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Blazin' Saddles: Adieu – Cummings, Kittel and the top riders bidding the sport farewell

Blazin' Saddles: Adieu – Cummings, Kittel and the top riders bidding the sport farewell

27/11/2019 at 13:02Updated 28/11/2019 at 09:31

Our end of season review series continues with a round-up of all the big names leaving the sport in 2019 – including the likes of Steve Cummings, Marcel Kittel, Mat Hayman, Stijn Devolder and Taylor Phinney.

With so many big names hanging up their cycling shoes in 2019, the end of an era approaches in the pro peloton – an era, in Davide Rebellin's case, you'd be forgiven for thinking ended many a moon ago.

Longterm fans of the sport will indeed feel their age when looking at the list of riders calling it a day – a list which, while including a rider approaching his sixth decade on this planet, also includes some stars whom only yesterday it seemed were tipped for great futures in cycling. Let's take a closer look, starting with one very close to home.

Steve Cummings with his career-defining win in Mende during the 2015 Tour de France

Steve Cummings with his career-defining win in Mende during the 2015 Tour de FranceEurosport

Steve Cummings (Dimension Data, 38)

Anyone who has had the chance to follow a Grand Tour in a team or race car will have no doubt clearly seen the languid Liverpudlian, to reclaim Richard Keys' motto, hanging out the back of it.

But fans watching on TV have occasionally, and ever so memorably, seen Cummings, in Jamie Redknapp parlance, smash it off the front, too. For while the British maverick spent more time at the tail of the peloton than most, he also had an almost De Gendtian knack of selecting the right move – and making it count.

Major success came late for Cummings, who started out as a lowly Barloworld teammate to the likes of the equally lowly Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, a pal from his British Cycling track days. His first Grand Tour stage came after two near-fruitless years at Team Sky in the 2012 Vuelta for BMC when he was already 31 – having been part of a break that also included that man Thomas De Gendt.

Three years later came the crowning moment of his career, when Cummings fought back to deny bickering Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet a win at Mende in the Tour de France on Mandela Day – a hugely significant scalp for his MTN-Qhubeka team.

Cummings' most successful season, however, came in 2016 when he won stages at Tirreno-Adriatico, Pais Vasco, the Dauphine and the Tour – a wonderful solo effort into Lac de Payolle in the Pyrenees – before winning the Tour of Britain.

But after two barren years and a fractured vertebrae sustained on his home roads in Birkenhead in August, Cummings did not have his contract renewed by NTT Pro Cycling, and failed to find a team that suited his targets, bringing down the curtain on a 15-year career built off the back of successfully crafting wins as a baroudeur.

"I would have maybe liked another year, but it is what it is. I can accept stopping now," Cummings told Cyclingnews this week.

Marcel Kittel takes his maiden Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta 2011

Marcel Kittel takes his maiden Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta 2011Eurosport

Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin, 31)

This one we've known for a while, with the powerful German handing in his resignation back in May. When Kittel broke onto the scene for Argos-Shimano with four stage wins in his second Tour de France in 2013 – two years after winning a Vuelta stage in his maiden Grand Tour – he seemed to be the heir apparent to Mark Cavendish.

He added another 10 Tour stage wins to his name as well as four Giro scalps and five Scheldeprijs wins in six years. But for all his pomp, Kittel also appeared to be something of a flat-track bully – an explosive rider who quickly proved to be one-dimensional, struggling to grind out results on more challenging terrain.

Fragile and clearly tormented, the 31-year-old fell out of favour at QuickStep and struggled to find anything remotely resembling his form of old at Katusha-Alpecin. When push came to shove, Kittel decided he'd had enough – and given his emotional farewell note to fans, you can hardly blame him.

