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David L. Stanley
My Top Twelve Takeaways from the 2021 Season

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


David Stanley's book Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available as an audiobook here.

Pro cycling is one long season. If it’s January 19, we must be racing (pre-Covid) with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia, not to finish until October 19 with the Tour of Guangxi. Few sports have a regular season of 273 days. Add in cyclocross and the track cycling season; a pro cyclist could wear out several saddles and accumulate enough frequent flyer miles to book a seat on the next SpaceX flight to nowhere.

Nonetheless, my Top Twelve Takeaways from the start of 2021 until today, October 25, 2021.

Twelve. SPD Crocs. Perhaps these have been around for a while. Yet, the first ad I saw in any of my newsfeeds was during the Tour de France. Crocs: the foam-made clog beloved by many and despised by an equal number, are now available with a Shimano SPD cleat embedded in the sole. The mastermind is Alex Valcko, a Frenchman who has worked his magic on Vans and Nikes as well. Maybe Valcko needs to hook up the stylish Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe with a pair for his post-race warm-down on the rollers.

If you’re a Crocs fan, you need these. And if you’re not, we don’t need to hear from you. The more people who ride bikes, around town or as a warm-down on the rollers after a stage of the Tour de Suisse, SPD-Crocs or not, the better.

Eleven. The “Other” Grand Tours Carry Their Weight. It has always been Le Tour that dominates the conversation. Thanks to Henri Desgrange, the TdF leapt into the forefront at the turn of 20th century and despite plenty of opportunities to crater, Le Tour didn’t just survive, it grew like giant sunflowers in a Provencal field. La Vuelta and il Giro played a decided pair of second fiddles.

Vuelta a Espana

The Vuelta a España is finding new fans. Sirotti photo

I’ve been doing this bike racing stuff since 1979. Never before have I seen my non-cycling friends care about the other Grand Tours. I suspect we’re a long way off from hearing a Sportscenter anchor breathlessly announce the new G.C. over a montage of riders struggling over the Mortirolo. Yet, I hear and see people, non-cycling people, discuss these races. True, the Tour still reigns. And maybe it’s the pandemic; bike sales and usage have soared, or maybe I’m just a better listener, but the Vuelta and the Giro are out there. This makes me happy.

Ten. We Say Good-bye to Martin and Roche. Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche did the family proud. Under extraordinary familial pressures from the press and public, they made every Irish cycling fan proud. They did the work. They animated races. They won races. While we’ll never forget Stephen Roche and Neil Martin, Dan and Nico carried on the family tradition, as well as the Irish tradition, of tough guys riding to their limit.

Nicholas Roche

Nicolas Roche finishes stage 19 of the 2016 Giro d'Italia. Sirotti photo

Just as importantly, they have handed off the torch to a cadre of gifted riders. The Tour’s green jersey in 2020, Sam Bennett is away from the crazy that is Patrick Lefevere at Deceuninck and will win races again. In fact, newly crowned Irish champ Ryan Mullen will be leading Sam out for Bora-Hansgrohe. Eddie Dunbar, over at Ineos, will shine in the Ardennes, for sure. Ben Healy is with EF Education-Nippo, a great place for a young rider with courage and a big motor. Sean Kelly will have plenty to crow about. They’ll be some great craic on display in the peloton this coming season. Thank-you, Nico and Dan, for 17 and 14 years of great racing.

Nine. Podcasts. Cycling’s podcast market has exploded. We’re all listening to the original: the long-loved John Galloway and his Velocast, Chris Sidwells, Mitch Docker’s Life in the Peloton and Cycling Tips. There are dozens of good cycling podcasts. Happily, there are more good listens than there are hours in the day. Again, it might be the lockdowns. Maybe we’ve realized that it’s uplifting to listen to other humans talk about stuff we enjoy. No matter. Try out a bunch. Choose the ones that ring true, the ones that make you laugh, and support them with your dollars, Euros, dirhams – whatever you got, toss a few shekels in the pot for the creatives who work hard putting content out there for you to enjoy.

Eight. Track Cycling. From the grassroots on up, track cycling is booming. Yes, it has a ways to go, but the velodrome is one of the sites primed for cycling’s next competitive and popular surge. Track cycling is affordable, it is self-contained, it is safe from traffic. And most importantly, it is thrilling and fun for racers and fans. Check out one of my local tracks, the Lexus Velodrome located in the heart of Detroit.

At the top levels, we saw incredible racing across the board(s). A rider like Elia Viviani (Cofidis) brought his road panache and fan-worthiness everywhere he went. So did UK rider Katie Archibald (Ceratizit–WNT Pro Cycling). How dominant was Katie at the just-completed Roubaix Worlds? Katie won all four events in the omnium. Unprecedented.

Again, my one man survey, yet I’ve never before fielded so many questions on my social media feeds about track cycling. As a guy who made (and broke) his bones on outdoor concrete tracks like Detroit’s Dorais Velodrome and Indy’s Major Taylor velodrome, a 333.3 meter beauty of a track, this make me happy.

