In a disrupted 2020 season, which stopped and started due to the COVID-19 pandemic, domestiques have proven their value as much as ever in the professional peloton.
With much of the top-level season packed into four months from August onwards after a break of over three months, taking care of team leaders, saving energy, and keeping them out of trouble was perhaps more imperative than before.
As only a short window of the year offered a chance for teams and leaders to score results, team strength and assistance from teammates was vital.
The riders selected may not all be career domestiques – there's a mix of team leaders taking on super-domestique roles there, too – but there's no doubt that they're all deserving of a spot.
We held a special Domestique Week back in late March, and we've seen plenty of impressive performances since then, too.
Here, we look at those men and women who proved themselves imperative to success in 2020.
Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers)
If you think of a standout performance from a domestique during the 2020 season, perhaps only a handful sprint to mind immediately. Chief among them would be Rohan Dennis' efforts at the Giro d'Italia.
The British team suffered a huge blow early on as leader Geraint Thomas abandoned after a crash on stage 3. A recalibration of objectives towards stage wins brought success, but the final week saw Tao Geoghegan Hart move to within striking distance of a podium spot, or even the race lead, despite his protests to the contrary.
His status as maglia rosa contender only became fully apparent on the Stelvio on stage 18. There, on the highest climb of the race, Dennis' spectacular ride up the mountain saw him get away with Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley as other contenders floundered. Continuing his work into the valley and the base of the final climb, he'd help propel his teammate to within 15 seconds of the race lead.
Two days later, on the triple Sestriere stage 19, he was once again to the fore, pacing Geoghegan Hart in the battle against Hindley and working his way back to continue his job after losing ground to Hindley's attacks several times. Geoghegan Hart went on to win the Giro the next day, and there's no doubt that Dennis played a key role in that victory.
Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma)
The Dutch team had such a strong year that several members of the squad could make this list, but – in addition to his central role at the Tour de France – Kuss' turns at the Vuelta a España were vital in assisting Primož Roglič to his second overall victory in a row at the race.
As part of a super-strong squad in Spain, which included George Bennett and Robert Gesink, Kuss was the man in line alongside Roglič, often climbing with the men battling for the top of the overall standings on the multiple mountain stages that defined the Vuelta.
Five top-10 placings throughout the race attested to his value, with Roglič winning three road stages and the overall, but it was Kuss' work on the brutal Angliru where he just might have saved the win in Madrid. With Roglič in trouble as rival Richard Caparaz (Ineos Grenadiers) attacked up front, Kuss was on hand to make pace and limit his leader's losses to just 20 seconds. Without the American by his side, Roglič might just have lost the Vuelta.
A special mention must also go to Wout van Aert, who really deserves his own spot, too. The 'crosser-cum-Classics-man-cum-sprinter-cum-time-triallist unveiled another string to his bow at the Tour de France, setting the pace as climbers dropped from the peloton late on several mountain stages and establishing himself as undoubtedly the best all-rounder in the sport.
Christine Majerus (Boels Dolmans)
The veteran Luxembourger is among the most experienced riders on the Dutch squad, and is part of the furniture there, having joined all the way back in 2014. Majerus is the undisputed road captain at Boels Dolmans, and once again proved her worth as a team player in 2020.
She was in the team for four of the team's seven wins during the season, including all four of the Women's WorldTour victories. At Le Samyn in March, she helped disrupt the chase behind Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak's winning solo move, eventually sprinting to second herself.
At La Flèche Wallonne, Majerus worked for Anna van der Breggen as the Dutchwoman won the race for the sixth time in a row. A week later, she was on hand once again, finishing 12th as Jolien D'Hoore took the win, and at the Tour of Flanders she aided Van den Broeck-Blaak and Amy Pieters to a one-two finish.
There was no one standout performance for Majerus in 2020; instead, she did as she always does to provide a calm, experienced head out on the road – key to Boels Dolmans' continued success.
Jacopo Guarnieri (Groupama-FDJ)
Since joining Groupama-FDJ back in 2017, Guarnieri has established himself as a reliable sprint partner to Arnaud Démare, and one of the most dependable lead-out men in the peloton.
In 2020, that proved to be the case once again as Démare enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career to date. The Frenchman took 14 wins during the season and was accompanied by Guarnieri for 13 of those, and for 46 of his 49 race days.
Four wins and the points jersey at the Giro d'Italia were the high point, while Guarnieri also helped Démare to wins at Milano-Torino, the overalls at the Tour de Wallonie and Tour de Luxembourg, as well as multiple stages at both races.
The value of a top-tier lead out is inestimable in modern cycling – just look at Deceuninck-QuickStep as an example (more on them next) – and Guarnieri has proven himself a top lead-out man along with engines Miles Scotson and Ignatas Konovalovas, who also played key roles for Démare this year.
Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep)
Speaking of big engines, Tim 'The Tractor' Declercq is certainly one of the most prominent domestiques in modern racing – and he was voted the top domestique in the world in our rider survey earlier this year.
Tune into the action midway through a long and dull Grand Tour stage and the Belgian can often be seen leading the peloton; he and Jumbo-Visma's Tony Martin are fixtures in that role.
