As the 2022 cycling season has come to a close, it is time to rank the top 10 climbing performances of the year. An admittedly hard task, considering the multitude of impressive performances from various riders throughout the year. The climbing speeds especially exploded when summer arrived after the Giro d’Italia, with eight of the ten entries in the list coming after the month of May.
We have determined this ranking based primarily on w/kg per duration, but other factors like altitude, temperature and difficulty of the race up to that point (measured using spent kj/kg/h) are accounted for subjectively, as it has not been definitively established how much such factors affect the eventual w/kg performance on a final climb. The duration of the effort also has to be exceed 5 minutes for it to be counted as a climbing performance, meaning short efforts like Dylan Teuns on Mur de Huy will not appear on this list. All estimated w/kg are normalised etalon w/kg for the average 60kg rider.
With the large number of high level performances, it was impossible to include even some absolutely elite efforts that would have surely made the top 10 in other years. Here are some of the efforts that were close to the Top 10 in no particular order:
- Mikel Landa, Jai Hindley and Richard Carapaz on Santa Cristina (Giro d’Italia Stage 16): 36’15min @ 6,20w/kg.
- Ruben Guerreiro on Mont Ventoux (Mt Ventoux Denivele Challenge): 58’36min @ 5,98w/kg.
- Mauricio Moreira on Senhora Assuncao (GP Jornal de Noticias Stage 2): 13’23min @ 7,14w/kg.
- Remco Evenepoel on Collau Fancuaya (Vuelta a Espana Stage 8): 27’29min @ 6,42w/kg.
- Remco Evenepoel on Penas Blancas (Vuelta a Espana Stage 12): 45’40min @ 6,19w/kg.
10. Jonas Vingegaard, Plateau de Solaison
Criterium du Dauphine Stage 8, Plateau de Solaison (11,3km; 9,07%)
6,32w/kg for 34’34min.
Jumbo Visma were not required to do more than defend on the final stage of the Dauphiné, as Primoz Roglic had already acquired a comfortable GC lead on the previous day, but the Dutch team was determined to put on a show before Le Tour. Kruijswijk managed to reduce the group to just four riders with a very long and strong pull, before Vingegaard and Roglic took off and dropped Ben O’Connor, the final challenger.
The surprising part were the problems of elected leader Roglic to follow Vingegaard, who eventually slowed down for the Slovenian. This led to Ben O’Connor coming back to losing just 15 seconds, as the two Jumbo leaders celebrated the Stage and GC double victory. This high level w/kg performance after a decently hard stage (13,21kj/kg/h for 3:31h) in 30°C heat while even slowing down for Roglic was certainly a sign of things to come from Jonas Vingegaard in Le Tour de France.
9. Jai Hindley on Passo Fedaia
Giro d’Italia Stage 20, Passo Fedaia (5,3km; 11,11%)
6,51w/kg for 18’50min
The only effort from the Giro d’Italia on this list is also the one which decided the race, when Jai Hindley dropped Richard Carapaz for good on the final road stage, after INEOS set an inexplicably high tempo on the first part of the ascent. The w/kg of this effort are clearly the worst in the top 10 and lower than some performances that missed out on the ranking, but the conditions in which this performance was achieved make it so impressive.
The stage itself was already very hard with 13,98kj/kg/h for 4:30h including the altitude climbs Passo San Pellegrino, Passo Pordoi and Passo Fedaia with the performance right at the end of three weeks of racing. All of this explains the large gaps Jai Hindley created with his Fedaia ascension that missed the climbing record of Enrico Zaina by 23 seconds, but was faster than Marco Pantani in 1998.
8. Remco Evenepoel on Gaustatoppen
Tour of Norway Stage 3, Gaustatoppen Stavsro (10,5km; 8,70%)
6,50w/kg for 30’23min
The performance that shocked the cycling world. After months of struggles on the steep climbs – 41 seconds behind Vlasov on Maigmo Tibi, 4’01min behind Pogacar on the Tirreno queen stage and 24 seconds behind the lead group on Arrate – Remco Evenepoel finally exploded the watts and released a ‘Generational’ w/kg performance in the Tour of Norway, a race which he absolutely dominated with three stage wins and the GC title.
The conditions to perform such an effort were certainly near perfect with the low altitude, ideal temperature and a medium difficulty stage with 12,68kj/kg/h for 4:01h, but it was still easily the most impressive performance of the year at that point of the season. Both Remco Evenepoel and Jay Vine, who finished second with 6,34w/kg for 30’49min, would eventually improve on there performances in La Vuelta a Espana some months later.
