Blazin' Saddles: The Top 10 riders of 2019
Our end of season review series culminates with a look at the best riders of 2019. From sprinters to Grand Tour and Classics winners, these are the top 10 riders who shaped the narrative, took the spoils and left their imprint upon cycling over the past 12 months.
Most notably, there's no place at the inn for Slovakia's former triple world champion Peter Sagan, and Britons Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates – winners of last year's Grand Tours – while Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, Italy's Elia Viviani and the Dutchman Thomas Dumolin also miss out.
But enough of those who didn't make the cut. Let's now reveal Eurosport's best riders of 2019 – in reverse order…
- Blazin' Saddles: The five best teams of 2019 – Jumbo-Visma come out on top
- Blazin' Saddles: Six of the best wins from the 2019 cycling season
- Blazin' Saddles: Cycling's most controversial racing moments of 2019
10. Caleb Ewan (NEW ENTRY)
The only pure sprinter on this list, the Australian pocket-rocket may have notched fewer wins than his big rivals Elia Viviani (11), Pascal Ackermann and Sam Bennett (both 13), but he performed with gusto and determination on the centre stage in his first year at Lotto-Soudal, showing inner strength to notch wins on two Grand Tours despite shaky starts in both.
While Viviani was the sprinter of the spring and Bora duo Bennett and Ackermann shared spoils consistently throughout the season, 25-year-old Ewan was the only of the fastmen to come up trumps in two major stage races, following up his brace in the Giro with a hat-trick of wins in his maiden Tour de France.
In so doing, Ewan became the first rider since Mark Cavendish to win in each of cycling's major Tours before turning 26. Credit where it is due.
9. Alejandro Valverde (DOWN 4)
Alejandro ValverdeGetty Images
A far from vintage year for the veteran former world champion saw Valverde nevertheless finish fifth in the UCI individual standings off the back of five wins (his fewest in a single season since 2007, discounting the year he spent largely banned in 2013) and top 10s in two Grand Tours.
Ninth in the Giro and runner-up in the Vuelta showed that the 39-year-old still has what it takes to put himself in the GC frame of a major stage race, while victory in the national championships means Valverde can swap his rainbow stripes for red-and-yellow bands in 2020.
The Spaniard ended another long season with back-to-back runner-up spots in Milano-Torino and Il Lombardia – indications (along with his seventh place in Milano-Sanremo back in March) that he can still compete with the best in one-day classics and the biggest monuments.
He may be approaching his fifth decade, but you can't keep Valverde down. And now he's seen off Mikel Landa, Richard Carapaz and Nairo Quintana at Movistar, who knows what the evergreen Spaniard can achieve next year alongside his potential successor, Enric Mas…
8. Mathieu van der Poel (NEW ENTRY)
Amstel Gold Race : finish of the race with van der Poel winEurosport
He didn't ride a Grand Tour and only did a single Monument, but for his rousing comeback win in Amstel Gold alone, the rangy Dutchman deserves a place in the top 10. While essentially riding on the road part-time to fit in with his cyclo-cross commitments, van der Poel still managed to snare 10 wins – most notably that Amstel triumph, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Britain overall.
It would be great to see what the 24-year-old can do in a stronger team and in all the big classics and stage races, for he certainly has the armoury to succeed over a variety of terrains.
For now, a return to the Ronde (where he finished fourth this year) sandwiched between debuts in Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix are already getting the juices flowing. Throw in Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Gent-Wevelgem and the Ardennes, and we're going to see a lot more of van der Poel for Corendon next year.
A rise up these standings beckons… even before he's dipped his toe into a Grand Tour.
7. Tadej Pogacar (NEW ENTRY)
Tadej Pogaçar, La Vuelta 2019Getty Images
Victory on Mount Baldy in Stage 6 of the Tour of California in May ensured that the Slovenian, then 20, became the youngest ever overall winner of a WorldTour stage race. But the UAE-Team Emirates all-rounder really came into his own during La Vuelta where he notched three superb stage wins en route to a podium finish in his maiden Grand Tour.
Victories at Cortals d'Encamp, Los Machucos and Plataforma de Gredos – in three of the Vuelta's most mountainous stages – showcased a supreme talent mature beyond his years. And while the overall win in Madrid went to Primoz Roglic, Pogacar's performances were perhaps proof that he – rather than his older countryman – may be the Slovenian star that dominates cycling in the years to come.
6. Richard Carapaz (NEW ENTRY)
Richard Carapaz is lifted up by his Movistar teammates after winning the Giro d'Italia 2019Getty Images
Was Pogacar's third place in the Vuelta more impressive than the Ecuadorian's first place in the Giro? Many will have thought so – but primarily because the Giro now seems like such a long time ago and the fact that we haven't seen much of Carapaz since. But it would be churlish not to include a Grand Tour winner in this top 10, especially one who had to keep his own teammate at bay en route to his unexpected maglia rosa.
It's worth remembering that Carapaz posted Movistar's best Grand Tour finish in 2018 – his fourth place in the Giro better than anything the supposed Big Three could muster. Well, this year, his final year on the Spanish team, proved more of the same – although this time the 26-year-old not only bettered Mikel Landa, he went and won the whole thing himself.
