Spring Classics 2021: Ranking the Standout Riders

Now that Liège-Bastogne-Liège is visible in the rearview mirror, the spring classics period of the 2021 season has come to an end.


Because this is 2021 and nothing is normal, Paris-Roubaix still remains ahead of us. We will have to wait until October for the Queen of the Classics. 


In the meantime, the eyes of the cycling world will be focused on the Grand Tours. First up is the Giro d’Italia, beginning on May 8th.


Before diving fully into the world of stage racing, there is time to take a look back at the spring classics campaign that was. As always, there were certain riders and moments that will stand out as having made the 2021 spring classics memorable. 


Taking that into account, I have attempted to rank the top three riders of the spring classics in the men’s and women’s pelotons. 


(Thank you to FirstCycling for the results and Neal Rodgers for the convenient spreadsheets)


Men’s Riders


Honorable Mentions: Julian Alaphilippe, Tom Pidcock, Jasper Stuyven


3: Mathieu van der Poel


Mathieu van der Poel exploded the spring classics season into life with one of the more dominant victories you are ever likely to see at Strade Bianche back in March. MvdP followed that up with a very solid 5th place at Sanremo in the first monument of the season.


His exploits at Tirreno – Adriatico may have taken some of the sting out of his legs. However, he still managed a 3rd place in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and a 2nd in De Ronde. 


The fact that he did not ride the Ardennes is certainly an argument against him. His top-end brilliance early in the season is enough to overcome that and earn him a spot in the top three. Alaphilippe was more consistent, but he never quite matched van der Poel’s peak.


2: Kasper Asgreen


Kasper Asgreen earns his spot in the top three largely on the back of one incredible week and a half. The Dane did a lot of work for his teammates in the early portion of the spring. At the end of March and the beginning of April, he capitalized on two great opportunities to ride for his own ambitions.


At E3, Asgreen rode solo for over 50 kilometers before being caught by a group of favorites. He took a moment to recover before going solo again inside the final five kilometers to take the victory. 


At the time it was the biggest victory of Asgreen’s career, but it would not stay that way for long. Nine days later, the 26-year-old shocked the heavily favored duo of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. 


Asgreen’s win in Flanders was definitely one of the most memorable performances of the season so far. The fact that it came in a monument only bolsters the argument in his favor.


1: Wout van Aert


Wout van Aert was in contention for victories from the beginning of the spring classics to the end. He started things off with a 4th place at Strade Bianche before sneaking onto the podium of the season’s first monument at Milano-Sanremo.


In the cobbled classics, van Aert took victory at Gent – Wevelgem, finished 6th at Flanders and 2nd at Brabantse Pijl. The Belgian then finished off his spring classics season with a victory at the Amstel Gold Race.


The fact that van Aert picked up a victory in both the northern classics and the Ardennes earned him a lot of points for this list. The 26-year-old also had six top tens in the spring, which was more than any other rider I considered. 


For those reasons, Wout van Aert is my pick for the best male rider in the 2021 spring classics. 


Women’s Riders


Honorable Mentions: Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering and Grace Brown


3: Elisa Longo Borghini


Elisa Longo Borghini led the way in the spring with seven different top tens. 


The Trek-Segafredo rider began her season with a 10th place at Omloop and runners up finish in Strade Bianche. Her standout moment of the spring came in her home country of Italy when she won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda by nearly two minutes.


Longo Borghini certainly was not done there. Her best result on the cobbles was a 4th at De Ronde. In the Ardennes, she finished 8th at Amstel Gold before securing two 3rd places in La Flèche and LBL.


It is true that Anna van der Breggen picked up one more spring victory than Longo Borghini. However, the Italian’s additional podiums and top tens give her the edge.


2: Marianne Vos


After a slightly quiet 2020 (by her standards), Marianne Vos has been on fire in 2021. To this point in the season, she is the only rider with multiple Women’s World Tour victories. 


Vos began her spring road season with a 7th place at Strade Bianche, which she followed up with a 2nd place in Trofeo Alfredo Binda. 


The three time road World Champion picked up her first victory of the season at Gent – Wevelgem at the end of March. Vos also won Amstel Gold in the middle of April before ending her spring season with a 6th place in LBL.


The Dutchwoman’s two WWT victories coming in both the Ardennes and on the cobbles ensured her spot on this list.


1: Annemiek van Vleuten


Annemiek van Vleuten has been ever-present throughout the spring classics season.


Her first top ten of the year came with her 4th place finish in Strade Bianche. Shortly afterwards she secured back to back wins at Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, where she rode away from the field to win in dominant fashion.


The European Champion continued to rack up impressive results in the Ardennes. She finished 3rd at Amstel Gold, 4th at La Flèche Wallonne and 2nd at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. 


Van Vleuten’s stand out moment of the season thus far was her win in De Ronde. However, her consistency in the Ardennes is almost equally impressive. No other rider considered had more top fives throughout the spring.


Final Thoughts on the Spring Classics


These rankings are almost entirely subjective, so feel free to agree or disagree as you see fit. 


I personally put a lot of stock into the monuments, so an April edition of Paris-Roubaix could have significantly altered my final choices. For example, someone like Jasper Stuyven could have forced his way into the top three with a strong showing at Roubaix, given his results in MSR and RvV.


Overall, the spring classics in 2021 were great. There are so many versatile and dynamic riders right now that just about every big race is exciting. 


At the moment, it looks like we are going to see emerging and established superstars go head to head in the classics for years to come. 


That is a very exciting proposition.


– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)

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