Men’s 2018 season: A to Z, part 1 – Alaphilippe to Monuments

It’s our A to Z of men’s 2018 season – we’ve had some interesting times, some exciting times and some very sad times. Hopefully we’ve done this amazing season – and the people who made it that way – justice. Enjoy!

A is for Alaphilippe

It was Julian Alaphilippe‘s fourth season as a pro and he started delivering on that wealth of potential he’s shown in the past few years. He started the season with a stage win in the new Colombian stage race, Oro y Paz. Then keeping a bit of a low profile until he outwitted the wily fox Valverde to take his first Ardennes victory in Fleche-Wallonne. But it was in the Tour de France that his star was really in the ascendent, animating mountain stages in his (successful) quest to be Top Pox in Paris, winning two stages along the way. A rest then he went on to win the one-day Clasica de San Sebastian and the overall in the Tours of Slovakia and Britain, winning one stage in each.

B is for Bardet

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Romain Bardet, along with Thibaut Pinot (see P for …), seems to bear the weight of a country’s lust for Tour victory on his shoulders, but this year he had his best results outside La Grand Boucle. Last year, Bardet’s main target was the Tour and was on the Paris podium (third, one down from his second place in 2016), but this year, he seemed like a liberated man. His one-day race form – and devil-may-care attacking attitude – was a delight to see. Taking his only victory this season in the Classic Sud-Ardeche, he went on to take second in a magnificent Strade Bianche, Tour of Finistre, Giro della Toscana, third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, third overall in Criterium du Dauphine and finished his season with a silver in the World Championship road race. As much as I would love to see a French rider atop the Tour podium, I really hope that next season sees Bedhead continue to take a bold bash at the one days.

C is for Changing of the guard

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Is it just me or does it feel like we’ve really seen quite a changing of the sprinting guard this season? With Mark Cavendish out for much of the season with crashes and then a diagnosis of Epstein-Barr virus, Marcel Kittel not finding much joy (or winning speed) with Katusha (just two victories this year – both in Tirreno-Adriatico), and Andre Greipel ending an eight-season run with Lotto-Soudal to go to Pro-Conti team Fortuneo–Samsic in 2019, it feels like sprinting has taken a new hue with Sam BennettElia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen and Fernando Gaviria all having the kind of multiple wins that the former three used to revel in.

D is for Dumoulin

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It looks like Tom Dumoulin is all in for the big races. This year, he may have been unsuccessful at defending his Giro title from a motivated Chris Froome, but the way he raced that Giro d’Italia was astonishing in its own right and he took a well-earned second place in the overall. As if that weren’t enough, he went on to do the same in the Tour de France, this time topping Froome but unable to reach and depose Geraint Thomas, who camped out in the yellow jersey for most of the race. He also was unable to hang onto his rainbow stripes for ITT, finishing behind Rowan Dennis this year. But for me, perhaps his most impressive race was the World Championships road race – he placed fourth out of a four-man sprint, but holy Mary, he did one of the most amazing rides to bridge to the top trio at the end of a gruelling day on a gruelling course. If nothing else, Big Tam has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has a true racing heart.

E is for Egan, Elia, Enric

Two Steppers and a Sky rider have been three of the most impressive cyclists this season. Sky’s Egan Bernal, young pup that he is, rides with the head of a grizzled old pro and the climbing legs of a god. Bernal won both the Tour of California and the Colombia Oro y Paz. Riding his first Tour de France, he was super domestique for Thomas and Froome, which stopped him from looking for personal glory (on any other team, he would have wiped the mountainside with the pair of them), but which he rode with loyalty and tenacity. Signing with Sky to a five-year contract, considering the sponsorship woes of the team, he might just be their last GT winner …

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Meanwhile leaving Sky was the best thing Elia Viviani could have done as he had the most sterling of seasons, hands-down the best sprinter in the pack with 15 individual wins, including four in the Giro (and the points jersey) and three in the Vuelta. He even went and won Gent Six with his teammate, the mighty Iljo Keisse in November.

