Photo-finish drama, rainsoaked Paris-Roubaix, and more: Memorable men’s racing moments from 2021

You could fill a book with all the drama and action from the 2021 season, but VeloNews has picked just seven moments. Which moments made the cut?

Photo: Etienne Garnier - Pool/Getty Images

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So much happened in 2021 it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it.

Though it wasn’t nearly as frenetic as the tightly packed 2020 season, this year still delivered some huge moments.

From Tadej Pogačar’s dominance at the Tour de France to Mathieu van der Poel’s emotional stint in the yellow jersey.

Also read: Memorable women’s racing moments from 2021

There was drama in the spring as Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock had to be separated by a photo finish at the Amstel Gold Race. In the autumn, the Flanders worlds delivered one of the most exciting races of recent years and we had the first wet Roubaix in two decades.

It was hard to whittle it down but here are seven memorable racing moments from the 2021 men’s season.

Tadej Pogačar goes on the offensive to win second Tour de France title

Tadej Pogacar won the Tour de France for the second time this year
Tadej Pogacar won the Tour de France for the second time this year (Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Tadej Pogačar’s sheer dominance at this year’s Tour de France was a major moment within itself. After claiming victory in 2020 on the final TT, there were questions about how well he’d cope having to defend the jersey if he got it. He answered those questions with aplomb, defending the maillot jaune with hardly a misstep.

Also read: Has ASO Tadej Pogačar-proofed the 2022 Tour de France? They’ve sure tried

While his title fight as a whole was a pleasure to watch, perhaps the two biggest moments in his race came in the first week, the first of which was before he laid hands on the yellow jersey. The first was a supreme ride to take victory from a dumfounded Stefan Küng in the stage 5 time trial. On a fairly flat parcours, few people expected Pogačar to pull the rug from under the specialists.

The second was his big attack up to Tignes that put some solid daylight between himself and his rivals. Pogačar responded to an attack from rival Richard Carapaz with about four kilometers to go and left the others for dead on the side of the mountain, building up just over 30 seconds of an advantage by the finish line.

Belgium explodes at worlds as Julian Alaphilippe does the double

Julian Alaphilippe attacks on the way to victory at the world championships
Julian Alaphilippe attacks on the way to victory at the world championships (Photo: Alex Broadway – Pool/Getty Images)

The men’s road race at the worlds will be one that lives long in the memory, from the huge crowds to the relentless racing, it was a day to remember.

So much went down during the race that it would take thousands of words to recount it all, but two particular moments stood out from the rest — one of which is still reverberating around Belgium two months on.

Also read: Belgian ex-coach on men’s road worlds: ‘I could see the mistakes early’

In a similar fashion to the women’s race, we saw a nation that looked destined for victory that tripped over its own tactics while another played its cards perfectly to came out with the spoils. Belgium had everything to play for on that Sunday in Flanders, with an enviable team and the darling home favorite in its line-up. However, going too hard too early left them struggling as the race reached its conclusion.

France didn’t play it safe by any means, but they used their cards when they needed them most and Julian Alaphilippe was more than capable of delivering on his teammates’ work.

Kasper Asgreen and Mathieu van der Poel duel for Tour of Flanders glory

Kasper Asgreen won the Tour of Flanders after beating Mathieu van der Poel
Kasper Asgreen won the Tour of Flanders after beating Mathieu van der Poel (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

After a long day in the saddle, victory often comes down to the final few meters of any race. So it was for this year’s Tour of Flanders. With all of the other rivals batted away, Kasper Asgreen and Mathieu van der Poel rode down the final stretch into Oudenaarde. It might be a boring section of road, but the long straight added to the drama as the Dane and the Dutchman eyed each other up.

Also read: Kasper Asgreen outsprints Mathieu van der Poel to claim first monument

Most people would have bet their house on Van der Poel taking the title for the second year in a row, but Asgreen had other ideas.

As the two wound up their sprint, they were going toe-to-toe until the unimaginable happened. The pop could almost be heard from space as van der Poel sat up with nothing left to give. Asgreen drove on to take the biggest win of his career so far, having gone into the race as a support rider for some of his more experienced teammates.

Photo-finish drama at the Amstel Gold Race

The 2021 Amstel Gold Race went down to the wire
The 2021 Amstel Gold Race went down to the wire (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

While the Asgreen-van der Poel duel in Flanders was a close-run affair, it was nothing compared to what would come just a couple of weeks later at the Amstel Gold Race.

