How Did The Riders To Watch For 2021 Do?

At the start of the season some riders were picked to keep an eye on for the season. How did they do?

Well Tadej Pogačar won the Tour de France and then some. A year ago the thinking was that he could well repeat, but Egan Bernal was held up as a rider who looked to have it all only to suffer from injury. Repeating a Tour win is never easy. So would Pogačar bite off more than he could chew? No, Pogačar finished an emphatic season by expanding his range, not just a Tour winner but imperious in so many fields, taking Liège and Lombardia, winning the Laval time trial of the Tour and so much more, not quite the Merckxian “Cannibal” but voracious, albeit with the table-manners of a polite kid. In the space of a year the general narrative of “tricky repeat” has vanished and the opposite scenario has emerged, the thinking is he’s such a dominant rider that other teams will have to weigh up what their goals are for July and even beyond for the coming years, quite reversal. Strikingly there’s no hubris from him, nor any outward sign of the pressure and expectation now on his shoulders.

Arnaud Démare finished 2020 as the most prolific winner, after a decision to drop the classics and focus purely on sprinting. So could he repeat, or at least sustain this in 2021? No, and right from the start he seemed in trouble, the helicopter shot of him struggling to hold the wheels of his Groupama-FDJ sprint train in the Tour de La Provence was telling. Sure it was hectic and it was only an early season race but it happened again in Paris-Nice and kept on into the Vuelta. He still did alright with nine wins but none in the World Tour. Paris-Tours saved the season with a thrilling win… as a classics man rather than a pure sprinter.

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The surprise Giro winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart had injury issues starting with a bout of concussion in Paris-Nice so he never got going. Still he was close to a stage win in the Dauphiné and if he could replay the sprint again he’d probably not get overhauled by Alejandro Valverde atop the Col de Porte. Back pain plagued the Tour de France but a goal was to start the race and he made Ineos’s selection and then made it to Paris. In short bad luck got in the way and he’ll be one to watch in 2022.

Lucas Hamilton had a solid start to the season with fourth in Paris-Nice and a tenth and eight place overall in Catalunya and Romandie and was aiming for a crack at GC in the Tour, again a top-10 but this didn’t happen, he was off the pace and then crashed in the Minervois hills at the same time as his team leader Simon Yates. Still he took on leadership roles rather than being reserved as a valet for Simon Yates and at 25 there’s room for improvement and he’s been learning a lot. He gave an interesting interview to the Stanley Street Social podcast about watching the likes of Roglič attack.

Sep Kuss began the year with a dilemma, how to win on a team stacked with leaders? He got the chance in the Tour de France after Roglič crashed out and took a solo win in the mountain stage to Andorra. He’s still talking about his GC chances but remains a pure climber and a valuable one at that, he played a big part in Roglič’s win in the Vuelta.

Attila Valter turned out to be a shrewd signing by Groupama-FDJ, they’ve long had “foreign” riders but seem to be opening up more and more, see Michael Storer joining for 2022. Attila the Hungarian saved their Giro thanks to a spell in the maglia rosa. The rest of the season was alright but not as spectacular and he’s bound to return in 2022 given the start in Budapest.

Nils Politt joined Bora-Hansgrohe and should have been a big asset for them in the spring classics, alongside Peter Sagan. But it wasn’t to be. Instead though he had a great time in stage races, taking a prestigious solo win in the Tour de France at the end of a very lively stage, and then winning the Deutschland Tour thanks to another solo stage win which set him up for the GC, an important victory for a German rider on a German team.

Why on earth did Alpecin-Fenix sign Jasper Philipsen? After all he’s handy in the classics and good at sprinting and with Mathieu van der Poel you’d think they’d have this base covered. But that was exactly the point, Philpsen was there for when the days when van der Poel wasn’t. It worked like a treat, two stages of the Vuelta, the Eschborn-Frankfurt GP, Scheldeprijs and arguably he could have won a Tour stage too. Plus when Mark Cavendish was on his sprint comeback in the Tour of Turkey, Philipsen was the rival to judge the Manxman by and their duel in the sprints was a taste of things to come.

Andrea Bagioli was the Quickstepper to follow but he didn’t have a breakout season. He was very solid though, a win in the Ardèche weekend in February, fourth in the Tour de l’Ain and best young rider, plus two top-3 places on the Vuelta stages, perhaps he was picked a season too soon and will go on to bigger things in 2022. There’s a list of riders capable of taking the maglia rosa in the Giro’s opening uphill finish in Visegrád and Bagioli should be on it.

