Note: this is about riders who retired at or close to the end of the season (Tejay Van Garderen’s retirement, for example, was already extensively covered at the time). The same with Fabio Aru – despite retiring after the Vuelta, it was also heavily covered during the three weeks of the race. These were not considered.
10 – Nathan Haas (Final team: Cofidis)
The Australian is only 32 years old but decided to switch from road cycling to gravel cycling at the end of the season. He explained this decision by saying that covid changed the intensity of racing and that actually having had covid and not having been able to recover completely made him realize it was time for a change.
The biggest feat of his career was winning the 2011 Tour of Britain, after the disqualification of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. This year his best result was a 10th place in the Paris-Camembert.
9 – Moreno Hofland (Final team: EF Education – Nippo)
Sadly, Hofland was forced to retire at the end of the season due to exercise induced stomach problems. The Dutchman only started three races in 2021 and didn’t finish any of them. His last show of potential was in the 2020 Jayco Sun Tour right before the pandemic started, where he got three stage podium finishes.
His most famous achievement is a stage win in the 2014 Paris Nice, where he beat John Degenkolb, Nacer Bouhanni, Alexander Kristoff, and Thor Hushovd.
8 – Manuel Belletti (Final team: EOLO-Kometa)
Now a more classic retirement. Manuel Belletti enjoyed a successful career and decided to call it a career at the end of the season (after the GP Piemonte, to be precise).
Belletti wished his final season had been different but that doesn’t erase a very good career, defined by a stage win in the 2010 Giro d’Italia. The pandemic wasn’t helpful to anyone but seems to have been particularly harsh on the Italian rider. He was competitive up until the Vuelta a San Juan, right before the pandemic started. Afterwards, he never regained his form up until the end of his career.
7 – Jelle Vanendert (Final team: Bingoal – Wallonie Bruxelles)
In the early 2010s, after Philippe Gilbert and Cadel Evans left the Lotto team, it seemed like Vanendert was going to claim a leadership role in the Belgian team alongside Andre Greipel and Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Ultimately, that did not happen, but Vanendert still stayed with Lotto until the 2020 season and achieved several important results for the Belgian team. None more so than a stage win in the 2011 Tour de France. And not just any stage but the one finishing at the Plateau De Beille. Just the names the Belgian defeated that day give a sense of the magnitude of this win: Samuel Sanchez, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and Rigoberto Uran.
Vanendert also placed three times on the podium of spring classics, twice in the Amstel Gold Race (2012, 2014) and once in the Fleche Wallone (2018).
6 – Marco Marcato (Final team: UAE-Team Emirates)
I don’t want to be blasphemous, but, just like Vanendert, there was a span of one or two year during the beginning of the 2010s that Marco Marcato could have become the type of rider Sonny Colbrelli eventually became in 2021.
He won the Paris Tours in 2012 after being 2nd in 2011, was 3rd in the 2011 Tour de Pologne, won the 2011 Tour de Vendée, and was 2nd in the 2010 Tour de Wallonie. Among other important results.
Obviously, those performances from the early 2010s did not improve or even repeat in the later half of the Italian’s career. With age and a reduced individual role in his teams came less stellar individual performances. His last important individual result dates back to 2018: a 5th place in stage 18 of the Giro.
Still, Marcato was a complete rider that enjoyed a successful career.
5 – Nicolas Roche (Final team: Team DSM)
From now on riders will not need any presentation. Nicolas Roche achieved a great career, despite the enormous pressure put on him by his father’s legacy. Two-time Vuelta stage winner and two-time top-10 finisher (5th and 6th in 2013 and 2010), Roche was a very skilled climber that also has eleven top-25 finishes in Grand Tours.
Perhaps his biggest regret was his inability to win a stage at the Tour, or even finish in the top-10 (12th in 2012). He came close in 2009, finishing 2nd on stage 14 of that year’s Tour.
As a huge fan of the Vuelta, I’ll always remember Roche as a fantastic rider. The Irishman always seemed to peak in the Spanish GT. Thanks for those memories!
No, Kreuziger was not yet retired. To be fair to the Czech rider his downfall wasn’t as pronounced as most of us remember. In 2016 he finished the Tour in 10th place, and, in 2018, he was 2nd in the Amstel Gold Race, and placed in the top-10 in the Fleche Wallonne and Liege Bastogne Liege.
With that being said, relative to expectations, I don’t remember off the top of my head a bigger downfall than Kreuziger’s. In 2009, at just 23 years old, he finished the Tour de France in 8th place. The following year he improved to 7th. A year after he was 5th in the Giro at just 25 years of age. Not to mention that he won the Tour de Suisse at 22 and the Tour of Romandie and the Clasica de San Sebastian at 23.
By 25 Kreuziger’s palmares was better than 99% of professional riders achieve in a career. From then on he would only place on the podium of GTs twice more.
As I mentioned, he wasn’t anonymous from 26 onwards, far from it. Still won a stage in the Giro in 2012, the Amstel Gold Race in 2013, and finished 5th in the 2013 Tour, for example. But certainly didn’t live up to the prodigy label from the beginning of his career.
3 – Dan Martin (Final team: Israel Start-Up Nation)
Even in his final year as a pro Dan Martin wins a stage and finishes the Giro in the top-10.
Not much to say really when his resumé speaks for itself. Dan Martin is a two-time Monument winner (2013 Liege Bastogne Liege and 2014 Il Lombardia), won stages in every Grand Tour, finished every GT in he top-10, and won the 2013 Tour of Catalunya and the 2010 Tour de Pologne.
Perhaps he should have focused on the classics early in his career instead of searching for that elusive GT podium (the closest he came was in the 2020 Vuelta, where he finished 4th). Still, I’m certainly not going to be the one telling a rider as great as Dan Martin what he should have done. His career speaks for itself.
Alongside Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin is the only rider to be a four-time world time-trial champion. When your name is alongside Fabian Cancellara’s you know you’re doing something well. And Tony Martin did a lot of things well. He won five stage in the Tour, two in the Vuelta, and the 2011 Paris Nice. His domestique work during the latest years of his career were nothing short of sensational. Has anyone controlled the peloton in big races as long as Tony Martin has in the last 5 years?
He also won the German time trial championship a record ten times throughout his career. In fact, since 2010, when he won it for the first time, only Bert Grabsch ever beat him in that race (in 2011). From 2012 Tony Martin won every single edition. To put it another way, the 22nd of June of 2012 was the last time the German national time trial champion’s jersey was worn by someone not named Tony Martin.
I think that sums up the career of one of the greatest pure time trialists ever better than anything else.
Regardless of the last two years of his career, it’s important not to forget that Andre Greipel is one of the best sprinters ever. He has 21 total GT stage wins (11 in the Tour, 7 in the Giro, and 4 in the Vuelta) along with the points classification of the 2009 Vuelta. The 2015 Hamburg Cyclassics is probably his most notable one day race victory.
Ever since leaving Lotto at the end of the 2018 season he was never the same. Happily, he managed to win a stage in the 2021 Ruta del Sol to remind everybody who he is. His final participation in the Tour de France was also much better than in the two previous seasons, finishing five stages in the top-10, including a 5th place in Paris.
His last big chance to win a race before retirement was at the Tour of Britain, when he came in 2nd in the last stage, being bested only by Wout Van Aert. Funnily, his final race was the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, in Germany, where he finished 10th, in a race won by his biggest rival, Mark Cavendish.
Not the final three years his career deserved, but a very honorable end for one of the best sprinters of all-time.