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Procycling’s Review of the Year: Best male rider

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Wout van Aert and Primož Roglič at the 2020 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Procycling magazine's team select their highlights of the 2020 season, starting with the best male rider.

Procycling's Review of the Year issue is out to buy now.

Edward Pickering, Procycling magazine editor

I don’t think there’s any objective measure by which Primož Roglič isn’t the best overall male rider of 2020, though we all found out on the Saturday evening that he wasn’t quite the best rider in the Tour de France. Roglič won the Vuelta a España even as he visibly physically tired, and he took an unlikely win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège after Julian Alaphilippe took first Marc Hirschi out of the reckoning with a dodgy finish line manoeuvre, then himself, with a dodgy finish line manoeuvre.

You get the impression that he’d swap it all for mulligans on the Tour’s final time trial, however. Then again, you might think a beating like the one Tadej Pogačar gave him at La Planche des Belles Filles would psychologically annihilate him; instead he followed up with a monument and a grand tour. He’s not only the best rider in the world - he may be the most psychologically resilient. However, there’s nothing like the most humiliating cycling defeat in 30 years to humanise a rider. I used to find Roglič a bit robotic and uncompelling, but now I think of him as a tragic hero. As I’ve pointed out in the magazine, I’m sure that makes him feel better.

Behind Roglič: Van Aert for his two classics and indefatigability, Alaphilippe for the Worlds win, Pog for the Tour and Hirschi for the transcendental nature of his pedalling style and general zen. 

Sophie Hurcom, Procycling magazine deputy editor

For me, one of the most remarkable moments of this 2020 season was during stage 15 of the Tour de France as the riders slogged up the Grand Colombier. Egan Bernal, the race’s defending champion, had been dropped - a defining moment in recent Tour history in itself - and the rider doing the damage was Wout van Aert

Van Aert was omnipresent from the moment the season restarted in August. He proved his long talked about one-day pedigree by first winning Strade Bianche and then bettered it a week later by winning a debut monument at Milan-San Remo. That would have made any riders’ year. But he then added a second national time trial title before heading to the Tour where he won another two stages; the first on a flat stage 5 ahead of sprinters Cees Bol and Sam Bennett, the second on stage 7 after a long fight through crosswinds. 

Still, it was what he did next in the mountains, riding as one of the main protectors for Primož Roglič throughout the Pyrenees and Alps, that made many people sit up. Much had been made of Jumbo’s Tour super team with Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, Sep Kuss and George Bennett making a formidable climber line up, but not many thought they’d be adding Van Aert to that list, too. 

Van Aert’s 9km effort on the front on the Grand Colombier shed Bernal as well as Nairo Quintana. To add insult to injury, he then dropped back to shadow the duo to the line; the contrast between the two Colombians struggling on their own terrain, to the Belgian heavyweight barely breaking a sweat next to them was stark. After the Tour, Van Aert then completed a hat-trick of runner-up spots at the World Championships road race and time trial and the Tour of Flanders.

Cycling has increasingly specialised over the decades, to the point that few riders cross between so many disciplines successfully anymore. You can be good at everything, but exceptional? Van Aert’s all-rounder qualities hark back to an era where riders really could do it all, when being the best meant being the best at everything. Now, I doubt we’ll see the Belgian trying to win grand tours anytime soon, but when his abilities stretch this far, his 2020 successes surely won’t be a one off unlike the rest of the season.

Adam Becket, Procycling magazine staff writer

It would be easy to remember 2020 for Primož Roglič’s failure, the totemic defeat he suffered at the hands of Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France. The mortifying images of Roglič powering up La Planche des Belles Filles with his helmet slipped back could easily have defined his year, possibly his whole career. 

To pick himself up from that loss and to go onto win Liège-Bastogne-Liège and then win the Vuelta a España was a stunning effort, and one that should not be undervalued, or lost in the maelstrom that was 2020.

Roglič was the dominant stage racer of the year, beginning with his win at the Tour de l’Ain, a win that cemented Jumbo-Visma’s supremacy over Ineos. He followed that with another impressive performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné, before withdrawing for precautionary reasons. Everything was perfectly set up for the Tour, which looked to be controlled perfectly by Roglič and Jumbo before being audaciously snatched away by Pogačar.

He was magnanimous in defeat, congratulating his countryman, and the remainder of his year proved him to be a model professional. Yes, his win at Liège might have been fortuitous, and he has Julian Alaphilippe to thanks for prematurely celebrating, but to be in that elite lead group and to win ahead of faster finishers says something about his temerity.  

Further redemption came at La Vuelta, where he became the first rider to retain the title since Roberto Heras in 2005. His four stage wins along the way put him in elite company, and no debate over time bonuses can deny the fact that he was a deserving winner. Yes, he had a strong Jumbo team at his disposal, but he was also the strongest rider. 2021 should bring more success for the Slovenian.

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