7. Remco Evenepoel on Les Praeres
Vuelta a Espana Stage 9, Les Praeres (3,77km; 13,29%)
6,83w/kg for 15’06min
After two huge performances already in the first week on Pico Jano and Collau Fancuaya the previous day, Remco Evenepoel managed another impressive effort on the Rampas Inhumanas of Les Praeres in Stage 9 of La Vuelta. Evenepoel broke the climbing record of Simon Yates and put 34 seconds into Juan Ayuso, the closest challenger. This impressive display of strength after a hard stage with 13,87kj/kg/h for 4:03h dropped the other GC contenders within the first kilometre of the climb and concluded a perfect first week for Remco Evenepoel, who was now 1:12min ahead of Mas and 1:53min ahead of Roglic in GC before the first rest day.
6. Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard on Mende
Tour de France Stage 14, Cote de la Croix Neuve – Mende (3,05km; 10,33%)
Tadej Pogacar: 7,36w/kg for 9’05min
Jonas Vingegaard: 7,26w/kg for 9’05min
After the dramatic blowup of Pogacar on Col du Granon, he was forced to attack at every opportunity for the remainder of Le Tour to gain back the 2’22min GC deficit to Jonas Vingegaard. On Stage 14 the Slovenian was especially aggressive, already attacking in the early hilly parts of the stage, but Jumbo-Visma managed to control him despite some anxious moments. The main attack then came on the Cote de la Croix Neuve, the most famous 10 minute w/kg test in cycling.
This strong attack immediately blew everyone away except for Jonas Vingegaard, who was glued to the wheel of Pogacar throughout the entire ascent, seemingly not even breathing. The names of the only three riders that ever climbed this hill faster than the two dominators of the Tour de France 2022 confirm just how fast Pogacar and Vingegaard were: Marco Pantani (1995, 8’59min), Miguel Indurain (1995, 9’00min) and Bjarne Riis (1995, 9’00min).
5. Brandon McNulty on Stage 17 of Le Tour de France
Tour de France Stage 17, Col de Val Louron Azet West (8,34km; 7,94%) and Peyragudes (8,08km; 8,03%)
Col de Val Louron Azet West: 6,58w/kg for 22’24min
Peyragudes: 6,23w/kg for 22’57min
Brandon McNulty was much stronger in the Pyrenees in the latter part of the Tour de France, having been dropped by Nathan Van Hooyndonck’s pace on Col de la Croix de Fer in the Alpes. He showed flashes on Mende, setting up the Pogacar attack and then probably could have won Stage 16 to Foix from the breakaway had he not been on teammate duties. His true day of glory however was Stage 17, the stage made for Tadej Pogacar, featuring multiple 20-25min climbs with a consistent moderate gradient, on which UAE hoped to drop Jonas Vingegaard.
After Mikkel Bjerg had already achieved a career climbing performance, reducing the group to less than 15 riders on Hourquette d’Ancizan, it was McNulty’s turn on Val Louron. He delivered more than maybe even UAE expected from him, demolishing the penultimate climb at 6,58w/kg with only Pogacar and Vingegaard able to survive in the draft. On the final climb to Peyragudes it became clear that Pogacar would not be able to drop Vingegaard, as McNulty kept riding on the front at a lower, but still high tempo until the final ramp at 500m to go, on which Pogacar managed to sprint for the stage win.
4. Remco Evenepoel on Erlaitz
Klasika San Sebastian, Erlaitz (3,8km; 10,74%)
7,25w/kg for 11’56min
After a disappointing Tour de Suisse, Remco Evenepoel returned from an altitude camp to San Sebastian even stronger than in Norway. The young Belgian initiated a 45km solo win with a tremendous Erlaitz ascent at 7,25w/kg, dropping an in-form Simon Yates off the wheel. It remains the best pure w/kg performance of the entire season.
Performing at such a level is naturally easier in a one day race, but doing it to set up a 45km solo to win by 1:58min showed his absolute superiority over the strong competition. It was certainly a completely different victory than in 2019, when he became the youngest rider ever to win a UCI World Tour race. Back then he was dropping on early climbs and had to rely on the peloton to underestimate a late breakaway of him to win the race.
3. Jay Vine and Remco Evenepoel on Pico Jano
Vuelta a Espana Stage 6, Pico Jano (12,4km; 6,66%)
Jay Vine: 6,58w/kg for 29’53min
Remco Evenepoel: 6,50w/kg for 30’08min
The two superclimbers of the Tour of Norway immediately delivered on the first mountain stage of the Vuelta a Espana, creating massive gaps on a very shallow climb with a huge drafting benefit. Both riders were probably on the same level as each other, but with Vine attacking away from the slow peloton earlier and not a GC threat, he effectively got a head start on Evenepoel which awarded him with the stage win and his first professional victory. Remco Evenepoel was slowly closing in on him from behind, putting 1’12min into Roglic and the main GC group at the same time on a stage where few GC gaps, if any, were expected.
