Racing review of the year: Editors’ picks of the best of 2023

Dan Lloyd, Cillian Kelly and the GCN editorial team pick out their favourite riders, races and moments from this year in cycling

Clock10:47, Sunday 31st December 2023
Demi Vollering won the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2023

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Demi Vollering won the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2023

2023 was an incredible year in the world of professional cycling. Records were broken, history was made, and stars were born. The year had it all, from memorable breakaway success at Paris-Roubaix Femmes to Grand Tour domination at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España, courtesy of Jumbo-Visma.

And what better way to close out the year than by letting the GCN team run through their standout moments of the season with Dan Lloyd, Cillian Kelly and members of the editorial team highlighting their favourite picks.

Feel free to scroll to the bottom of the article to leave your thoughts on what has been another exciting year of racing.

Dan Lloyd - GCN Presenter

Male rider of the year: Mathieu van der Poel

Of all of cycling’s male ‘galacticos’, Mathieu van der Poel was the least prolific winner this year. But when he did win, he won big, and in spectacular style. He put his arch nemesis, Wout van Aert, to the sword in four of them - firstly at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships, then at Milan-San Remo, Paris Roubaix, and finally at the UCI Road World Championships, whilst Tadej Pogačar was a victim at two of those. For me, it was the style in which he won, and the calibre of rider he beat that made Van der Poel the best male rider of the year.

Female rider of the year: Demi Vollering

Not only is Demi Vollering the female rider of the year in my opinion, she’s also the most improved rider. That might sound strange, given that she’s already won some pretty big races ahead of this year, but she stepped things up massively. Ahead of 2023, she’d won 12 pro races in four seasons as a pro. It took her just 22 days of racing between March and May for her to double that tally, and by the end of the season, she’d racked up 17 wins - the highest wins to days raced ratio of any pro cyclist this year.

Team of the year: Jumbo-Visma

It wasn’t easy to choose between Jumbo-Visma and SD Worx, but I went with the former because they made history. Winning all three Grand Tours in a single season is something that even Team Sky never achieved, and to do it with three different riders, all of whom were on the final podium at La Vuelta, is something I’m certain will never happen again. They’ll be disappointed not to have won a Monument, but no other teams came close to their success in the Grand Tours.

Best one-day race: Paris-Roubaix

I’m cheating on this one, as there are two Paris-Roubaix. It’s the only big one day race of the year where we get to watch the men’s and women’s races on separate days. In just 24 hours, we were reminded of just how differently things can play out in that race. In the women’s, the favourites mucked up their own chances, allowed Alison Jackson to have some much deserved time in the spotlight, whilst in the men’s, the favourites got it right and fought it out for the victory between them. Despite how differently they played out, both races were equally enthralling and entertaining.

Best stage race: Vuelta a España

If you looked at the results of the Vuelta without any context, you’d be forgiven for thinking it must have been the most boring Grand Tour in history. Three riders from the same team filling all three podium spots. However, it was precisely because three riders from the same team were dominating that we got drama like we’ve never seen before.

Most memorable moment: Jonas Vingegaard’s Tour de France ITT

For neutral fans, the men’s Tour de France was fantastic this year, at least for the first two weeks. All was still to play for at the start of the ITT on stage 16, but you’d have to be the most optimistic cycling fan in the world to believe that there still was by the finish. Jonas Vingegaard trounced Pogačar - there’s no other word for it. It’s a day that will stick in my head for a long time.

Bold prediction for 2024: Giro dominance for lead trio

Pogačar, Wout van Aert and Olav Kooij will win more than half the Giro stages between them. Maybe this isn’t even a bold prediction?!

Daniel Benson - Editor in Chief

Male rider of the year: Tadej Pogačar

Much has been made of a perceived 'failure' at the Tour de France but the reality is that few riders in the sport's history could have lived with the unbelievable nature of Jonas Vingegaard’s relentless pursuit of a second Tour title. Be thankful Pogačar was able to muster a challenge that lasted so long! Away from the Tour, Pogačar continued to re-write the history books when it came to defining the meaning of an all-rounder, with historic wins in the Tour of Flanders and Il Lombardia. Throw in victories at La Flèche Wallonne and Amstel Gold Race, titles in Paris-Nice and Ruta del Sol, and it’s a very distant Mathieu van der Poel in second place - and he had an interstellar season too.

