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Nine of our favourite moments from the 2016 pro cycling season

A trip down memory lane as a remarkable pro cycling season comes to a close

What a year it’s been in the UCI World Tour, with glorious victories, painful losses and plenty of controversies to give cycling fans a lot to talk about throughout the year.

We saw some moments of true genius and some brutally unlucky breaks – we also saw a fair amount of downright weird stuff go down.

We decided to recap some of our best moments of the UCI World Tour 2016 – so get ready to cast your minds back to the murky early-season Classics, then take a stroll with us along memory lane as we pick some of our standout moments from the Grand Tours, the Olympics and the late-season races.

Peter Sagan showed his rivals a clean pair of heels to win the 2016 Tour of Flanders (Pic: Sirotti)

The year of Sagan

In all fairness, we could probably have come up with six great moments from the 2016 season pertaining just to Peter Sagan, so great is our love for him and so fruitful has his season been. Although given the way he started the year, you’d probably be forgiven for not predicting that latter success back in the spring.

At the start of the year Tinkoff team owner, Oleg Tinkov, publicly criticised his star rider for not delivering the results expected of him – and many people were writing Sagan off as yet another victim of ‘the curse of the rainbow bands’, the seemingly negative effect the current world champ’s jersey seems to have on whoever wears it.

However, in true Sagan style, he managed to surprise us all with a victory on the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders that was reminiscent of Classics legend, Fabian Cancellara.

After being pipped into second place one too many times because other riders were unwilling to work with him, Sagan decided on this occasion he’d just drop everyone, instead of bothering with all that cat and mouse nonsense. In his own words:

“It’s very hard to work with other guys, because nobody wants to work with me. It’s always better to drop everybody, I think.”

Yes, Peter. Yes it is.

 

Deignan dominance

Lizzie Deignan (or Armitstead as she was known at the beginning of the year) began the UCI Women’s WorldTour in style with a series of victories which left us in no doubt who had come out of the off-season feeling strong.

Deignan followed up her wins at one-day Classics Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders with the overall title at her home race, the Women’s Tour. At which point it’s fair to say she changed focus, choosing instead to concentrate all her efforts on a win in the road race at Rio.

Lizzie Armitstead’s 2016 victories included the Italian Classic, Strade Bianche  (Pic: RCS Sport)

However, after being caught up in an anti-doping furore in the build-up to the Games it wasn’t to be for the Yorkshirewoman this time around, but the early-season dominance she showed is proof that Deignan can legitimately be called the strongest woman in the peloton.

We can’t wait to see how she performs in 2017 with no Olympics to pull focus.

Peter Sagan celebrates his first win as world champion - Monument victory at the Tour of Flanders - in typical fashion (pic: Sirotti)
Lizzie Armitstead
Paris-Roubaix, Mat Hayman (Pic: Sirotti)
Froome, Mollema and Porte escaped from the GC group and were building a steady advantage as they squeezed through the fans (pic: Sirotti)

Matty Hayman at Paris-Roubaix

Who doesn’t love an underdog? Pro cycling races have, in recent years, been accused of being a little bit too predictable, with the strongest teams and riders dominating and little room for surprises.

That’s why when an unexpected result like Mat Hayman’s victory at Paris-Roubaix comes along, we tend to seize on it with even greater enthusiasm.

Mat Hayman claimed a surprise victory at Paris-Roubaix in April (Pic: Sirotti)

Hayman is a seasoned domestique who does an impressive amount of work for his team-mates, but he’s not necessarily the guy who you’d bet on to be in the decisive break of one of the toughest Classics of the year.

Nevertheless, that’s exactly where Hayman found himself as the race entered the Roubaix velodrome. After that it was the mere matter of out-sprinting Tom Boonen, the man who shares the record for the most Paris-Roubaix wins, and the much-coveted cobblestone trophy was his.

This was one of the moments of the season, if only for Hayman’s look of sheer disbelief at his own achievement in the moments after he crossed the line.

Running up that hill

The Tour de France had an air of the surreal, even of farce, about it for much of the month of July.

Whether it was inflatables falling on top of GC contenders, Mark Cavendish throwing a hissy fit, or the unforgettable sight of the yellow jersey, Chris Froome, running up the slopes of Mont Ventoux – things got weird.

Of course, the latter is the image that came to define the 2016 edition of the Tour, not just because of its patent ridiculousness, but because of what it represented – a dominance of the race so extensive that not even the lack of a bicycle could unseat Froome and Team Sky from yellow. Who knows, it may be the image that comes to define Froome’s entire career.

Otherwise the Tour felt a little processional at times, with Sky dominating affairs from stage eight onwards. Adam Yates’ performances stoked up some excitement about British hopes in the post-Froome era, when he wasn’t getting cleaned out by giant inflatable kilometre-to-go banners.