Anton Palzer was the curiosity pick, a skier and runner who’d gone from grand fondo to the World Tour in less than a year. He started at the Tour of the Alps – of course – and finished the Vuelta in his first go, so an all round solid season but nothing spectacular. The result isn’t the win but the learning process, there’s so much to take in, cycling is an aerobic sport but with such a technical and even cultural tool kit, with things from positioning to braking to eating to descending.

54 thoughts on “How Did The Riders To Watch For 2021 Do?”

  1. Interesting that TGH got such a neutral / positive write up…. I get the impression that his star has truly waned as we watch him struggle to keep the pace in GTs. Would love him (and G for that matter) to get back to the pointy end of a big race but it seems unlikely in my ill-informed opinion…

    • Ideally TGH would have done more this year… but if he’s had bad luck then there’s not much more he could have done. Another issue for him is goals and selection for major races, finding opportunities on a team crowded with talent.

      • Or, say, suddenly winning a GT with best-ever power numbers after well, not coming even close, with huge performances by a teammate who hadn’t ever come close, in that sort of high mountains, against a rival who also etc. All like a Cobo-Froome thing, incredible feat, incredible suspicion, suspicious (in)credulity… or just…
        Whatever the reason, we’ll get a hint of sort on the subject if ever in 5-10 years time or so, why exactly bother now?

        • Yeah, I agree.

          Someone had to win and it wasn’t like TGH romped away from Pogacar, Roglic, Bernal, Thomas, Carapaz or even the Yates. Jai Hindley was runner up and Hermann Pernsteiner rounded out the top 10.

          Aside from Nibali none of the Giro top 10 had ever come close to winning a GT before so there had to be a “surprise” winner (unless Nibali won and that would have drawn its own allegations).

          TGH will never win another GT but I don’t think any of the other top 10 will either, although I suppose Almeida might challenge for a Vuelta or Giro. The 2020 race was a freak Covid special.

        • Sadly, ideas like these may be why big-money sponsors continue to YAWN they they get pitched to throw millions into this sport? I read somewhere Ivan Basso was lamenting not having the 80-120 million euros(?) he thinks is needed to move his team to WT.
          I’m sure you get a lot of yawns when you ask for that kind of loot in a sport where even enthusiasts express view like these, even if they are just meant to be sarcastic? Will the UCI ever implement any sort of cost-controls?

    • As someone who has suffered a severe concussion this year, TGH’s early season concussion is surely to blame. It’s the weirdest type of injury, physically I look perfectly normal to everyone, but your ability to handle higher workloads (eg. training intensity) is severely hampered. And that’s if he can even get on the bike that day – some days I’m still (nearly 3 months later) not fully stable on my feet, let alone a bike.

      Luckily TGH had a contract for 2022, I’m hoping he has been able to return to at least 90-95% by now so he can keep building up for next year. PLUS, hopefully if he falls again he can avoid hitting his head. I’ve heard the repeat head hit can be a huge set-back for concussion cases, so I’m sticking to jogging for the time being (yes, jogging is awful, but I need to get out of my house to exercise).

  2. We had some fun in the Tour, discussing Pogacar’s youthful aggressive attacks.
    Not too long after, there was a short article on British radio with a sports psychologist who said that the brain development of younger people is not complete until they’re about 25 years old.
    And the final part of the brain to mature, in males at least, is that part that computes risk.
    So the ubiquitous “young players / riders show no fear” line does hold truth.
    Of course, it needs supreme self-confidence and sporting talent to go with it otherwise Mr Pogacar would be jumping off bridges into rivers, burning out his clutch in 3rd gear on his hatch, and swinging punches on a Saturday night, to say the least, as most of us did 🤣
    He’s only turned 23, though looks younger actually, so hopefully we have another couple of seasons of his devil-may-care to enjoy yet.

  3. The over-hyping of Bernal after he won the TdF perplexed me at the time, and many people still maintain that but for his back injury this would have been the case. He was clearly a very good rider, but there was no particular reason that so many people decided that he was going to ‘dominate grand tours for years to come’. Look who he beat in that (truncated) race: team mate Thomas, and Kruijswijk. Moreover, up until Pinot’s injury, Bernal lost time to Pinot in both the mountains and the time trial (Pinot having completed his ubiquitous loss of time on a flat/windy stage) – and no-one has ever claimed that Pinot was a dominant grand tour rider.
    (I’ve always assumed the hype was due to the ‘from Colombia’ and ‘rides for Sky/Ineos’ factors.)
    After this year’s TdF, Pogacar does look like a rider who might well dominate grand tours for years to come. We could be sick of the sight of him soon enough, and good though Bernal is, he’ll need quite a lot of things to go his way to beat Pogacar in a grand tour. I’d say Roglic has a better chance than Bernal, but for how long?

