SEASON’21 BREAKDOWN: Pogačar Merckx-Esque Season

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Season Breakdown: The season is over and now it’s time for Spencer Martin to dissect the professional action and the performances of the top men and the teams in 2021 and what it means for next year.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

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Pogačar domination

With the recent Giro di Lombardia marking the end of 2021’s WorldTour calendar, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on the trends we saw emerge in the past season and plan out the BTP off-season content (and have been getting great suggestions from readers). To kick off this reflection and re-examination, I wanted to step back and take stock of where we are as the pro cycling season begins its awkward fade into the off-season.

To start things off, let’s take a look at the top 20 riders in the UCI Points Rankings and go through a few takeaways.

Top 20 UCI Rider Points Rankings
season review

A Few Takeaways:
As I recently outlined, Tadej Pogačar is coming off a Merckx-esque season that saw him win two Monuments and the Tour de France, so it is no surprise to see him atop the list. This is an improvement on his second-place finish in 2020 and signals that not only is Pogačar currently the most dominant racer in the world, but is actually getting better (this thought should keep other team managers and contenders awake at night).

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Van Aert – One of the most versatile riders in the history of modern cycling

Wout van Aert, as shown by his stunning stage win hat trick at the Tour, is one of the most versatile riders in the history of modern cycling, so it is no surprise to see him come in second place in this ranking. But, as absurd as it sounds, this season that saw him win 13 races, raised a few difficult questions for the 27-year-old. For example, he took an undeniable step back in the one-day Monuments from a 2020 season that saw him win Milano-Sanremo and get a close 2nd at the Tour of Flanders by failing to win a Monument, the World Championships, and the Olympic Road Race. This step-back in the major coincided with a rising profile in his general classification campaigns in stage races. He finished an impressive 2nd to Tadej Pogačar at Tirreno–Adriatico and showed an ability to hang in all but a few mountain stages at the Tour de France, but this newfound success could be causing Van Aert to be competing across all disciplines while not winning as much as he could if he focused on one or the other. While riders like Pogačar seem to be able to dominate in both grand tours and one-day races, almost no other rider has this luxury, and Van Aert could be wise to lean into either stage-wins/one-day races or the overall classification at grand tours.

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Roglič – On the slide?

Primož Roglič slides from 1st in 2020 down to 3rd in 2021, which could be the first signs of decline from the 31-year-old. On the flip side, he looked perhaps as good as he ever has on his way to winning the 2021 Vuelta a España and the Olympic time trial event and suffered a major loss of points when he crashed out of the Tour. With this in mind, I wouldn’t write off Roglič just yet. I think he has around two years left of prime grand tour performances and, if he can stay upright, will once again be the only rider able to challenge Pogačar at the 2022 Tour de France.

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Alaphilippe kept his rainbow jersey

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Julian Alaphilippe finished 4th in the UCI rider rankings and defended his World Championship road title. It would be hard to count this as anything other than a great season, but it was his second consecutive season with a surprisingly small number of victories compared to other recent seasons (2018: 12, 2019: 12, 2020: 3, 2021: 4) and sees him unable to match his career-high 2nd place in the UCI Point Rankings back in 2019. While his raw numbers have declined, it is difficult to argue with his quality of two Tour stage wins & two world titles over two seasons.

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Bernal – Still potential challenger

Egan Bernal is perhaps the forgotten man of 2021. He is 24-years-old and has two grand tour wins on his palmarès, and in a season that saw him win a grand tour with the Giro and light another one up with his now-or-never racing attitude at the Vuelta, the story was more around him and his Ineos team falling behind the times and being unable to truly challenge at the Tour de France, which Bernal and Ineos won in 2019. While Bernal will certainly have an uphill battle winning a second Tour title due to the rise of Pogačar, I still feel as though he is underrated as a potential challenger. Some of this is due to his team, who didn’t even take him to the 2021 Tour de France, and the health of his back, which has held him back at times. However, as things stand, he is the prime beneficiary if either Roglič or Pogačar suffer misfortune leading up to, or at, the Tour.

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Not the best season for Van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel won eight races, including a Tour de France stage that netted him the race lead for a further six stages, but like Van Aert, he failed to match his 2020 Monument performance and saw his win total over the past four seasons remain flat-to-declining (2018: 6, 2019: 13, 2020: 5, 2021: 8). Some of this can be explained by his break from road racing to focus on the Olympic mountain bike race and his ensuing back injury, but, it is something to keep an eye on as the 26-year-old Van der Poel ages into what should be his prime winning years and a younger generation of stars continue to emerge.

