What were the most memorable bike races of 2019? Nicholas Roche, Sean Yates, Giulio Ciccone, Simon Gerrans and Mat Hayman have their say...

John MacLeary
What were the most memorable bike races of 2019? Nicholas Roche, Sean Yates, Giulio Ciccone, Simon Gerrans and Mat Hayman have their say
What were the most memorable bike races of 2019? Nicholas Roche, Sean Yates, Giulio Ciccone, Simon Gerrans and Mat Hayman have their say

Nine months after getting under way at the Tour Down Under, the WorldTour finally concluded in China last week.

Before hanging up our road wheels for another year, Telegraph Sport and its panel of experts – most of whom will be appearing at this week's Rouleur Classic in London – selected its nine most memorable performances from an unforgettable season of racing in 2019.

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Despite having 181 race days to pick from, it was a fairly straightforward process making our final choices, but what was the selection criteria?

Firstly, all races were part of the men's UCI WorldTour and so we have not included road races from the European or world championships so there are sadly no places for Chloe Dygert-Owen or Annemiek van Vleuten who produced two astonishingly brilliant rides at the Road World Championships to win the women's time trial and road titles. 

Though conscious of Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Marianne Vos's respective performances at Amstel Gold and Giro Rosa, Telegraph Sport has not featured races from the women's WorldTour here as we simply did not get the opportunity to watch enough of the races live.

Finally, we focused on individual race days rather than overall victories in general classification and so forth, and so you will see no mention of Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal or Primoz Roglic who all made history in 2019 by winning the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

Lutsenko defies odds at Tirreno-Adriatico

Alexey Lutsenko's victory at Tirreno-Adriatico may not be the first on many people's end-of-season lists, but for this observer his stage win was one of the most thrilling at any WorldTour race in 2019.

Having attacked around 37 kilometres from the end of the lumpy rolling route, Lutsenko gained himself a minute before losing his line on a tight left-hand corner and riding off course. Lutsenko, though, kept his composure and continued to plough along.

<span>Alexey Lutsenko celebrates on the line as the Astana rider clinches stage four at Tirreno-Adriatico</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Alexey Lutsenko celebrates on the line as the Astana rider clinches stage four at Tirreno-Adriatico Credit: Getty Images

With Adam Yates, Primoz Roglic and Lutsenko's team-mate Jakob Fuglsang in pursuit the pressure appeared to be telling as his lead was whittled down to just 14sec when, again on a left-hand turn, he lost control and hit the deck heavily just 1.5km from the finish. Unsurprisingly, Lutsenko was soon caught by the trio.

Despite having spent over 35km out in front alone and with the smart money being on Roglic, Yates or even Fuglsang who had been given a free ride to take the sprint, Lutsenko, who was tucked in on the finishing straight, put his nose into the wind once more before rolling over his more illustrious rivals to take a thoroughly deserved victory.

Along with Magnus Cort's stage win at Paris-Nice three days earlier, Lutsenko's triumph marked the beginnings of what was a superb spring for Astana. However, it was Lutsenko's resilience that was celebrated most by those fortunate enough to have tuned in. Sure there were bigger wins throughout the year, but few got the heart racing as Lutsenko did on that memorable Saturday back in March.

Simon Gerrans: I was really impressed by his sheer grit

"When I switched on Lutsenko was away on his own with Roglic, Yates and Fuglsang chasing. Lutsenko had a significant gap with Astana in a perfect position with his team-mate in the chase group behind who could stay fresh for if it came back together, sitting on the two strong riders doing the chasing. But then Lutsenko started crashing and it looked like it was over.

"After his first crash he came back quickly, but then after his second crash he was caught and everyone thought he would automatically help Fuglsang for the finish but he was obviously so determined to win the stage he dropped back before sprinting to a convincing stage win.

"I was really impressed by his sheer grit and determination to put the setbacks and crashes behind and just focus on winning the bike race."

Bettiol leads youthful charge at Tour of Flanders

When Alberto Bettiol won the Tour of Flanders in April, the Italian not only landed a huge race for his EF Education First squad, but also struck a blow to those who insist the one-day cobbled classic can only be mastered with local knowledge or years of experience.

On emulating Tom Boonen as the youngest winner since 2005, Bettiol proved that 2019 could turn out to be the year of the next generation.

