It’s the end of the year which means it’s time for… the 2021 Secret Pro Awards!
It’s a lot of mileage in training now, and all those hours on the bike have given me a lot of time to reflect on last season and what went well. Basically it gave me time to think about what was a much more “normal” season.
Of course, things weren’t quite back to normal, far from it. I miss the large crowds we had by the side of the road in the pre-pandemic era. That, and the many journalists who harassed us at the start, and at the finish, a few seconds after crossing the line.
Anyway, I’ve found a handful of awards that cover the 2021 season. If anyone has any idea what the shape of the trophy is, I’m open to suggestions.
OK, let’s go to the first prize …
Best race of the season
From the fans’ point of view, this is an obvious victory for the Worlds, which take place in the heart of cycling: Flanders. The crowd, the atmosphere, the smell of beer, it was as if everyone had agreed that this was the race where two years of repressed fandom had to emerge.
From a purely show point of view, it must be Paris-Roubaix, and I mean all weekend. It was just a joy to see it held again, and under these conditions it was a classic classic.
But from a runner’s point of view, the price has to go to the Benelux Tour. I bet you weren’t expecting it.
Why the Benelux Tour? Well, it’s a race that brings both joy and disappointment. This is seriously underestimated by the cycling fan base… or at least the cycling fan base outside of Belgium, as the roads are lined with fans for a week.
It’s a great atmosphere. It’s also super hard. You have guys coming out of the Grand Tour campaign, guys getting ready for the Worlds. You are in that time of the year when people can fight for contracts as well, so all of that makes racing very difficult. It’s tough, but it’s also a very friendly atmosphere because it’s not in the spotlight either.
Year after year, this is a race that I look forward to. As easy as that.
Worst race of the season
The Tour of the Benelux. Please see all of the above reasons why this is difficult, but imagine you are having a bad day.
Really though, I should give the worst run of the year to a run that is actually crap for reasons other than being hard on the body. In fact, it’s an easy prize to hand over. Go ahead, Tour of Poland.
Usually, the Tour of Poland and the Benelux Tour run roughly at the same time. You do either, and everyone is hoping to have the Benelux Tour on their calendar because if you’re unlucky enough to be sent to Poland, you’ve gone for a pungent week.
The organization is a mess. Unless you have Polish staff on the team, you risk transfer times between stages that add up more than they should. Why? Well, if you don’t have any local knowledge or someone with a knack for local chatter who knows how to chat with local cops, these cops are sure to bug you.
They just seem to like being picky on any occasion. I have been part of teams with and without Polish staff, and trust me; that makes the difference. The organization, on the whole, is a mess.
Most Underrated Rider
It was an easy decision to make. I think Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven has quietly impressed a lot of people this season. Think about it, he’s had a really impressive season. Some major results have mixed with major releases that haven’t quite worked out in his favor. This victory at Milan-San Remo was a cracker. It was a wise, bold and courageous decision. Many others would have wavered in his position.
Then there was his second place on stage 7 of the Tour de France behind Matej Mohorič (you know the stage – the one with that questionable and a little stupid victory salute). It wasn’t the result that Stuyven was looking for, but it was still an absolutely stellar race. Again, something you wouldn’t have wanted it for. It was a solid, solid race.
Then, finally, the result which, I’m sure, will cut him off for a long time but of which he must be proud: his fourth at the Worlds, and in his hometown. Of course he wasn’t on the podium, but look who he was against. I guarantee that we will see him more in 2022. He has proven what he is capable of and the results that stung him will only encourage him more. He’s going to be a level-up runner next year I’m sure. Trek-Segafredo will rally to him more than ever, at least I hope so.
I also have to shout Jonas Vingegaard from Jumbo-Visma. Second in the Round behind Tadej Pogacar, and do it after the team’s designated leader unfortunately had to retire? Hat.
Most overrated rider
There can only be one winner here, and that is the young Remco Evenepoel. He appears to be a sympathetic and unpretentious character in the media. He’s always smiling in the press clichés with a slice of pizza nearby. But he has a lot to do to grow.
Yes, he’s only 21 yet, but there have been a few young talents over the past few seasons who haven’t had the same shoulder chip as young Remco. Much of this is due to the media. He was enthusiastic about the world cycling press and even more so by the Belgian media. But he’s still a kid.
There have been times he has been hassled like a mean schoolboy by more experienced riders in the peloton, who are just fed up with his arrogance and stupid demeanor. Eddy Merckx was right about what he said about his Worlds roster: they shouldn’t have. Then again, with so many talented riders in the Belgian squad, there will always be those looking out for their own interests.