His QuickStepping teammate Enric Mas has come blazing out of the peloton to take a thrilling second place in this year’s Vuelta a Espana, picking up a stage win and the young rider’s jersey along the way. He also took that jersey in both the Tour de Suisse and Tour of the Basque Country.

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F is for Folding (teams)

The precarious nature of cycling teams’ funding came into sharp focus this year with the seemingly toys-out-of-the-pram folding of Aqua Blue by Rick Delaney. Not only did the team and support staff first hear of the team’s demise through a press release (how much more cowardly could that have been!?!) but they weren’t even able to finish their season after planning the Tour of Britain as their last race to then be told, ‘um, nah, just pack it up guys’, mere days before the start. [Cycling News’ full story is here] The panic of finding a new berth for 2019 so late in the season was real. Unfortunately, in circumstances where a single backer looks at the experience of running a team through rose-coloured glasses (or as a toy to be played with – Oleg, I’m lookin’ at you), this is almost always going to come a cropper, as people’s livelihoods are at the whim of the owner’s ego. While there were a few very big controversies in cycling this year (salbutamol to name one), for me, this is the most despicable.

If even big teams such as BMC, QuickStep and, news just in, Sky can lose their title sponsors and have to scramble for a replacement, you know you have a systemic problem. After the death of team owner Andy Rhys, the announcement came out that BMC would pull their sponsorship at the end of 2018, and it looked like the entire team might be dispersed, as the search for a replacement backer became more desperate and fraught. However, they were picked up by CCC Sprandi Polkowice, which has been running a pro-conti team, and the two teams have morphed into CCC Team.

Quick-Step Floors lost their flooring this season as well, with Quick-Step taking a secondary sponsorship role, and this put a damper on contract negotiations for the team as they searched for a new sponsor. In October, it was announced that Belgian window manufacturer, Deceuninck, would be title sponsor for the 2019 Deceuninck-QuickStep team, but budget constraints meant that super-sprinter Fernando Gaviria would be moving to UAE Team Emirates.

With the sale of Sky to Comcast, the biggest sponsorship deal in the sport will finish at the end of the 2019 season. Unexpectedly, Dave Brailsford has about six months to find a sponsor – or a mix of sponsors – that will cover his £30m-a-year budget and while Sky has dominated the sport’s flagship event since 2012, you have to wonder who is going to want – or even be able – to stump up that kind of cash year on year. With some eye-wateringly big ticket riders under multi-year contracts, it could get messy if the level of investment isn’t forthcoming. But maybe this is the beginning of the budget-capping era

G is for Great British Grand Tours

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This really was a bumper year for British riders in the Grand Tours. Chris Froome completed his set of GT wins with the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Geraint Thomas put in a solid, consistent performance that kept him in the maillot jaune all the way to the final podium on the Champs, and Simon Yates, who learned a hard lesson about the dangers of over-aggressive riding in the Giro, took that experience and turned it into a gripping Vuelta win.

Astonishingly, Chris Froome has been on a GT podium every year since 2011 (2011: Vuelta 2nd; 2012: TdF, 2nd; 2013: TdF 1st; 2014: Vuelta, 2nd; 2015: TdF, 1st; 2016: TdF, 1st; Vuelta 2nd; 2017: TdF and Vuelta, 1st; 2018: Giro 1st, TdF 3rd). For Thomas, this was the first Grand Tour he’s finished (yes, finished) since the Tour de France in 2016, when he came a respectable 15. Simon Yates earned himself best young rider in the 2017 TdF but his top step in Madrid was the first GT podium he’s ever stepped on. I suspect it won’t be the last.

Looking further down those steps, three riders made two podiums in the GTs this year: Froome (Giro 1st, TdF 3rd); Tom Dumoulin (2nd in both the Giro and the Tdf) and Miguel Angel Lopez (3rd in both the Giro, plus best young rider, and the Vuelta). Enric Mas had only ridden one GT before this year’s Vuelta – that was last year’s Vuelta. HIs third place also came with the best young rider jersey in Madrid.