<span>Alberto Bettiol crosses the line to win Tour of Flanders </span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Alberto Bettiol crosses the line to win Tour of Flanders Credit: Getty Images

Following a series of attacks and counter-attacks the leading group was whittled down to under 20 riders before Bettiol produced a stylish attack on the third and final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, 17 kilometres from the finish, before ghosting away to a famous victory.

In all the post-race brouhaha the focus may have been on Bettiol, but earlier in the day there were further signs a changing of the guard was afoot when Mathieu van der Poel, 24, impressed with a strong ride.

Having lost contact with the leaders, Van der Poel clawed his way back before countering with an attack on the Paterberg. Though Van der Poel ultimately missed out on the podium after finishing fourth, it was a moment in the season that will live long in the memory. Kasper Asgreen, 24, was runner-up while Nils Politt, 25, rolled over in fifth.

Though few outside EF Education First would claim it was a vintage race, on reflection Flanders set the tone for the season in which week after week youngsters rewrote the rules. It was the dawn of a new era.

Simon Gerrans: I never saw a Flanders win in Alberto

"I switched the race on just before Van der Poel's crash. He was trying to bunny hop a traffic island and flatted, then buckled his front wheel and crashed. It was such a shame, as he was a real contender and went for a desperate move that cost him the race. Not only that but it happened at a fast moment when the race was strung out.

"I thought his race was over as the action continued up front, but he never gave up and kept riding his way through the groups, pegging his way back to the front. He'd not been there long before Bettiol made his move. I think without any set back Van der Poel would have gone with Bettiol and we may have seen different result but hats off to his sheer determination. It was a seriously impressive win though – having been his team-mate last season I never saw a Flanders win in Alberto."

Gilbert triumphs as crosswinds blow Vuelta apart

It may have been one of the greatest races the world almost never saw, it was certainly one of the fastest. In fact, so fast was the racing – it was later confirmed to have been the fastest ever race that exceeded 200km – broadcasters were forced into bringing forward their feeds fearful the race may have finished before people at home had tuned in.

<span>Philippe Gilbert and Deceuninck-Quick Step did what Philippe Gilbert and Deceuninck-Quick Step do best and rode through the crosswinds as if they were not there</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Philippe Gilbert and Deceuninck-Quick Step did what Philippe Gilbert and Deceuninck-Quick Step do best and rode through the crosswinds as if they were not there Credit: Getty Images

In the countdown to stage 17 at the Vuelta a España this observer had predicted a routine race that would in all likelihood be quite boring in the most part, but probably get interesting towards the end. This observer is the first to admit he was very wrong, very wrong indeed.

As it turned out the action started just one kilometre into the 219.6km stage from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara with Nario Quintana, who started the day over seven minutes down on race leader Primoz Roglic, getting into a huge breakaway group along with six Deceuninck-Quick Step riders. Unfortunately for those who missed the split, the small matter of crosswinds led to the whole race being blown apart.

If chasing, there is one team you do not want to see riding on the front of an echelon it is Deceuninck-Quick Step. For Quintana, though, the Belgian squad were the perfect allies on an afternoon that saw the Colombian climber grapple his way up the standings to second overall and to within a wholly respectable 2min 24sec of Roglic.

While some cycling fans will prefer the races that go into the high mountains, others err towards sprint stages. Some, of course, prefer the one-day classics, but a flat boring stage that is whipped into life by vicious crosswinds offers another dimension for the connoisseurs out there. This stage, won by Philippe Gilbert, did not disappoint.

Nicholas Roche: This stage was exciting from start to finish

"This was some day – 50 riders going clear after just 1km then spending almost 200km in the breakaway. It’s not often this scenario happens, making it interesting to watch how it panned out.

"This stage was exciting from start to finish with a huge battle behind the break, including some controversy as Movistar took their chance with Quintana. 

"There were lots of strong riders and fast finishers in the front group, and I'd have put my bet on Sam [Bennett] but Philippe’s great condition and lethal winning skill from a breakaway gave him the edge. That puts him as the fastest winner of a race over 200km."

Alaphilippe fizzes his way into yellow jersey

Such was the brilliance of Julian Alaphilippe throughout the season, the Frenchman could have feasibly filled all berths here with his nine wins at WorldTour level. Strade Bianche, La Flèche Wallonne and Milan-Sanremo were all considered, but in the end it was his swashbuckling ride into Épernay that immediately sprang to mind when recalling the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider's annus mirabilis.

