As 2023 draws to a close, we thought it was time to reflect on an exciting year of professional cycling, first by looking back at our favourite races of the year, and then by taking a look at who we'd pick as our riders of the year. There are no real parameters for any of our choices, it's just down to personal opinion. If you vehemently agree, disagree, or want to suggest something, feel free to email email@example.com.
Paris-Roubaix Femmes - Tom Davidson
I will never forget the moment Roubaix Velodrome fell silent in April. It was only for a second, but when Lotte Kopecky turned onto the beat-up boards, and it became clear she wouldn’t catch the breakaway, the fans in the stands stared in amazement.
Alison Jackson went on to win Paris-Roubaix Femmes, of course, making history as the first Canadian to win a Monument. The way she crafted that victory was masterful, too. She gambled on the early breakaway, captained it through the race, and then drove it almost single handedly to the line.
The gap to the chasers swung out and then fell to within seconds. I followed the finale from the big screen in the outdoor velodrome, and I’ve never felt will-they-won’t-they tension like it.
What I liked most about that race, though, is how much it meant to everyone. Everyone was delighted for Jackson. Her teammates cried as she lifted her cobble trophy. One of the first people to congratulate her was Kopecky, the day’s big favourite, who gave her former teammate a long, warm hug.
When I interviewed Jackson for our latest mag issue, she told me that people now stop her in the street to tell her what it meant to them. “They tell me where they were when they watched the race,” she said. “I mean, it’s my experience, it’s my life, I won the race, and it’s my achievement, but it’s bigger than me. It meant a lot to a lot of different people who watched it and were inspired by it.”
Giro d'Italia - James Shrubsall
There's always something a bit special about the Giro d'Italia. The first Grand Tour of the season and invariably beautiful, it's highly anticipated every year.
This season offered a little bit extra though, with an 'up to 11' GC battle that had something for everyone and enthralling side shows that included a superb battle for sprinting supremacy, and the emergence of exciting riders such as Ben Healy and Derek Gee.
The race began with much-fancied Remco Evenepoel taking an emphatic win in the opening time trial and taking charge of the GC in what would turn out to be Act I of a three-part drama.
Act II came about when Evenepoel was forced to retire after falling ill – but not before winning the race's second time trial on stage nine.
Geraint Thomas inherited Evenepoel's maglia rosa, and while it was awarded by default, he went on to earn it good and proper over the next 10 stages, with some great riding as the mountains began to bite in week three. His campaign was also characterised by attempting to put as much time into Primož Roglič – now his main rival – ahead of the final mountain time trial.
But Roglič remained within 26sec, setting up a nail-biting finale that ultimately satisfied a third set of GC fans thanks to a 40sec win by the Slovenian for a narrow 14 second victory in Rome the next day.
Tour of Flanders - Adam Becket
I’d been to the Tour of Flanders as a journalist before, but this year I went as a fan. It is safe to say I preferred the latter. The day before the race, I completed the smallest version of the race’s sportive, so I really got to see how horrible the bergs of Flanders are for myself; the Koppenberg and Paterberg are truly as horrible as they look on TV, while the Oude Kwaremont is surprisingly my idea of fun.
Race day itself, I was stood at the side of the Kwaremont as first Tadej Pogačar and then Lotte Kopecky surged past. Both the men’s and women’s Flanders were outstanding races, made all the better by the fact I was witness to the crucial parts of the whole day, as both winning attacks took place on the storied cobbles of the Kwaremont. The fact both winners were also - arguably - the best riders in the world really helps cement this in my head as the best race of the year, and it is also aided by the Belgian beer I was imbibing.
Truth told, I might choose Flanders every year, as I truly think it is the perfect race, but the battle in both the men’s and women’s races, paired with the crushing inevitablity and power of the winners in the end, made these editions special.
It's just a shame that the crowds were so much bigger for Pogačar than they were for Kopecky.
World Championships men's elite MTB XCO - Tom Thewlis
I had never seen a mountain bike race in person before this summer so I was determined to rectify that at the World Championships in Scotland.
Getting to witness Pidcock’s gold medal ride in the cross-country race in Glentress Forest certainly didn’t disappoint.
Once the action got underway it was a solid reminder as to why he is the current reigning Olympic champion. He dominated the final laps of the course with several well-measured, explosive efforts which kept Sam Gaze at bay.
Even more impressive was the fact that he pulled it all off despite late issues with malfunctioning gears. A remarkable feat considering the calibre of riders that he had breathing down his neck at that point.
Once Pidcock had distanced his rivals it was simply beguiling to watch what happened next as he thundered to victory. It had all the hallmarks of an athlete well and truly at the top of his game and it was a real pleasure to witness in person.
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