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Colbrelli – Breakout rider

Sonny Colbrelli was the breakout rider of the year and appears to have emerged as a bonafide classics contender as he adds strength and endurance to his world-class finishing speed.

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Almeida – On the rise

João Almeida continued his rise and if not for a complicated intra-team situation at the Giro, he could have taken a massive step forward as a grand tour contender.

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Mohorič – The other Slovenian

Matej Mohorič, the forgotten Slovenian, isn’t a prolific winner, but he proved in 2021 that he is a world-class stage and one-day race winner by netting two Tour stages and the Slovenian national championship title. Going forward, I expect the 27-year-old to challenge for a Monument title due to his world-class ability to win major races solo.

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Adam Yates – His best season

Adam Yates had his best season after moving over to Ineos last winter with his first career Monument podium at Lombardia and second-ever top-five grand tour finish with a fourth-place ride at an extremely competitive Vuelta. But, this season, while great, could limit him going forward. 2021 looks like a high watermark for Yates and at 29-years-old, it is clear that Yates isn’t a top-tier Tour contender. On a team like Ineos where you are either first or last, it will be difficult for him to lobby for grand tour leadership over proven winners like Richard Carapaz and Egan Bernal and up-and-coming talents like Dani Martinez, Pavel Sivakov, and Tom Pidcock in 2022 and beyond.

2021 Major Races in Review
Monuments & Winners:
Milano-Sanremo: Jasper Stuyven
Tour of Flanders: Kasper Asgreen
Paris-Roubaix: Sonny Colbrelli
Liège–Bastogne–Liège: Tadej Pogačar
Giro di Lombardia: Tadej Pogačar

Grand Tours:
Giro d’Italia: Egan Bernal
Tour de France: Tadej Pogačar
Vuelta a España: Primož Roglič

World Championships:
Road Race: Julian Alaphilippe
Time Trial: Filippo Ganna

Olympics:
Road Race: Richard Carapaz
Time Trial: Primož Roglič

UCI Points Team Rankings (19 WT Teams + 2 ProConti Teams)
breakdown

For the second time in three years, Deceuninck – Quick-Step UCI team rankings, which isn’t a surprise considering their 65-wins, 150 podium finishes, and 289 top tens, all of which are WorldTour leading figures.

Wins, Podiums & Top Tens per WorldTour Teams
breakdown review

Initial Takeaways:
I will dive into team performances in more detail at the start of 2022 when I do my weighted BTP NET Rankings for the coming season, but a few big takeaways are just how well Alpecin-Fenix, a second division team, performed relative to almost every 1st division WorldTour team. With a claimed budget of just under €10 million, they are going head-to-head and beating WorldTour teams with budgets between €20-€40 million.

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Another top season for Patrick Lefevere

When I did my BTP NET Projections for the 2021 season during this past offseason, I calculated that Qhubeka-NextHash, Intermarché Wanty Gobert, EF, Lotto Soudal would finish in the bottom third, but the extremely poor seasons from Team BikeExchange, Astana, and DSM wasn’t predicted by the ranking system and isn’t something I would have predicted.

2021 Team BTP NET Ranking Projections:
1) INEOS Grenadiers
2) Deceuninck – Quick Step
3) UAE-Team Emirates
4) Team Jumbo-Visma
5) BORA – Hansgrohe
6) Astana – Premier Tech
7) Groupama – FDJ
8) Movistar Team
9) Bahrain – Victorious
10) Team BikeExchange (aka Mitchelton-Scott)
11) AG2R Citroën Team
12) Team DSM (aka new Sunweb)
13) Trek – Segafredo
14) Israel Start-Up Nation
15) Cofidis, Solutions Crédits
16) Lotto Soudal
17) EF Education – Nippo
18) Intermarché Wanty Gobert
19) Team Qhubeka-NextHash (formerly Qhubeka-ASSOS)

As the off-season progresses, I will dig into 2021’s results and trends in more depth (in addition to major takeaways from the Women’s races), restart my Weekly Transfer Analysis (first 2022 edition coming Monday) and attempt to project 2022 performances with my BTP NET series after the rosters are set in January. An important note is that if you want access to all of these posts, you have to be a paying BTP subscriber.

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The future looks good for Tadej Pogačar


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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