Mas and Ayuso also performed close to their career best numbers with 6,26w/kg and 6,23w/kg respectively, which indicates that the conditions were favourable, such as the low altitude and the stage coming early in the race. That being said, with 6,20w/kg for 19’05min on Collada de Brenes just before, they did not walk up to the base of the climb.
2. Jonas Vingegaard on Col du Granon
Tour de France Stage 11, Col du Granon (11,28km; 9,20%)
6,10w/kg for 35’55min
Stage 11 of Le Tour was shaping up to be one for the ages right from the start, being ridden exceptionally hard even before Roglic and Vingegaard started rolling attacks on the Col du Galibier. This was compounded by Pogacar even attacking them himself, which likely cost him a decent amount of time at the end of the stage. He rode the high altitude Galibier at 5,54w/kg for 48’46min with countless tempo changes, with his normalised power likely being much higher than the average w/kg. Vingegaard, drafting a bit more, rode at 5,50w/kg on the Galibier – already good numbers at altitude, but it was only the penultimate climb of the day.
The real gaps were created on the final climb to Col du Granon, where Jonas Vingegaard attacked with 4,6km to go after the very hard pacing of Rafal Majka, climbing the last 15’00min at 6,47w/kg. This is one of the all-time great altitude climbing performances, with which the Danish climber effectively won the Tour de France 2022, putting 2’51min into his Slovenian rival.
1. Jonas Vingegaard on Hautacam
Tour de France Stage 18, Hautacam (13,33km; 7,95%)
Spandelles: 6,17w/kg for 29’57min
Hautacam: 6,32w/kg for 36’30min
The final mountain stage of Le Tour was symbolic of the entire event, with Jumbo Visma dominating the stage from start to finish. As Van Aert and Benoot once again joined the breakaway as satellite riders, it became another extremely hard stage with 15,9kj/kg/h for 2:40h before Spandelles including ~5,1w/kg for over 50 minutes on the Col d’Aubisque. The combination of this hard racing, the strong attacks on the penultimate climb, the third week effect and the high w/kg performances on both Spandelles and Hautacam make this THE performance of 2022. Pogacar attempted to distance Vingegaard on the Spandelles climb, hitting him with three big attacks, but the Dane was comfortably following all of them.
The final climb to Hautacam has been the stage for many career-defining performances in the past, including Indurain in 1994, Riis in 1996, Armstrong in 2000, more recently Nibali in 2014 and now Jonas Vingegaard in 2022. Sepp Kuss pulled at over 6,2w/kg for the first 23 minutes, before Van Aert was caught as last survivor from the early break and delivered a short but very hard final pull that even distanced Pogacar. The yellow jersey was still clearly far from done at that point, as he extended the gap to Pogacar to 1’04min and even climbed the last 4,5km faster than Bjarne Riis in 1996 – the greatest climbing performance in history and the greatest climbing performance of 2022, both achieved by Danes on the Hautacam.
With four entries on the list each, Jonas Vingegaard and Remco Evenepoel have to be considered the two best climbers of 2022, while Tadej Pogacar ranks behind them in third. Pogacar may only have one entry, but he consistently delivers great performances in all WorldTour races that he enters, however this level just was not quite enough to match peak Vingegaard in the Tour de France. The best climber of 2021, Primoz Roglic, could not finish a Grand Tour this year and also seemingly regressed a little bit based on Turini and Solaison, making him fall to fourth behind the elite trio of Vingegaard – Evenepoel – Pogacar. It remains to be seen if the surprises of 2022, Brandon McNulty and Jay Vine, will be able to consistently perform on the level they only showed on a few occasions this year. If they are able to do so, they will immediately jump into the highest tiers of GC riders.
Below you can see all performances in the Top 10 in a graph with standard trend-lines. In 2022, we saw five performances above the red ‘Generational’ trend-line, with the one of Mauricio Moreira in GP Jornal de Noticias even missing out on a spot in the overall top 10, due to the favourable conditions. The reason for Vingegaard not performing at such a pure w/kg level is the way Le Tour unfolded with attacks and high w/kg on the penultimate climb of nearly every mountain stage in hot conditions.
In the 21st century, the number of ‘Generational’ performances in road stages in a single year was only improved upon in 2000 (six) and matched in 2006 and 2020. In those two years, four of the five ‘Generational’ performances were achieved on a single stage (Monte Bondone 2006 and Piancavallo 2020) and the overall climbing level was consistently below 2022 standards. Considering the multitude of high level performances on more than one climb in the same stage during 2022, the overall climbing level of the 2022 season has to be considered the best since at least 2000.
Gabriel Stróżyk (@NaichacaCycling)