Giro d’Italia podium: Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin, Miguel Angel Lopez

Tour de France podium: Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome

Vuelta a Espana podium: Simon Yates, Enric Mas, Miguel Angel Lopez

H is for Heartfelt

There have been some really amazing stories coming out of the peloton this year, including two that have come out of the EF-Education First-Drapac team. Lawson Craddock crashed on the first day of his first-ever Tour de France, fractured his shoulder and had a nasty cut above the eye (along with all the other nasties you get when you hit the ground at speed) but instead of quitting, he turned his misfortune on its head and rode with heart, pain and perserverance to raise money for his Texas hometown’s Velodrome that was destroyed during the hurricane season. Our newest VeloVoice, Luke, came out of retirement to write up Craddock’s story (and lucky for us, Luke has stayed …).

EF All The Words followed that story up with another in the Vuelta – a story of emotional pain, physical perserverance and ultimate healing. Rusty Woods rode out of his skin on stage 17 of the Vuelta, a gruelling summit finish, for his first-ever Grand Tour stage win. But the victory wasn’t for himself, it was for his stillborn son, Hunter, and his wife, Elly. Anyone who can get through his post-stage interview without crying must be incredibly stoic. It’s these kinds of stories that bring us come back every season.

I is for Invisible

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What to say? It was supposed to be Richie Porte‘s season (and if I had a pound coin for every time I’ve heard or written that, I could buy Sky). He won the Tour de Suisse, he was the one who would be able to take it to Sky and Froome in the Tour, they wrote. Ah, but he crashed on the Roubaix stage in the Tour and abandoned, with a collarbone fracture, and then … well, we never really heard from him again. He’s off to Trek-Segafredo next season, so it’ll be interesting to see what he might do. But it really feels like he had his best years at Sky.

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Tony Martin has gone into a Katusha-shaped abyss this season. His only win of this season was the German ITT National Championships. Otherwise, he just wasn’t in the spotlight at all – although strangely he came in 3rd and 4th in the mountains competitions for the Tour of Guangxi and the Tour of Britain respectively. Let’s hope his move to Lotto Jumbo-Visma next season will give him a new lease of life.

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The Little Kangaroo, Esteban Chaves, was coming back from a disappointing 2017 season, and we thought he might be getting back to his old self. He took the win in the Herald Sun Tour in January, then took on Mount Etna for his Giro d’Italia stage win and we thought, yeah! he’s back! But no … after a summer of false starts, he was diagnosed with glandular fever and sinus problems and that was it for the season. His Mitchelton-Scott team said they would support him and help him get back into racing form and we’re hoping that that will be the case and we see him lighting up the race – and the podiums – in 2019.

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And where the hell is Kenny?

J is for Jerseys

Oftentimes in Grand Tours, it’s not the leader’s jersey race that is the most exciting, but the other jerseys that can carry you through when the GC has been all but sewn up early on. This year there were a few ding-dong battles for jerseys – most notably the King of the Mountain jerseys for both the Tour and the Vuelta.

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Points: Giro – Elia Viviani; Tour – Peter Sagan; Vuelta – Alejandro Valverde

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KOM: Giro – Chris Froome; Tour – Julian Alaphilippe; Vuelta – Thomas De Gendt

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Best Young Rider: Giro – Miguel Angel Lopez; Tour – Pierre Latour ; Vuelta – Enric Mas

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Super-combativity: Tour – Dan Martin; Vuelta – Bauke Mollema

Team: Giro – Sky; Tour – Movistar; Vuelta – Movistar

K is for Kids

It was a season of the youngsters making themselves seen. From Egan Bernal blazing through California to Wout van Aert taking his cross-skills to the gravel roads of Tuscany, it felt like a showcase of the next decade of racing. And there were a bunch of maiden GT stage wins … Sam Bennett, stage 7, Giro; Richard Carapaz, stage 8, Giro; Simon Yates, Stage 9, Giro; Maximilian Schachmann, stage 18, Giro; Ben King, Stage 4, Vuelta; Oscar Rodriguez, stage 13, Vuelta; Michael Woods, stage 17, Vuelta; Jelle Wallays, stage 18, Vuelta; Enric Mas, stage 20, Vuelta.