Mathew Hayman of Australia and Orica-GreenEdge crosses the finish line ahead of Tom Boonen of Belgium and Etixx-Quick-Step to win the 2016 Paris-Roubaix

Mathew Hayman of Australia and Orica-GreenEdge crosses the finish line ahead of Tom Boonen of Belgium and Etixx-Quick-Step to win the 2016 Paris-RoubaixGetty Images

Mathew Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott, 41)

Calling it a day even earlier in the year than Kittel, the man with a first name resembling a typo bowed out after January's Tour Down Under after a long career plying his trade for Rabobank, Sky and latterly the Australian GreenEDGE team in all its various incarnations.

The tall Australian would have been forever remembered as a dependable domestique had he not pulled off the impossible and won Paris-Roubaix in 2016. Part of the early break that day, Hayman managed to keep up with the leaders once the move was swept up, before surging past the favourite Tom Boonen in the velodrome.

Victory in the Hell of the North was only his second as a professional and came in his 15th edition of the cobblestone classic. He could, perhaps should, have quit then and there, but he plodded on to take his Grand Tour count into double figures while finishing 11th in the defence of his Roubaix crown.

Belgium's Stijn Devolder of QuickStep wins the 2008 Tour of Flanders

Belgium's Stijn Devolder of QuickStep wins the 2008 Tour of FlandersGetty Images

Stijn Devolder (Corendon-Circus, 40)

Many people will have thought the double Tour of Flanders winner and Discovery, QuickStep, Vacansoleil, RadioShack and Trek veteran had hung up his shoes years ago. But Devolder carried on plying his trade at pro-continental level for three years after leaving Trek-Segafredo in 2016, taking his appearances in Monuments to 40 – just one shy of Hayman.

Devolder's back-to-back wins in the Ronde came at the expense of QuickStep teammate Boonen – making him something of a Marmite figure in Belgium. But he garnered much praise towards the end of his career when he became a mentor to Mathieu van der Poel as the Dutch sensation made his switch to racing on the road.

Taylor Phinney of The United States and EF Education First before stage 2 of the Tour of Colombia 2019

Taylor Phinney of The United States and EF Education First before stage 2 of the Tour of Colombia 2019Getty Images

Taylor Phinney (EF Education First, 29)

The sport will be less philosophical, sartorial and laid back in the absence of the oft-moustachioed and eminently likable American, who has decided to retire after failing to recover fully from the career-altering crash during the 2014 US National road race championships.

Prior to the crash, Phinney had made his name as a superlative time triallist with an ability to excel in the cobbled classics – emphasised by his 15th place in his maiden Roubaix in 2012. But the accident saw him lose 25% of his power and, despite capping his comeback with a stage in the USA Pro Challenge and adding a third national ITT title in 2016, Phinney was reduced to being a domestique or targeting niche prizes such as the polka dot jersey after stage 2 of his debut Tour in 2017.

A top ten in Roubaix in 2018 seemed to indicate a return to form for Phinney, but after a disappointing 2019 the zen 29-year-old decided to call it a day. "Ultimately, I feel like my body sort of made this choice for me," he said. "I'm stepping away so that I can be more true to myself, which means to make art, to make music, to create and cultivate…"

Far out, man.

Davide Rebellin during his annus mirabilis in 2009

Davide Rebellin during his annus mirabilis in 2009Getty Images

Davide Rebellin (Meridiana Kamen Team, 48)

From young to ancient, and the most recent retiree comes in the form of the Italian super-veteran Rebellin – a rider who was picking up wins long before Lance Armstrong was even trying to score EPO.

Winner of all three Ardennes Classics in 2004, Rebellin was a rider who excelled in explosive uphill sprints – very much in the mould of a Valverde or Di Luca. Like those two, the Italian was not merely a rebel in name, with Rebellin's name constantly dragged through the doping dirt – most notably at the 2008 Summer Olympics, where he was stripped of his silver medal.

With 60 pro wins in the bag, and some taken out of it, Rebellin was one of those anti-heroes who could not be taken down – returning after suspension in 2011 to add more victories to his palmares despite being in his 40s. After leaving CCC in 2016, Rebellin kept his career going with lowly continental teams from Kuwait, Hungary and Croatia, but still kept on winning – albeit in races in Romania, Poland, Turkey and Iran.