    • I can’t see Bernal beating Pogačar because his time trialling is not strong enough, he’s more of a pure climber… but more, he can do things on the Strade Bianche etc that others can’t, he’s still a complete racer especially if he can get over or just manage the chronic back injuries.

    • I think Bernal had also had a previous good year or 2 as a very strong domestique and had showed that his climbing was very strong so may be ready for the step up so when he did at a young age it looked like a future domination.
      My major reservation with bernal was how he one is TDF. Not that he didn’t ride well or deserve it but the nature of the of the decisive stage left room for doubt. He took time off his rivals when they sat behind a domestique waiting for the final climb that never happened. Would they have caught him on the final climb after all his extra work. We will never know but i think they would have got closer at the very least because everybody else had an easier run into the climb that never happened. .

      • The only helper with some energy left in that chasing group was 23 year old De Plus for Kruijswijk, so who was going to spend energies chasing with Thomas sitting on the wheels, once young De Plus had lost some more time to Bernal trying to defend in a one-against-one match? Oh, sure sure, they’d find the rational agreement to share equal turns on the front… or *perhaps* they’d lose even more speed in a flurry of attack-wait-attack-wait as it *so often* happens when a dozen or half of captains are left by themselves. Or they’d go on calmly, waiting for every gregario to come back and breath, then try and mount a late chase, then went on complaining about some red flags somewhere in the snow one hour before 😛
        Of course, we’ll never know if Bernal would crack by himself.

    • The hype was due to what had come before, that is, impressive physiological values and a talented rider up with the best from a very young age. Such a common story… nowadays!
      We’ve become used to it in a couple of seasons or so, but back in 2017 it looked notable that a 20 years old neo-pro in a second-tier team could make a top ten at the Tour of the Alps, solid top-20s at the Tirreno or later in most of the Autumn Italian Classics (Memorial Pantani, Emilia, Milano-Torino, Lombardia), while of course dominating the top juvenile races of the calendar, Avenir and Savoie.
      The following year he went to Sky and at Romandie he was beat by the slightest margin (thanks to the prologue) by an already impressive Roglic, who had steamrolled Itzulia and would go on to TDF 4th place. The rest was no match, and the guy was 21. He destroyed the field in the Villars uphill ITT, only Roglic and Porte came close. He went on to win a Tour of Cali with a decent field (Dani Martínez, Adam Yates, Tao, Van Garderen, Majka, McNulty, De Plus, pretty much everybody 2 mins back), than at the TDF he was solid and finally 15th.
      At 22, as we know, he won the TDF, but that’s not pretty much the point. He was there to grab it and he did, but he had just confirmed his quality outright winning at Paris-Nice or Suisse.
      And, “despite” winning the Tour, he went on to a great Classics autumn with five top-10s, Monument podium at Lombardia and victory at Gran Piemonte.
      Take the TDF away, that’s still the sort of roadmap that might or even *should* bring you to win a GT before you’re 28 and maybe some prestige Classic.
      Impressive climber but especially excellent when it’s about fondo, long-range attacker, very solid in one-day racing, great bike-handler, defends more than decently against the clock (albeit lacking consistency). Of course, it’s more a Giro profile, but nothing is really out of reach. The agreement to leave him to Sky apparently included a TDF-win clause, Savio knows what he had had in his hands.
      Now the Pogacar effect makes everything so flat, if you don’t win a Tour and a couple of Monuments every year, you’ve had a bad season ^__^
      Equally, winning the Tour when you’re 22 isn’t anything special if then it comes Pogacar who wins when he’s 21 – and again when he’s 22!
      Until 20, Bernal was more of a sure bet, although nobody could doubt Pogi’s talent. Starting at 21 they had a similar season, although Pogacar’s Vuelta podium was something special. The year they’d be 22, again they had a comparable season, and both won the TDF, even if Bernal had already had his birthday wheras Pogi would after the French race: Pogi’s Tour victory was more neat, but came a peculiar way, too. The rest of the season was probably more convincing in Bernal’s case. From then on, we all know how things went.

