, but of his generation. I mean, he had already won the Tour the year before and he had already won Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year, so he was clearly the heavy pre-race favorite. And he just went out and dropped everybody on stage eight. Legend!

Andrew Hood: For me, it was the Flanders road world championships. The event surpassed expectations on every level, both on and off the bike. After the disruption of the preceding 18 months, the Flanders worlds almost seemed liked things were going back to normal. Europe was rolling out vaccinations, and officials were confident enough to ease health restrictions.

With an estimated one million fans lining the roads in and around Leuven for the elite men’s road race, that day will stand out as one of the most impressive since I’ve been lucky enough to cover elite racing in Europe.

What team or rider didn’t live up to expectations?

Primoz Roglic - Paris-Nice 2021
Primož Roglič had another up and down season, shown here at Paris-Nice, but won the Vuelta a España and an Olympic gold medal. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

AH: Peter Sagan just didn’t have it all season long. Health issues, COVID, and crashes certainly didn’t help, but here’s hoping that a new environment will put some spark back into Sagan going in 2022.

I was also expecting more from Chris Froome. Maybe not winning the Tour, but I thought he’d be in the thick of things at least a few times during the season. A flare-up of bilharzia, which Froome confirmed to me during an Israel Start-Up Nation team camp in November, certainly didn’t help. A few were quick to write him off, but I’ve seen Froome prove the doubters wrong more than once.  We’ll see if he write the Hollywood ending to his career this season. Mark Cavendish certainly did!

Mathieu Van der Poel was everywhere in 2021, but should he have won even more? (Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

JS: Well two riders, Mathieu van der Poel and Primož Roglič. I know I will ruffle some feathers here but in my opinion MVDP consistently underperformed at numerous key moments in the season.

Sure, he smashed everyone in Tirreno-Adriatico, but as Johan Museeuw told me, “For a rider like Mathieu, only the monuments matter.”

And in that category he came up short all year long. He was nowhere in Milano-Sanremo. He came up short on Flanders and he came up short in the worlds and Roubaix. Sometimes he just didn’t have the legs and sometimes he just didn’t seem to ride very intelligently.

Fortunately he had that magnificent ride in yellow during the Tour, but he came up short a lot. Hopefully he will learn from his mistakes. He is still plenty young. But he has the potential to be the greatest classics rider of his generation. That should be his goal.

I was also quite disappointed by Roglič. Once again he showed that he has an uncanny difficulty closing the deal when he crashed twice on the final stage of Paris-Nice and lost a prestigious race he seemed destined to win. And then another crash early in the Tour de France took him out of contention in his biggest objective of the year.

But I have a lot of respect for Roglič and his ability to bounce back. And he did so in stunning fashion, winning the Olympic time trial just after the Tour, and then the Vuelta a España. Hats off for that.

Who do you see as the sport’s next big breakout star and why?

Jonas Vingegaard - Mont Ventoux 2021
Jonas Vingegaard, shown here attacking at Mont Ventoux, was one of the revelations of 2021. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

JS: I would say Jonas Vinegaard. In only his third year as a professional he just made a huge leap, finishing second in the Tour de France. Turning professional in 2019, he has spent the majority of it with the constant complications of COVID, and yet he has managed to improve steadily.

Sure, he might never have had the chance to lead his Jumbo-Visma team in the Tour if Roglič, his leader, had not abandoned. But there is no guarantee that Roglič would have done better than second in the Tour anyway and I think that Vinegaard’s performance proved that he was on the same level and can be considered a co-leader on that team already.

And he is only 25, so his margin to improve remains much greater than that of Roglic. I was very impressed!

AH: Tom Pidcock. Just as Remco Evenepoel was so impressive in 2020, Pidcock just blew the socks off everyone in 2021.

I was floored by the way he took it to the top pros in the spring classics, with victory at Brabantse Pijl and second at Amstel Gold Race.

He’s a cool character with tremendous ambition, which was broadcast to the world in the way he won the Olympic mountain bike gold medal.

He also rode a tremendous Vuelta a España with a minor knee injury and far from his peak, but this kid oozes class on and off the bike.

With so much top, young talent, the future is bright inside the elite men’s peloton.