Photo finish technology had already been placed in the spotlight after a tight finish between Ruth Winder and Demi Vollering at the Brabantse Pijl a few days earlier and talk would continue to rumble on for weeks about its efficacy following this close duel.

Also read: Technical FAQ: How a photo-finish camera works

A group of three, including Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock and Max Schachmann (who even remembers he was there at this stage?), got away inside the final 15km and would ultimately contest the victory. Schachmann didn’t really feature, though, and it was between van Aert and Pidcock for victory.

The Belgian looked to be fading as the Briton closed him down and it would go down to a photo finish to decide the winner. The technology plumped for van Aert, but many disagreed. Whatever people believe, van Aert will remain the official winner of the race.

Primož Roglič goes on a raid in the Basque Country

Primoz Roglic teamed up with David Gaudu on the final Itzulia Basque Country stage
Primoz Roglic teamed up with David Gaudu on the final Itzulia Basque Country stage (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

This was aggressive cycling at its best.

Primož Roglič went into the final stage of the Itzulia Basque Country with a 23-second deficit to Brandon McNulty in the overall standings. With everything to gain and nothing really to lose — what is second place at a one-week stage race? — Roglič threw caution to the wind in the Basque hills.

Also read: The art of giving: Primož Roglič and his guide to gifts in cycling

The Slovenian struck early and jumped off the front on a descent with 60km to go, catching McNulty off-guard. UAE Team Emirates, with Tadej Pogačar, tried to get the American back within touching distance of Roglič but he imploded and Pogačar had to make the chase himself. Playing his tactics very carefully, Roglič worked with David Gaudu to build a big enough lead and keep it. Gaudu would go for the stage win and Roglič would mop up the GC victory. It was one of the best days of racing this season.

Mathieu van der Poel takes an emotional win and yellow jersey

Mathieu van der Poel dedicated his Tour de France stage win to his granddad
Mathieu van der Poel dedicated his Tour de France stage win to his granddad (Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty)

Mathieu van der Poel would have preferred that his Tour de France debut didn’t come in the same season as the Olympic Games, but there was nothing he could do about it and he definitely made the most of it.

He started the race in a jersey to honor his granddad Raymond Poulidor, who died in 2019, and then did something he was never able to do and donned the yellow jersey.

Also read: Mathieu van der Poel wins yellow jersey for ‘grandpa Poulidor’

The special day came on stage 2 with a climb up the Mûr-de-Bretagne.

Van der Poel pointed his finger to the sky as he crossed the line and cried as he tried to talk about his grand père in the post-stage interview. It was a suitable homage to his much-loved relative and van der Poel put in everything to keep hold of the jersey towards the end of the first week, including an imperious ride in the stage 5 time trial.

Rain returns to Paris-Roubaix

None of the riders in the 2021 peloton had ridden a wet Paris-Roubaix before
None of the riders in the 2021 peloton had ridden a wet Paris-Roubaix before (Photo: Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

Fans have been hoping for a wet Roubaix for years, and after two decades of waiting, the prayers were answered.

While those watching may have been delighted, there was a lot of fear and apprehension in the bunch as they rolled out of Compiegne on October 3. Making it through to the end would be as much about luck as it would be about skill and even some of the best bike handlers in the bunch ended up in the mud.

Also read: Gallery: The gritty faces of the 2021 Paris-Roubaix

On top of the muddy conditions, the finale gave us plenty of drama and intrigue as it looked like Gianni Moscon would ride onto his first monument victory.

Moscon had an almost unassailable led and the chasers were not bringing him back, but the race was not done. A puncture led to a bike change and then he suffered a crash that would spell the end of his chances. Tired and disappointed, Moscon was soon dropped from the new leading group. In the end, it was a three-up sprint for the win between Sonny Colbrelli, Florian Vermeersch, and Mathieu van der Poel with the Italian finishing triumphant.

Other memorable moments: Taco van der Hoorn wins a Giro d’Italia stage, Magnus Cort wins on almost all terrains at the Vuelta a España, Primož Roglič wins his third Vuelta a España, Egan Bernal smashes his rivals in torrid condition at the Giro d’Italia, Arnaud Démare wins a thrilling Paris-Tour finale, Filippo Ganna claims his second straight world TT title.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.