• (L to R clockwise) Ben O'Connor, Grace Brown, Caleb Ewan. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
It was a mixed year for Australian riders tackling the top races around the world, with the emergence of new stars, while the established ones experienced some rollercoaster seasons.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

8 Nov - 1:11 PM 

A list of some of the great Australian performers of 2021 road season in no particular order, complete with highlights from their races that we showed live on SBS. Obviously, events like nationals and the National Road Series produced some great rides, but it's hard to say those performances were examples of Australians excelling, when their competition was almost entirely local riders.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)

There are a lot of good sprinters around in the world at the moment, but few great ones and Ewan is perhaps the only rider that fits this bill. Most of the fast men are only going to do as good as their leadout, maybe adding a little quality of their rivals here and there with slightly more power or versatility over different terrain. 

Ewan can transcend his train, he has overcome mediocre performances from his leadout riders at times during the season to deliver results and he's also shown that he can take care of himself in the biggest races. His performance in Milan San Remo as one of the strongest over the Poggio, countering moves himself without any teammates in the finale before winning the bunch sprint for second was a great performance that went without the ultimate reward.

2021 Giro Stage 5 Replay (4hrs 1 min in for last 10km)

His goal this year was to take wins at each Grand Tour, an ambition that looked on track during the Giro d'Italia, when he scooped two stage wins. How he did it was illustrative of how Ewan has overcome leadout difficulties. In the first stages of the races, his train was doing the normal thing, battling with the rest of the teams as they waited for the perfect time to spring forward and deliver Ewan with speed in the final 200 metres. 

After a few times of getting nowhere near the pointy end of the race, the tactic changed to simply get the Australian to the front of the race within the final kilometre and let him work his magic from there. Abracadabra and two stage wins for Ewan.

Giro Stage 7 Replay (3hr 59 mins in for last 10km)

A nasty crash during Stage 3 of the Tour de France put paid to his ambitions for the rest of the 2021 season, he did return and won a stage at the Benelux Tour, but he wasn't at his best and will be looking for the top of the pile in 2022, with his stated focus the world championships and Milan San Remo.

Ewan to focus on worlds and Milan San Remo in 2022
Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has said that he'll mainly focus on the 2022 World Championships road race in the second half of the season, with the race to be held in Wollongong next year.
McEwen breaks down sprint chaos as Ewan forced to abandon Tour de France
SBS Tour de France commentator Robbie McEwen breaks down the chaotic final sprint during Stage 3 of the 2021 Tour de France as Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) fell after a nasty collision with Peter Sagan (BORA-Hansgrohe) and the Australian star was later forced to abandon the race.
Ewan out of Tour de France with fractured collarbone
In the worst possible scenario on a stage he was tipped to win, Aussie Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) was forced to abandon the 2021 Tour de France after suffering a collarbone fracture in a crash with Peter Sagan (BORA-Hansgrohe) during the final sprint in Stage 3.

Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange)

It wasn't one of the stellar seasons in terms of results from our female cyclists, but without question, Grace Brown was the best and looks to be our hope for taking wins in the biggest races in the near future. 

She showed why she's considered one of the top classics riders in the world with her performances in the early season, her most notable victory coming with a quintessential Brown move, attacking solo from range and grinding her way into the finish for the win. A super ride for third at the Tour of Flanders was another highlight, with Brown attacking on a few occasions before eventually sprinting to third behind runaway winner Annemiek van Vleuten.

2021 Tour of Flanders Replay

Her ride for fifth at La Course was all the more remarkable because she was part of a late attack, in fact, one of its main contributors, before being caught just before the climb. She then rode a great final effort on the punchy finish to end up fifth. 

La Course 2021 Replay

A crash at the Giro Rosa came after a sterling third place in the mountain time trial, exceeding even Brown's expectations as signs looked positive heading into the Olympics. However, a crash during the Giro put her out of competition, only returning for the Olympics where she was fourth, just off the medals in the time trial. 

Her shoulder injury from the Giro crash required surgery, putting into a fresh light the impressiveness of the Olympic showing, and everyone will be keen to watch the Victorian in action in 2022. 

Ben O'Connor (AG2R-Citroën)

The rider from West Australia captured hearts at the Tour de France with a courageous and promising ride for fourth overall that will go down as his career best to date, and one of the best ever by an Australian at the Tour, only bettered by Cadel Evans and Richie Porte. It all very nearly didn't happen at all, with O'Connor falling heavily on Stage 1, and losing significant time in the first few days racing as he hauled his battered body along.

Ben O'Connor looked in serious pain after being involved in a Stage 1 crash.

That was before he came good towards the end of the first week and announced himself as an Aussie star of the sport with a stage win to the ski resort in Tignes on Stage 9 of the Tour de France.

It was an epic journey, the story of a rising star of the sport written by the pumping legs of O'Connor on the cold, wet roads of the Alps. Those 24 hours of O'Connor's Tour de France revealed a lot about the resilience of the young Australian's character and the calibre of rider he is.

The previous day, he trailed in Pogacar’s wake in awful conditions, part of a field that looked beaten already by the defending champion's brilliance in the mountains. He emerged Tour de France stage winner just a day later with an audacious move in the pouring rain, holding his own up the final climb as some of the best riders in the world tried, but failed, to chase him down. Not only did he vault himself into an elite club as a Tour de France mountain-top stage winner, but as a fighter who responds to adversity with class.

Tour de France Stage 9 Replay (watch all of it, great stage!)

He continued to impress as he maintained his strong general classification bid during the rest of the Tour and in the end was fourth overall, behind the top trio of Pogacar, Vingegaard and Carapaz on the decisive climbs and just off the podium in Paris.