If his stage win at Frascati in the opening week set the tone, it wasn't until Carapaz won at Courmayeur in Stage 14 that he took the pink jersey. But with Primoz Roglic just seven seconds behind him, and former winner Vincenzo Nibali looming, he still had it all to do.
It was a big shame that a crash in training ahead of the Vuelta deprived Carapaz of a second Grand Tour outing in 2019 before his departure to Ineos. If it was hard enough putting up with Landa, Valverde and Quintana, it remains to be seen how he will fare alongside an all-star team boasting Froome, Thomas, Bernal et al.
Five successive DNFs for Movistar in the autumn since announcing his departure suggests we may perhaps not see Carapaz in this list again next year…
5. Philippe Gilbert (NEW ENTRY)
Philippe Gilbert, Paris-RoubaixGetty Images
Who'd have thought that the Belgian veteran would have made a return to the top 10 after his dodgy 2018? The 37-year-old may have only notched four wins – three more than last year – but those wins not only added to his Grand Tour count, they took him ever closer to an unprecedented clean sweep of all five Monuments.
Gilbert warmed things up with a Tour de la Provence scalp in February before riding in support of Julian Alaphilippe in Milano-Sanremo. Entering the biggest week of the cobbled classics season, illness looked to have struck down Gilbert, who failed to complete the Ronde. But a week later, he emerged pick of the bunch to pip Nils Politt in the Roubaix velodrome in a superb edition of the Hell of the North.
Then, in his only Grand Tour of the season, Gilbert notched a brace of wins in the Vuelta – the sixth and seventh Spanish successes of his career – as part of QuickStep's Espana bonanza. A crash derailed his hopes in Yorkshire, but he was nursed back on his feet by teammate Remco Evenepoel, the tyro for whom Gilbert has been a dedicated mentor all season.
A three-year contract at Lotto Soudal underlines the belief Gilbert still inspires as he approaches the sunset of his career. Now, can he take that elusive win on the Via Roma and complete his collection? It'll be tough, but you wouldn't bet against him.
4. Jakob Fuglsang (NEW ENTRY)
Jakob Fuglsang wins Stage 19 of La VueltaGetty Images
The springtime was very much a prolonged, edge-of-the-seat battle between the Dane and his spunky rival, Alaphilippe – the two trading blows like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Fuglsang was denied by the Frenchman in both Strade Bianche and La Fleche Wallonne either side of both riders having their pockets picked by Van der Poel in Amstel Gold.
But, finally, the birdsong sounded in the Ardennes and Fuglsang got his win – dropping his bete noir on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons before shedding Davide Formolo and soloing to Liege-Bastogne-Liege glory for his maiden Monument.
Victory in the Dauphine made the 34-year-old many people's big favourite for the Tour de France – but a crash in the opening stage dented his hopes before Fuglsang crashed out two weeks later in Stage 16. But the season wasn't over: Fuglsang was part of the TTT-winning Astana team in the Vuelta before going on to net a maiden Grand Tour stage on the Alto de la Cubilla.
Fourth place in Il Lombardia showed just how the Dane was able to keep purring throughout the season – and a new three-year contract with Astana was just rewards for a career-defining year for Fuglsang.
3. Egan Bernal (NEW ENTRY)
Egan Bernal wins the Tour de France 2019Getty Images
Victory in both Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse made the Colombian tyro the favourite for the Tour – despite entering the race on an equal footing with defending champion Geraint Thomas. Over the sweltering roads of France in July, Bernal never put a foot wrong – and despite Julian Alaphilippe's famous run in yellow, it always seemed to be a matter of when, not if, the race's youngest rider would pounce.
In the event, Bernal made his move in Stage 19 on the Col d'Iseran – moments before hail, landslides and the combined components of climate change took some of the gloss off the Colombian's pulverising attack. Dropping both Ineos teammate Thomas and the yellow jersey on the highest climb of the Tour, Bernal all but secured the maillot jaune – even if he was denied contesting the stage win in Tignes against Simon Yates, and only assumed the race lead on a hastily drawn-up technicality.
But there can be no denying Bernal's brilliance – and Alaphilippe, once the dust settled, was one of the first riders to congratulate him on becoming the third youngest rider in history to win cycling's biggest prize.
A busy autumn saw Bernal win the Gran Piemonte classic before securing a podium place in Il Lombardia – proof that the 22-year-old will be competitive in both stage and one-day races in the future. If it's scary how much Bernal could achieve, then Pogacar's excellent debut Vuelta was a reminder that he may not have it all his way over the next decade.
2. Julian Alaphilippe (UP 6)
Julian Alaphilippe in yellow during the Tour de France 2019Eurosport
Long gone are the dark years when all the French could hope from the Tour de France was a Thomas Voeckler breakaway or a calculated Anthony Charteau run on the polka dots. This year, Alaphilippe outdid his swashbuckling king of the mountains exploits from 2018 with an even longer run in yellow – picking up another brace of stage wins while giving the French fans (along with an inspired Thibaut Pinot) that the long wait for glory may soon be over.