      And, things as they are (they needn’t go on the same way, just watch the 1990 golden boyz), *everybody* needs many things to go the right way to beat Pogi in a GT. Roglic is surely more solid as an athlete, he’s a fully matured rider, whereas I don’t believe Bernal is, yet, for good or ill (which doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily get better, so many factors…).

      What’s sure is that these are the sort of talents who don’t show up so often. Can’t come up with many current riders on Bernal’s level, back ache or not. Which doesn’t mean he is on Pogi’s of course ^__^

      • Well said Gabriele.
        The judgement of every young GC rider has now become relative to Pogacar.
        Of Pogacar himself, I unfortunately never did see Merckx in action but I did see athletes like Ed Moses, Seb Coe and, my favourite, Allyson Felix, and it feels like we’re witnessing similar greatness in young Pogacar.
        To be enjoyed whilst they’re here.
        *ps Bravo for Attila the Hungarian, I will keep an eye out for his ambitions.

      • Pogacar is indeed impressive these days. But for how long? How many next-next-next Merckx’ have there been since the original…or maybe the original original – Girardengo or the second one, Coppi? He’ll win as much and for as long as he can, then he won’t. My hope is that he doesn’t end up like Coppi (or worse, Froome) at the end, going on as if he can’t think of anything else to do and tarnishing his legacy.

        • (1) I thought we all had got that.
          (2) When (some or many, who cares?) people said Bernal will dominate the GTs for years to come what they meant was – in my opinion then as well as now – that Bernal had shown qualities needed to win many more GTs. It was not meant as a forecast that he would, barring a DNF, win every GT he would choose to do quite regardless of what new top riders the future might bring.
          In other words, what you saw as a hype on at best insufficient basis was to me simply a manner of expressing admiration of impressive displays of talent by someone still quite young.
          (3) The way I remember it Bernal wasn’t racing against Pinot in the sense of every second on every stage counts. He was widely seen as one of those riders who had reason to assume they would definitely be far stronger than (an uninjured) Pinot on the two big mountain stages in the last week and therefore it was a matter of racing smartly and not losing too much time .

          • 1 gabriele and Ecky both comment that people now compare riders to Pogacar.
            2 yup, different views.
            3 Bernal had consistently lost time to Pinot on mountain stages.

        • Agreed. My wife has a theory about a lot of “fans” of one rider or another – it’s as if they’ve bet a ton of money on “their guy”s success and if/when he doesn’t win, they’re very upset and then make excuses…some of which sound like what might be said when the guy they lost money to shows up to collect.
          Then of course there are those who can’t just have an opinion, once “their guy” wins LeTour once, he’s gonna win it every year after – that’s somehow a proven fact rather than just their opinion. I’m happy the riders just get on with the racing rather than listening to the punters or odds-makers who (conveniently) DON’T have to pedal the bike 🙂

          • I do remember that JE did express those same thoughts back at the time, though Pogacar’s subsequent emergence has highlighted any gap between himself and others and served to reinforce any negative feelings towards Bernal perhaps?
            Bernal can certainly win more GTs and, while it may take some sort of alliance to unseat Pogacar, he can play a significant role in that effort too.

          • Just to clarify: I don’t have ‘any negative feelings towards Bernal’ – he’s a fantastic rider, and a brilliant all-rounder and an attacking rider, both of which make me appreciate him all the more. (All I’m saying is that his potential GT dominance was over-hyped.) And I totally agree with you that ‘Bernal can certainly win more GTs and, while it may take some sort of alliance to unseat Pogacar, he can play a significant role in that effort too’.

