Best Classics of the 21st Century

Jul 2, 2019
Hey, GTs can't take all the spotlight.

As far as "what is a classic", just use your head. I'll say that Worlds does count, despite few people ever calling it a "classic".

I've only watched a ton of reviews of 00-06-ish classics, so the period between then and a few years ago is a big blank spot for me, however, in no particular order:

Lombardia 2018: You have to love classics which come down to a mano-a-mano fight between two great GC riders. Pinot exorcising his descending demons, and then dropping Bernal, Roglic and Nibali in succession made me weep blood when he dropped out of the 2019 Tour. Just a wonderful way to cap off a great year of one-day racing.

Paris-Roubaix 2004: The sprint was sort of a foregone conclusion, but the last 90 minutes or so was the type of frantic constantly-changing action you want to see every P-R. 2016 would be on the list for the same reason.

Gent-Wevelgem 2019: Having a ton of pre-race favorites from basically every non-Quick Step team make a crosswind split is a virtual guarantee for a great race. I don't think I laughed harder in any race last year than seeing WVA and MVDP's glorious attack up the Kemmelberg only to latch onto Kristoff who predictably sat on.

LBL 2003: I disliked the Ans route and I think we'll see some great racing on the more "traditional" route in the future - in any case, I'm glad the Ardennes Classics have decided to leave the strongman sprint finish to La Fleche Wallonne. That said, '03 is probably my favorite of the 20th century Ans races, and almost certainly Tyler Hamilton's finest hour.

2019 World Championsihps, Men's Elite RR: I love races with a constantly changing group up the front that never quite gets caught but instead gets more and more serious as more riders bridge. I loved seeing an uber-hyped Belgian team get every tactical move wrong (though what happened to Gilbert was a crying shame). I loved how miserable the conditions were. I loved Kung pulling some of the most genuine looking pain faces I've seen ever. I loved everything about this race.

I don't know about worst, but Flanders just after the route change had a few dire years, though they had improved it a bit by 2014 or so. A lot of the Kemmelberg Amstel races were awful compared to the prior parcours which was wonderfully unpredictable- I remember there being quite a few boring L-B-Ls with the Ans finish in recent years as well. There were a lot of bad Worlds- Copenhagen and Doha probably being the worst for different reasons.
I love how Roelandts' ultimately non-winning ride in a windy semi-classic for some reason has made him forever and ever the best classics rider in your esteem :)

I would pick Paris-Roubaix 2016, Tour of Flanders 2011, WCRR 2009 and 2019, the Olympic Road Race in Rio (2016), Gent-Wevelgem 2015 and 2019, Amstel 2019, Il Lombardia 2016, Strade Bianche 2018. And even though it's difficult to compare with any other races, also Milan-Sanremo 2017 and 2019.

But compiling such a list is a little strange, because I definitely enjoy Flanders and Roubaix more than the other races, so it's not like I would pick Gent-Wevelgem's finest over the 10th best edition of Roubaix, for example. But there isn't much fun in just listing almost all editions of Roubaix and Flanders, so for those, I just picked the very best.

And Liège is never really good, so it didn't deserve to have an edition on the list.

I think generally the quality of one-day races has improved in the last few years, and I don't think I suffer from too much recency bias even though my list would suggest that (I have been watching classics regularly since 2007, Roubaix and WCRR from the early 2000's but I don't recall every detail in all editions of all monuments since then).
There are a lot of Paris-Roubaix's that are up there on the list. To make a short list: 2013, 2008, 2016, 2019, 2010
After Paris-Roubaix there would be multiple Flanders races listed including 2019 (due to Bettiol's win not because of Valverde racing it). 2014, 2018, 2010
For non Paris-Roubiax/Flanders: Strade Bianche 2018, Olympics 2016, Worlds 2015 and 2018, LBL 2017

For me many Paris-Roubaix editions are going to be at the top of the list followed by many editions of Flanders then other races after those.
One of the most iconic PR editions i can remember, is from the 20st century. The one Andrei Tchmil won, with Museeuw chasing on a "womens bike". Think it was 1994. (It was).
Bianchi had made a "special edition" specifically for Museeuw and Paris Roubaix. With front and rear suspension. Museeuw frustratingly saw how Tchmil rode further and further away.

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Limiting myself to two or three editions of each monument, these are my favourites:

I Milano - Sanremo

  • 2004: Oscar Freire. If I have to pick one of the sprint finishes, it has to be this one. I always liked Freire with his distracted personality. This was the edition when Erik Zabel lifted his arms, thinking he had won his fifth, but the little Spaniard beat him on the line.
  • 2008: Fabian Cancellara. He's probably my favourite rider of this century. In MS he was always good, but usually beaten by a sprinter. That year he managed to drop everyone on the flat and steam through to the finish.
  • 2018: Vincenzo Nibali. He did what almost seemed impossible in the modern era: attacking on the Poggio and staying away. His great descending skills were as important as the uphill attack.
II Ronde van Vlaanderen

  • 2010: Fabian Cancellara. It looked like a predictable outcome. Boonen would stay with Cancellara and beat him in the sprint. Then came Spartacus' acceleration on the Muur, the last big exploit on that climb. He could accelerate while staying in the saddle, and maintain the pace all the way to Meerbeke.
  • 2016: Peter Sagan. He was smart enough to attack before the Kwaremont, surprising Cancellara, who didn't have enough team support. He dropped Kwiatkowski and Vanmarcke on the last two climbs. In spite of being a good sprinter his best wins were solo.
  • 2017: Philippe Gilbert. He moved to the Wolf Pack in order to change his focus to the cobbled classics, and with success. He did a solo of 55 km, of course helped by his teammates in the background. He must have been really strong and confident for such a major attack. It made him one of the most versatile riders of this generation.
III Paris - Roubaix

