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Panache 2019

After an unforgettable year in road racing, founder Simon Mottram, staff and friends of Rapha pick their stand-out moments.

What is panache? It’s not just about the big wins. Panache is subtle. It’s daring, it’s everything on the line, heart in your mouth, hair on end. There’s a flamboyant romance to panache, but there’s also a quiet, assured assertion: this is who I am.

As we well know, cycling is full of character, and the 2019 season had character in abundance. The stage was set early – Strade Bianche was dry and from the dust emerged the first glimpses of a swashbuckling Gaul in ascendancy. Later, the first films from our Alternative Calendar races showed what lay outside of the WorldTour and cemented Lachlan Morton as its poster boy. And just when we thought stage racing was drying up, the Tour served up a vintage edition to quench even the most parched palates.

Without further ado, here are Rapha’s picks for the year of racing that was.

15.

Niccolò Bonifazio, Milan – San Remo

La Primavera is the ultimate pressure cooker in bike racing and 2019 was no exception, with six hours of slow boil before Niccolò Bonifazio blew the lid clean off with his death-defying descent of the Cipressa. The Italian Total Direct Énergie rider lives just 10km away and describes the climb as his “office” or “gym”. Knowing he didn’t have the legs to stay with the favourites on the Poggio, he used his local knowledge to offer up a pure spectacle of speedy panache. Only touching the brakes two or three times on the winding downhill, he hit a frightening 85km/h and gained 20 seconds on the bunch. Swept up and spat out the back on the Poggio, it was no matter – gnarly Niccolò had got the fans on their feet, and we loved to see it.

14.

Tadej Pogačar | Stage 20, Vuelta a España

Nominated by an anonymous pro rider

“What happens when a 20-year-old at his first Grand Tour attacks into a block headwind with 38km to go, on a 15km climb, with the entire Movistar team on the front chasing?

Normally, nothing, but this isn’t any 20-year-old. This is Tadej Pogačar. This is Stage 20 of the incredibly hard Vuelta a España 2019. This is when everyone should be on their knees. And they were, except for Tadej. Mountains, freak weather, transfers from hell – this race had it all. But it didn't seem to matter for the young Slovenian. He rode away, never to be seen again, arriving over two minutes ahead of the chasing world champion.

He was flying. I should know, he rode straight past me on that climb.”

ƐƖ.

Bob Jungels | Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

It was little surprise that Bob Jungels won a cobbled semi-classic in the first year he targeted the early spring races; the Luxembourg national champion has all the class and power of a thoroughbred racehorse. In what was supposed to be an ‘introductory weekend’ for him at Omloop and Kuurne, Jungels galloped away from his Sunday breakaway companions into a headwind with 17km to go and held off the rampaging pack of 30 fastmen in a dicey 10km pursuit. Jungels called it “mission impossible” and, with his slicked back podium hair, he looked just as good as Tom Cruise too.

12.

Sep Kuss | Stage 15, Vuelta a España

Once again the Vuelta provided us with entertainment in spades, and silky Sep Kuss’ stage win was a remarkable demonstration of opportunism. The young American was the super-domestique par excellence in the mountains, riding brilliantly for eventual race winner Primož Roglič. Given one shot for a little personal glory, Kuss didn’t miss, soaring to the top of the Santuario del Acebo with apparent ease. His celebratory high fives with the fans before crossing the tape brought a little American swagger to a very European sport. A nice touch.

11.

Matteo Trentin | World Championships Road Race

Nominated by Elena Cecchini, CANYON//SRAM rider

As an Italian, I was holding my breath the last kilometres of the World Championships in Yorkshire. Sitting at home, we all felt for him when he finished second in the sprint. He had been the favourite out of the breakaway group and we all thought he was going to win in a tremendous and hard day.

Just a few days later I was talking to him while training. He taught me a big lesson when he said:

“A Silver medal is never easy to accept, but I know that in that moment all Italians were cheering for me, and all our country had an identity that is not often found in other scopes. This is the beauty of sport. Giving everything, inspiring people and giving them a dream to believe in."

An hour after his race, Matteo was walking back from ceremony to the hotel carrying his son Giovanni on his shoulders. A sweet dad and a true hero.

10.

Alberto Bettiol | Ronde van Vlaanderen

Nominated by Tom Southam, sports director for EF Education First Pro Cycling

“I’d like to nominate Bettiol taking his sunglasses off as he crossed the finish line at Flanders. I’m not sure what it was really about, but what I saw was a guy who wanted crystal clear vision of what was happening. Plus, the pictures of him winning with eyes that we could all see was magic.”

Watch the EF Gone Racing episode from Alberto Bettiol’s Flanders victory

9.

Lucy Kennedy | Clásica San Sebastián

The first running of the San Sebastián women’s race in August delivered a dramatic spectacle, as Michelton-Scott’s Lucy Kennedy attacked with 20km to go, then punctured, finding herself a minute behind the race leaders. Undeterred, she attacked again to catch and pass Janneke Ensing on the final climb, winning solo in Bilbao. The 31-year-old Australian is a late bloomer, having only turned pro in 2018. Best known for embarrassingly gifting Marianne Vos a stage victory at this year’s Giro Rosa after celebrating too early, Kennedy made sure this time around, winning by 23 seconds. An excellent show of strength and style.

8.