        • Obviously enough, we might as well stop speculating about the future of any rider at all, given that among the extremely few riders who more or less corresponded to such a strict definition (‘dominate GT for years to come’) in post-WWII cycling, I’d say 8-9 guys at most, at least 3-4 couldn’t be seen coming.
          Yes, the stat is clearly skewed by recent years, that is, by many of the most dominant figures from the 90s on, do with it what you please! 😉
          However, the likes of Hinault or Contador were also easily acknowledged as early talents, but, maybe in order to grant them a learning curve of sort or a less brutal physical growth, they’d start going for the big shot when they were 24-25 yo. At the same age of Pogacar – or Bernal – they still had shown less.
          The anecdotes about Merckx are well known, surely a manifest very young talent, only not expected as a GT man.
          So, how would you call for a future GT dominance, if you’re asked to do that about a 22 yo?
          The best thing is just leaving it alone, of course! So many very early talents end up ‘not dominating’; so many dominant figures were still flying under the radars at 21 or even 22.
          But this brings us to mere truism.
          A bit like:
          “After this year’s TdF, Pogacar does look like a rider who might well dominate grand tours for years to come”.
          Yes, it does ‘look like’ that, at first sight at least ^__^, but the fun is perhaps trying to pick him earlier…
          Everybody knows it is a bet of sort trying to guess talent, and it’s especially evident that in cycling talent itself isn’t always rewarded with a domination of sort.
          But if your point is: “there was no particular reason that so many people decided that he was going to ‘dominate grand tours for years to come’ “, well, there’s no particular reason to pick more or less anyone ever, unless he’s already got a couple of GTs under the belt!
          If anything, as I did elsewehere, I’d ask myself if current cycling with its new wave of extremely early talent which is launched to top competition as soon as possible will actually be able not to burn up matches with exceptional speed, too. Keeping such a level until – or beyond – their 30th birthday would be a feat in itself.
          That’s all for fun conversation’s sake, nothing more: quite obviously, in such a complex environment, the only meaningful debate is about the past!

          • I think I’d generally go with this: ‘there’s no particular reason to pick more or less anyone ever, unless he’s already got a couple of GTs under the belt’. I would never have said it about Pogacar after just the 2020 TdF, for instance.
            As for today’s riders not maintaining their top level beyond their 30th birthday, I’d say that if you start winning at such a young age, then that isn’t much of a problem. Also, neither Merckx nor Hinault went much beyond that age, and as for the riders born in 1990…

          • But Merckx went on too long ala Coppi while Hinault knew when to hang up the wheels, making good on a promise made at what I’d guess was the peak of his career?
            Chapeau Le Blaireau for leaving ’em wanting more rather than wishing you’d called it a career a few years earlier!

          • @Larry,
            you must indeed be loving the way AvdB is retiring ^__^

            Heck, for a change we had a 1990 born who looked not to be suffering from the “1990 curse”, and she walks away by her own decision…

            Anyway, I feel you’re being unfair to Merckx. His decline was so sudden that maybe he himself was doubting about the whole situation. 1976 was due in more than a way, and he got that record Sanremo after all. Surely, at the end of that year was the right moment to stop: yet, I think that it’s understandable that he wanted to ride a last Tour de France, which he did in that highly questionable 1977 season. However, it wasn’t much more than that. 1978 was clearly not about racing, didn’t even seem like that, and off the bike he was, definitely, the day after the Sanremo had taken place, which, as you always say, pretty much means that the season hadn’t even started, actually!
            So, you’re really blaming him for that 1977 year only, I feel it’s harsh, especially considering that he hadn’t been able to ride a last TdF the season before.
            Not really like Coppi, who stretched his career 5 more seasons after it was clearly over, 3 or 4 of which were absolutely regrettable.

            Acccording to your preferences (which I don’t fully share, although I get your point), Contador did it fine, I guess; Indurain pretty much, too. Fignon or Lemond frankly didn’t (peculiar context, you might say – one more reason to sail away ASAP). Which is why I don’t like this as a way to judge a rider. Armstrong had done great, than it made the worst mess ever!

            …And what’s your opinion on Moser and especially Saronni from this POV? 😉
            Nibali? 😛

          • While few “call their shot” like Hinault, the post-Molteni years for Merckx were grim, same with Coppi. Moser saw the writing-on-the-wall kind of like Merckx but of course he didn’t have as big a legacy to tarnish while Saronni probably should have quit post Del Tongo, similar to rival Moser. LeMond is pretty much the same IMHO though his illness complicated things. I’ll always remember talking to him at a bike show where he clued us into his retirement plan before the official press-conference. Once he had the diagnosis he knew it was time to hang up the wheels.
            So far it seems Nibali will soldier-on another season or two, supposedly to help the new kids on Astana rather than flounder around like…well…I’ll leave it there.
            Hindsight’s always 20-20 but if you quit soon enough past your sell-by date, the tarnish is more easily buffed off, ala Merckx.

          • @Larry
            There were no “post-Molteni” year*S* for Merckx, it was that only *single season* with Fiat France. Which, as I said, can be vastly justified by the desire to ride the TDF one last time.
            (C&A is there only for the stats, he never even started the road racing season, on March he was off the bike).