<span>Julian Alaphilippe exploded on the road to Épernay as the Frenchman took his first yellow jersey</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Julian Alaphilippe exploded on the road to Épernay as the Frenchman took his first yellow jersey Credit: Getty Images

Such was the brilliance of Julian Alaphilippe throughout the season, the Frenchman could have feasibly filled all berths here with his nine wins at WorldTour level. Strade Bianche, La Flèche Wallonne and Milan-Sanremo were all considered, but in the end it was his swashbuckling ride into Épernay that immediately sprang to mind when recalling the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider's annus mirabilis.

Having arrived on the starting line in Binche as favourite for stage three of the Tour de France, Alaphilippe was a marked man on the long rolling route from Belgium into the Champagne region of France.

Though 2019 may have been blessed with a peloton packed with talented riders, few are as exhilarating as Alaphilippe in full flight and when he attacked around 14km from the line, first chasing down Tim Wellens before taking the race lead on the dusty roads that cut through the vineyards, it felt as if the world had momentarily stopped spinning.

With each effortless pedal stroke Alaphilippe glided towards the third stage win of his career, though for his countrymen there was an added bonus: he had taken the first Tour leader's jersey of his career.

Not only had Alaphilippe given the local vineyards reason to open their cellars to those lining the route ready to celebrate his win, but this was the moment too that the wider world started to learn who the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider was while France started to ask the question: he couldn't, could he?

Mathew Hayman: France has been waiting for a rider like this

"This was one of many stages were Alaphilippe was amazing at the Tour this year. What made this special is that it’s what the French have been waiting for. This was the start of a race where people really started to wonder how far he could go. 

"His way of riding is exciting, flamboyant, and what you see and hear is what you get. He loves his racing and the French have been looking for a rider like that at the Tour."

Ciccone crowned on Giro's queen stage

The more storied, more illustrious climb over the Passo Gavia may have been removed as race organisers feared a landslide following heavy snow near the summit, but stage 16 at the Giro d'Italia was not left wanting. It was a dark, brutal and slightly sinister race, one befitting of a day that featured one of the toughest climbs in world cycling.

<span>Giulio Ciccone crosses the line to win the queen stage at this year's Giro d'Italia</span> <span>Credit: GETTY IMAGES </span>
Giulio Ciccone crosses the line to win the queen stage at this year's Giro d'Italia Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Though arguably not the greatest or most tactically exciting race of the year, few who watched Giulio Ciccone battle over the summit of the Mortirolo will forget the look on the Italian's face when he realised he should have perhaps not discarded his rain jacket.

While the main protagonists in the race for pink battled away on the horribly steep slopes of the Mortirolo, all that was left for Ciccone and Hirt to do was to descend towards Ponte di Legno where they could battle over line honours.

It was a grim day in northern Italy though and having spent much of the day in the breakaway, the Trek-Segafredo rider had just Jan Hirt for company. Unfortunately for the pair the road on the descent resembled an ice rink and visibility was dangerously low. Following a heated exchange between the pair – Ciccone appeared to suggest Hirt was not doing his turns. In the end, though, it was the Italian who prevailed with deserved win on what turned out to be a modern classic.

Giulio Ciccone: It was hard to understand what had happened

"I remember this day well as it was a special day for me. Early in the breakaway I was unsure of my feeling because of the cold and rain but on the Mortirolo when it started to rain full gas I felt that my legs were super good and that I could win the stage. At the summit, I couldn't get my rain jacket on so I threw it away. I survived without it but it was super cold, only 4 degrees and still raining hard.

"It was just me and [Jan] Hirt in the finale; I was in first position and when I saw Hirt start to sprint I closed my eyes and went full, full gas. When I crossed the line I felt strange because it was hard to understand what had just happened, but after 15 minutes, when I was warmer, I realised that I had won the queen stage of the Giro and I could enjoy the moment. Winning such a hard stage at my home race made it even more unforgettable."

Pinot almost tips France over edge on Tourmalet

Coming just 24 hours after Julian Alaphilippe won his second stage at this year's Tour de France – a quite frankly unbelievable time trial victory in Pau – the host nation was very much en fête going into stage 14, the relatively short, but very tough, 117.5km run from Tarbes to the summit of the Tourmalet. This win high into the Pyrenees from Thibaut Pinot threatened to send his countrymen into paroxysms.