L is for Loss

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This year’s Paris-Roubaix was hit with the tragic death of Michael Goolaerts, the 23-year-old Vérandas Willems rider, who had a heart attack 109km into the race and died in a hospital in Lille. As cycling fans, we are very aware of the dangers of the sport and have had to mourn many young riders who have left us before their time. But that awareness doesn’t make it any easier when a young rider doesn’t make it to the finish.

The announcement at the start of December of Paul Sherwen‘s death at 62 from heart failure shocked the cycling world. Working with Phil Liggett, Paul had often been one of the first voices newbie cycling fans heard when they made their tentative foray into watching the sport, particularly as that first foray is more often than not the Tour de France. ‘Digging deep into his suitcase of courage’, ‘using his invisibility cloak’ or ‘like a strawberry to a donkey’, Paul’s phrases will continue to be echoed by anyone who has ever spent a sunny July in his commentary’s company.

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M is for Monuments

Five Monuments, five different winners, five first-time winners!

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Milan SanRemo : Vincenzo Nibali, Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Demare It’s hard to believe that this was the first time that His Nibs has won MSR. The closest he’s gotten before this season was a third place in 2012 and it looked like a great start to the season with a commanding performance to win the first Monument of the year solo. It was, however, his only victory this season, although he did take second in Il Lombardia, which was a magnificent recovery from his terrible Tour de France crash that took him out of racing for some time.

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Tour of Flanders: Niki Terpstra, Mads Pedersen, Philippe Gilbert It’s also hard to believe that this is the first Ronde win for Niki Terpstra. For the past few years, the joke was how many teammates does it take for QuickStep to lose a classic, as time and time again in the spring, they would have the numbers going into the final stretches of a race but somehow gum it up and lose the prize. Terpstra wasn’t taking any chances this year, following a surprise attack from Vincenzo Nibali (yes, His Nibs! Attacking in Flanders!) and taking the solo win he so desperately craved.

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Paris-Roubaix: Peter Sagan, Silvan Dillier, Niki Terpstra This is the race that everyone felt Peter Sagan was destined to win, but Roubaix is like no other race and it can (and does) slap the face of destiny a few times before deeming the winner worthy. And so it was with Peter Sagan, who has been tipped to win for a few years now yet kept coming up short. This year, he was taking no chances, throwing it all in with a Boonen-esque move 50km out with only a plucky Swiss rider able to hang onto his wheel (and then work with him) to get to the Velodrome and shake hands with that destiny. That two-man, balls-to-the-wall, crazy-bike-handling breakaway was one of the most thrilling pieces of racing this year.

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Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Bob Jungels, Rusty Woods, Romain Bardet It was only April and we were already into some rich QuickStep wins – and this was no exception. Bob Jungels took his chances with an attack on the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons and that was all she wrote. With his bromance teammate Alaphilippe keeping any concerted chase by the likes of Valverde to a minimum, Jungels used power and nous to open up a gap that never got closed for the Luxembourger’s biggest win to date.

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Il Lombardia: Thibaut Pinot, Vincenzo Nibali, Dylan Teuns We talk about Thibaut Pinot‘s love of Italian races in part 2 of this (see P for … PINOT!) and this race is probably the biggest expression of that love. Pinot said after he took his first Monument that this is the one he always dreamed of winning – and this certainly was one of the most exciting and, well, loveliest wins of the whole season. The French rider’s spidey-sense kicked in when Primoz Roglic went off the front on the Sormano and his instincts were flawless as he shook both Roglic and Egan Bernal off on slopes of the Civiglio and then distanced the only remaining rider with him – the defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, no less – over the top to take a gorgeous solo win.

Men’s 2018 season: Part 2 – from #NoGoTour to Zoncolan is here

Header image: © GETTY/Velo/Tim de Waele

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