            The last two seasons of Saronni with Del Tongo were also meagre, he’d better quit halfway through the 80s instead of going all the way down to 1990.

          • Gabriele – my guess is the C & A folks put money up because of Merckx’ involvement so why doesn’t it count? We don’t count Luc LeBlanc’s Le Groupement season for the same reason?
            In any case the desire “to ride LeTour for one last time” is exactly the problem when these guys don’t know when to quit. Hinault could probably have done quite well riding “LeTour for one last time” but he chose to hang up the wheels. Chapeau!!!
            IMHO the guys who quit leaving us wanting more are always superior to those who left us wanting less though those last tarnishing years can often be polished away…no doubt that’ll happen for Il Frullatore after he’s finally admitted there’s no cure for the common birthday. Beppe Conti’s already penned something that reads like Froome’s called it a career,

          • @Larry,
            Luc Leblanc was riding a bike in official races, and a decent number of those, during his 6-month spell at Le groupement. Merckx wasn’t in 1978. It makes no sense to complain about him giving the public any sort of sad memory of himself on the road that year, given that you would not see him riding…
            I get your point about 1977, albeit I don’t agree. Anyway, it’s not really the same category of the Coppi or Saronni or Froome who go on season after season after season. You can have a bad year pretty much anytime during your career, it’s not great to add a last one, but it’s not really like he stretched things that much. Even more so, because unlike most others he wasn’t “declining”, he suddenly dropped from supernatural to very good athlete in the time of few weeks.
            I think there’s no need to follow up on the subject, anyway.

        • I chalk the Bernal hype up to the Dave B “plug and play” idea. Didn’t he muse once about “winning LeTour with a French rider” as if all he has to do is plug one into his “marginal gains system” and voila – instant yellow jersey in Paris? Hasn’t quite worked out that way though I too like Bernal’s attacking style vs the usual (mostly) dull but effective tactics of his team.
          It will be interesting to see if there’s anything to the rumors about Bernal or others jumping off the INEOS money-train in search of undisputed solid backup (or at least some respect if they’re not British?) from a team with a smaller budget.

      • Speaking of Bernal´s talent and long range attack. At the 2021 Vuelta he went on with 65 Km to go. And More surprisingly, he was followed for primoz Roglic, who won the stage. A memorably duel between two major GC contenders and, IMHO a highlight of this year.
        Very happy and healthy 2022 to IR and all readers of the best cycling blog

        • A great day on the saddle, one of the most impressive stages in recent years. And I’d say that overall it was a great Vuelta’s third week, for once!

          Generally speaking, the organisers have been subtly (and silently!) twisting the route design away from the stereotype they themselves had sold to the press in previous editions, and truth is we got rewarded by some memorable stages in recent years.

          This year instead of having a best GT, the Tour had the best first week, the Giro the best second one and the Vuelta the best third week – which is actuall one of the most paradoxical scenarios I could ever imagine ^__^

  4. Gabriele – Perhaps you should send in a correction to WIKIPEDIA who has this posted:
    “In January, the department store C&A announced that they would sponsor a new team for Merckx after their owner met Merckx at a football game.[172] His plan for the season was to race one last Tour de France and then ride several smaller races for appearances.[173] He raced a total of five races in the 1978 calendar.[174] His last victory was in a track event, an omnium in Zürich, on 10 February 1978 with Patrick Sercu.[175] His first road race came in the Grand Prix de Montauroux on 19 February.[174] Merckx came to the front of the race and put in a large effort before swinging off and quitting the race.[172] His best finish came in the Tour de Haut, where he managed fifth.[172] He dropped out of Omloop Het Volk due to colitis and completed his final race on 19 March, a kermis in Kemzeke.[172] Following the race, Merckx went on a vacation to go skiing.[172] He returned from travel to train more, but by this point the team sponsor knew he was going to quit.[172] Merckx announced his retirement from the sport on 18 May.[172] He stated that the doctors advised him against racing.[176]”
    Sounds like a pretty forgettable end IMHO.

