We chart the highs and lows of a memorable season on the road
On reflection, we can be pleased with the 2021 racing season. Not just us (as Trek-Segafredo), but as part of the larger professional cycling community. Riders, teams and fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the season was able to proceed (almost) without a hitch. Of course, we were sad to miss our normal appointment in Australia to renew our razor-sharp tan lines, but we were racing close to a pre-pandemic calendar – and thrilled!
(Scroll down for Part 2)
A quick start
Our men kicked off their season at Étoile de Bessèges, where Edward Theuns and Mads Pedersen came close, but just missed out on taking our first win of the season. However, we didn’t have to wait for long to enjoy the sweet taste of victory. Reliable Bauke Mollema caught his opponents napping on the first stage of the Tour du Var. The Dutchman snuck away in the final few hundred meters of the uphill finish, eventually crossing the line just a second ahead of the bunch and with enough time to raise his arms aloft. Heading into the third and final stage we had three cards to play for the overall win: Bauke, Giulio Ciccone and Gianluca Brambilla. It was the latter who emerged victorious. Brambi took the race into his own hands early on, eventually dropping his fellow escapees to win the stage and GC in a solo move – his first victory since 2016.
While we were celebrating Brambi’s win, we were already racing in a different continent at the UAE Tour. In Stage 1 our neo-pro Mattias Skjelmose emerged from the desert in the select lead group alongside Emils Liepins and Kiel Reijnen after crosswinds decimated the peloton. Savvy riding and solid climbing performances netted our young Dane 6th place in his first-ever WorldTour race.
Next, we swapped desert for cobbles in the Belgian ‘Opening Weekend’; for the classics the ‘real’ start of the racing season. Omloop het Nieuwsblad was a race to forget, but we bounced back the following day in the best way: Mads Pedersen caught the lead group in the closing kilometres and linked up with lead-out man extraordinaire Jasper Stuyven. The end result? Mads added another classic to his palmarès.
Our momentum carried into March with Bauke Mollema picking up another trademark solo win at Trofeo Laigueglia. Four days later he almost repeated the feat at GP Larciano, but was pipped on the line by Mauri Vansevanant. Mads Pedersen came close to another one-day win with a 2nd at Bredene Koksijde Classic before we returned our attention to Italy for the first Monument of the season: Milan-Sanremo (aka La Primavera).
Despite lining up with 2018 winner Vincenzo Nibali, it was puncheur Jasper Stuyven who survived the accelerations up the Poggio and the blistering descent down to Via Roma. Sensing the moment, Stuyven rolled the dice, then hung on by meters to win his first Monument. The fun didn’t stop there – Matteo Moschetti continued our winning streak the next day with a superb sprint at Per Sempre Alfredo.
Unfortunately, the winning streak didn’t continue into the cobbled Classics. Covid-19 positives ruled us out of Gent-Wevelgem, leaving Mads Pedersen unable to defend his title. We were glad to be able to race the final two spring cobbled races: Dwars door Vlaanderen and De Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). Jasper Stuyven’s strong performance netted his best-ever result at De Ronde in 4th place. However, we were left wondering what might have been had our preparations not been disturbed by Covid, and with Paris-Roubaix rescheduled to October, we had to wait for a shot at redemption.
The Classics continued in the Ardennes, but not before Brabantse-Pijl. Toms Skujins sniffed out the winning move and took a pleasing 5th behind winner Tom Pidcock. In the Ardennes Classics, Bauke Mollema was our man, netting 11th and 8th at Flèche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège respectively.
With the Classics out of the way, it was time for the next great appointment of the season: The Giro d’Italia (la Corsa Rosa). Disaster struck just weeks before the start of the race – Vincenzo Nibali crashed in training, breaking his wrist. With incredible determination, Nibali willed himself to the start line in Turin, though due to the injury he started with a free role, rather than racing for GC as originally intended. Alongside Nibali were Giulio Ciccone and Bauke Mollema, two strong candidates to achieve one of our main goals: to win a stage.
The Giro started well for Ciccone. After a so-so opening time trial, the Italian went toe-to-toe with Egan Bernal and climbed up the general classification with each uphill finish. At the first rest day, Cicco sat in 4th position in GC and a decision was made to shift his focus to the overall competition.
The second week continued well although a hiccup on the gravel in Stage 11 cost Ciccone a fistful of seconds, while Mollema continued his aggressive hunt for a stage. Sadly, the dream didn’t work out in the final week. A heap of bad luck eventually resulted in Cicco abandoning the race. However, we saw many bright spots during the three weeks in Italy, especially our young Italian’s performances in the mountains.
Whilst we were busy in Italy another two top results slipped under the radar – Edward Theuns nailed his sprint to take the win in the final stage of the Tour de Hongrie whilst young Antonio Tiberi impressed in the uphill finishes, eventually finishing on the GC podium in Budapest.
