Rapha Racing Panache Cycling Awards 2020

Panache 2020

After a bizarre but brilliant year of racing, founder Simon Mottram, staff and friends of Rapha pick their stand out moments.

23 December 2020

They say that history only remembers who finishes first. And in many sports, including cycling, that often rings true. But as the script was ripped up by the pandemic in 2020, the stage was set for a season unlike any other. After months of watching replays, cycling fans the world over were crying out for the return of racing.

But it wasn’t displays of dominance or marginal gains that fans were at pains to see. They wanted to watch riders roll the dice, rather than think twice. They wanted to see chaotic races, not controlled ones, and this season it seemed even the most staunchly scientific teams were finally listening.

Recognising what the Rapha Roadmap pointed out years ago, the architect of cycling’s most recent era of domination, David Brailsford, seems to have realised that it’s not how many races you win, but how you win them that counts. Along with other influential figures in the sport, he has seen that whilst winning with regularity is satisfying, winning in style is just so much more fun. Perhaps panache ought to outstrip performance on their list of priorities?

But what is panache? All too often dismissed as vanity or nostalgia, panache is a flamboyant confidence of style or manner. In cycling, it is about throwing caution to the wind, risking a good result for the chance of a great one, wearing your heart on your sleeve and leaving everything out on the road.

If results are cycling’s currency, then panache represents its soul. And happily for us fans, fortune was bound to favour the brave this season. For four glorious months from August to November, chaos reigned in the peloton and it was panache, not performance, that mattered most. Here are Rapha’s picks of the finest performances during the 2020 season.


World Championships Road Race

From guts and glory to finish line gaffs, it’s never boring with King Julian around. Even though he dazzled with a stage win at the start of the Tour, there was a sense that the Frenchman’s form had faded by the time the Worlds came around. For much of the race, the peloton was flat, resigned to watching Wout van Aert romp into the rainbow stripes, until Alaphilippe added a little effervescence with 13 kilometres remaining. Like a jack in the box, he sprung away on the final climb, flinging his bike from side to side and leaving the best of the rest playing for second place. With the cost of his effort writ large on his face, he soloed home to an emotional victory, dedicated to his father who passed away in June. Vintage Alaphilippe, victory for cycling.


Stage 9, Tour de France

After missing out to Alaphilippe in Nice, Marc Hirschi won the twelfth stage of the Tour into Sarran but it was his long range attack on stage 9 that impressed us. After fighting tooth and nail for 50km to get into the break, the 22-year-old went solo on the Col du Soudet and, after a descending masterclass, it looked as though he’d done enough for the win with a buffer of four minutes. He’d certainly done enough to deserve it but, unfortunately for the Swiss, Tadej Pogacar had other ideas, attacking from behind and dragging a group of favourites up to him with less than two kilometres remaining. The Slovene then won the sprint. Hard lines for Hirschi, who learned that the greatest results are those we fight hardest to achieve.


Giro d'Italia

Though he couldn’t quite make the maglia rosa his own, in João Almeida Portugal has found its next cycling star. Remarkably, in a Giro dominated by younger riders, Almeida finished only third in the young rider classification but that equated to fourth on overall GC and overlooks the Portuguese’s lionheart performances in defence of the pink jersey he held for no fewer than fifteen days. During that time, there were numerous occasions where Almeida lost the wheel and looked to be wavering only to regain his composure, dig deeper still into his reserves of grit and salvage a superb result. It took the mighty Stelvio to eventually divest him of pink, and even then he kept legends like Vincenzo Nibali behind him. A bright future lies ahead, and we can’t wait to watch it.


Liège - Bastogne - Liège

Just as it has in so many previous years, the latest edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège ignited on the Côte de la Redoute where Lizzie Deignan attacked the group of favourites and went clear. With her Trek-Segafredo teammate Ellen van Dijk patrolling the group of pursuers, it seemed that all hope of an exciting finale had been lost until Grace Brown rolled the dice on the final climb. A former Australian time trial champion, the Mitchelton-Scott rider went all in with 14km to go, reducing Deignan’s once sizable gap to just ten seconds four kilometres out. Unfortunately for Brown, she ran out of road and wasn’t able to make any further inroads, though a reward for her bravery came in the form of a victory at De Brabantse Pijl just three days later.


