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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  11/1/2019

Top Ten Riders of 2019

The pro road racing season is over. The Union Cycliste Internationale held its season-ending gala on October 22. (Included among the awards presented for recent cycling exploits was the UCI President’s Trophy to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Greg Lemond’s 1989 season, where he won both the Tour de France and the World Championship. Nice to see that epic accomplishment recognized.)

With the season all wrapped up, it’s time for my own awards ceremony: my personal take on the top ten riders of this past campaign. As I have noted frequently—at the end of last season, in my spring preview this year, and in last month’s Racing Wrap-Up—we are seeing quite a musical chairs situation at the top of the sport: lots of new people grabbing the laurels while some of the recent “heads of state” have been getting shut out. 

Losing both Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin to injuries for most of the season changed the dramatis personae considerably. They have occupied a good many podium steps over the past few years. Whatever top placings they might have garnered this year were now available to others.

Before drilling into the list, I am going to state that I really can’t make room this year for any of the sprinters. I have waffled back and forth on this in the past but now I’m settled on the matter. My list is first and foremost for all-rounders. Splashy results in one-day races are all well and good but are not enough to make this list on their own, at least not unless a given rider is so dominant that they can’t be ignored. I don’t think that was the case this year. 

So without further ado, let’s get to the countdown from 10 to 1…

Emanuel Buchmann

10. Emanuel Buchmann, 25, Germany, Bora-Hansgrohe

Buchmann has been a pro for five years now and is slowly, quietly improving each year. This season he was 1st and 2nd at two minor races, 3rd at both the Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphiné. But most significantly he was 4th at the Tour de France, 1:56 behind the winner and just :25 off the podium.

Geraint Thomas

9. Geraint Thomas, 33, Wales, Ineos

This is a long fall down the rankings for the winner of last year’s Tour de France and #2 on my list in 2018. But honestly, he didn’t do much this year and it was only his 2nd overall at the Tour de France that got him on the list at all. He also finished 3rd at the Tour of Romandie but that pretty well sums up his good results for the year.

Miguel Angel Lopez

8. Miguel Angel Lopez, 25, Colombia, Astana

Lopez won the Tour of Catalunya, including winning Stage 4, and he won the Tour of Colombia. He was 7th overall at the Giro d’Italia and 5th overall at the Vuelta a España. He was a feisty scrapper in the mountains, especially at the Vuelta, where he wore the leader’s jersey for several days. I see better days ahead for him but at this point he is still a work in progress.

Tadej Pogačar

7. Tadej Pogačar, 20, Slovenia, UAE Team Emirates

This young gun opened his account for the year by winning the Volta ao Algarve stage race, taking the hilltop finish on Stage 2. He then won the Tour of California, again winning the decisive mountain finish on Baldy. Showing that he’s not just a climber, he won his national time trial. But what really caught the world’s attention was his performance at the Vuelta, where he won the mountain finishes on Stages 9, 13, and 20 on his way to his first-ever Grand Tour podium (in his first ever Grand Tour). Barring injuries or other bad luck, big things lie ahead for this young man.

Richard Carapaz

6. Richard Carapaz, 26, Ecuador, Movistar

Carapaz became the first rider from Ecuador to win a Grand Tour when he won the Giro d’Italia, highlighted with two dramatic wins on Stages 4 and 14. He also won the Vuelta a Asturias, taking a win on Stage 2. But that pretty much covers his accomplishments this year, which is why the winner of a Grand Tour is down in 6th place on my list. I expect to see him ranked higher in the years ahead.

Alejandro Valverde

5. Alejandro Valverde, 39, Spain, Movistar

My nickname for Valverde—Mr Almost—is accurate again this year. He was 2nd at the Vuelta a España (winning Stage 7), 2nd at the UAE Tour, 2nd at the Giro di Lombardia, and 2nd at Milano-Torino. He was 9th at the Tour de France. Collecting a 2nd and 9th at back-to-back Grand Tours would be awesome for any rider but for one who is 39 years old? Most impressive. He also won the 4-stage Route d’Occitanie, winning Stage 4. He had more than his share of bad luck with injuries this year or might have done even more. As it is, his collective efforts netted him 5th place in the UCI rankings for the year.