Team of the year: SD Worx

In terms of wins, it has to be Jumbo-Visma or SD Worx. Both squads dominated the sport with the women’s team winning over 60 races and Jumbo claiming all three Grand Tours in a single season and hoarding every spot on the podium at the Vuelta a España. For me, SD Worx takes this for the sheer volume of victories and the fact that the next best team - Movistar - only won about a third of the races that their Dutch opposition took.

Female rider of the year: Demi Vollering

Lotte Kopecky and Vollering both have strong arguments but Vollering takes it because she won the biggest race in the world in Femmes, and then decorated either side of July with several more WorldTour stage races and an astonishing spring that included an Ardennes triple, Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen. Still only 27, we could be looking at one of the top three female riders of all time in a few years.

Best one-day race: Tour of Flanders

From start to finish, the men’s Tour of Flanders was enthralling. For a race to hold that level of drama, and for so long, is truly exceptional. What's more, with the best riders in the world going head-to-head, this was an instant classic and one for the ages. It’s still not as good as the 2011 Tour of Flanders - which is the best one-day race I’ve ever seen - but this was close. Pogačar soared, dropping the best Classics riders in the world, while there were so many intricate and well-poised subplots that every single one of those 273.4km mattered.

Best stage race: Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

On the men’s side, the Giro was a slow burn, the Vuelta was chaotic but ultimately a procession and the Tour had moments of excitement but wasn’t a Classic. On the women’s flank the Vuelta was a nailbiter, the Giro solid but the Tour de France Femmes was simply exceptional. The final time trial was a formality in terms of Vollering’s overall success but the penultimate day on the Tourmalet was breathtaking, with early attacks, a relatable underdog in Niewiadoma, a veteran champion going down fighting in van Vleuten, and Vollering winning through the mist on one of cycling’s most iconic climbs. Every day provided something unique and exciting, and the race just gets better each year.

Most memorable moment

“I'm gone. I’m dead.”

When race radio crackled through on stage 17 of the Tour de France few could have envisaged that four words would have so eloquently painted a picture of such desolate isolation and defeat. Tadej Pogačar, a colossus in the sport, was broken on the infamous slopes of the Col de la Loze by the unstoppable Jonas Vingegaard, and when 'I'm gone. I’m dead’ came through our TV sets and phones it felt like a collective moment of silence for those watching. We all knew that the Tour had been won and lost in those precious seconds. It was like watching Miguel Indurain on Les Arc in 1996 - you almost didn’t know where to look as a champion toiled on the mountain while his dreams disappeared up the road.

Bold prediction for 2024: Olympic win for Slovenia

Matej Mohorič will win the Olympic road race. It’s not that bold, I guess, but I can see him going up the road ridiculously early and never being seen again. His biggest challenge might be selection with Slovenia only set for one place in Paris. Step forward Roglič but most likely Pogačar to take the single place.

Cillian Kelly - Resident Stats Expert

Male rider of the year: Tadej Pogačar

I think we have begun to lapse into taking Pogačar’s excellence for granted, yet he’s still only 25. He put together one of the greatest classic campaigns of all time and it’s not even supposed to be his main thing. Pog racks up classics wins in his spare time, as a hobby. He won the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and the Tour of Lombardy and came very close in Milan-San Remo, E3 and the World Championships. Pogačar’s main thing is supposed to be winning the Tour de France - and he was a Vingegaard mishap away from doing that too. Only two other Tour de France winners have ever won the Tour of Flanders - Lousion Bobet and Eddy Merckx.

Female rider of the year: Demi Vollering

Whenever the owner of a dynastic palmarés retires, it can take years for a new rider to step up and fill the chasm. Annemiek van Vleuten retired at the end of this year, but there is no uncertainty now regarding who will fill the void - it’s already occupied. Vollering won Strade Bianche and the Ardennes triple and followed it up with a victory at the Tour de France Femmes. She’s the boss now.

