The teams that disappointed in 2021 are out of the way, so it’s time to look at the bright spots of the season. And there were many! Many great races, revelations and confirmations, the 2021 season had it all. Ok, maybe it was a bit disappointing sitting through a one-week Tour de France before everything got decided but what can we do? The rest of the season more than made up for that!
Let’s then look at the teams that, in the end, are the ones that will take the fondest memories from an unusual but fantastic season.
Lotto Soudal – 12 victories, 8 World Tour (WT) wins
The Belgian team is very dependent on Caleb Ewan to win. As a consequence, the Australian’s crash in the Tour and subsequent injury cost the team arguably their biggest goal this season. Nevertheless, Lotto Soudal was able have a decent season overall, with Ewan taking two stages in the Giro, one in the UAE Tour and another in the Benelux Tour. In addition to this both Ewan and teammate Florian Vermeersch finished two Monuments in second place: Milan Sanremo and the Paris Roubaix. Several other stage wins and top 10 placements in one week stage races make this a passable season for the Belgian team, in my view. Grade: C.
Astana - Premier Tech – 13 wins, 3 WT wins
Basically the opposite of AG2R: I see Astana as the financial powerhouse of the 2010s when, in reality, the team is much smaller now than it used to be. Thus, I will not be overly harsh on them- In my opinion, Astana did the bare minimum to have a passable season. The lack of stage wins in Grand Tours can’t be overlooked but the 4th place of Aleksandr Vlasov in the Giro and the 7th place of Alexey Lutsenko in the Tour are great results. Adding to these two podium places in the Paris-Nice, 2nd place in the Dauphiné, and 3rd place in the Tour de Suisse and it’s clear that despite the lack of World Tour victories the Kazakh team didn’t sleep through the season. Grade: C.
INEOS Grenadiers – 34 wins, 16 WT wins
I do not subscribe to the theory that the richest team must win everything. Especially in cycling where it only takes one scouting mistake for a team to be at a disadvantage in the biggest race in the world. So, the school of thought that gives a negative mark to Ineos’ season just because they didn’t win the Tour de France is too simplistic for me. On the other hand, when a team’s budget is so much bigger than their competitors’, I will take that into consideration. This is the only reason why I can’t consider the season of the Giro winners a complete success.
Winning a Grand Tour isn’t easy and Ineos did it again this season. In addition to finishing 1st and 5th in the Giro, they were on the podium of the Tour (3rd), and barely missed it at the Vuelta (4th and 6th overall). Ineos also won the Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Tour de Suisse and the Dwars door Vlaanderen. So, while Ineos made a scouting mistake by not signing Pogacar before UAE, dozens of other teams also did. Their season was still far from negative. Grade: C+.
EF Education - Nippo – 16 wins, 11 WT wins
Solid season from EF Education Nippo, with a nice number of WT wins, including 4 in Grand Tours (1 in the Giro and 3 in the Vuelta), and the Clasica San Sebastian. Additionally, the team managed two top 10 placements in the Giro and the Tour – 8th with Hugh Carthy and 10th with Rigoberto Urán, respectively. I think this was a very complete season that matched, or even surpassed expectations. Grade: B-.
BORA - Hansgrohe – 30 wins, 8 WT wins
Another good year from the German team. They were able to make up Peter Sagan’s down year with good results from the rest of the team. Bora got 3 Grand Tour stage wins (1 in the Giro and 2 in the Tour), a 5th place overall in the Tour, and overall victories in the Paris-Nice and the Tour of Germany. They added to this the German National Championship, which is extra important to a German team, the points jersey in the Giro and more than two dozen other wins. It was a good year for Bora. Grade: B.
Bahrain - Victorious – 30 wins, 16 WT wins
The surprise team of the season for me. They won at least a stage in all three Grand Tours, the Paris Roubaix, were 1st and 2nd in the Benelux Tour, 2nd in the Giro, 3rd and 5th in the Vuelta, 9th in the Tour, 2nd in the Tour de Pologne, and 3rd in the Tirreno Adriatico. Nobody expected a Giro podium from veteran Damiano Caruso, or a Monument(al) win by the most improved rider of the season, Sonny Colbrelli. Even a Vuelta podium for Jack Haig was a huge surprise for me. Mohoric was supreme as well especially during the second half of the season, and Pello Bilbao achieved an honorable 9th place in the Tour. Most of the names I mentioned far surpassed expectations. In fact, their biggest name before the season, Mikel Landa, was the biggest disappointment on the team. And they still managed a sensational season. Grade: A.
Team Jumbo-Visma – 43 wins, 19 WT wins
Now that the big winning teams are here, these brief descriptions look like the teams’ list of achievements. But those achievements are exactly what made their seasons great. In Jumbo Visma’s case, they added another Grand Tour to their palmarés: the Vuelta a España. To this they further added another Tour de France silver medal, and wins in the Amstel Gold Race, Gent Wevelgem and Tour of the Basque Country. Plus 15 other World Tour wins. This makes for an excellent season in my opinion. Grade: A.
UAE-Team Emirates – 32 wins, 13 WT wins
Any team that wins the Tour de France gets an automatic "A" in my book. The French Grand Tour is massive in terms of publicity, so it’s likely that its winner garnered more publicity just from that than any other team during the season. Which, when sponsorship deals are involved, means a super successful season. UAE Team Emirates ("UAE Team Emirates" and "Tadej Pogacar" can be used interchangeably) not only won the Tour, but also two monuments (Liége-Bastogne-Liége and Il Lombardia) and two WT stage races (UAE Tour and the Tirreno Adriatico).
Just so it’s clear that this team has other riders, Joe Dombrowski also won a stage in the Giro and David de la Cruz managed a 7th overall placement in the Vuelta. Do they ride as a strong cohesive unit that overpowers and demoralizes their opponents? No. Does that matter when they have Tadej Pogacar? Also no. Grade: A.
Deceuninck - Quick Step – 65 wins, 25 WT wins
This team is just a winning machine. Quick Step is one of the biggest teams in the peloton and they showed exactly that this season. The results are too many to list but let’s try to enumerate the biggest ones: 9 stages in Grand Tours (5 in the Tour, 4 in the Vuelta), Ronde van Vlaanderen, Tour de Pologne, E3 Classic, Fléche Wallonne, Brugge-De Panne, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Additionally, they were 6th in the Giro and took the points classifications of the Tour and the Vuelta. Not much more to say, in fact, the sheer number of wins would have been enough. Grade: A+.
This is the final post of this 2-part article looking at the performances of the World Tour teams in 2021. If you made it this far I hope it was worth your time and if you would like to read more pieces like these two, stop by theperfectleadout.com where I write frequently. Thanks if you got here and let’s get ready for 2022!