The retirement class of 2022 in the men’s WorldTour includes some of the peloton’s biggest stars to end their respective careers en masse in quite some time.
Typically, a marquee name or two will ride into the sunset, but the 2022 calendar, for quirk or coincidence, is seeing several key generational stars all decide to pull the plug at the end of this season.
The next few weeks and months will be the last chance to see such riders as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers), Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan).
Pundits and experts across the peloton say the sport will miss these legendary riders.
“Of course, the Giro will miss him. He will leave a big hole,” said Giro d’Italia race director Mauro Vegni. “He is a rider who can move the passion of the fans, and with the way he races in an attacking style, that will be impossible to replace. There is a problem now in Italian cycling because right now the Giro will not have a big favorite for the fans to get behind.”
Among them are a Tour de France winner (Nibali in 2014), two road world champions (Gilbert in 2011 and Valverde in 2019), two winners of the Giro d’Italia (Dumoulin in 2018, and Nibali in 2013 and 2016), a Vuelta a España winner (Valverde in 2009), as well as winners of innumerable classics and monuments, especially in the Ardennes with Gilbert and Valverde.
These are riders who won the sport’s biggest races, became superstars of their generation, and leave the sport at the top of the game.
Some of their rest results came later in their respective careers
All the big names endured crashes, illnesses, injuries, and other professional and personal setbacks (in the case of Valverde, a ban for links to the Operación Puerto case more than a decade ago), but emerged later in their respective careers to post some of their most significant and important results.
Porte, for example, hit the Tour podium with third in 2020 after years of racing with the pressure of a GC captain. Illness forced him out of his final grand tour at the Giro in May.
“I know it didn’t end the way I wanted it to but I still enjoyed the Giro,” Porte said. “If that’s how my grand tour journey ends, then that’s just how it is. It is a bit of nostalgia that every time you sign on to a race, it’s one less working day of the thing that’s been your life.”
They each decided to retire on their own terms, and with a few exceptions, are still producing top-level results. At 37, Nibali was recently fourth overall at the Giro, and the 42-year-old Valverde won three times this season, and finished second at Strade Bianche and La Flèche Wallonne.
The 31-year-old Dumoulin is perhaps the rider who leaves the sport with unfinished business. The Dutch all-rounder seemed destined for big things following his breakout 2017 Giro win. Second in both the 2018 Giro and Tour, he later suffered a knee injury in the 2019 season.
Citing burnout, he unexpectedly pulled back from racing at the start of last season after a relatively strong 2020 season. After some months away, he decided he still had something to give, came back to win an Olympic medal in the individual time trial last summer, only to realize the drive and sacrifice just wasn’t in him anymore.
“In 2020 I had a very difficult year and at the end of that year I got overtrained and burned out,” Dumoulin said. “At the end of 2020, beginning of 2021 I was only a shadow myself and thus decided at the time to take [a] break away from cycling to think about my future. With no guarantees on success. I choose not to take that road, but to quit my active cycling instead and to take a new and unknown path.”
No wavering on decision to move on
As of now, there are no major stars in the women’s peloton who are retiring. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak both reconsidered their retirement plans, and vow to race at least one more season.
Others are moving on as well, including Ben King (Human Powered Health), who won two stages in the 2018 Vuelta and won the 2010 U.S. road national title. Nate Brown, also Human Powered Health, retired after racing a final U.S. nationals in June.
Sam Bewley (BikeExchange-Jayco), a hard-working domestique who never won a professional road race but helped others hit innumerable podiums, announced his retirement this week after 14 seasons in the pack. Iljo Keisse (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), one of the best track and road veterans in the sport, also calls curtains at the end of the season.
There will inevitably be riders who will be forced into retirement this season after they will not be able to find a contract.
The sometimes cruel game of cycling’s musical chairs too often sends riders into retirement perhaps sooner than they would like. With nearly 50 riders off contract across the elite men’s WorldTour, a few will find there’s no longer a place for them in the bunch ever more obsessed with younger (and often cheaper) riders in the offing.
As of now, the number of retiring riders for 2022 is relatively small, with about a dozen. That number will grow as some riders won’t find contracts, but it doesn’t compare to the overhaul in 2021, when nearly 70 riders left the top level of the men’s peloton.
What’s different about this year is the quality and presence that the top riders meant in the WorldTour. For both Spain and Italy, with Valverde and Nibali, it’s an end of a golden era in both respective countries, with few stars waiting in the wings to fill the void.
None of the top names of the retirement class of 2022 seem to be wavering in their respective decisions to hang up their cleats. Porte, who raced his final grand tour at the Giro and became only Australia’s second Tour podium finisher in 2020, said he’s not nostalgic.
Even Valverde, who postponed retirement at the end of 2021 due a crash at that year’s Vuelta, vows this season is his last.
“I won’t change my mind,” Valverde said. “I know that I am , and that my body has 42 years, but my mind is if I’m still 23. I feel good very good physically, motivated to win more races. I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. When I stop] maybe I will feel a bit of liberation as well as sadness, but also great satisfaction. I’ll also be excited about starting a new phase of my life. I won’t stop riding with my friends, but I won’t have that pressure to get results.”
Going out on a high, racers until the end
Their respective calendars are winding down. Valverde will race one last Vuelta, while Porte is scheduled for the Tour of Britain in September. Nibali and Dumoulin will say goodbye at Il Lombardia, while Gilbert will race one last time in Belgium.
These riders won hundreds of races between them and earned millions of dollars in contracts. But at their core, they are bike racers who raced for the love of the game.
“What do I want most in my final season?” Gilbert said earlier this year. “To win one more time. That would be the perfect ending.”