    • To me, that amounts pretty much to not racing. And you always said that what comes before the Sanremo doesn’t count ^__^
      Hummm, ok, five race days from 10 February to 19 March (the first being a “track event” and the latter being… a kermesse)? Two DNF? I won’t call that a year of road racing, or a semester, even. I wouldn’t call it racing at all.
      What is more, I can perfectly imagine a rider starting his season like that and then having a great year. It’s that it really means nothing. I’ll hardly be shocked by the sight of any pro calling it a quit or floundering through in February prep races, so it surely won’t tarnish a career.
      As I said, to me the point is that single 1977 year, which is open to debate.
      However, once I saw you insisting on Simon Yates being a dull rider, in the 2018 Giro even, I became aware that further debate on what you’re already convinced about is pretty much useless.

      • Ultimately, the issue in play is the question of how much a GT rider’s final racing years affect their legacy, and I suppose to some extent how that affects how we measure their greatness. In the case of Merckx, the verdict has been in for decades – he is the GOAT, period, full stop. That he did a few minor races in early 1978, most of which apparently weren’t even road races, hardly mars his legacy (PCS lists only one of these races as road races, a minor regional French race). Per the scoring system at PCS, in 1977 Merckx was the 7th ranked rider, which for most professionals would constitute a stellar year, and which is only questionable compared to his utter dominance in previous years where he was almost always ranked number 1 (by comparison, Hinault was 7th in his penultimate year, and 9th in his final year).

        I also wonder if this idea that it damages a rider’s legacy if they do not dominate in their final years only applies to GT riders. For example, does someone like Gilbert destroy his legacy by going on so long, or enhance it by having an occasional huge success late in his career?

        • Nice point, Kevin. I definitely believe that things feel different when Classics riders are concerned (although, to start with, I don’t share Larry’s views on GT champions, either).
          Perhaps that’s due to the superior weight of athletic fitness in the balance of what’s needed to win a GT. When you aren’t at the top of your game from a physical POV, you often have pretty much no chance to defend any high-placement in a GC, whereas in Classics more complexity is involved, which leaves the door open for late feats.

          Tom Boonen.

          *2012* already had been seen back then as sort of a swan song year. After all, he’d been competitive at the highest level since 2002 at least, when he was just 22, and had been on the very top of the pyramid since 2004.
          Was it wrong to stretch things out all the way to 2016? To me, not at all.
          And not because he won RideLondon Classic or ye old Paris-Bruxelles, but because he *lost* that couple of epic races, his 3rd spot at the Qatar Worlds (Sagan, Cav, Boonen, Matthews, Nizzolo, Boasson Hagen, Kristoff, Bonnet, Terpstra, Van Avermaet) and his tremendous 2nd place at Roubaix – behind Hayman ^__^ Epic. Stuff.

          Of course now Larry will say that the authentic capital sin was racing those last 2-months-and-a-half in 2017 Spring, finally quitting in *his* Velodrome, just in order to enjoy a very last Roubaix … 😉

        • I think going out on a high is special but it’s rare, it’s one of the things Hinault did. But nobody worries too much about Merckx’s years at Fiat or C&A, Merckx is the legend rather than the guy who did a year too much. If a rider can win something huge one year, then there’s a chance they can again the next and so a good chance a team will pay you very well for this option, as well as the prestige and media attention that goes there way. So while it can look like “a year too far” for the rider and their image, that’s subjective. For them it’s a year of cashing in with a lucrative contract and also passing on knowledge, doing races they’d missed out on etc. The obvious example today is Chris Froome who is reportedly earning millions, his results look diminished but it’d be very difficult to turn down the contract from the Israel team which is both valuable and long in duration, especially without a retirement project. And in 10-20 years’ time people will probably remember the sudden rise and all the Tour wins rather than the Israel years.

          • I agree. I don’t feel like fading away at the end of your career is any kind of issue and doesn’t tarnish any achievements – whether it’s Coppi or Lemond, who cares now? Even the ultimate exemplar, Froome – who is a shadow of his former self and who seems to be living up to the idea that no matter how much money one has, one always wants more – will be remembered for his achievements rather than his trundling around in a few races in order to earn buckets of cash for a few years. When I see Froome, I think ‘Why not?’ Why not take the fool’s money (other than for political/moral reasons)?

          • And, to be fair to Froome, 2021 was his first full season after the Dauphine crash. So he’s not really in the “going on and on” category yet.

            Of course he may still get there.

  5. In the head-long rush to fauxtrage some missed my point about how a legacy can be tarnished but then the tarnish buffed off ala Merckx. I have zero doubt the buffing wheels will work overtime when it’s time to remove the tarnish from the post-SKYNEOS career of Mr. Froome. 20 years on some crank like me will bring that up only to be thrown to the keyboard lions 🙂
    Finally, yes, for me watching the Yates’ racing is dull. Not as dull as watching someone like Basso, but far, far, far from the swashbuckling, give-it-go, do or die exploits of guys like Hinault, Chiappucci, Pantani, Alaphilippe, Nibali, etc.