<span>Thibaut Pinot claimed what was arguably the biggest win of his career in the high Pyrenees </span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Thibaut Pinot claimed what was arguably the biggest win of his career in the high Pyrenees Credit: Getty Images

Just 300 metres away from the finish line on this most famous of climbs, the stage could have been won by any one of five riders. Indeed, at one point Pinot, Alaphilippe, Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann and Egan Bernal all fanned out to almost fill the width of the road, eye-balling each other to see who had the legs and who did not.

Having played second fiddle in recent years or, in truth, rarely even being part of the orchestra, French cycling fans were almost tipped over the edge when, having been shepherded skywards by the brilliant young climber David Gaudu, Pinot attacked and dropped his rivals. Having lost time in the crosswinds days earlier, the fightback was on. Pinot gained valuable seconds on all, and 18sec on pre-race favourite Egan Bernal. 

France was able to not only celebrate a famous victory, but also start to dream that it had a genuine challenger ready to break the hegemony of Team Sky (now Ineos) had held on their race. In the end, of course, it all came to nothing but for a few glorious days it appeared that long wait for a home win was finally going to end in what was a truly memorable Tour.

Nicholas Roche: Pinot time sprint perfectly on historic climb

"You just have to love Thibaut Pinot, he is the definition of panache! What a rider, what a ride.

"Stage 14 was a very particular stage – very fast, one of these new trendy stages that’s short with no time for a breather. In the last kilometres everything was possible for many riders still. Pinot used his team-mate [David] Gaudu very smartly during the stage, but at 500m it was still open. At first I thought [Julian] Alaphilippe or [Egan] Bernal would take it, but Pinot timed his sprint perfectly coming into the last ramp to take the win on this historic climb."

Evenepoel escapes to San Sebastián victory

"He is phenomenal," Alex Dowsett told a huddle journalists at last month's Road World Championships. "You take his age out of the picture, the races he's won in the last couple of months – San Sebastián, the Europeans and the Tour of Belgium, those are three completely different races that should have been won by three completely different type of riders. He's pretty special."

<span>Remco Evenepoel won his first one-day race at WorldTour level in impressive style</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Remco Evenepoel won his first one-day race at WorldTour level in impressive style Credit: Getty Images

Dowsett, the British time trial champion, was of course talking about Remco Evenepoel who in August produced a quite extraordinary ride en route to winning Clásica San Sebastián in northern Spain.

The tough hilly one-day race is traditionally won by a rider who has carried his form over from the Tour de France – it is over a decade since the winner in San Sebastián had not completed La Grande Boucle. The 19-year-old bucked that trend, all on his maiden one-day WorldTour race.

The very fact the Deceuninck-Quick-Step neo-pro was the youngest rider in the race, one in which he started as a support rider for team-mate Julian Alaphilippe, was soon forgotten once the Belgian made his decisive move on the final climb of the day.

Just eight months after turning professional – jumping straight from the juniors, leapfrogging the under-23 ranks – Evenepoel had backed up all the hype when he crossed the line 38sec ahead of Greg Van Avermaet, a rider 15 years his senior.

Exiled to Emilia-Romagna following the Tour, I was forced into following the race on Italian television. Despite speaking no Italian one thing was clear, the Eurosport team, like Dowsett, thought Evenepoel was a phenomena. "Mamma mia," an out-of-breath commentator said. "Un fenomeno, un fenomeno, un fenomeno." He was not wrong.

Nicholas Roche: This is one of the best performances all year

"What Remco did at San Sebastián is pretty amazing, not only because he seemed to be struggling beforehand, but also in the way that managed to make use of his team and then his skill in anticipating on the top guys before the finale. It was a risky move, but somehow he managed to stay clear and make to top of the last climb without being caught. 

"He showed some incredible skill and shape in this race and in doing so became the youngest ever WorldTour race winner. This is probably one of the best performances that I saw all year. Chapeau!"

Van der Poel ambushes his elders at Amstel

Still just 24, Mathieu van der Poel is a phenom. Having won Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl, the Dutchman arrived at Amstel Gold  his home race  as the favourite. However, after having lost contact with the leading protagonists, Van der Poel's race appeared over.

Away from the gaze of the television cameras though, Van der Poel did what he had done at the Tour of Flanders and buried himself in an attempt to chase back while Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang, who were joined by Michal Kwiatkowski with 1km to go, appeared poised for one of the many head-to-head battles they enjoyed – or endured – throughout the spring classics campaign.