There were other top moments for O'Connor during 2021 (watch out for him in the Richie Porte Dauphine highlights below), and if you want to get a sense of how he progressed during the year, a trip through the SBS highlights from Paris-Nice and the Dauphine would give you an idea of the easy-going Aussie's journey.

O'Connor eyes yellow jersey in Tour de France future
Ben O’Connor hopes he will one day wear the yellow jersey after finishing fourth in his unforgettable Tour de France debut.
O'Connor's laidback Aussie attitude refreshing at top of the Tour
Ben O’Connor believes the pressure and popularity associated with succeeding in cycling won’t change him as a person, even after a career-defining Tour de France.

Richie Porte (INEOS Grenadiers)

Porte was in sparkling form in the early part of the season, with strong rides for second overall behind teammates at the Volta Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie before his biggest success at the Criterium du Dauphine, a win after a number of close misses at the race. His top displays of climbing on the queen stage and then defending his overall lead on the final day were great to watch, find those highlights below.

Criterium du Dauphine Stage 7 Replay

Those performances invited speculation, even some of my own, that we might see Porte as the Tour de France designated leader, but perhaps instead we should have listened to Porte's words ahead of the season when he said he was going to those races to support the ambitions of others. 

Criterium du Dauphine Stage 8 Replay

Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious)

The Aussie climber was getting his real chance at leadership, after years at Greenedge with his main role in the biggest races being as a support rider for the Yates brothers. 2021 was an important year for Haig and he made the most of his opportunities. 

He built his way into the season with top-ten GC performances at Paris-Nice and the Dauphine, very prominent in the latter with a number of strong attacks. That was en route to his major goal of the Tour de France, but he got caught up on the dangerous run-in to the finish in Stage 3 and was out of the race with a broken collarbone.

Haig's hard road back yielding unexpected success at Vuelta
Uncertainty ahead of the Vuelta a España for Australian general classification rider Jack Haig has been replaced by positivity and cautious optimism after he climbed up to fourth overall after the first two key days in the mountains.
Aussie Haig forced to abandon Stage 3 of Tour de France
Caleb Ewan wasn’t the only Australian to suffer a Tour de France setback overnight, with Jack Haig also involved in a crash five kilometres out from the finish line in Stage 3.

He was a touch-and-go starter for the Vuelta a Espana, it hadn't been a pre-season goal, and he was only just recovered from a complicated surgery. Nonetheless, he went from strength to strength at the race, starting as a domestique for team leader Mikel Landa, before out-performing him and being thrust into a role as the team's main GC man. 

It was a brutal race, but Haig was heroically supported by Gino Mader at key points of the racing and was able to fight his way back on occasions where he was dropped and clung tough to secure his maiden Grand Tour podium finish. It's hard to pick out one stage to highlight, but Stage 20 was good for so many reasons, including Haig's performance, so that replay is included below. 

Vuelta a Espana Stage 20 Replay

Michael Storer (Team DSM)

It was an important season for Storer, a contract year for the Australian looking to secure his long-term future in the peloton. He did that, and more with his second half of the year showings. 

He started off in the lesser race of the Tour de l'Ain, winning the queen stage and overall there, before converting his form to the big leagues at the Vuelta a Espana. He won Stage 7 from an elite breakaway then took another win in similar fashion on Stage 10. 

2021 Vuelta a Espana Stage 7 Replay

He wasn't done there, and despite showing some signs of fatigue in the later half of the race, continued to battle and propelled himself into the King of the Mountains jersey, standing on the podium at the conclusion of the Grand Tour along with the other high acheivers.

2021 Vuelta a Espana Stage 10 Replay

Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo)

It was superb comeback for Chloe Hosking in a season that had looked dire at times as the Canberran contracted COVID-19 just ahead of Schelderprijs. That forced her out of one of her key races for the season, and the sprinter endured a tough time mentally and physically after. 

She returned to racing in Norway, and made up for lost time with a superb win on the final stage, as she used her smarts to get herself into the perfect position to tackle the final sprint, holding off Coryn Rivera into the line. One of the most emotional wins of the 2021 season.

Highlights from the Ladies Tour of Norway Stage 4

Hosking went on to take a win in the Tour de l'Ardeche, and a series of consistent sprints at the Women's Tour, but here season will always be highlighted with this WorldTour win in Norway.

Rohan Dennis (INEOS Grenadiers)

The two-time world champion in the time trial, Dennis' season is always going to judged about how he goes in key tests against the clock. In 2021, there was of course the Olympics as the target for the South Australian. 

He was third there, a bronze medal in a very tough field over the hilly course. It was the only medal for Australia on the road at the Olympics, one of only three for the entire cycling team at the Games, and reflects that he's very much one of the best in the world in the discipline. 

The rest of the season was a bit subdued, there wasn't the super domestique performances akin to his 2020 Giro d'Italia rides, though he was a game sixth at the Tour of Britain while riding for Ethan Hayter, where part of the team time trial stage win. He took individual wins in the Tour de Romandie prologue and claimed perhaps his most impressive individual victory in the Volta a Catalunya Stage 2 time trial.

2021 Stage 2 Volta a Catalunya Highlights

Notable others: Jay Vine (Stage 14 Vuelta, Tour of Turkey 2nd overall), Damien Howson (Tour de Hongrie overall), Amanda Spratt (Top 10 Amstel, Fleche Wallonne, Liege), Michael Matthews (13 top-fives on the season), Miles Scotson (Valenciana stage win), Lucas Hamilton (Top-10 Paris-Nice, Volta Catalunya, Romandie), Chris Harper (4th overall UAE Tour), Chris Hamilton (number of very good performances from breakaways and as a domestique) Lauretta Hanson (one of the best domestiques in Women's WorldTour).