Vuelta Skelter

As often seems to be the case, the Vuelta a España turned into the most unpredictable and exciting of the season’s Grand Tours with six different riders from four different teams holding the coveted red leader’s jersey.

It was a race packed with exciting stages and thrilling moments – it even had excitement in the King of the Mountains competition, with long-time bridesmaid Robert Gesink getting a first taste of Grand Tour glory.

There’s life in the old dog yet (Pic: Sirotti)

No stage or single moment was more decisive though than stage 14 when a group, led by Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana (in red), broke away as soon as racing began, causing pandemonium in the peloton and eventually taking huge time gains on Chris Froome.

As holder of the red jersey at the start of the stage, Quintana stood to gain most by sticking the boot into Froome, but it was Contador who powered the move. While his detractors may claim ‘El Pistolero’ doesn’t quite have the ammo left for a full Grand Tour victory, he certainly proved there are a couple of bullets left in the chamber with this move.

Farewell, Spartacus

In 2016 we bid farewell to one of the sport’s most enduring heroes, Fabian Cancellara.

Spartacus began his season brightly, with wins at Strade Bianche and the Volta ao Algarve, before coming a close second to Peter Sagan at the Tour of Flanders.

For many, a place on the podium in Oudenaarde would have been a massive achievement, but for Cancellara it was only a disappointment, with him failing to take a record-breaking fourth win there.

Cancellara, out (Pic: Sirotti)

So it was with a certain satisfaction that the cycling world got to see Cancellara take home a gold medal for his sensational, imperious performance in the individual time trial at the Rio Olympics.

The Swiss never looked like letting the win get away from him, attacking the bumpy course with gusto and storming over the finish line with a time 47 seconds faster than his nearest rival, Tom Dumoulin.

Cancellara, out.

It had been suggested the hills might not be to Cancellara's liking either, but the Swiss rider paced his ride perfectly (Pic: Sirotti)
Chaves is the first Colombian to win a Monument, and first non-European to win Il Lombardia (pic: Sirotti)
Amalie DIDERIKSEN, rainbow jersey, World Championships, signing, autograph (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com

Chaves at Il Lombardia

Esteban Chaves capped a great year at Orica–BikeExchange with a victory in Il Lombardia, the last Monument of the pro cycling season. 

The popular Colombian suffered some near misses during the year – placing second and third respectively in the Giro and the Vuelta – so it was good to see him grab such an historic win in Italy and make it to the top step of the podium.

And the award for cycling’s smiliest rider goes to… (pic: Sirotti)

Chaves was one of a select group that formed after some aggressive riding in the second half of the race and Diego Rosa had every right to feel hard-done-by after putting in a huge solo shift to catch up to the escape. By doing so he probably used a fraction too much energy, allowing Chaves to just pip him in the sprint.

In claiming victory, Chaves becomes the first of his countrymen to win one of cycling’s great Monuments – as well as the smiliest rider of any nationality to do so. It’s hard to think of a more popular champion crowned this season.

Amalie

Admittedly, the World Championships were a dull affair generally, lacking the atmosphere of big crowds or the stunning scenery we associate with road racing, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of excitement along the way.

Pure guts and a little bit of tactical nous are what it took for Amalie Dideriksen (twice junior champion) to defy the pre-race favourites and snatch her first win at the World Championships.

Amalie Dideriksen, 20, ended the season as world champion (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

The 20-year-old Danish sprinter took her victory in a somewhat similar fashion to the way we’ve seen Mark Cavendish win stages in the past, managing to jump onto the right wheel at just the right time, rather than relying on a lead-out from her own team.

In this case the right wheel was that of Kirsten Wild, the Dutch sprinter whose team had dominated the race from the start. Dideriksen managed to creep around Wild in the final metres of the sprint and take an unlikely and unpredicted win.

Sagan, again

Of course, it had to come full circle. The dry and dusty (both literally and figuratively) World Championships in Doha were the setting for the crowning glory in Peter Sagan’s blockbuster year.

On a course that many feared would produce a stale 200km procession followed by a straight up sprint, the crosswinds that are so often a feature of racing in the Gulf came into play at just the right moment.

The Slovakian showed tremendous tenacity to bridge across to the front echelon, just as it was pulling away leaving many of the race favourites in the dust – many riders, including almost all of the GB team, most of the Dutch and all the Germans were not able to stay in the race.

– Fourteen times Peter Sagan has proved he’s winning at life –

Sagan got his reward when the whittled down bunch entered the final sprint. In the run-up it had seemed like was Mark Cavendish was most likely to take the victory, but he got boxed in in the final metres, allowing the Slovakian rider just enough room to take the win, the number one spot in the overall UCI WorldTour rankings and another year in the rainbow bands.

Not content with winning all the things on the bike, Sagan decided to go right ahead and win the fashion game too, pitching up to the celebratory dinner with a cane and a fedora. This guy’s reserves of DGAF are unlimited.

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