Seven. I’ve seen the future and it’s paved with gravel. This past season, I rode a lot of gravel. Around 700 miles worth from mid-August until October 22, more or less. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s safer. Gravel is good.

Gravel is the launch pad for NextGen’s great road racers. The criteriums where I learned to race are a brutal weeding-out process. You drive 2 hours to get to the crit site. You get dropped 4 laps or 14 into the race. You get pulled. Or you crash. Lots of crashes in the lower levels of crit racing. Either way, you don’t finish. You load your gear into the car. Repeat the next weekend. You either figure out how to survive or you quit racing. Not fun. With gravel racing, you get dropped, you hammer on. You learn to manage the bike when you’re exhausted. You get the tangible reward of  “I felt like $hit and I still finished.”

We already know fans love it. The riders love it. Despite being run since only 2007, Strade Bianche is ready to be the new Cycling Monument because of the white gravel sections. The French Tro-Bro-Leon is already a fan and rider favorite due to the 25-or-so sections of ribinoù, unpaved roads that challenge the rider and elate the fan.

I said this after Dirty Kanza and I’ll say it again. Within the next 3 years, a rider who cut his/her teeth on gravel will be picked up by a UCI top pro team with Paris-Roubaix specifically in mind and will win the race. A learned friend said to me, “Yeah, but they won’t be able to handle the speed on the paved roads.” My response was simple – Take them out on motorpaced training rides before the race. Ten sessions of 100 km at 50-55 kph behind the motor will put the speed in the legs and the gravel skills will win the day when the race hits the pavé.

Six. The Calendar – Bookend the Season with Ronde & Paris-Roubaix. The purists are rolling their eyes; they’ve slammed their fists down on the table and upset glasses of pastis in every bar-tabac between Flint and the Luberon. It’s the Holy Cobbled Week. Can anyone do the cobbled double? It’s quite a feat. But this year, there was no Week. No double. It was the lanky Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) on the top step on April 4 in Oudenaarde. We’d have to wait until October 3 to see Sonny Colbrelli (Team Bahrain Victorious) finally fulfill his potential in the velodrome finale of Paris-Roubaix.

Tour of Flanders

Kasper Asgreen wins the 2021 Tour of Flanders. Sirotti photo

Likewise, it was also April 4 when we saw Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) take the win in the women’s Ronde. And we all thrilled to the victory of Brit Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafreddo) on October 2 in the premier edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. There is a symmetry here which is pleasing to me.

Yes, this calendaric mayhem was a Covid aberration. With the migration of La Pascale to autumn, it is no longer La Pascale. Perhaps we could call it La Moisson, the Harvest. It’s catchy, and elegant upon the ears.

Because you have to admit, it was something to see Paris-Roubaix in the fall. This year’s race was hors categorie. Held in some of the most horrendous weather in P-R history, it showcased the true beauty and brutality of the year’s toughest race. Importantly, as the first P-R ever held for women, it showed the world that pro women cyclists are 100% as tough as the men. Words do not do their toughness justice. Check out this photo gallery from Cycling Tips.

Five. Acknowledge the Next Generation. These guys are here to stay. They proved it all season long. I set the age cut-off at 26. Wout van Aert sneaks in at 27 because he was a dedicated cross specialist until recently. You don’t need me to run down the palmares for each rider. Visit their wiki pages and their websites. Follow them on twitter and Instagram. You need stuff to do anyway, what with fall here and the days so short we’re all heading into our basements to train. Get to know these 13 young men. They’re the future of pro cycling. And yes, you need to know this; I’m gonna test you later.
Egan Bernal – 24
Remco Evenepoel – 21
Ethan Hayter – 23
Marc Hirschi -23
Fabio Jakobsen – 25
Enric Mas - 26
Mads Pedersen  - 25
Tom Pidcock – 22
Jasper Philipsen - 23
Tadej Pogacar – 23
Pavel Sivakov – 24
Wout van Aert – 27
Mathieu van der Poel – 26.   

Remco Evenepoel

Remco Evenepoel wins the 2021 Brussels Cycling Classic. Sirotti photo

Four. The Angry Cars. I know, I know, cycling is dangerous. Whenever you return home safely from a ride, you'd best offer a brief prayer of thanks. Face towards Colnago’s studio in Cambiago for maximum efficacy. At the start of the pandemic, I was too scared to ride. Not of viruses, but of distracted driving which was at unprecedented levels. A few months back, I did some recon and got back out there.

It is still scary out there. Check with @CycleCollective on Twitter. (You should follow them.) Every day, they post near-collision and collision horror stories of angry drivers, careless drivers. If you are going to race your bike, whether it’s the UCI World Tour or Wednesday Night Worlds at the local business park, you need to train on the roads (no matter what Zwift says, you do need get outside every so often), and with that road exposure, the risk grows dramatically.

