With five new entries at the sport's top table, this year's top 10 rider list includes stars from all walks of cycling life – including Grand Tour winners, Monument victors, sprinters and, perhaps controversially, a rider with just the single win to his name.
Just two riders in their thirties reflects the general shift from old to young in this unpredictable and unorthodox season, with many of the sport's previous big-hitters cast in the shadow of a new generation embodying a buccaneering spirit and attacking zeal.
So, let's cast off the shackles of this pre-amble and, without further ado, bring you the top 10 riders of 2020 in reverse order…
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10. Richard Carapaz (DOWN 4)

Race leader and red jersey, Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers, during stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana 2020 / La Vuelta

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Perhaps controversially, the Ecuadorian just retains his place in our top 10 after a maiden season for Ineos Grenadiers which saw the former Giro d'Italia champion pick up just the solitary win. That triumph, oddly enough, came in a sprint in the third stage of the Tour de Pologne, ahead of crash which would derail his season until mid-way through his surprise Tour de France selection.
Fast-tracked into the Tour team to support an equally crocked Egan Bernal, Carapaz couldn't offer much support to his fellow South American. But once Bernal retired, the 27-year-old found himself in the break in three successive stages, and would have picked up a maiden victory had he not offered the spoils to his Ineos teammate Michal Kwiatkowski (and taken a consolatory polka dot jersey) instead.
In the Vuelta, Carapaz had the chance to ride for himself and twice took the race lead from Primož Roglič – and would have indeed taken the red jersey into Madrid were it not for the bonus seconds picked up by his combative Slovenian rival. Still, in a tricky campaign truncated by injury and the global pandemic, Carapaz proved his Grand Tour pedigree and clearly did enough to keep Il Lombardia winner Jakob Fuglsang out of the top 10.

9. Arnaud Démare (NEW ENTRY)

Team Groupama-FDJ rider France's Arnaud Demare wearing the best sprinter's mauve jersey celebrates after winning the 11th stage of the Giro d'Italia 2020 cycling race, a 182-kilometer route between Porto Sant'Elpidio and Rimini on October 14, 2020. - Fren

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With fourteen wins to his name, the Frenchman was most successful sprinter of 2020 and yet sat out his Groupama-FDJ's disastrous Tour de France campaign after manager Marc Madiot insisted in putting all his eggs in Thibaut Pinot's brittle basket. The latter's trials and tribulations – coupled with Démare's superb Giro – will surely mean Groupama won't make the same mistake twice.
Despite zero wins pre-lockdown, Démare eventually burst into life; when he broke the seal, he was mopping up left, right and centre. After becoming national champion for a third time, the 29-year-old showcased his fastest-man-on-two-wheels credentials with a quadruple in Italy, en route to beating Peter Sagan to the maglia ciclamino. Next year fans deserve to see a green jersey battle in July between him, Sagan and the next man on our list…

8. Sam Bennett (NEW ENTRY)

Sam Bennett

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Just seven wins in his first season at Deceuninck Quick-Step was fewer than his last at Bora-Hansgrohe – but it was the significance of those wins which made the difference. Narrowly missing out on a maiden Tour stage win in Stage 3, Bennett's third place put him in green and saw him become the first Irishman since Sean Kelly in 1989 to lead one of the Tour jersey classifications. The best was yet to come.
An emotional maiden Tour win in Stage 10 saw Bennett become only the second Irish rider to have notched wins in all three of cycling's Grand Tours – something even King Kelly never achieved. He also reclaimed the green jersey from Sagan, whose stellar run of seven points classification wins in eight years was emphatically brought to an end 11 days later after his former teammate triumphed on the Champs-Elysees.
Bennett struck again at the Vuelta – and although a controversial barge saw him stripped (rightfully) of a second success in Spain, 2020 was the year 30-year-old Bennett finally emerged from Sagan's shadow and showed what he was capable of achieving once given the full support of a strong team behind him. Given how he was forced out at Bora, Bennett's green jersey coup in the Tour would have been all the sweeter.