Stage 18, Tour de France

With their leader Bernal out of the race with back pain, Ineos’ well trodden path to overall victory was ripped up. But rather than sulking, the team’s talented gregarios turned into true Grenadiers. Only money can buy a team the ability to place a Giro winner and a former world champion in the break but the way that Carapaz and Kwiatkowski combined to cut their rivals loose was priceless. Swaggeringly confident in their ability to prevail, the duo put on a swashbuckling, smiling performance before crossing the line as brothers in arms. The finish line grins were charming but it wasn’t until the Giro reached Milan that David Brailsford first signalled the lasting legacy that this victory could have. Far from asphyxiating races, Ineos had animated them, discovering a new style of racing that we hope is here to stay.


Stage 4, Tour de Pologne

We tend to steer clear of outlandish margins of victory or dominant team performances with these awards. But sometimes, there is an exception. Remco Evenepoel has always been an exception. Competing at the top level of the sport earlier than anyone thought possible, the Belgian already boasts an incredible palmarès but his solo stage win in Poland was remarkable even by his standards. Fuelled by worry for his teammate Fabio Jakobsen, seriously injured earlier in the race, Evenepoel simply took off and left the rest of the peloton for dust. By the time he crossed the finish line with his teammate’s race number held aloft, only Fuglsang, Yates and Majka were within three minutes of him. There had been no tactics, no plan, this was a young rider at the top of his game racing on pure emotion.


Stage 20, Giro d'Italia

Heroic on the eighteenth stage over the Stelvio, Rohan Dennis reached new heights in his role as Tao Geoghegan Hart’s super domestique on the Giro’s penultimate stage. Having earned a reputation as a troublemaker within his own team at Bahrain-Merida, the Australian has switched to causing trouble only for other teams. After shedding everyone but Jai Hindley on the first two ascents of Sestrieres, Dennis determinedly stuck around for the third, knowing that his presence would surely sap his fellow Australian’s morale. If he couldn’t drop Dennis, what hope did he have of distancing Geoghegan Hart? The mind games worked, Tao won the stage, and Dennis mopped up third for his troubles.


Strade Bianche

Under a baking summer sun, Alé-BTC-Ljubljana’s Mavi García was the only rider tough enough to make an early attack stick in the hills around Siena. In fact, she’d done far more than make it stick and with just 25 kilometres left, the Spaniard had a lead of over three minutes. But there’s always Annemiek van Vleuten to contend with and in typically astonishing style the Dutch rider bridged across to García on the outskirts of the city. But rather than bowing her head after a long, hot day out front, García gathered herself, tracked Van Vleuten and prepared for a battle royale on the ascent to the Piazza del Campo. García made the first move and, though she was ultimately overcome, her willingness to take the race to Van Vleuten was a bold strategy few riders are strong or brave enough to pursue.


Stage 9, Giro d'Italia

Nominated by Charly Wegelius, EF Pro Cycling directeur sportif

My nomination is Ruben Guerreiro’s Giro stage victory. To build that win he manifested exactly what a winning bike racer should be: calculating, smart, but nonetheless able to tap into deep running emotions at just the right moment. In the early stages of the race he was calculating and ruthless, keeping his head cool and saving his energy for the final. While this drove his rivals to distraction, he managed to play the situation to his advantage. In the final metres he unleashed his passion and grit to win the sprint, and the explosion of joy on winning the stage showed us all how much it meant to him and the team.


Stage 17, Vuelta a España

Grand Tours are normally sewn up by the penultimate stage but if this year has shown us anything, it’s that this isn’t always true. After nail biting final time trials in Italy and France, the Vuelta came down to a showdown on the slopes of the Alto de la Covatilla where Richard Carapaz was never going to settle for second place, not without a fight. Blighted by a headwind on the lower section of the climb, the Ecuadorian took flight above the clouds. With his hands anchored on the drops and his sunglasses discarded, he stared straight down the camera and made for the finishing line with the most swashbuckling move we’ve seen all year. Though he ultimately came up short, Carapaz was gracious in defeat and among the first to offer Primož Roglič his congratulations at the summit.