I’m not doing a deep dive into NHTSA and Garda data banks, just the anecdotal evidence of cycling friends from around the world. It’s never been good out on the roads. In the Covid-Era, it’s gotten worse. Drivers are angry at lockdowns and we happen to be in the way. Drivers are angry at cyclists for getting a bit of exercise in a time of turmoil. It is the phone in their hand.

Does the “why” matter when you’re shattered in hospital or dead in the ground? What I know is that rudeness and incivility are at record highs around the globe, and on the road, a goodly portion of that behavior is targeted at cyclists. I also hear from my motorcycle friends, it’s ugly out there for them, too. Whether you’re riding to the pub, the grocery, or logging 600 km per week in readiness for the 2022 Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, have your head on a swivel, your ears open, and your alert system on DEFCON 1, because they are out there, and you are in their sights.

Three. Ashton Lambie reigns supreme. Ashton Lambie’s season was not merely spectacular. It was breathtakingly arresting. Let me catch you up. Lambie was an outstanding gravel racer. He crushed it. He, and his impressive moustache, moved onto the track where he, along with Italian Filippo Ganna, set remarkable new standards.

On August 18, Lambie shattered bicycling’s four minute pursuit barrier with a ride of 3:59.93. That’s an average speed of around 37 mph. Average speed. He was going faster than that for some time as the pursuit begins from a dead stop. Drive down the road at 35-40 mph and stick your head out the window for the next 2.4 miles. Feel that force? Yeah, he did that under his own power. How? He turned his 64x15, 112 inch gear at 110 rpm for four minutes straight. That’s roughly equivalent to the 52x12 that you might have on your road bike. Not impressed?

21 years ago, at the Sydney Games, the Germans were the first to break the four minute barrier in the Olympic 4-man team pursuit. Yes, Ashton Lambie in 2021 was faster than the four fastest men in the world just 21 years ago.

That wasn’t enough. He also snagged the World Pursuit title, on a beautiful, yet slow track in Roubaix the other day with a time of 4:03.24. From gravel to the fastest gun in the West in four years. Incroyable! Bad-ass!

Two. Women’s cycling gets respect. There is a lot to unpack here. I’ve been an avid proponent of women’s cycling since my racing days in the ’80s and ’90s. I trained with world sprint champ turned top roadie turned women’s national coach Sue Novara-Reber. I traveled and trained with the women of Fuji-SunTour, to name just one group of outstanding women cyclists. There was never a doubt in my mind, or in the minds of many of my male teammates, that these women were tough as nails, incredibly hardworking, and deserving of equal prize money and respect.

Unfortunately, a lot of the blazers don’t see it that way. Yet, times are slowly changing. The women’s Tour de France, a true stage race, the first since the initial one in 1984, will be held this summer. Eight stages long, it will show the world what these women can do. I hope that over the next few years, we will see this race morph into a true two or three week test of stage racing. I also hope it will be aired on TV.

In my little corner of the cycling internet, the world was dumbfounded at the 2021 Paris-Roubaix Femmes. That the race was beyond brutal was a plus. That the women showed majestic courage was a plus. That competitively, the women’s race was equal in every way to the men’s race was the win.

Now, about that pesky bit on prize money equality and TV coverage.

One. Tadej Pogačar. A 21st century season for the ages. He’s just turned 23. He won the Tour de France last year. And the young rider jersey. And the mountains jersey. He was the first rider to take 3 jerseys since Merckx in 1972.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) also speaks fluent English and Italian.
He decided to get serious for 2021. Tadej won the UAE Tour. He won Tirreno-Adriatico. He won his first Monument: Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He won the Tour of Slovenia. He demolished the field at the Tour de France, winning by over 5 minutes. He became the youngest rider to win consecutive Tours. He again took three of the four jerseys on offer. He took a bronze medal in the road race at the Olympics. He won his second Monument, the Il Lombardia, the race of the falling leaves.

Liege Bastogne Liege

Tadej Pogačar wins a monument, 2021's Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Sirotti photo

Without a doubt, this was the most complete season for a rider this century. He won the hilliest one-day races. He won the toughest Grand Tour. You can’t ask for more. There have been other cyclists in history with greater seasons. Merckx in 1974, Roche in 1987, and Coppi in 1949 come to mind. But not since the start of the EPO and post-EPO era has a rider dominated as Tadej Pogačar.

But wait a generation. His domestic partner is fellow Slovenian Urška Žigart. She races professionally for UCI World Team Bike Exchange. Should they have kids, that’s one Mariana Trench-deep gene pool.

2021 was a memorable season, made more so by the ability of the riders and teams to excel in our Covid era. Hopefully, as we enter 2022, Covid will ease a bit, and the men and women at the top levels of the sport will have free rein to show their stuff.

You want to talk cycling, find me on Twitter @DStan58.


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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