Gianni Moscon comes fourth in Roubaix. Right next to the podium, probably annoyed by that over-inflated tire.
Not winning was a good day for the cycling fans. We all know that if he had managed to stay away, it really would have left a bitter taste in our mouths for what was a crunchy Queen of Classics edition. You see what I mean: Ineos pumped up Moscon’s tire pressure on his spare bike while he was in front, helping him lose the race, resulting in a moment of collective joy for cycling fans. You could almost feel a sigh of relief on social media when he fell a second time, and the group behind caught up with him and then dropped him.
But I’ll be honest: I’ve never personally had a problem with Moscon in the peloton. He’s a pretty nice guy to chat with. But again, I was never on the bad side of him; a place I never want to be.
It can only go to one guy: Wout van Aert.
In the Tour, the guy won a mountain stage (which, I remind you, passed the Ventoux twice), a time trial and the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées, plus he worked his socks for Vingegaard. It’s a good season, not to mention a good three weeks.
What makes me smile is that he’s a guy that no one in the peloton has a problem with either, unless he goes up in front. You can’t fault the guy for his wins or the style in which he wins them at all. He is as kind and calm as he sees him in the multiple post-race interviews he has to conduct. He is also not the type to push his weight in the peloton.
I know it’s probably obvious, but if Jumbo ever decided to go all-in for the green jersey at the Tour, no one could challenge him for that.
Worst team tactics
Maybe it’s a little unfair because it was one of the last races of the season so it’s pretty fresh in my head. I’m sure there are others who should or could win this award, but I will hand it over to Bora-Hansgrohe for the way they rode in Roubaix.
What the hell were they doing? It wasn’t just the way they rode, but the team they fielded. The race hadn’t been held for two years, and we knew weeks in advance that it would be a lousy and dark day – one for the experienced fat guys. For the most part, they got it right, but why send Maximilian Schachmann?
They could have ended their Sagan period with a win, if not a solid result. The only reason they sent Schachmann was for a bit of experience ahead of next year’s tour, but it certainly seemed like a waste.
During the race, Sagan crashed with Daniel Oss on the road, and the team seated Oss for Sagan. If I had been DS that day, I would have let Oss drive his own race; that would have been a great gesture from Sagan. Instead, they got no results. A real disappointment from a team that should have been in the game.
Surprise of the year
This comes back to Peter Sagan and his stint at TotalEnergies. Now a lot of people may be rightly thinking: “WTF, Sagan for a ProTeam that has never managed to get the best out of a non-French rider?” But listen carefully: I don’t think that’s too bad an idea at all. At least for Sagan.
Of course, I would have liked to have seen Sagan stay with Bora. He was instrumental in the success of this team and helped it grow from a Pro Conti team to one of the best teams in the world. Not only in terms of results but also with the infrastructure of the team. He is now an ideal age and position to grow into a rider capable of leading and teaching the next generation. But that’s not yet his style or what he wants to do.
If you look at Bora’s roster for 2022, you’ll notice that it hasn’t just been tinkered with since Sagan’s departure was announced. This has been a work in progress for some time. Team manager Ralph Denk is not stupid; he would never put his hopes and dreams on Sagan forever. He knew he had to develop talent and a team. I guarantee you Sagan got off the ship because he and Denk disagreed about Sagan’s role on the team. It’s sad, really.
I really hope that things will go well for everyone involved in TotalEnergies. If Sagan and everything he brings with him – all the Specialized, Sportful setup and all their expertise – is accepted by Jean-René Bernaudeau and his riders, we may have another Bora morph on our hands.
It would be great for cycling. So maybe in a few years, when Sagan is ready to take on a mentoring role, maybe we will have what could have been at Bora.
From everything I hear, however, there are going to be a few hurdles to overcome. First of all, the language barrier. TotalEnergies is the most French of the French teams. I’m sure if you cut them they bleed a mixture of Ricard and Cognac. Sagan is not going to learn French under any circumstances, so others will have to learn English. It will be a Mexican impasse. That, or a two-sided situation that isn’t good for anyone. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how this all unfolds.
OK, let’s go, the awards ceremony is over. There aren’t as many awards as the Oscars, but hopefully enough to keep you entertained. I’m just going to let the band start now, and as the curtains close, it’s time for all of you to leave for the after-party.
Until next time, well done and enjoy the winter miles.
The secret pro