Riders 21-30 in our countdown of the 100 Best Road Riders of 2016
21. Alberto Contador
33, Spain, Tinkoff
Much of what Alberto Contador thinks about how his year went can be gauged from the reversal of his decision to retire.
2016 was far from the triumphant swansong he would have hoped for. His dream of winning one last yellow jersey was shattered when a couple of painful crashes in the few two days of racing and later a fever forced him to retire, battered and bruised, on stage nine. He fared better at the Vuelta, but still looked someway short of his best when Esteban Chaves pushed him down to into fourth overall.
The desire to go out on a high will have helped motivate him to continue riding (for new team Trek-Segafredo) into 2017, but so too will the feeling that he still has much to give. Overall victories at the Tour of the Basque Country and the Vuelta a Burgos suggest he’s still got it – with more luck he could still challenge for the Tour de France.
22. Ion Izagirre
27, Spain, Movistar
One of the peloton’s great underrated talents, Ion Izagirre hasn’t perhaps attracted the praise he’s deserved over the years due to the understated way he has selflessly worked at the service of Movistar teammates Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana.
Having turned 27 early in the season, however, the Spaniard this year began to come into his own in several exceptional individual performances. On the penultimate day of the Tour de France he came out on top of a thrilling four-way battle to be first over the finish line in Morzine, in April he won the GP Miguel Indurain, and he used his quality time trialing skills to win stages against the clock at the Tour de Suisse and Tour de Romandie that helped him finish second and third overall respectively.
Having completed a move to Bahrain-Merida, Izagirre looks set to have a deserved chance to ride even more as team leader next season.
23. Dan Martin
30, Ireland, Etixx-QuickStep
Assessing and comparing the worth of achievements across the vast variety of challenges in road cycling is difficult; is it more impressive, for instance, to pop up with occasional fine ride in a one-day classic or stage, or to put in a sustained performance across three weeks to register a high placing on GC?
In the past Dan Martin has excelled in the former, but for 2016 shifted his focus towards finishing as high up the Tour de France overall classification as possible. Ultimately he managed ninth, slightly underwhelming perhaps (given how the month before he’s ranked third at the Dauphiné) but one that proves, following three previous finishes between 33rd and 39th, that he’s capable of making the top-10 in the world’s biggest race.
His explosive climbing style is perhaps not as well suited to a GC bid as he is the Ardennes Classics (he finished third at La Flèche Wallonne this year), but the Irishman has something to build on ahead of next year’s Tour.
24. Alexander Kristoff
29, Norway, Katusha
Sure, Alexander Kristoff might not have pulled off any headline-grabbing coups like his remarkable Tour of Flanders win last year. But in 2016 the Norwegian sprinter made a case to be considered the peloton’s most reliable accumulator of wins.
For the third consecutive year he among the season’s top-four most prolific riders in terms of wins, with Peter Sagan the only WorldTour based rider to better his total of 14.
That may come as a surprise given how he went relatively under the radar, but Kristoff managed to keep that tally ticking over all year from February’s Tour of Qatar to September’s Tour des Fjords, proving himself remarkably efficient at delivering returns for his Katusha team.
He was up there in the biggest races too, finishing fourth at Flanders, sixth at Milan-San Remo and being edged into second twice at the Tour – all he was lacking was a little extra oomph in the finales to convert strong positions into victories.
25. André Greipel
34, Germany, Lotto-Soudal
At the 2015 Tour de France, an ageing sprinter whose best years were apparently behind him surprised everyone by dominating the bunch sprints and clocking up a career-best four wins.
André Greipel didn’t replicate that form this time around, struggling in the first few weeks before rescuing his six-year streak of registering at least one win every Tour with a race-saving victory on the hallowed Champs Élysées.
But throughout the season the big German showed little sign of slowing down, even at the age of 34. In total he claimed 10 wins, generally in reasonably esteemed races like the Tours of Britain and Turkey (rather than the kind of insignificant minor races we used to associate him with), as well as three at the Giro, for which he reserved his best form for that race’s rare flat (or, rather, flatter) early stages. Look out for him to continue winning in the snazzy German National Champion’s jersey next year.
