The Giantkillers: cycling’s biggest surprises of 2016

Mat Hayman, Paris-Roubaix

The surprise of the cycling year came in its biggest one-day race. Mat Hayman was a career domestique and pro’s pro, returning from a fractured radius bone in his right arm sustained at Het Nieuwsblad. Off the radar, the Orica veteran had pre-Roubaix odds of 800-1 with some bookmakers.


Lo and behold, the injury lay-off gave him a carefree attitude and a joker’s role on race day. He made it into the big breakaway, saved precious energy and then used all his Paris-Roubaix nous to his advantage in a tense finale with Tom Boonen, Ian Stannard, Sep Vanmarcke and Edvald Boasson Hagen.


His first Paris-Roubaix participation was way back in 2000. This triumph wasn’t one day in the making, but the culmination of 16 years of lessons and heartbreak on the roads of northern France. As they say there, jamais un cloche ne gagne la Pascale – a tramp never wins the Easter race.


2016 Amstel Gold Race


Enrico Gasparotto, Amstel Gold Race

This was a David versus Goliath story for second-tier Belgian team Wanty-Groupe Gobert.


Their €3 million budget is approximately a tenth of Team Sky’s and their leader, former Italian champion Gasparotto, hadn’t won a race since his first Amstel Gold victory in 2012. That day, he hid in the wheels of a rapidly-reducing lead group and sprinted to victory as his rivals faded, 100 metres from the finish.


This was achieved in contrasting fashion, albeit with similar tactical savvy. He escaped on the Cauberg with Tinkoff talent Michael Valgren, then forced his young rival to lead for the final kilometre.


His success was an emotional moment for the squad, coming three weeks after the death of Antoine Demoitié in Ghent-Wevelgem. Gasparotto, who returns to the WorldTour with Bahrain-Merida in 2017, dedicated his victory to him.


Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |


Primož Roglič, Giro d’Italia, stage nine

He came to professional cycling with a reputation – as a top ski-jumper for Slovenia who won a junior world championship on the snow.


LottoNL-Jumbo were smart to take a punt on this career-switching 26-year-old, who joined from small-time Continental team Adria Mobil last winter.


His ability was made abundantly clear in the Giro-opening time-trial, when Tom Dumoulin pipped him to the maglia rosa by one hundredth of a second.


Roglič was not to be denied glory. A week later, he was the toast of Chiantishire, winning the long time-trial on picturesque Tuscan roads.


Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |


Steven Kruijswijk, Giro d’Italia, fourth place

Sure, the LottoNL-Jumbo man had pedigree before, finishing second on the queen stage over the Mortirolo on the way to seventh overall in last year’s Giro. But winning the whole thing? He seemed a long way off.


Yet, for two and a half weeks of this year’s edition, Kruijswijk showed himself to be the consummate contender. Though he achieved the unenviable coup of three narrow, consecutive second places, losing to Valverde, Foliforov and Chaves respectively in the high mountains, he stretched his lead to three minutes over his Colombian rival in the process.


Kruijswijk in pink was a normal sight. It seemed certain that the Dutch were going to end their 36-year Grand Tour hoodoo, dating back to Joop Zoetemelk’s 1980 Tour title.


Alas, leading the favourites over the Agnello, his hopes went cartwheeling along with his bike when he crashed into a snow wall. Within 48 hours, the maglia rosa had gone to Vincenzo Nibali and Kruijswijk slipped off the podium injuries to fourth, nursing his injuries.


It was a cruel reminder of the precarious thread by which Grand Tour victory can hang. After making most of the running, Kruijswijk took the result stoically. It’s surely not the last we’ll see of the flying Dutchman.


2016 Tour de France - Stage 12


Adam Yates, Tour de France, fourth and white jersey

In only his second Tour de France, the 23-year-old took to yellow jersey contention like a duck to water. He absorbed pressure, attacks, and the media demands with aplomb. In fact, the only thing able to stop Yates was a rapidly-collapsing flame rouge at Lac de Payolle on stage seven.


As recently as 2010, fourth place in the Tour de France would be headline news, equaling Great Britain’s best. In an extraordinarily consistent showing, he was just 21 seconds shy of Nairo Quintana and the podium.


His white jersey-winning performance did not get the attention it deserved. Perhaps that’s down to compatriot Chris Froome’s headline-stealing victory and the fact that Yates is the kind of level-headed character who gets on with it and lets his legs do the talking. But make no mistake, the Lancastrian is a Grand Tour winner in the making.


2016 Strade Bianche


Annemiek van Vleuten, Lotto Belgium Tour

The sight of the Dutchwoman lying motionless on the verge was a haunting image from the Olympic cycling events this year.


Moments earlier, she was away and seemingly bound for road race gold, until she crashed on the winding descent to the finish.


It was bad, but thankfully not quite as bad as it looked. She returned from concussion, three fractured vertebrae and a broken Olympic dream in some style.


Her first race back was the Lotto Tour of Belgium. She blitzed the prologue and ended up winning the last stage and the overall by attacking over the Muur and staying away into Geraardsbergen. It was a remarkable comeback.


Props to her peer Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM) too, who went from emergency kidney surgery after a bad Trofeo Binda crash to the German national time-trial title within three months.


2016 Vuelta a España - Stage 20


Lilian Calmejane, Vuelta a España, stage four
Coming straight out of business school and U23 cycling, the Frenchman took his maiden professional victory at a Grand Tour, beating a host of more experienced races in a 19-man breakaway.


An honorary mention to fellow freshman Angelo Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) for his gutsy Giro d’Italia stage win too.


Amalie Dideriksen, World championships

Few casual fans will have heard of Dideriksen before she sprinted out of the slipstream of Kirsten Wild to a senior rainbow jersey and notoriety.


The dymanic Dane already had three rainbow jerseys to her name: two from the junior road race, one from a points race. Though tipped as a potential future star, nobody expected this so soon from the 20-year-old – possibly not even her own squad.


Boels-Dolmans didn’t reckon Dideriksen strong enough to make selection for their successful TTT squad, a week before.


2017 will be fascinating. The World Championship win could prove a difficult act to follow or simply serve as a springboard to more success, as it was for Dideriksen’s hero Marianne Vos ten years ago.


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