The list of the best professional cyclists of the Modern Era has been updated with the results from the 2021 season. After the abbreviated 2020 season when there wasn’t much action due to the shortened calendar (thank you Covid), this past season was one of the more active in the Top 50 of these rankings in recent memory. There’s a lot of ground to cover with this update, so I’m going to break it up over a couple of posts.
If you want to dispense with my analysis and jump right to the rankings, here’s a link to the Top 100 of 2021 PDF.
I’m not sure how many times in the past there have been four active riders in the Top 25, but it is not something that has happened for a long time. If I were to somehow figure out a way to retroactively look at the rankings at any point in time prior to the publication of Peloton Legends in 2019, I’m guessing that there might have been five active cyclists during the mid to late 70s when Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Gimondi, Poulidor, and Ocaña all would have accumulated enough points to perhaps have been in the Top 25 at the same time. In the mid 80s there were Zoetemelk, Moser, Hinault, Kelly, and Saronni who might also been in the Top 25 for a brief time together when they were still racing.
Doing this type of backward analysis gets a bit dicey when looking at the 60’s, 50s, and especially the post-war eras, as I just have no idea who might have accumulated enough points at any point during those periods to have made the list; a problem further compounded by the fact that many of the races included in the current scoring system would not have been included during those earlier time periods. My guess is that there would have probably been at least 4-6, or more, active riders in the Top 25 at any given time. Again, this was especially true for the post-war period, as the Top 25 would all have been active riders since that’s when this scoring system first takes effect.
The 90s and the Aughts were a fallow period for active cyclists occupying the Top 25, even if I were to include the now removed results of Lance Armstrong (there will be an upcoming post addressing this topic). If I were to turn back the clock ten years to the end of the 2011 season, there is a good chance that there was not a single active cyclist in the Top 25. Contador, Boonen, and Cancellara would have been closest, but I don’t think any of them would have accumulated enough points at that time to have made the cut.
The bottom line is that after a lengthy stretch of time, it appears that professional cycling has returned to a norm - prior to the 90s - when numerous legends of the sport were active in the Top 25 at the same time.
Here are the current active riders in the Top 25 as of year-end 2021:
Alejandro Valverde - #10
Chris Froome - #16
Vincenzo Nibali - #23
Peter Sagan - debuting in the Top 25 at #24
It is worth noting that Primož Roglič now occupies the #35 slot, only 16 points away from unseating Erik Zabel from the 25th position, which would have him join the other all-time greats listed above. Given his point production over the past several years, it could very well happen next year.
I’ll take a closer look at all the results and movement of all the active cyclists in the Top 100 in my next post, including the resurrection of Mark Cavendish, and of course Tadej Pogačar, who vaulted on to the list with his extraordinary debut at the 69th spot.
I don’t know about you, but based on analyzing these rankings and race results, I can’t help but feel that something has changed within our sport; we are now looking at a new era that is much more like those of the post-war period through the end of the 80s. It would seem the best professional cyclists are now interested in the top step of the podium no matter the time of year or type of race. Maybe the era of extreme specialization is coming to end. Maybe oxygen vector doping no longer has a stranglehold on shaping the results of the race calendar. Whatever the reason, it’s a refreshing change.
As a reminder, t-shirts, mugs, beanies, and hats are available for the Top 10 cyclists. Click here to visit the Peloton Legends store.
Peloton Legends: Ranking the Top 100 Cyclists of the Modern Era is available at Amazon (US site). For international customers outside of the US, the book is available in nearly all local Amazon marketplaces.