7. Tao Geoghegan Hart (NEW ENTRY)

Tao Geoghegan Hart

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Has a rider with so few professional wins (two) ever entered a Grand Tour and emerged victorious? What Tadej Pogačar achieved in the Tour was something special – but we all knew how much of a talent the Slovenian was. Prior to the Giro, Geoghegan Hart was still among the next-generation maybes from Ineos – on a par with the likes of Pavel Sivakov, Ivan Sosa, perhaps even Eddie Dunbar – with just two stage wins from the Tour of the Alps to his name.
That all changed – and fast. Not that you'd have predicted anything of the sort when Geraint Thomas crashed out ahead of Mount Etna, leaving the Ineos Grenadiers in tatters. But Filippo Ganna's mesmerising victory in Stage 5 opened the floodgates for the British team and injected fresh hope into the man who, until recently, was deemed less of a veritable Plan B than a mere mountain domestique.
The absence of most of the GC big-hitters as well as the shaky form of the veteran double champion Vincenzo Nibali and enforced withdrawals of Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk – all this conspired to open the door to the 25-year-old from Hackney. And he didn't hesitate jumping on right through.
Victory in the Dolomites saw Geoghegan Hart rise to third place ahead of the final week – and thanks to some expert teamwork from Australia's Rohan Dennis on the Stelvio and at Sestriere, the flame-haired Brit picked up a second win and entered the final stage just seconds off the pink summit. The rest, as they say, was history. A coming of age for the man the tongue-tied Italian commentators referred to as "Googanga".

6. Marc Hirschi (NEW ENTRY)

Marc Hirschi of Switzerland and Team Sunweb / Celebration / Benoit Cosnefroy of France and Team AG2R La Mondiale / during the 84th La Fleche Wallonne 2020, Men Elite a 202km stage from Herve to Mur de Huy / @flechewallone / #FlecheWallone / on September

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Nothing in the immediate post-lockdown performances of the Swiss tyro at Strade Bianche or the Critérium du Dauphiné suggested he was knocking on the door of greatness. But come the end of the Tour, every cycling fan was aware of Hirschi's never-say-die attacking edge and the graceful 22-year-old's supreme elegance on a bike.
It all started in Stage 2 in Nice where Hirschi came within a whisker of a maiden Tour stage win that could have seen him don yellow – denied only by Julian Alaphilippe, an almost like-for-like pea in very much the same pod.
A week later, in Stage 9 to Laruns, Hirschi soloed off the front of the race for what seemed like an eternity, only to get caught by the GC favourites near the finish. Instead of throwing in the towel, the Sunweb rider took the initiative in the sprint, only to be passed at the death by the Slovenian duo who would go on to define the entire race.

'Nobody can stop the Swiss!' - Hirschi powers to La Fleche Wallonne victory

A first ever pro win finally came in Stage 12 to Sarran, with an unfortunate crash ending his chances of doubling up a few days later on the day Kwiatkowski and Carapaz pulled off the Ineos one-two. Crowned the most combative rider of the Tour, Hirschi took bronze in the World Championships before becoming the new king of the Mur de Huy in La Flèche Walloone. He could have capped this all off with a monumental win in Liège were it not for being cut up by a marauding Frenchman just metres from the finish line.
Something tells us that Hirschi's a rider we'll be seeing an awful lot of over the next decade.

5. Mathieu van der Poel (UP 3)

Mathieu van der Poel devant Wout van Aert

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A relatively quiet season by his lofty standards nevertheless saw the rangy Dutchman make history by following in the tyre tracks of his grandfather (Raymond Poulidor) and father (Adri van der Poel) as winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. To take the win, van der Poel needed to get the better of his old foe and friend Wout van Aert in a thrilling two-way battle following the dramatic crashing out of the French third wheel (more on whom a little later).
Riding for a second-tier team means we have yet to see van der Poel unleashed on a Grand Tour – a fact which keeps him behind van Aert in cycling's current pecking order. Both men ended the season with a Monument to their name, with van der Poel also adding a Dutch national title, a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and the BinckBank overall to his palmares.
Marked out in Liège, van der Poel almost took advantage of another Alaphilippe early celebratory blunder in De Brabantse Pijl. While he would have wanted more from a challenging season, the symbolic Ronde win kept rival van Aert in check while keeping his own progression going, setting things up nicely for the classics next year and, hopefully, a showdown on the hellish cobbles of northern France.

4. Julian Alaphilippe (DOWN 2)

lian Alaphilippe of France / Fans / Public / during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020, Men Elite Road Race a 258,2km race from Imola to Imola - Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari

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There was a period in the season when you just couldn't keep the Frenchman out of the news – rightly or wrongly. There's no denying that Alaphilippe looked a bit subdued in the Tour, one year after he unexpectedly came so close to ending France's long wait for a winner. An emotional victory over Hirschi in Nice in Stage 2 saw him take the maillot jaune, which he conceded to Adam Yates days later after copping a time penalty for an illegal feed.
There followed a fortnight of flattering to deceive, the Quick-Step jack-in-the-box often getting in moves before blowing a gasket on the big climbs. He didn't come close to winning again and it looked like his season was unravelling.
But then came that career-defining attack on the final Mazzolano climb in the World Championships, which saw Alaphilippe ride clear to Imola and become the first Frenchman to take the arc-en-ciel since Laurent Brochard in 1997. This win kickstarted a period of intensity for the French livewire, even if he sat out his usual romp on the Mur de Huy.