Stage 12, Vuelta a España

The platform Carapaz needed to escape that day was provided, of course, by young Brit Hugh Carthy of EF Pro Cycling who consistently animated the race with near constant attacks. Though he couldn’t keep up with Carapaz on stage 17, Carthy was more than a match for everyone on the fiendishly steep Alto de l’Angliru. Whilst his rivals were struggling to turn the cranks, Carthy used the steepest 28% section of the climb to grind out the gutsiest of wins. And when asked how he had found the steep slopes of the Angliru in his post-race interviews, the young Brit casually quipped that it wasn’t even the toughest climb he’d ridden. Perhaps there are walls steeper still near his hometown of Preston?


Cyclocross World Championships

Nominated by Maghalie Rochette, CX World Cup race winner

This race was always going to be won by a Dutch rider but the process of finding out which was electrifying. There were no team orders here, rather shoulder to shoulder racing on the straights and daring overtaking manoeuvres in the corners. Lucinda Brand, Annemarie Worst and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado all led at points during the final lap but the latter’s last gasp dash for the line was irresistible. And after tensions ran high in the race, emotions ran higher still afterwards, with Worst crying uncontrollably on the podium. This was cross at its mud-spattered, visceral best and though all three riders played their part, only one could stand atop the podium and appear in these awards. Take a bow, Ceylin.


Stage 10, Giro d'Italia

Remember this guy? A triple world champion and seven times green jersey winner, Peter Sagan had it all, until he stopped winning. After losing out to Sam Bennett at the Tour and extending his winless streak to well over a year, the Slovak arrived at the Giro in crisis, or so the cycling media would have you believe. Sagan didn’t see it that way and reminded everyone that class is permanent with his win on the sodden tenth stage into Tortoreto. After forging clear on the flat with world time trial champion Filippo Ganna, the ever-versatile Sagan rode reputable climbers like Dario Cataldo off his wheel in the hills on the final run in. The rains had come, the drought was over and Sagan had only one question: why so serious?



Although increasingly driven by numbers – from watts to WorldTour points – professional cycling remains an emotional affair. Most entries on this list are fine examples of riding on emotion, but some people live their entire lives on it. Mark Cavendish has laid his feelings bare more than most but no previous occasion has felt so raw as his interview after Gent-Wevelgem. At the time, Cav was without a contract for 2021 and sobbed as he admitted to reporters that he might have raced for the last time. Despite having long since run out of doubters to disprove and races to win, the Manxman loves the sport so much he was visibly upset at the prospect of leaving it. His tears belied an unerring will to continue riding, which we cannot help but find endearing. Never change, Cav.


Stage 5, Binckbank Tour

Without a grandstand of Dutch fans to cheer him on this season, Mathieu van der Poel failed to recreate the ecstasy of his famous Amstel Gold victory. But had fans been allowed at the BinckBank Tour in neighbouring Belgium, he might have come close. Resplendent in his national champion’s jersey but without his signature white bibs, the Dutchman struck out with 70km to go and rode all but twenty of those solo to turn the tables on his GC rivals and take the overall victory in Geraardsbergen. Better still, MvdP not only has the talent to match the very best Classics riders of all time but the appetite too – after cashing his BinckBank cheque he raced at Liège–Bastogne–Liège the very next day. Old school.


Stage 19, Tour de France

Recommended by Hannah Barnes, Canyon//SRAM rider

Casting glances, tightening shoes, discarding a bidon. In the moments before they attack, most riders have their tells, but not Søren Kragh Andersen. Around the peloton’s poker table, the wily Dane gives nothing away, and twice used the advantage of surprise to his benefit at the Tour de France. His ambush in the urban jungle of Lyon on stage 14 was impressive, but his second stage win in Champagnole six days later showed us that he had refined his art further still. As Sagan and Bennett licked their lips at the prospect of a sprint, the Sunweb rider’s poker face remained intact until the moment came to play his hand. Masterfully making use of a lull in the action on a shaded section of road, the Dane escaped again to notch his second stage win, and his team’s third. Under the radar, but over the moon.

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