The conclusion of the road campaign is typically a time for riders to sit back and reflect on their long and arduous campaigns. Some will change teams, others will head for some winter sun before dialling in their focus on the next season and fresh ambitions.
For some riders, however, the end of the season also spells the end of the road for their racing careers. This year a high number of star riders have hung up their wheels in the women’s peloton and it’s the same within the men’s corner with Dan Martin, Andre Greipel, and a host of other well-known athletes deciding to move on.
Here, we take a look at six of the biggest riders retiring this year and take a brief look back at their careers.
Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), age 35
It’s fair to say that Dan Martin could have easily prolonged his career for another season had he wished to, but at 35, and with all his ambitions as a top-level cyclist met, it was time for the Irish rider to hang up his wheels (opens in new tab) and start a new challenge outside of the pressures of the peloton.
He certainly had offers to keep riding with Israel Start-Up Nation keen to re-sign him, and Cofidis waiting in the wings should talks with Sylvan Adams’ team stall. In the end, Martin had simply had enough of the cyclist’s lifestyle, the pressures of racing, and the constant travel, and with a strong desire to see his young family grow up, he took the brave decision to move away. His career as a rider can be defined in many ways, not least because of his sensational climbing talent but the former Garmin rider was far more than just a one-trick pony in the mountains.
He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia in his prime but supplemented those Monument wins with stages in all three Grand Tours, as well as top-ten GC finishes in the Tour, Giro and Vuelta to boot. Three consecutive top-ten finishes in the Tour between 2016 and 2018 demonstrated his class, and in an age where cycling has become defined by watt-watching science and a resurgence of non-climbers becoming mountain goats, Martin was almost a throwback to the pure climbers who could dovetail one-day ambitions with stage racing hopes. His final year saw him remain competitive at the Giro, but mentally it was time to move on.
“Obviously, physically I could continue for a number of years but everybody underestimates the mental toll this sport takes on you and the sacrifice you have to make at home, and the commitment," Martin told Cyclingnews (opens in new tab) at Il Lombardi, the final race in his illustrious career.
"Mentally, I'm just tired. To maintain this level you have to basically never switch off and that's tiring. That's what I realised. I didn't feel capable mentally of maintaining the level of performance I had over the last years so that's why I decided to stop."
Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma), age 36
Martin’s career can be dissected into three phases. From 2010-2016 he was one, if not the, best time trialist in the world with four rainbow jerseys and countless other wins against the clock. Then came a Classics phase that bridged between Etixx-QuickStep and two missing years at Katusha, before the German remodelled himself as the personification of the perfect teammate at Jumbo Visma.
Those fans who have recently come to the sport will have seen Martin relentlessly ride on the front of the peloton in the aid of chasing down breaks for the likes of Primož Roglič or Wout van Aert but in his heyday, Martin was phenomenal against the clock too.
One if his most famous wins, however, came on stage 4 of the 2015 Tour de France when he jumped clear of the peloton to win alone in Cambrai to not only take a well-deserved victory but the yellow jersey too. It was a timely reminder that despite his TT prowess, he was a fine road racer as well.
The spell at Katusha was a disaster, with not just Martin but the entire team underperforming, before a shot at rebuilding his career came at Jumbo-Visma. In the last three seasons, he has raced five Grand Tours, and although he’s only finished once, he’s played hugely significant roles in each of them as both a domestique and road captain.
After announcing his retirement (opens in new tab) in September, Martin had one final flourish left before hanging up his wheels, with he and his German teammates taking an emotional victory in the Mixed Relay TTT at the World Championships. "It’s just the best way to say goodbye that I can imagine," he said (opens in new tab) after what was his eighth Worlds triumph.
Koen de Kort (Trek-Segafredo), age 39
The Dutchman’s retirement was already on the cards for the end of this year but his unfortunate accident (opens in new tab) in the summer effectively ended his career with alarming abruptness.
However, it spoke volumes of his stature and the respect de he had established during his career that Trek-Segafredo created a managerial position (opens in new tab) for De Kort to immediately step into. He now acts as a bridge between the riders and the rest of the management the American squad have made an excellent decision in bolstering their backroom staff and takes on an array of responsibilities that will no doubt help the squad in the coming years.
As a rider, the veteran road captain was a trusted worker for the likes of Alberto Contador, John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel, and most recently Trek’s new generation of Classics stars, Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen. In his prime, he was also a fine one-day racer, and he often flew the flag for Skil-Shimano in the Classics before they developed into a WorldTour superpower.
Granted, he didn’t win a lot, but as a dedicated teammate and support rider, there were few better than De Kort.
Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation), age 39
With 158 career wins the German sprinter heads into retirement (opens in new tab) as one of the most successful professional cyclists of all time. Greipel’s glittering career included 11 Tour de France stages, seven stages in the Giro d’Italia and four in the Vuelta. There were an incredible 18 stages in the Tour Down Under, and two overall victories, but it was his sheer consistency that shone through with victories often spanning an entire season from January to the autumn.