We’ve reached the midpoint of the season and midpoint in this tale. In Part 2, you can look forward to reliving the Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Paris-Roubaix.
In part one of our 2021 wrap, we relived the highs and lows of the first half of the season, culminating with a tumultuous Giro d’Italia. Only three weeks separated the Giro and the Tour de France in 2021 due to the Olympics schedule. Jasper Stuyven showed his pre-Tour form with some strong placings at the Criterium du Dauphiné, however, we lamented the crash and subsequent concussion of Mads Pedersen, which forced him to abandon the race early.
The Tour is the Tour
Before we could say ‘’Bonjour!’’ the Tour had arrived. The Grand Départ was in Brittany, the beating heart of French cycling (Audrey Cordon-Ragot will back us up!). We started the Tour with a varied team built to target stage wins on all terrains.
Jasper Stuyven kept us on the edge of our seats on Stage 7, eventually finishing second in an all-out race of attrition for 249 kilometers. Stage 11 featured a double ascent of the mythic Mont Ventoux, so we pitched three climbers into the break – Julien Bernard, Bauke Mollema, and Kenny Elissonde. Bernard picked up the bulk of the work, sacrificing himself for Mollema’s or Elissonde’s chance at victory. On a memorable day, Wout van Aert crested Ventoux in the lead, Elissonde and Mollema were next, while the GC battle followed, hot on their heels. A furious chase between the three groups unfolded for 23 downhill kilometers. Van Aert held on for the win, followed by an exhausted Elissonde and Mollema, who crossed the line arm in arm having given everything.
We came so close to victory we could almost taste it, but we had to wait another three days for the sweet savour. Stage 14 was a medium mountain stage that headed into the foothills of the Pyrenees. Like many other days, Mollema joined the breakaway. There were five categorized climbs, and Mollema bided his time until the last, launching an attack over the Col de Saint Louis. The experienced Dutchman had chosen his moment perfectly, surprising his fellow escapees. Bauke rode away solo, the breakaway helpless to catch him. Mollema drove full gas to the finish in Quillan to claim his second-ever Tour de France stage, once more in his trademark style. We had accomplished what we set out to do.
The first of many
Away from cycling’s center stage another race had started in Belgium – the Tour de Wallonie. A feisty Quinn Simmons took the third stage into his own hands by attacking the field and eventually outsprinting the only man able to hold his wheel. The stage win earned him the race lead, and the young American held onto it through the final two stages to win the overall classification too. Neo-pro Simmons can now count two wins on his professional tally, and we know more are on the horizon.
Mads Pedersen’s Tour de France was a far cry from what he had expected. Starting on the back foot, the Dane had hoped to ride into good form during the race but was blighted by crashes throughout the three weeks. Still, he persevered. His grimaces in the mountains were replaced by a smile every evening. Despite the bad luck, his positive outlook couldn’t be knocked. By the time the Danmark Rundt (Tour of Denmark) rolled around, Pedersen had overcome his injuries and found the form he was seeking in France.
Mads rebounded with a Scandinavian brace, taking emphatic victories in Denmark and Norway in the space of 10 days. In his homeland the former World Champion won Stage 2, an uphill sprint perfectly suited to his strengths. After five days of racing and a strong final time trial, Pedersen finished his home tour in 2nd place.
In Norway, victory came on the third day of racing, a scenic stage in Jørpeland. Despite his excellent sprint, Pedersen attacked early and led over the final climb. Hounded by the peloton, he was caught inside the final 10 kilometers but recovered enough to still outsprint the field after a faultless leadout from compatriot Mattias Skjelmose.
The Spanish Grand Tour was the first time that Giulio Ciccone had shouldered the responsibility of leadership. At the first rest day Cicco was sitting in a respectable 7th position after riding strong on the climbs with teammate Juan Pedro López. The fatigue of a long season began to set in during week two before fresh disaster struck on Stage 16. Just like the Giro, a crash spelled the end of Ciccone’s three-week campaign.
Now without a leader to support, López had the green light to ride for the GC and impressively moved two places up the table to finish in 13th. Meanwhile, in pursuit of his first Grand Tour stage win, Quinn Simmons found the right breakaway on Stage 19. The 20-year-old American rode a thrilling race, netting a podium result in his first race of three weeks.
Since the Tokyo Olympics, Vincenzo Nibali had been building form. His time as a Trek-Segafredo rider was nearing its end, but he had a big target remaining: the Giro di Sicilia. It is a race particularly close to the Shark’s heart with four stages around his beloved Sicily.
Nibali kept us waiting until the last gasp. On the fourth and final stage, he attacked on the last climb, some 25 kilometers from the finish. The Shark crested alone and enjoyed an emotional descent to win the stage and overall. It was like ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ but better in the cycling world than Hollywood’s version.
We finished the season with 19 victories, which included an unforgettable Monument and a vintage Tour de France stage. Ten different riders took the spoils and we all shared the emotions.
And that, our dear fans, is a wrap.