Jakob Fuglsang

4. Jakob Fuglsang, 34, Switzerland, Astana

Fuglsang has been a pro for quite a few years now but this may have been his best year yet. He won the 5-stage Vuelta a Andalucia in February, taking out Stage 4. He won the prestigious Criterium du Dauphiné in June. He won the monument Liege-Bastogne-Liege, was 2nd at Strade Bianche and Fleche-Wallone, and 3rd at Amstel Gold. He won two stages at the Vuelta. All of that added up to 3rd place in the 2019 UCI rankings.

Julian Alaphilippe

3. Julian Alaphilippe, 27, France, QuickStep

Alaphilippe had a season almost any cyclist would envy. He won Strade Bianche and the grand monumnet Milano-San Remo in March, then Fleche Wallonne in April. He won Stage 2 of the Tour of the Basque Country and Stage 6—and the Mountains Jersey—at the Dauphiné. But his most noteworthy days came on the biggest stage: the Tour de France. He was in the lead for much of the race, attacking or defending as needed. He won two stages, including the only full time trial. No one imagined a classics puncheur could win a Grand Tour but he came close, only fading to 5th over the last couple of stages. It was a glorious effort and won him a lot of fans. All of his great performances were rewarded with 2nd place in the season-long UCI rankings.

Egan Bernal

2. Egan Bernal, 22, Colombia, Ineos

Bernal finished 4th in the UCI rankings but he leapfrogs #3 Fuglsang and #2 Alaphilippe in my pantheon by virtue of winning the biggest stage race of all, the Tour de France…his first Grand Tour and an overall victory. He also won the 8-stage Paris-Nice in March and, after recovering from a broken collarbone in May, the 9-stage Tour de Suisse. Also 3rd-place finishes at the Volta a Catalunya stage race and the monument Giro di Lombardia. Had the weather gods dealt a different hand on that crucial stage of the Tour, he might have ended up second and his team leader Geraint Thomas might be up here near the top of the rankings instead. But that’s not how the fates would have it. Expect more from this young phenom in the years to come.

Primoz Roglič

1. Primoz Roglič, 29, Slovenia, Jumbo-Visma

I have been predicting good things for this rider for a couple of years but I didn’t expect to be placing him at the top of my rankings for 2019. But to my way of thinking, there is no doubt about it. And the UCI agrees: he is ranked #1 for the season. His biggest win was of course the Vuelta a España, his first Grand Tour victory. He won the Stage 10 time trial and also took home the Points Jersey. But he did much more than that this year. He won the 8-stage UAE Tour in February and the 9-stage Tirreno-Adriatico in March. He won the 5-stage Tour de Romandie, winning Stages 1 and 4, and won the 1-day Giro dell’Emilia. He won two time trials at the Giro d’Italia and was in contention for the maglia rosa throughout before slipping to 3rd at the end. He too will be a major player in the seasons ahead.

This year the top five places seem to sort themselves out fairly easily. I didn’t have to agonize over them the way I sometimes do. The bottom five were more a case of throwing the names up in the air and seeing how they landed. And there are a few other riders who might have made the list: Steven Kruijswijk (3rd overall at le Tour and 3rd at the Vuelta a Andalucia), Nairo Quintana (2nd at Paris-Nice, 8th overall and a stage win at the TdF and 4th overall and a stage win at the Vuelta), and Vincenzo Nibali (a close 2nd overall at the Giro).

Six out of ten members of my top ten from last year didn’t make the list this year. Froome and Dumoulin because of injuries. Simon Yates—#1 last year—doesn’t even get within sniffing distance of the list this year. Peter Sagan, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Thibaut Pinot all had occasional good results this year but overall rather lackluster seasons. So there we go with the musical chairs theme: lots of shuffling around. There were also a lot of relatively unknown riders who pulled off grand victories… Alberto Bettiol at the Tour of Flanders; Remco Evenpoel at San Sebastiån; Michael Woods at Milano-Torino; Jelle Wallays at Paris-Tours; and Mads Pedersen at the World Championship…just to name a few eyebrow-raising surprises. Were they one-day wonders or will they do more big things next year? Nothing is preordained. Nothing is promised. The stars stumble and little guys clamber over them and grab the glory. If it were always predictable it wouldn’t be much fun, right?

Now we throw on our long-fingered gloves and knickers and vests and churn out our winter miles, waiting for the pros to come back out of hibernation in a few months, ready to astonish us all over again in 2020.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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