<span>Mathieu van der Poel produced one of the performances of the season to win Amstel Gold Race</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Mathieu van der Poel produced one of the performances of the season to win Amstel Gold Race Credit: Getty Images

Dutch newspaper Het Nieuwsblad later reported the time gaps given to the riders did not match those on television. Either way, Van der Poel had to ride from some distance out – with no team-mates – to close the gap. It was a quite extraordinary show of strength from a rider who divides his time between road, cyclo-cross and mountain biking.

"I didn’t believe I could win," Van der Poel said after pulling off one of the most audacious ambushes of all time. "I didn’t expect that at all. I still can't understand what has happened." He was not the only one.

Amstel Gold may lack some of the lustre afforded to Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders, but Van der Poel very much put Limburg back on the map with this masterful and truly unforgettable win in the hilly classic.

Sean Yates: He is going to be one of the next superstars

"Before Amstel there was a lot of talk surrounding Mathieu van der Poel on how good he was and could be. This had been gathering momentum as the season progressed and ramped up after his massive result at Flanders and a great overall Belgium campaign. It’s extremely rare to go into the hilly classics after a Belgium campaign, in fact I cannot think of anyone who has got a top result in Flanders and then done the same in Amstel in the same year.

"The way he won though really got people talking. It was another level, and in my mind this was confirmation that he is going to be one of the next superstars of cycling."

De Gendt pulls off perfect win in race of the year  

Put quite simply, this was the perfect stage in what turned out to be one of the most exciting editions of the Tour de France in decades. It had everything: a nail-biting breakaway, a general classification battle and a dramatic crash that threatened to put an end to Geraint Thomas's hopes of a second yellow jersey.

Once again it was Thomas De Gendt, along with Ben King from Dimension Data, who attacked from the flag though it was the Belgian who held out for 199 kilometres during which time he crested each of the seven categorised climbs put in front of him. It was vintage De Gendt. His eyes firmly focused on the stage win.

<span>Thomas De Gendt remained focused to win what Telegraph Sport believes was the best race of the year</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
Thomas De Gendt remained focused to win what Telegraph Sport believes was the best race of the year Credit: AP

Having ridden Alessandro De Marchi off his wheel around 14km from the line, De Gendt pushed on while back in the chasing group the general classification battle took an unexpected twist.

Following a touching of wheels, Geraint Thomas found himself hurtling down the road – sans bike – while his team-mate Egan Bernal pushed on, unaffected by the crash. The tension was palpable: was Thomas about to lose time to Bernal? Had Bernal carried on regardless while defending champion Thomas lay in the road? Were Ineos cursed?

While the world of cycling pondered over the Ineos question, Julian Alaphilippe produced a devastating attack, taking with him fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, off in pursuit of a labouring De Gendt. Though De Gendt held on for a truly brilliant breakaway win, Alaphilippe and Pinot both celebrated after the former regained the leader's yellow jersey on the eve of Bastille Day while his compatriot closed the gap on Thomas and Bernal to keep his dream alive.

"One of the great stage victories of the modern era, but one straight from the vaults," I wrote on the day and I'm sticking with that. This, for me, was the greatest WorldTour race of the year.

Sean Yates: It was the epic type of racing we all want to see

"De Gendt's win was once again amazing. We've seen him do the same on several occasions now but each time most of us think he is not going to pull it off. But he does it over and over, much like on stage eight at Le Tour.

"I was thinking he wouldn't pull it off, mainly because of the nature of the terrain and the fact that it was pretty certain the race was going to kick off behind. The pace on that stage was relentless without a metre of flat. This may be a bit controversial but for sure the lead cars and motorbikes helped him in those fast slightly downhill final kms. But when you are out front that's what you get.

"It was two races in one that’s also what made this stage great. A target was on Alaphilippe's back but he still made the move and got the jersey back. It was the epic type of racing we all want to see."

  • Simon Gerrans, Sean Yates, Giulio Ciccone and Mat Hayman are all guests at this week's Rouleur Classic LDN, the world’s finest cycling exhibition. Rouleur Classic LDN opens on the evening of Thursday October 31, running through to November 2, showcasing more than 50 premium cycling brands, exhibiting the latest in performance bicycles, clothing and accessories. The event also features an exciting list of talent on stage over the three days, including Tour winners Greg LeMond and Sir Bradley Wiggins, yellow jersey wearers Phil Anderson, Yates, Gerrans, Ciccone and a whole host of other superstars of the cycling world.

  • Tickets to the Rouleur Classic LDN are available now with prices from £35 at www.rouleurclassic.cc.

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