His hopes to continue riding into his 50th year were curtained with the folding of the new Hungarian-Italian pro-continental EPowers Factory Team, which had been expected to be a wildcard for the 2020 Giro, which starts in Budapest. Sixth in the 1996 Giro and seventh a year later in the Vuelta, Rebellin failed to finish the last 10 of his 19 Grand Tours and had not raced a major stage race since the 2008 Vuelta.

Laurens Ten Dam of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb during the 105th Tour de France 2018, Stage 20

Laurens Ten Dam of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb during the 105th Tour de France 2018, Stage 20Getty Images

Laurens ten Dam (CCC, 38)

The peloton will be somewhat lighter on drool following the retirement of Dutchman ten Dam, who calls it a day after 18 Grand Tours. Top 10s in the 2012 Vuelta and 2014 Tour gave ten Dam hope that he could be a GC rider when, in truth, he should have focused on adding to the meagre single pro win on his palmares.

That solitary victory, funnily enough, came in Ten Dam's first year at Rabobank at the Criterium International in only his fifth race. The following decade saw the Dutchman become better known for producing more slobber than the dogs in Turner and Hooch and Beethoven combined. But he was a solid all-rounder who very much brought something to the table at all his teams, and it was sad to see the Wolfman crash out of his final Giro in May.

Mark Renshaw of Australia and Mark Cavendish in their HTC days

Mark Renshaw of Australia and Mark Cavendish in their HTC daysGetty Images

Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data, 36)

Mark Cavendish may be stretching things out with a final stint at Bahrain-Merida but his old leadout man has decided to call time on a career which saw him fail to finish all but five of his 17 Grand Tours.

That said, reaching the end was never Renshaw's destiny; his role was to guide men like Cavendish to glory – a task for which he paid the ultimate price in 2010 when he was booted off the Tour for trying to headbutt rival Julian Dean in the bunch sprint in stage 11. It worked: Cav picked up a third win that day, with Dean's teammate Tyler Farrar pipped for third.

When riding for himself, the Australian notched 12 wins including braces in the Tour of Britain and the Tour Down Under. Many felt he could have won more, but when out of his comfort zone Renshaw struggled to mix it up with the fastest sprinters. No shame there, mind.

Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin, 33)

Hardly a household name for fans who merely dip into the sport each July, the Slovenian had a thing for racing in Switzerland, where he won the Tour de Suisse twice and Romandie once. With Katusha folding, and Spilak having not raced a Grand Tour for five years, the 33-year-old decided the time was right. It probably was, in all fairness.

Brice Feillu wins stage 7 of the 2009 Tour de France

Brice Feillu wins stage 7 of the 2009 Tour de FranceGetty Images

Brice Feillu (Arkea-Samsic, 34)

It can't have been easy for a spindly climber making a name for himself in the tyre tracks of a misfiring sprinter brother. But Feillu did OK. After all, there can't be many riders with just one pro win to their name – and that win coming in a mountaintop finish in only the seventh stage of their debut Tour.

If Feillu's win in Andorra in 2009 proved the zenith of his career, he still managed to twice finish 16th overall in the Grand Boucle. Who knows what he may have achieved on better, more established teams. And had he suspected he'd never return to the top of a podium, you can bet your bottom dollar that Feillu, in hindsight, would have zipped up his Agritubel jersey that day in Andorra...

With 20 pro wins to his name, Brice's elder brother Romain Feillu (St Michel – Auber93, 35) also calls it quits after a career that saw him twice finish runner up in stages of the Tour. The brothers rode together for two teams - one year at Vacansoleil in 2009 and then two years at Bretagne-Seche Environnement (2014 and 2015), where Feillu Senior recorded the last of his pro wins ahead of a certain Nacer Bouhanni.