It was little wonder that former Lotto manager Marc Sergeant built almost an entire roster around the 39-year-old, where the German had the best years of his career. His move to Belgium came after opportunities had become limited at HTC-Columbia due to Mark Cavendish’s emergence but Greipel found a true home at Lotto with one of the most dedicated, yet underrated lead-out trains built around him.
He was treated disgracefully by the Lotto management in 2018 – Sergeant can be excluded from criticism here – and was shown the door despite continued success. Moves to Arkéa and Israel Start-Up Nation followed over the latter years but age, illness, and frankly weaker lead-outs saw the win tally slow before the 39-year-old called time on his career earlier this year.
Typically, sprinters have an edge to them, and they can often make as many enemies as they do friends but in that regard Greipel bucks the trend. Not only is he immensely respected for his success on the bike, but he’s routinely praised by teammates and rivals alike for the way he conducts himself. In addition, he was also a loyal teammate, and often threw himself into races such as the cobbled Classics in order to sacrifice himself for his teammates. Not many sprinters do that.
Fabio Aru (Qhubeka NextHash), age 31
The move to UAE Team Emirates in 2018 effectively spelled the end for Aru’s top-level career with the Italian never able to replicate his Astana form. Illness, injuries and a loss of confidence all took their toll, while matters were hardly helped when Giuseppe Saronni publicly lashed out over the rider’s mentality and character during Aru’s final year on the team.
Whether criticism of character should be valued or welcomed when it comes from someone who ran a team that was embroiled in the Mantova doping investigation is debatable but a final year with Qhubeka-Nexthash certainly provided Aru with a new lease of life and a welcome change of scenery.
He returned to his first passion of cyclo-cross racing in the winter or 2020 and there were brief murmurs during the spring that he was rediscovering his best form. Those rumours proved to be unfounded with illness once more holding him back and taking him off the Tour roster at the last minute. There were a few flashes of Aru’s old self peppered throughout the year, such as his second place in Vuelta a Burgos, but by the time the Vuelta came around in August it was the right time for the 31-year-old to move on.
His career highlight will always be the Vuelta win in 2015 but maybe his greatest off-bike achievement was how he conducted himself when there was such fierce criticism and personal attacks against him, either in the press or on social media. For example, anyone who created or ‘liked’ one of those Aru memes yet became pious or sanctimonious when talking about rider mental health needs a quiet word with themselves. You’re part of the problem.
"No, I don't see it as a liberation, I just see it as the end of a chapter," Aru told Cyclingnews (opens in new tab) at the Vuelta. "Obviously, this has been my life for more than 15 years and the bike will, in one way or another, remain a part of my life, because it's been my big passion.
"I'll come and see some races, maybe, so this will always remain a part of my life, but it's also the moment to devote more time to my family, to stay at home. I'm too much of a professional to accept doing this sport at only 90 per cent. I'll do it at 200 per cent or not at all."
Tejay van Garderen (EF-Education Nippo), age 33
Like Dan Martin, the American all-rounder could have kept racing for another season but after over a decade in the WorldTour the 33-year-old decided to hang up his wheels mid-season and move into coaching and DS duties at EF.
It’s been a rollercoaster career for the one-time Tour de France hope with two top-five overall finishes and a string of impressive wins including a stage at the Giro d’Italia, an Amgen Tour of California title, and a stage in the Tour de Suisse.
It’s true, the former BMC rider was never able to maintain or improve on his early promise at the Tour de France but two top-five finishes are still the most consistent record from an American rider in a generation, and while his time at BMC didn’t quite produce the victories he or his team expected, van Garderen can look back a highly respectable career.
His two and a half years at EF-Education probably should have come earlier – especially given some of the mid-season form he had in 2019 – but the move to Vaughters’ squad at least appeared to revitalise a rider who needed direction and an arm around his shoulder.
Other notable retirees in men’s cycling:
Nicholas Roche (Team DSM), Fabio Sabatini (Cofidis), Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal), Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Mathias Frank (AG2R Citroën), Brent Bookwalter (BikeExchange), Moreno Hofland (EF Education-Nippo), William Bonnet (Groupama-FDJ), Mitchell Docker (EF Education-Nippo), Matteo Pelucchi (Qhubeka NextHash), Ben Gastauer (AG2R Citroen), Tomasz Marczyński (Lotto Soudal), Julien Duval (AG2R Citroën), Maarten Wynants (Jumbo-Visma), Mickaël Delage (Groupama-FDJ), Michał Gołaś (Ineos Grenadiers), Andreas Shillinger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Paul Martens (Jumbo-Visma), Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Kreuziger (Gazprom-RusVelo).
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