  • 2010: Fabian Cancellara. That year he was at his very strongest, winning E3, Flanders and Roubaix. His decisive attack didn't come on the cobblestones, but on tarmacadam. One small gap was enough for him to stay away. Once he was in the flow he was unstoppable.
  • 2018: Peter Sagan. I remember the forum was ridiculing him the morning before the race, but he answered with the pedals. He attacked more than 50 km before the finish. His technique on cobblestones was much improved compared to earlier editions. In the final he took the surprising Swiss Dillier with him, knowing that would be an easy sprint.
  • 2019: Philippe Gilbert. He was the only one strong enough to stay with revelation Nils Politt on Carrefour de l'Arbre. I wasn't sure about his sprint, but that went smoothly. He became the first rider since Sean Kelly to win four out of five monuments.
IV Liège - Bastogne - Liège

  • 2009: Andy Schleck. He's sometimes ridiculed as "Baby" Schleck, a talented guy who perhaps didn't have enough mental strength and who retired at a young age. It shouldn't be forgotten though that on his best days he was good for a brilliant solo. Think of his stage win in the Tour and of course this strong performance.
  • 2019: Jakob Fuglsang. I liked the Saint Nicolas because of VDB in 1999, but it turned out that the new course did give us a great race. Fuglsang was always a very talented guy, but winning didn't come easily. At the age of 34 he had his best spring campaign with a few narrow losses, and ultimately this big win, with a solo attack on the faux plat just after the Roche aux Faucons.
V Giro di Lombardia

  • 2015: Vincenzo Nibali. He did it twice in roughly the same manner, so I'll pick the first of these. He was one of the strongest climbers, but made the difference with his descending skills and attacking spirit.
  • 2018: Thibaut Pinot. After being beaten by Nibali twice he took revenge. The two went early on the Madonna dG, and Pinot managed to drop Nibali on the Civiglio. That was a rewarding victory for someone who had a lot of bad luck in his career.
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People have already mentioned most of the best ones, but i think Giro di Lombardia 2016 was another good one (finish itno bergamo, 40km breakaway) and also the last three milano sanremos. Liege has been dire for years, but 2012 was interesting. Amstel the last couple of times has also been fantastic - the resurrection of Van der Poel!
Partycrasher van der Poel :cool:

I can't decide on my favourites. I am far from having seen everything. To my own surprise I'm inclined to end up with Paris-Roubaix 2016 as my favourite. Don't ask me why. I don't even like cobble riders :mad:
Why would we challenge that as a selection? It's already been nominated five times before you. There seems to be widespread consensus that 2016 Roubaix was a classic. As in the general meaning of the word, i.e. a classic edition of the race. Any edition of Roubaix is of course a classic in the cycling definition.
Reading these lists, and watching reruns of older races on tv, it boggles my mind how much and how fast i forget stuff like this. But there are some races i will never forget. I already mentioned the '94 Paris Roubaix. In the same vein, i remember the WCC in 1988 in Ronse, where Criquelion was about to become worldchampion for the second time... if it wasn't for f*ing Steve Bauer. But all that's last century.

One i haven't forgotten yet, and likely never will, was last year's Classica San Sebastian. First WT race in his life, as the youngest in the peloton at 19, chasing back on the penultimate climb after a mechanical while the domestiques of the big favorite are going full throttle, bridging, then bringing some bottles to the front of the peloton for his teammates, and 5 minutes later... poof. But the most impressive stuff was extending the lead with 5 Movi/Astana guys leading the peloton and still having enough in the tank to stay away on the climb. He had some help from Skuijns, in the first few kilometers, but it didn't last long before he sat on the wheel most of the time.

I also remember a section where Cancellara attacked right before he took a lefthander took a few meters on Boonen, who was in his wheel... and Boonen never was able to close that gap again, not even while sprinting. Cancellara still pedalling away. I'd assume that was in E3 2010 looking at the results, but i can't remember anything else from that race. Cancellara could have these moments as well, where it was difficult to believe what you were seeing.
MSR 2018, for 100% subjective reasons. Iirc it was actually abysmal until Nibali attacked
Ronde 2017, again I would have like this a lot less if I hadn't rooted for Gilbert
PR 2016, or so I've heard
LBL Genuinely don't think I've seen a really good edition of that race. I've watched 2009 a number of times on YT though, so that's my pick
Lombardia 2015, Nibali's downhill attack is iconic, 2016 and 2018 come close though
Worlds 2019, really loved that absolute bonkers race of attrition.

Also shout out to the 2016 Olympics. That was one of the best races I have ever watched.
In last decade I enjoyed 2014 and 2017 RVV. PR 2016 is probably the greatest monument I've ever seen ( though missed a lot of it because I was on the road ), but PR 2013 was great too. As Gigs says 2019 Worlds and 2016 Olympics were great, but a shout to 2012 Olympics too, with everyone attacking ( Vino! ). I think the best MSR of this decade was 2011 ( but I also enjoyed 2018 for Nibali ), Lombardia 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2018 were all great. For LBL probably the best one was 2012.
Talking about 2010s only.

I also enjoyed 2017 Amstel. 2015 Gent-Weevelgem was epic, 2016-2017 were pretty good too. E3 was nice in either '17 or '18 ( or both ). Also I liked the editions of Paris-Tours that did not end with a sprint.
Everyone writes Roubaix 2016 but for me that is one of the most painful memories. Boonen was actually in decent position to win his 5th edition but was boxed in by stupid Vanmarcke and Stannard so he could not really launch his sprint properly until the last second and lost to freaking Hayman. Without these two interfering Boonen would have probably won and I too would think of this edition as a great one :D
Yeah, it was his own fault to ride at the bottom and to let himself get boxed in but it is easier for me to cope with when I can put the blame on others. :p