It's not glamorous work, and Declercq doesn't get the same screentime at key points of the race that the likes of Kuss or Guarnieri do (although he took second behind teammate Yves Lampert at this year's Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne), but it's necessary work nonetheless. There's huge value in being able to control the gap to the breakaway all day long before ramping up the speed in the final kilometres.
He and final lead-out man Michael Mørkøv – another rider who could have his own spot here – have once again been key in helping their sprinter, this year Sam Bennett, to numerous top-level wins, boosting Deceuninck-QuickStep to the top of world cycling's win-rankings yet again.
Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)
The Dutch veteran brought home some top results of her own in 2020, with silver and bronze medals at the European and Worlds time trials, along with a career-first podium spot at Liège-Bastogne-Liege.
But despite a slew of results worthy of a team leader, it's her performance at the latter race that sees her earn a spot on our list. Teammate Lizzie Deignan won the day, with Van Dijk playing a key role in the Briton's success in Wallonia.
The pair were among a strong breakaway group that only went away 80 kilometres into the day, with Van Dijk making it first before Deignan jumped across to join the likes of Marianne Vos and Amy Pieters out front.
Deignan wouldn't wait long to make her winning move, going on the climb of La Redoute on the advice of Van Dijk, and quickly building a lead as her teammate masterfully played spoiler behind. She chased down attack after attack as Deignan built a lead of 2:20 at one point.
The margin of victory was just nine seconds in the end after Mitchelton-Scott's Grace Brown mounted a solo attack 15 kilometres out. If it wasn't for Van Dijk's vital role earlier on, though, the Australian may just have won it.
Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb)
Team Sunweb were one of the surprise packages at the Tour de France this season, taking three stage wins at the race along with five podium finishes and the combativity prize for the revelation of the race, Marc Hirschi.
36-year-old Irishman Roche was key to the team's success, his experience from nine previous participations at the race a guiding light among a team that featured five riders aged 25 or under, including three Tour debutants.
Perhaps the most visible show of teamwork during the race came on stage 12 to Sarran in central France. A perfect stage for the break, Sunweb kept their powder dry until the hills of the final 50 kilometres, where Søren Kragh Andersen and Tiesj Benoot attacked, later assisting Hirschi in his solo bid for glory.
Roche came into play later, playing a key role in disrupting the chase behind his Swiss teammate along with Kragh Andersen, who would finish third. Like Kragh Andersen's win on stage 19, it was a team effort rather than one man boosting a team leader. There's no doubt about it, though – Roche was a key part of the team's egalitarian approach to their Tour.
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott)
Working for arguably the best rider in the sport might seem like an easy task, but no one rider can do it all alone. Annemiek van Vleuten took seven wins in 2020 and remained at the top of the sport, despite losing a sure-fire Giro Rosa win after breaking her wrist on stage 7, and Spratt was by her side for many of those successes.
The Australian veteran was there at the season restart, when Van Vleuten ripped off four wins in a row, from the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa to Strade Bianche. Spratt played a role in them all as the second-strongest rider in the team behind her leader, and continued the role at that ill-fated Giro Rosa.
Both women were caught up in a crash late on the stage to Maddaloni, ending any hopes of their partnership bringing yet another victory. Spratt, who left the race with concussion, had aided Van Vleuten to a 1:48 lead by that point, but it wasn't to be. Van Vleuten moves on to Movistar next year, so the five-year partnership comes to an end, but what a fruitful partnership it was.
Guillaume Martin (France)
As with several of our other entries to this list, we could just enter a full team here and be done with it, but – as impressive as Julian Alaphilippe's support squad at the World Championships road race was – we have to single out Martin for praise here.
After a series of impressive performances through the early months of his first season with Cofidis – including third at the Critérium du Dauphiné – Martin could feasibly have led a smaller nation in Imola, but instead put ego aside to work dutifully for Alaphilippe on the hilly 258-kilometre parcours.
Martin was one of the key men at the front of the peloton in the final 30 kilometres, putting in work to hunt down an earlier attack from the Netherlands' Tom Dumoulin and Slovenia's Tadej Pogačar, going on to pull the peloton and close down attacks from Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), Rigoberto Urán (Colombia) and Mikel Landa (Spain), later making a move of his own to force a chase behind before leaving Alaphilippe to make his winning move in the finale.
Martin would end up 13th at the finish on the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari – a great debut result only made better by a star turn as domestique for the new world champion.
Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling)
Rather than a series of displays across the season, or a number of turns throughout a Grand Tour, Vanmarcke's place on this list comes as a result of several days in the wind at Paris-Nice.
The towering Belgian struck up an effective, if unusual, partnership with EF's GC leader, the diminutive Sergio Higuita, navigating the echelons of central France to keep his teammate in contention as other favourites struggled.
While the other Classics men on the team – Alberto Bettiol and Tom Scully – also played important roles, it was Vanmarcke who took the lead in shepherding Higuita through the winds, helping him back to the front after being caught out on stage 1 and pushing on when crosswinds hit on the following stages.
Higuita may not have ended up winning the race, but his first WorldTour stage race podium placing owes a lot to Vanmarcke.
Today's best Black Friday deals
Today's cycling-related highlights from the Black Friday sales. For even more, view our guide to the best Black Friday bike deals where you'll find on all things cycling, including bikes, helmets, clothing and more.
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