Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the other best races of 2015
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 28/12/15 10:36am
Cycling produced another constant stream of exciting action and memorable races in 2015.
The Grand Tours, week-long tours and Classics were all fiercely contested.
Here, we count down the top 10 races of the year…
Even the duller editions of Paris-Roubaix can be relied upon to deliver some of the season's most pulsating racing and it did not disappoint this year. After the course's bone-rattling cobbles had whittled the peloton down into an elite group heading into the final 50km, the serious attacks began and it looked like Yves Lampaert and Greg Van Avermaet had made the decisive move when they escaped. However, John Degenkolb dragged himself and four others across to the front two with a defiant counter-attack and then reaped his rewards by winning in a sprint in the Roubaix Velodrome.
9. Women's World Championship road race
The women's world road race was not necessarily thrill-a-minute viewing, but it was riveting from a tactical point of view. When a breakaway formed containing riders from all the big nations except Britain, it looked like they would stay away to the finish and that race-favourite Lizzie Armitstead's chances of victory were over.
However, when the Australian and German riders in the escape group began to wilt, their team-mates in the peloton started chasing and caught the breakaway, inadvertently bringing Armitstead back to the front of the field in the process. From there, she used her climbing skills to thin down the bunch on the final climb of the day and then her fast finish to sprint to a victory that was a testament to patience as much as physical prowess.
8. Tour de France
In truth, Chris Froome had the yellow jersey sewn up as early as stage 10, but Nairo Quintana's gung-ho attempt to overhaul his three-minute deficit to the Team Sky rider in the final week made for a gripping finale. The highlight was the penultimate stage ending at Alpe d'Huez, when Quintana launched no fewer than five attacks at a visibly wilting Froome but ultimately fell 1min 12sec short.
7. Tour of Flanders
The Tour of Flanders is always a swashbuckling spectacle and this year's edition was no different. The best Classics riders in the world played out a compelling battle over the seemingly endless barrage of cobbled climbs until Niki Terpstra and Alexander Kristoff finally emerged from the melee to contest a sprint finish, which Kristoff won with ease.
6. Tour of California
Seldom has a victory in sport been decided by so fine a margin. Julian Alaphlippe and Peter Sagan went into the final stage separated by just two seconds, but Sagan reduced that to one second by picking up a bonus second at the day's intermediate sprint. With the stage set to end in a sprint, Sagan needed to finish in the top three to claim more bonus seconds, and did so by pipping Tyler Farrar to third place in a photo finish that even now still seems inconclusive.
5. Men's World Championship road race
Like the women's version, the men's world road race was not necessarily a classic but was illuminated by Sagan's thrilling, rainbow jersey-winning attack in the last 2.8km. The Slovak made his move on the day's penultimate climb, breezing past fellow attacker Van Avermaet before stretching his advantage out with a breakneck descent down the opposite side. It then became a question of whether he could hold off the chasing peloton on the final climb and 680m of flat to the finish, which he managed to do by just three seconds.
4. Giro d'Italia
A brief look at the Giro's results would suggest eventual winner Alberto Contador dominated and had it all his own way, but that was far from the case. The Spaniard's race looked in peril when he dislocated his shoulder on stage six, but he recovered to open up what looked like a decisive lead of 4min 2sec with five stages to go, only to then suffer a drastic loss of form in the final mountain stages and nearly throw it all away. He eventually defeated runner-up Fabio Aru by 1min 53sec.
3. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
When Ian Stannard found himself in a leading quartet with three Etixx - Quick-Step riders going into the final 40km of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, his chances of victory looked slim at best. It seemed inevitable that Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh would keep attacking the Briton until he was exhausted from chasing, but that was not how it panned out.
A chase group behind meant the Quick-Step trio had to work hard to maintain the lead, inadvertently allowing the out-gunned Stannard to sit in their slipstream and conserve energy. When the attacks finally began in the last 5km, Stannard had enough left in the tank to easily fend them all off and then beat Terpstra in a sprint finish.
This year's edition of Gent-Wevelgem was nothing short of remarkable. The racing itself was enthralling - Luca Paolini eventually triumphing thanks to an astute late attack - but the real entertainment came earlier in the day, when near-gale-force winds obliterated the peloton and, at one point, almost ground riders to a standstill. In one incident, a huge gust blew Geraint Thomas off the road and on to a grass verge, where he subsequently somersaulted over his handlebars. He managed to resume racing and eventually finished third.
1. Vuelta a Espana
The Vuelta may be the least prestigious of the three Grand Tours but, once again, this year it proved to be comfortably the most exciting. From the barrage of summit finishes on almost comically steep climbs, to the battle royal that took place between the race favourites on stage nine and the breakthrough performances of Tom Dumoulin and Esteban Chaves, almost every day left the viewer breathless.
All of the contenders had good stages and bad, creating a to-and-fro battle for the red jersey that was only settled when race leader Dumoulin suffered a dramatic collapse on the penultimate day, handing overall victory to Aru.
Do you agree with out list? Are there any races we have missed? Let us know by leaving a comment below...