    • I’m curious why your cranky and generally controversial polemics aren’t “fauxtrage,” while the considered and dispassionate rebuttals of said polemics are? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing fake or controversy seeking in most of the responses that disagree with you, Larry.

      On the topic of career tarnish, I think it’s almost impossible for any top level athlete, entertainer, scientist, writer, etc. to not continue to practice the craft that they’ve excelled at past their peak. In other words, just about everyone great could be accused of tarnishing their legacy, if that means continuing to do something after a peak period. Frankly, the entire notion of tarnishing a career is mostly nonsense. Most great creators, like most great athletes, do their greatest accomplishments in an approximately ten year period (look up a bunch of the great geniuses in various fields – it’s shocking how common this phenomenon is). This is true of most of the greatest writers, artists, and scientists, none of whom are bounded by the physical limitations of an aging athlete.

      Froome accomplished what he accomplished, and fantasized buffing wheels of the future have nothing to do with that. He could ride for ten more years and he’d still be the greatest GT rider of the twenty-teens, no matter how many DNFs he suffers in the twenty-twenties. Would his wins somehow be elevated had his injury been literally career-ending? Of course not.

      I get that there’s something special about an athlete who “goes out on top,” but that’s rare and usually due to some other reason completely disconnected from avoiding an illusory career tarnish or diminution.

      • KevinK -while I can’t claim to never have jumped to a conclusion I consider “fauxtrage” to be seizing on a sentence in a post and ignoring sentences before or after that explain or point out details relating to it, as in my Merckx comments. Gabriele acts like Merckx announced his retirement at the end of 1977 instead of floundering around in 1978 as WIKIPEDIA described and IMHO tarnished his reputation/legacy. Gabriele proves my point in a backhanded way since he acts like that tarnish has been pretty well buffed off, hence my comments about a cranky old-getting attacked 20 years from now about Froome’s legacy.
        As to “I think it’s almost impossible for any top level athlete, entertainer, scientist, writer, etc. to not continue to practice the craft that they’ve excelled at past their peak.” may certainly be your opinion but Bernard Hinault is a walking, talking example to the contrary, one who left his fans wanting more, though he is certainly outnumbered by those who stayed on the stage far, far too long. Knowing when it’s time to go IMHO is part of what makes the great really great. Their careers don’t need any buffing.

        • I just love that “WIKIPEDIA” in full capital letters ^__^
          Casually omitting that “1978” means… one month, namely the second half of January and not even three weeks in February; that, for a total of 5 races at most, including racing on track and kermesse.
          By the same man which repeatedly informs us that whatever comes before the Sanremo isn’t really competitive pro cycling, and which isn’t considering ITTs in Kiesenhofer’s palmarés becaue “that’s not road racing” ROTFL
          And, yes, this is pure Italian polemica 😛

        • Larry, I said “almost impossible” for superstars in whatever field to quit at their peak, whatever their field. A single example to the contrary does not contradict that point, and it could be argued that Hinault himself doesn’t even make a perfect counterexample. From my reading of WIKIPEDIA he very much wanted to win both the TdF and WC road race in his final year to actually go out on top, and he did neither.

          Go ahead, make a list of the greatest painters, writers, boxers, singers, basketball players, scientists, etc., etc. How many quit (by choice) immediately after their greatest accomplishments? Vanishingly few. And why should they? It’s a meaningless criterium. Go to WIKIPEDIA or the DICTIONARY and look up the various definitions of greatness. Longevity might be a valid factor, but having a decline after one’s peak is not.

          • It’s only IMHO but knowing when to quit rather than going on until you become a pathetic joke is a mark of greatness. That’s not to acknowledge plenty have gone on to the point where you wish someone would “get the hook” and drag them offstage but time has passed and their image has been buffed back to luster. OTOH, The Badger didn’t have to bother as he called his retirement date and had the guts/balls/whatever to stick to it. THAT is a mark of greatness!

    • You are right – I counted ’em and the only person with as many comments here on this subject as yours truly is Gabriele. I’ll try to make fewer posts and “know when to quit” as a 2022 New Years Resolution and I’m sure you will all let me know the second you believe I’m breaking it 🙂

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