It wasn't meant to be, but Alaphilippe delighted in coming so close. But his season was so much more than acing his home Tour in front of a global audience of however many billion. From Argentina in January onwards, the 27-year-old was notching wins – most notably in Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Dauphine.
Such was his stellar form throughout the first six months of the season, it was Alaphilippe – who had never previously finished higher than 33rd in a Grand Tour – who emerged Deceuninck-QuickStep's leader in the Tour, and not Enric Mas, the Spaniard who'd made the Vuelta podium 10 months earlier.
Just how LouLou can top his 2019 remains to be seen – but he managed to top his stellar 2018 this year, so don't rule him out making far greater ripples in 2020. After all, there's certainly room for improvement: Alaphilippe didn't add to his season tally of 12 wins beyond 19th July. Keep up, Julian – you're almost yesterday's news.
1. Primoz Roglic (NEW ENTRY)
Primoz Roglic celebrates at the 2019 VueltaGetty Images
He may not have ridden with as much panache as Alaphilippe, neither is he as young as Bernal or his fellow Slovenian Pogacar, but boy did the former ski jumper take to the sky this season. Roglic started his campaign like a true boss, winning the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and Romandie en route to entering the Giro as the big favourite.
After victory and the maglia rosa in the opening ITT many people had already crowned the Jumbo-Visma star. But three weeks in Italy proved too much and Roglic, who clearly entered the Giro a little overcooked, dropped down to third place despite blitzing the second time trial.
Like Simon Yates 12 months earlier, Roglic bounced back from Giro disappointment to secure a maiden Grand Tour in the Vuelta – thanks to yet another ITT win and some highly consistent riding in the mountains.
And when his long season finally looked to have caught up with him in Yorkshire – where he climbed off his bike in the sodden road race after being caught by Rohan Dennis in the TT – Roglic peaked once again in autumn with victories in the Giro dell'Emilia and Tre Valli Varesine, and a top 10 in Lombardia.
Stage wins in every stage race he took part in, overall victories in all but one, and podium places in both his Grand Tours – including that red jersey in Madrid – makes Roglic the standout rider of the season. Of course, there is room for improvement – he didn't win a Monument, nor did he even feature in the Tour – but you can bet your bottom dollar he'll look to remedy that in 2020.
- Blazin' Saddles: Adieu – Cummings, Kittel and the top riders bidding the sport farewell
- Blazin' Saddles: The 2019 transfers which worked – and those which didn't
- Blazin' Saddles: Raymond Poulidor – first, eternally, in the hearts of the French
What about those absent from last year's top 10?
With zero wins between them all season, Ineos duo Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome plummet out of the standings. The Welshman finished an impressive runner-up behind teammate Bernal in Paris in the absence, Froome, the four-time champion, whose season was pretty much a write-off following his high-speed training crash in the Dauphine.
A third Briton, Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott, did not make the cut after disappointing in his main objective of the season. His eighth place in the Giro was largely lacklustre, although he did pick up a brace of stage wins – and could have made it a hat-trick in Tignes, until the hail came down – while riding the Tour in support of his brother, Adam.
Another Ineos rider with zero wins for 2019 and who disappeared without so much of a trace was Michal Kwiatkowski. Third place in Milano-Sanremo was perhaps the Pole's best result of a season which clearly took its toll – both physically and mentally. A move away from Ineos would perhaps be wise.
A record seventh green jersey in Paris and a seventeenth Tour stage helped paper over the cracks, but there's no denying that the former triple world champion Peter Sagan was rather off the boil without the rainbow stripes around his chest. With just four wins all year, Sagan recorded his worst season as a pro, despite finishing runner-up on no fewer than eight occasions.
Top five finishes in Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, Quebec and the Worlds were enough evidence to suggest that this was just a blip from Sagan, but there will be some concerns chez Bora-Hansgrohe going into 2020.
Alongside Alaphilippe, compatriot Thibaut Pinot did his part to make France great again during the Tour – although heart-breaking scenes saw the 29-year-old, who was pushing for a podium finish, pull out two days from Paris, in what is becoming something of a habit for the exciting but brittle Groupama-FDJ rider.
Sprinter Elia Viviani started off well enough but never really recovered from a rotten Giro d'Italia where, in the Italian national champion colours, he saw his Stage 3 victory overturned by the race jury – a decision which seemed to pre-empt an almighty slump. Sure, he added a Tour stage in July, and replaced his Italian jersey with a European champions one in August, but his sudden decline was enough for QuickStep to let him join Cofidis and bring in the Irishman Sam Bennett as a replacement.
And finally, Tom Dumoulin's crash in the Giro effectively ended the Dutchman's season in May. Having quit Sunweb and joined the galacticos at Jumbo-Visma, Dumoulin will now have his heart set on bouncing back in 2020. To do so, however, he may have to displace the man at the top of the 2019 top 10, his new teammate Primoz Roglic. Roll on the new season!