Julian Alaphilippe wins road race gold medal at world championships

At Liège, and perhaps overcome by his own hype and the prospect of winning La Doyenne on his first outing in the rainbow stripes, Alaphilippe rode the final kilometre like Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Not content with almost taking out Hirschi on the final bend, he ended the chances of both the Swiss and the Tour champion Tadej Pogačar by cutting them up ahead of the finish line, only to raise his arms aloft too early and lose a race (which would have been taken away from him in any case) to Primož Roglič.
Alaphilippe clearly hadn't learned his lesson for he almost did the exact same thing just days later when edging van der Poel in a photo finish in De Brabantse Pijl. But we can forgive someone of such entertainment value these foibles.
Eleven days later, he forced the winning move in the Tour of Flanders, only to see his season end in dramatic fashion when riding into the back of a motorbike while speaking into his radio. The two riders he was following went on to contest the win – but the man of the prolonged moment had done enough to show that he was capable of dining out on the Ronde table. More Monuments are surely on the menu.

3. Wout van Aert (NEW ENTRY)

Crash Julian Alaphilippe

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Climb, time trial, sprint, support, cobbles, mud, heat, rain, uphill, downhill, yellow, green… is there anything the Belgian cannot do? Van Aert would have featured in last year's top 10 were it not for the season-ending injury he sustained while flying on all cylinders in the Tour. Any doubts that he would not return to the same level were put to bed when van Aert soloed to victory in Strade Bianche to win a race he'd twice finished third in.
That emphatic triumph on the dusty Tuscan dirt roads kickstarted a period of post-lockdown dominance in which the then 25-year-old was practically invincible. Days later he was mixing with the sport's fastest sprinters in Milano-Torino before denying Alaphilippe to take a maiden Monument in Milano-Sanremo.
Victory in the opening stage of the Dauphiné was capped with the green jersey, then two stages on the Tour – all in support of his Jumbo-Visma team leader (for whom he pulled tirelessly in the mountains). Although he failed to add to his victory tally, van Aert remained competitive beyond the Tour – finishing runner-up three times, including in both World Championship disciplines.
The third of those bridesmaid finishes – in the Ronde – saw him painfully miss out to van der Poel after delaying his sprint. Things are teed up nicely for a continuation of their great rivalry next year; and currently, despite that painful loss on home soil, van Aert has the edge. He's also done enough to suggest a shift to riding GC is not unfathomable.

2. Tadej Pogačar (UP 5)

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) during the Tour de France 2020

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The Slovenian youngster merits a place in the top 10 for his time trial on La Planche des Belles Filles alone – that one sustained moment of brilliance, propelling him into an eleventh-hour yellow jersey, being both the culmination of three weeks of combative riding, and the start of what will surely be a very long love affair with Le Tour.
Consistency was key for Pogačar, who finished in the top 10 on 20 out of 43 race days either side of the lockdown, picking up nine wins (including the fabled maillot jaune) and six further podiums.
Entering his maiden Tour as co-leader with UAE teammate Fabio Aru, it became quickly clear – through their polarised performances – that Pogačar had top dog status. But how far could he go? An opening stage win in the Pyrenees the day his compatriot Roglič took yellow was followed by a mountain-top scalp in the Alps. By now, Pogačar had risen to second place on GC after excelling in the Massif Central – his gusto all the more impressive given his comparative dearth of team support.

‘This is happening!’ - The moment Pogacar overhauled Roglic

While Roglič relied on his Jumbo army, Pogačar kept on chipping away. And after a slight wobble on the Col de la Loze, he turned the tables on the penultimate day. Trailing the yellow summit by 57 seconds ahead of the time trial, Pogačar, with a ride for the ages, put the best part of two minutes into his compatriot to secure the Tour at his first attempt – plus the white and polka dot jerseys – days ahead of his 22nd birthday.
The second youngest Tour winner in history could have capped his season with a Monument where it not for Alaphilippe's kamikaze move on the home straight of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Last year we were talking of Egan Bernal perhaps dominating the Tour for a decade; how fast thing change. The Colombian looks like a shrinking violet compared to the flourishing panache of his successor.

1. Primož Roglič (NO CHANGE)

Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo

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It would have given the 31-year-old Slovenian scant consolation, as his yellow helmet fell to one side and he pedalled squares up La Planche des Belles Filles en route to losing the Tour, that he would still end up topping Eurosport's list of top 10 riders for a second successive year. Even the prospect of defending his Vuelta crown would have hardly dulled the pain as months of preparation was unwrapped while his loyal teammates watched on in horror and the world felt his pain.
But over the course of a long season during which Roglič finished in the top 10 in all but 21 of his 50 race days, the former ski-[REDACTED] proved to be the best all-round rider in the pack, picking up a Grand Tour win, narrowly missing out on another, winning a Monument, contesting for medals at the Worlds, taking a national title – and winning stages whether in sprints, uphill or against the clock.
It's one thing being favourite for the Tour, but going on to do your team's support justice and not falling at an early hurdle is part of the challenge. That Roglič ultimately came undone on the penultimate day was a bitter pill to swallow for him and Jumbo-Visma – and, quite frankly, hard to stomach as a viewer, for all Pogačar's excellence.