Marc Madiot | Stage 14, Tour de France

Madiot is a man familiar with panache – the two-time Roubaix winner has a penchant for white socks, logo-free national champs jerseys and pristine bar tape – and he supports his protégé with panache too. As Thibaut Pinot scaled the upper slopes of the Tourmalet this July, Madiot’s effervescent reactions to the live feed was something to behold.

7.

Kasia Niewiadoma | Amstel Gold Race

Nominated by Christa Riffel, CANYON//SRAM rider

Watching this Polish superstar in action is always exciting. A heart-on-her-sleeve racer who was missing an Ardennes win on her palmarès, Niewiadoma nonetheless competed the way she always does at this year’s Amstel Gold Race, as her team mate Christa Riffel notes:

“Kasia took the race in her hands and gave her all on the final climb. She was brave to do this all-or-nothing type of attack, and showed strength and stamina until the finish line – she took her chance and never looked back.”

That future world champ Annemiek van Vleuten almost clawed her way back to Niewiadoma on the line in a hair-raising game of cat-and-mouse made this victory all the sweeter. Kasia got the cream – that is, a nice frothy glass of Amstel on the podium.

6.

Sergio Higuita | Stage 6, Tour of California

Nominated by Harry Dowdney, EF Gone Racing producer

“EF Pro Cycling were quietly pinning high hopes on new Colombian signing Sergio Higuita at the Tour of California, even though he was just 21 and it was his first race in pink. But he boldly went on Baldy, lighting up the race with hell-for-leather changes of rhythm that skittled the field. Richie Porte almost came to a standstill as Higuita danced past. I had goosebumps while watching on TV in the finish line tent, where even the journalists were roaring their approval. Ultimately, the equally prodigious Tadej Pogačar caught Higuita and beat him on the line after he ran wide, but what the Colombian had done earlier was panache at its finest: fearless and explosive racing, with a touch of old school romance and sweet naivety.”

Watch The Higuita Monster, EF Gone Racing’s episode covering the stage

5.

Annemiek van Vleuten | World Championships Road Race

At 36 years of age, Annemiek van Vleuten might have thought her chances of winning the Worlds road race were running out. Yet even in a career of extraordinary performances, the Dutchwoman’s ride in Yorkshire was truly out of this world. With more than 100km still left to race, Van Vleuten rode away from the rest of the field and never looked back. Imagine the audacity and power to achieve a victory like this. Despite a superpowered chase group working together to bring her back and an ill-fated solo bid to bridge by Chloe Dygart, it was no use – the final margin was a stonking 2 minutes 15 seconds.

4.

Remco Evenepoel | Clásica San Sebastián

This stocky Belgian teenager has just enjoyed the greatest neo pro season in living memory. We all knew that Remco Evenepoel was going to be good, but even so, he was still riding junior gears last year. The way the Quickstepper approached each race was marvellous too: clipping off and going suicidally solo as soon as he could, at any opportunity. It was the same at Clásica San Sebastián, a premier one-day race in the Basque Country that suits both climbers and classics-men. Remco joined Toms Skujiņš in a two-up with 21km to go, yoyo-ed off the back but then somehow came back to drop his Latvian companion on the final climb of the Murgil. So far so normal for San Sebastián, which usually sees the favourites spring clear and mop up any remaining escapees before the line. Not this time: Remco held the likes of Van Avermaet, Valverde, Mollema and Woods by more than 30 seconds. What a way to win your first ever one-day WorldTour race.

3.

Lachlan Morton | GBDuro

Nominated by Charly Wegelius, Head Sports Director EF Education First Pro Cycling

“His enduro exploits, but particularly GBDuro, were truly inspiring. For me, panache is about how you achieve something more than the actual achievement. And the way that Lachlan carried himself with such joy through those experiences was remarkable. As a rider I often dug myself into pretty deep holes and many times found myself asking, why am I doing this? Lachlan’s GBDuro ride brought home to me the real meaning of human endeavour in a way that very few have. Respect.”

Watch GBDuro 2019 to see Lachlan’s enduro exploit

2.

Julian Alaphilippe | Stage 18, Tour de France

Loulou popped the cork on the white ribbon roads of Strade Bianche, then mere weeks later kept up the new tradition of a climber winning the sprinter’s classic at Milan-Sanremo. Then he won Flèche, adding an Ardennes Classic to the cocktail. But panache is not about stylish wins alone. This charming man kept us on the edge of our seats throughout July: powersliding into the pits after his eye-popping time trial, tugging heartstrings as he gave away his yellow jersey to a shivering boy after Stage 7, riding like a man possessed. Then there was that descent of the Galibier – we thought he’d cracked, but France’s darling wasn’t finished yet. Alaphilippe swooped like a hawk and scythed through the leaders like wheat. Magnifique.

1.

Mathieu van der Poel | Amstel Gold Race

Nominated by Simon Mottram, Rapha founder

Amstel Gold could be the race win of the year, and that storming comeback after an unfortunate crash at Flanders too – and the thought of what could have been – not to mention his headline hogging cross performances. Van der Poel’s win at the Tabor World Cup was special. Just days after the passing of his grandfather, the great Raymond Poulidor, the latest dominating force to emerge from this great cycling dynasty swept to victory with his usual style and balance. Simply a pleasure to watch.

Inspired by these feats of cycling excellence? Challenge yourself these holidays by attempting the Rapha Festive 500 – 500km over the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

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