Panache 2021

Recognising the most daring and passionate riders of 2021.

Rapha's Panache Awards for 2021

With Grand Tour contenders mixing it at the Monuments and crossover stars dominating multiple disciplines, cycling has entered a new golden era. One in which Hail Mary attacks beat hesitation, courage matters more than calculation, and a bold new generation of champions has embraced an old school, attacking approach.

The likes of Van der Poel, Vos, Van Vleuten and Van Aert, not to mention Pogačar and Pidcock, are riders who have nothing to gain from holding back. They see no sense in specialising in one discipline or refraining from attacking their rivals. Rather, they go at each other hammer and tongs, all year round, from the mud of cyclocross to the high mountains.

Thanks to these riders and their peers, we’ve witnessed many heart-in-the-mouth moments, acts of daring and everything-on-the-line efforts in 2021. But which merit a place in our annual Panache Awards? Without further ado, here are Rapha’s picks from the year of racing that was.


Stage 2, Tour de France

If there was one moment in 2021 that sums up panache, it has to be this. Mathieu van der Poel’s daring double ascent of the Mûr de Bretagne had it all: bravery, tactical mastery and even a touch of Tour history. Knowing he needed to turn around an 18-second deficit to take the yellow jersey that his grandfather – the late, great Raymond Poulidor – never could, Van der Poel gambled everything. Attacking not once but twice, he gestured to the heavens as he crossed the line and broke down in tears during the press conference afterwards. From the greatest proponent of panache in today’s peloton to the most popular rider in yesterday’s, grandfather honoured by grandson in a moment of pure cycling poetry.


Olympic Games, Road Race

On the startline in Tokyo, Anna Kiesenhofer didn’t even have a professional contract. She still doesn’t. In fact, the Austrian holds down a job as a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics at the École Polytechnique Fédéral in Lausanne. All that’s changed is that she is now an Olympic champion. After lining up a distance behind the Dutch superstars on the front row, Kiesenhofer escaped with three others and built up a lead of 11 minutes. And while her radio-less rivals dithered behind, Kiesenhofer forged on. A picture of concentration and determination, she shed her breakaway companions and held off the chase when it eventually came to take a truly unexpected win. Not bad for a mathematician.


UCI XCO World Cup #1, Albstadt

Having already beaten the best on the road at Brabantse Pijl (and Amstel Gold Race), Tom Pidcock set his sights on mountain biking mastery in May. Starting from the back of the grid at the opening round of the World Cup in Albstadt, victory seemed unlikely but that wouldn’t stop him trying. Bumping and barging his way through the field, the young Yorkshireman worked his way up to an incredible second behind Mathias Flückiger before eventually fading to fifth. An incredible result that lay the foundation for even greater achievements later in the season.


UCI CX World Cup #8, Besançon

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. By the end of November, three-time Canadian cross champion Maghalie Rochette had started no fewer than 55 European rounds of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup without ever registering a podium. Crossing the Atlantic to race through the Belgian winter is tough. You spend months away from family, you live in a campervan and you’re often an outsider. But if you’re Maghalie, you keep on trying and you get your rewards. At the 56th time of asking, she took a richly deserved debut podium in Europe, and none were happier than us to see it happen. Chapeau champion!



Most races come round every year, some once every four years. The first women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix in October was a race 125 years in the making. Facing a cobblestone course slick with mud gave most of her rivals pause for thought, but not Lizzie Deignan. Taking advantage of her strong team, she went solo with 80km to go and rode fearlessly along the crown of the cobbles. Like treading a tightrope, one slip would have spelled disaster but Deignan demonstrated the unshakeable sang froid and supreme bike handling skills that only great champions possess. The Worlds, Liège, Flanders, Strade, Wevelgem and now Roubaix. A perfect palmarès, and a fitting winner on the first of many a Saturday in Hell.


Vuelta a España, Stage 20

Despite the serrated stage profile, the twentieth leg of La Vuelta looked set to follow a similar script as the GC favourites swept up the sunburnt remnants of the day’s break on the final climb of the Alto Castro de Herville. But through sheer pluck and persistence, Clément Champoussin forced a plot twist. Rather than disappearing anonymously into the background as he should have when overhauled by the big boys, the young Niçois gritted his teeth and dug even deeper. Out of the saddle and swaying from side to side, he bustled back past the favourites and left Roglic, Mas et al for dead. Straining every fibre in his body to stay away, he beat the very best riders in the world with bravery alone, and proved that every underdog has its day.


Amstel Gold Race

In an age of ceaseless specialisation, grabbing a race by the scruff of the neck has become somewhat old fashioned. It’s so difficult that few riders even try, but Kasia Niewiadoma is no ordinary rider. She wouldn’t wait for a sprint even if ordered to, and took a typically attacking approach at Amstel Gold. After cutting loose on the Cauberg, the Pole was primed to take a second title. All she needed was a little cooperation, more a little imagination from breakaway companion Elisa Longo Borghini. Alas, the Italian wouldn’t share the work and the duo was swamped before the line. Marianne Vos took yet another win but, for making the race and breaking the mould, Niewiadoma was the real winner.


Giro d’Italia, Stage 3

For the past few seasons, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert has been the team famous for securing more sponsors than WorldTour wins. But 2021 saw an upturn in the Belgian outfit’s fortunes, and it was all kicked off by a Dutchman who dared to dream. Few gave the breakaway a chance ahead of the Giro’s third stage but, undeterred, five men escaped up the road. Only Simone Pellaud could live with Van der Hoorn until he too was dropped. But even now, it wasn’t over as Giulio Ciccone and Tony Gallopin chased from behind. As he reached the finishing straight, staunch belief turned to joyous disbelief as Van der Hoorn pulled off the biggest win of his career, and the first for his team since joining the WorldTour.


Giro d’Italia, Stage 13

The final place on our list goes to the rider who endured the longest wait for his win. Heading into his eighth Giro, European champion Giacomo Nizzolo had already notched nine second place finishes and won the points classification twice. But the wait for an elusive stage win would go on. In fact, poor old Giacomo had to watch no fewer than five stages go to Grand Tour debutants in the first week. And by the time he took the start of stage 13 in Ravenna, his tally of second place finishes was up to 11. Victory finally came in Verona, where Nizzolo chased down Edouardo Affini to take one of the most popular and richly deserved stage wins in Giro history.

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