Roglic - 'I thought I'd suffer more, it's been a long time since I've won a time trial'

But the Slovenian never hid or made any excuses. In defeat, he showed his human side – so often disguised by a robotic veneer of tapping-out tempo. He congratulated his compatriot, took it on the chin and, although only half-way through his re-jigged season, took to the start in the Worlds, where, exhausted, he still managed sixth place. Victory from the jaws of defeat in La Doyenne – to net his first Monument – underlined Roglič's fighting spirit. The best was yet to come.
Learning from his mistakes, Roglič rode La Vuelta aggressively and, in a tight contest with Richard Carapaz, ensured that every second mattered. By picking up four stage wins and regular bonus seconds, Roglič won a successive Vuelta crown – despite trading the red jersey on two occasions with his Ecuadorian rival. The cherry on the cake was a victory in a time trial not entirely dissimilar to the course which ended his Tour hopes, with Roglič burying his demons to bring his year full circle.
Victory in the prestigious Vélo d'Or award followed for a rider who will surely not give up on his yellow dream in a hurry. Nor should he. We're in for a hell of a battle next July.

What about those absent from last year's top 10?

Egan Bernal - Team Ineos, Tour de Frace 2020

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A second career Monument victory was not enough to see Jakob Fuglsang (4) retain his place in the top 10, the Danish veteran's win in Il Lombardia the only real stand-out success of his season. Fifth in Strade Bianche and runner-up in the Tour de Pologne, Fuglsang's Giro campaign will be remembered more for his spat with fellow veteran Vincenzo Nibali rather than anything he did in the saddle.
Caleb Ewan (10) picked up wins in all his stage races – bar Paris-Nice – but didn't match his haul from his first year at Lotto-Soudal, despite impressing with two stages on the Tour. Teammate Philippe Gilbert (5) never got going in his first year back at Lotto, the 38-year-old Belgian enduring his first winless season in an astonishing 16 years in the game.
Further proof, perhaps, that the older generation struggled with the start-stop nature of the Covid-curtailed season, the Spanish former World Champion Alejandro Valverde (9) looked largely out of sorts, a fruitless year forcing the 40-year-old into a rethink by signing on for another 12 months at Movistar.
Last year's Tour champion Egan Bernal (3) saw his stock – and that of his Ineos Grenadiers team – plummet after being put in the shade by Jumbo-Visma following the restart. A crash in the Dauphiné effectively ended Bernal's hopes, a painful back handicapping him on the Tour, resulting in his implosion on the Grand Colombier and subsequent withdrawal.
Drowned out by attacking livewires around him, Bernal looked like an analogue camera in a digital age, the Colombian unable to contest for stage wins nor even keep up with his rivals on the steep stuff. If he wants to realise his full potential, the 23-year-old needs to ride more aggressively and win more. Three Tours down, he's yet to taste a stage win; Pogačar picked up three in his first appearance.

Special mention: Ganna, Almeida, Hindley

Joao Almeida of Deceuninck Quick-Step in the pink jersey during Stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia 2020

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With four stage wins in his maiden Giro, plus the World TT title, Italian powerhouse Filippo Ganna had a year to remember and could – arguably should, come to think of it – have crept in on the top 10 at the expense of his fellow Ineos Grenadier, Richard Carapaz. Another rider from the British team who came of age in a domestique role was the Australian Rohan Dennis, who almost single-handedly helped Tao Geoghegan Hart reel in Team Sunweb's Jai Hindley in the Giro.
Before Hindley's teammate Wilco Kelderman took the maglia rosa, Deceuninck Quick-Step's João Almeida wore it for a record 15-day run for Portugal. The 22-year-old enjoyed a superb breakout Giro in the absence of injured teammate Remco Evenepoel, who himself – with four stage race victories (two either side of lockdown) – has a good case for a place in the top 10.
The global pandemic deprived the former world champion Mads Pedersen of the chance to wear the rainbow bands in many of his favoured races, but the Dane eventually shone in Gent-Wevelgem – a fortnight after conceding his world title to Alaphilippe. Compatriot Søren Kragh Andersen picked up two wins on the Tour and was part of an exciting Sunweb team which lit up numerous races.
The next of our end-of-season features looks at those riders who must do better next year. Messrs Froome, Thomas, Valverde, Viviani and Nibali – we're looking Aru…
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