Team of the year: Jumbo-Visma

No team had ever won all three Grand Tours in a single year and no team had ever really come close. No team had finished 1-2-3 on a Grand Tour mountain top finish since 1980 yet Jumbo-Visma did it twice during the Vuelta, on the Tourmalet and again atop the Angliru, with Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič. And of course they finished the race with those same three riders on the final podium - something which hadn’t been done at a Grand Tour since 1966. Sustained Grand Tour excellence the likes of which we have never seen before.

Best one-day race: Men’s Gent-Wevelgem and Women’s Strade Bianche

In the former, two teammates Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte came to the line together and one gifted the win to the other. And in the latter two teammates Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky came to the line together and they did the exact opposite, they sprinted it out for the win. The races themselves were not overly memorable. It’s the debate afterward that I loved. Both scenarios were unconventional and it was fascinating to hear the opinions on what riders ‘should’ do in these circumstances. I don’t think there are any right answers but both races were examples of the aspect of cycling which makes it so interesting - a team sport in which one person wins.

Best stage race: Vuelta a España

For similar reasons my vote goes to the Vuelta a Espana. Jumbo-Visma were almost comically dominant. The race could have ended in a boring procession. But what unfolded between Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard, Primoz Roglic and their team management was a scenario none of us had ever seen. (I’m presuming the coverage of the 1966 Vuelta was not as readily available). There was the physical battle between the teammates on the road and how they should conduct themselves given the roles they were each supposed to be assuming. But there was also the mental side of things where we all got to pick apart the post-stage interviews. I’ve never tried to do more reading between the lines. An unprecedented scenario which I enjoyed immensely.

Most memorable moment: Stage one of the Tour de France

My wife does not share my passion for cycling. But every now and again something happens which causes me to shout at her to come into the room and ‘take a look at this’. Stage one of the Tour in the Basque Country was such a moment. Simon and Adam Yates, two brothers, two twin brothers, breaking away together and duking it out for the stage win and the yellow jersey at the biggest bike race in the world is something which transcends the sport and can be appreciated by everyone. It was a moment to remind us all that bike racing is such a simple and beautiful thing. They might as well have been 10 years old again racing each other around the block.

Bold prediction for 2024: Pogačar to make more history

Pogačar will win the Triple Crown of Giro, Tour and Worlds. Such are Pogačar’s absurd standards I’m not even sure if this can be classified as ‘bold’. Nevertheless, it has been 37 years now since Stephen Roche last did this in 1987. Even the Giro/Tour double has long been considered impossible. Pogačar is the one rider who makes me believe again that it’s doable. Logic would suggest that riding (and presumably winning) the Giro will hamper Pog’s chances at the Tour but his career so far has been rather illogical given everything we thought we knew.

Matilda Price - Racing News Editor

Male rider of the year: Mads Pedersen

A left-field choice, I know, but it’s very obvious to say Mathieu van der Poel or Tadej Pogačar. Mads Pedersen really took a step up this year, excelling in Grand Tours, Classics and stage races alike, even getting through the climbing at the Tour of Denmark to win it. He’s a rider I love to watch race.

Female rider of the year: Lotte Kopecky

What really impressed me about Lotte Kopecky’s season is not just that she was successful, but she was successful in places she shouldn’t have been, like on the Tourmalet. She truly went above and beyond her expected capabilities this year.

Team of the year: SD Worx

Is there any looking past SD Worx? Did any team, men’s or women’s, come anywhere near to the level of success and domination they did? No there isn’t and no they did not. Whether we always enjoyed it or not, SD Worx were a team at the very top of their game this year, who made it count in all the important moments, so their claim to this title is clear.

Best one-day race: Women’s Brugge-De Panne

If there’s one thing I like watching, it’s a hectic and unpredictable race, and the women’s Brugge-De Panne in March certainly delivered on that. Crosswinds ripped the race apart, no one could control it, and Pfeiffer Georgi and Megan Jastrab put in an incredible effort to deliver Georgi to a solo win. It was a real thriller.

Best stage race: Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

It’s possibly an obvious pick, but my vote has to go to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. The parcours really stepped up from last year, and so did the racing - the whole week delivered on excitement. Especially in a year where we often saw the same riders winning, the Tour offered a whole host of different winners, many for the first time at the highest level, making it a refreshing race to cover with lots of new stories to tell.