26. Mat Hayman
38, Australia, Orica-BikeExchange
The cobbles, the history, the prestige, and even more cobbles, all come together to make Paris-Roubaix uniquely special on the cycling calendar.
Crossing the line first in the Roubaix Velodrome is one of the biggest victories afforded to those on two wheels.
Mat Hayman was an unlikely winner of the Hell of the North in 2016: riding, as he had done in his other 14 appearances, in the service of others the veteran Australian found himself in a very select group in the closing stages of the race.
With all due respect, he was probably expected to finish fifth out of the five-man group but to his own evident disbelief that wasn’t the case.
One fairytale would have been for four-time winner Tom Boonen to make it a record five, but underdog Hayman pipped the Belgian to the line, threw his arms in the air, did nothing to conceal the shock on his face, and collected his winner’s cobblestone.
Hayman dropped back into the role of domestique for the rest of the season, including riding for Adam Yates at the Tour de France. He also made two separate race appearances on British soil with rides in the Tour de Yorkshire and RideLondon-Surrey Classic.
27. Richie Porte
31, Australia, BMC Racing
Throughout his career, Richie Porte has been plagued by one question – will he ever be able to reproduce his formidable one-week stage race performances in a three-week Grand Tour?
Finally, at the age of 31, he put in a performance at this year’s Tour de France worthy of his talent to finish fifth overall, his highest ever at a Grand Tour and his first top-10 appearance since his breakthrough seventh at his Giro debut six years ago. He might have finished even higher but for the two minutes he lost on stage two due to a puncture, but the fact he managed to bounce back from that setback spoke of a rider with new found resilience and stamina.
Having proven himself capable of competing alongside the Grand Tour elite, the Australian will likely give him the right to challenge for next year’s Tour as BMC’s undisputed leader, where he could push for the podium.
28. Steve Cummings
35, Great Britain, Dimension Data
The golden autumn of Steve Cummings’s career continues with a stellar 2016 season. Early in the year, his 19th place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège was this year’s best finish by a British rider.
The first of three big highlights came with a breakaway win at the Critérium du Dauphiné, followed a few weeks later with the win on stage seven of the Tour de France; at that point Britain and Dimension Data’s fourth stage win. Cummings went away and won the stage by over a minute as he climbed and descended better than those chasing him.
After some controversy and disagreement, Cummings was selected for the Olympics but his presence couldn’t bring Britain a medal in the road race. Later in the season, the man from the Wirral rode a clever race to take the overall victory at the Tour of Britain. The freedom he has been given at Dimension Data, rarely afforded to him elsewhere, has been key to his recent successes.
29. Arnaud Démare
25, France, FDJ
Reports of the Frenchman’s untimely demise turned out to be have been greatly exaggerated. After a barren 2015 many were doubting whether Démare could fulfil the considerable potential shown during his first few years as a pro, but that all changed last spring.
Sprint wins at Paris-Nice and La Mediterraneenne were early hints that he was on good form, but it still came as a surprise to see him crush such high calibre opposition at Milan-San Remo to win what felt like a career-defining victory.
Regrettably, that result might be best remembered for the allegations from a couple of riders that Démare benefited from a tow in the finale, but nevertheless still solidified his ability as a sprinter and a Classics rider.
He went on to register a couple of second places at the Giro and at Paris-Tours – still better results likely lie on the horizon for the 25-year-old.
30. Katarzyna Niewiadoma
22, Poland, Rabo-Liv
When a 21-year-old rider bags 10 wins in a season the world should take notice. While two of Niewiadoma’s successes were Polish national road and time trial championships, the remaining victories were in quality events against accomplished opposition.
Niewiadoma, who was 22 at the end of September, won a second consecutive youth classification at the Giro Rosa and topped the WorldTour young rider competition at the end of the season. Though her slight frame is built for climbing she is a decent time triallist and had the punch to come close at Strade Bianche, where tactical impatience saw Lizzie Deignan outwit her on the final climb.
For the last three years at Rabo-Liv she has been allowed to mature while older riders have taken the lead. However, a restructure of the team, and the loss of some experience, is likely to bring the burden of leadership more regularly to her young shoulders.