Daniele Bennati at the 2012 Tour Down Under (Photo: Felix Lowe)

Daniele Bennati at the 2012 Tour Down Under (Photo: Felix Lowe)Eurosport

Daniele Bennati (Movistar, 39)

The peloton will be a less handsome place in the absence of the smouldering Italian, a veteran of the Phonak, Lampre, Liquigas, Leopard Trek, Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar teams, who notched wins in all three Grand Tours.

With 52 career scalps to his name, most of which while being a loyal domestique for Alberto Contador in his pomp, Bennati was very much part of the old school furniture. After three winless years at Movistar, the trusted road captain leaves the sport because of back pain caused by a vertebra fracture in April after 18 years in the saddle.

Hubert Dupont (Ag2R-La Mondiale, 38)

After 14 years – all for Ag2R-La Mondiale – the dependable French climber retires after a no-frills career latterly spent in the service of shielding teammate Romain Bardet in the mountains. Dupont never won a race professionally, although finished third in stages in both the Giro and Vuelta. He did, however, finish all but one of his 23 Grand Tours. Consistent.

Ruben Plaza of Spain and Lampre-Merida celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the sixteenth stage of the 2015 Tour de France

Ruben Plaza of Spain and Lampre-Merida celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the sixteenth stage of the 2015 Tour de FranceGetty Images

Ruben Plaza (Israel Cycling Academy, 39)

His name may sounded like a sandwich emporium in Harlem, but the Spaniard was a pretty tidy climber on his day.

A decade after his maiden Grand Tour stage win in the 2005 Vuelta, Plaza enjoyed something of a resurgence with stage wins in the 2015 Tour, two months later, the Vuelta while at Lampre. It earned him a two-year contract at Orica-GreenEdge, where the veteran rode in support of the Yates twins while, in 2018, coming close to completing his full house, finishing behind Max Schachmann in a stage on the Giro.

Also calling it a day…

Suspended after failing a test for EPO, Colombian Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo, 30) announced his retirement in June to focus on a career in politics.

The lure of appearing on Eurosport's Breakaway couch in an array of garish shirts has proved too much for Britain's Adam Blythe (Lotto Soudal, 30). The 2014 RideLondon Classic winner is joined by former teammate Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal, 36) who, once a shoo-in to finish a Grand Tour just outside the top 10, won't add a 21st major race to his name.

Italians Roberto Ferrari (UAE Team Emirates, 36) and Matteo Montaguti (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, 35), Danes Matti Breschel (EF Education First, 35) and Lars Bak (Dimension Data, 39), Swiss Steve Morabito (Groupama-FDJ, 36) and Spaniard Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo, 39) also join the scrapheap, along with Total-Direct Energie French trio Yoanne Gene (38), Perrig Quemeneur (35) and Alexandre Pichot (36).

Samuel Dumoulin (L) of France and team Cofidis celebrates his victory next to William Frischkorn, who came in second, of the USA and team Garmin Chipotle, after winning stage three of the 2008 Tour de France on July 7, 2008 in Nantes

Samuel Dumoulin (L) of France and team Cofidis celebrates his victory next to William Frischkorn, who came in second, of the USA and team Garmin Chipotle, after winning stage three of the 2008 Tour de France on July 7, 2008 in NantesGetty Images

The peloton also bids farewell to its shortest rider with the retirement of the diminutive Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R-La Mondiale, 39) who did not let his size stop him from notching 31 career wins, including victory in stage 3 of the 2007 Tour.

South Africa's Jacques Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data, 32) will no longer be erroneously referred to as teammate Reinardt's brother, while the man with the peloton's sharpest moustache, the American Peter Stetina (Trek Segafredo), is leaving to road to launch a career in racing on gravel and ultra-endurance mountain biking.

Still without a contract for 2020

Meanwhile, the following riders are still out of contract for 2020 and could well yet hang up their cycling shoes: Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain Merida), Rory Sutherland (UAE Team Emirates), Bernhard Eisel (Dimension Data), Jan Bakelants (Sunweb), Leopold Konig (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sacha Modolo (EF Education First), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal), Carlos Betancur (Movistar) and Darwin Atapuma (Cofidis).

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