Most memorable moment: Women’s Strade Bianche finale

I won’t be forgetting the final kilometre of the women’s Strade Bianche any time soon. From Kristen Faulkner being caught at the bottom of the Santa Caterina, to the cat-and-mouse up the climb, and of course the dramatic race to the line between Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky, with angry words exchanged afterwards, the end of that race was one of most exciting - and in some ways shocking - moments of the season.

Bold prediction for 2024: Gaia Realini Grand Tour victory

Gaia Realini will win a Grand Tour. Perhaps not the Tour, but with the talent she’s shown already, I’m sure Realini is already ready to win either the Giro or the Vuelta, especially now with no Annemiek van Vleuten to contend with. The Italian is the real deal, and I think she’s going to open her Grand Tour wins account very soon.

Patrick Fletcher - Deputy Editor

Male rider of the year: Tadej Pogačar

Jonas Vingegaard was awarded the Vélo d’Or and Mathieu van der Poel seems to have won the popular vote but for me Tadej Pogačar was the most impressive. He may have been humbled by Vingegaard at the Tour, but he still finished second with two stage wins, and won Paris-Nice in an early-season run that featured nine wins in 13 days. He may have lost out to Van der Poel at Worlds, but he still wore bronze, and won just as many Monuments. The fact that he became only the third rider in history to win both the Tour de France and Tour of Flanders underlines the magnitude of that victory along with his breathtaking versatility. In short, Pogačar might not have been the best stage rider of 2023 or the best one-day rider of 2023, but he was still the best rider of 2023.

Female rider of the year: Demi Vollering

The Dutchwoman truly came of age this year. 17 wins, including the Tour de France Femmes and the Ardennes treble, is an extraordinary return, and what has been striking alongside the physical progression has been the mental. Vollering has talked about consulting a psychologist and working on racing ‘in the moment’, and whereas she previously appeared wound up with stress, she now seems liberated.

Team of the year: Jumbo-Visma

It’s a really hard call between Jumbo-Visma men and SD Worx. A Monument might swing it in favour of the former, while a second Grand Tour might have edged it for the latter. I’ll flip a coin – and I’ve already hedged my bets by mentioning both anyway – and say Jumbo-Visma for the historic significance of their Grand Tour treble and the mind-boggling fact they capped it with a podium lock-out.

Best one-day race: Men’s Tour of Flanders

A Grand Tour rider scorching everyone at the Tour of Flanders was sensational stuff, and Pogačar’s assaults on the Oude Kwaremont were genuinely stunning. E3 Saxo Classic had teed this race up perfectly, and Pogačar seemed to iron out his errors on the spot, while Wout van Aert’s momentary weakness in victory foreshadowed his demise on the Kruisberg. Mathieu van der Poel, meanwhile, arguably rode his best Flanders but it simply wasn’t good enough. You also had a dangerous group of breakthrough talent that stole a march and kept the race open, Tom Pidcock bonking on the Koppenberg, and the fastest opening 100km you’ll ever see at Flanders. It was a thriller.

Best stage race: Volta a Catalunya

I’m trying to think outside the Grand Tour box, and some of the week-longers were a little one-sided but I enjoyed the ding-dong battle between Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič at the Volta a Catalunya. They consistently traded blows and it was as much about mind games as anything else, with a particularly delightful sequence during their surprise escapade on stage 6, when Evenepoel fumed at Roglič (the race leader) for not working with him. It teed things up beautifully for the Giro, and it’s just a shame that rivalry never got to play out to its full extent in Italy.

Most memorable moment: Jumbo-Visma's leadership storyline at the Vuelta a España

Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard riding away from Sepp Kuss on the Angliru will live long not only in my memory but in cycling legend. It was one of those moments that provided sheer jaw-dropping drama in the moment itself, but also repercussions that, thanks in part to the lack of a complete patch-up, linger to this day. It also exposed the nebulous moral framework of the sport and forced us to ask ourselves what sort of winners we want.

Bold prediction for 2024: Ayuso to join the top table

Juan Ayuso will win the Tour de France. He belongs in that talent bracket, he was slowed by injury last season, and Pogačar’s Giro plans open the door for more of an open leadership structure at the Tour, which could be a genuine headache for Vingegaard.

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