Part Two of our A to Z of the 2018 season – we have riders who set off on their own tour, the winningest team in the peloton, a Frenchman who thrives on Italian roads and Roubaix-style heroics. Add to that some Viking magic, rainbows changing hands and we finish where we so often end … the Zoncolan. [If you’ve not read Part 1 Alaphilippe to Monuments, it is here …]
N is for #NoGoTour
Two friends, left with an uncertain professional future by their team folding [see F for folding], take to the open road to kill the pain (with leg pain). Their love for pure cycling is renewed, their spirits are lifted and they bring all of cycling Twitter along for the ride. One of the best stories of the 2018 season – hell! of any season! – belongs to Larry Warbasse and Conor Dunne. And all’s well that ends well: Larry signed with Ag2r just after #NoGo ended, while Conor has a new berth on Israel Cycling Academy.
O is for Off the bikeEmbed from Getty Images
There are 14 WorldTour riders retiring this season, including Franco Pellizotti (His Nibs’ super domestique this season), Simon Gerrans (palmares includes stage wins in each GT, 4 Tour Down Under titles, 2 Monuments – LBL and MSR, and twice Australian national road race champ); Anton Igor (4 Vuelta stages, 1 Giro stage); Gregory Rast (twice Swiss national road race champ); and Jeremy Roy, an FDJ stalwart who never met a breakaway he didn’t like. Pippo Pozzato has finally called it a day and has retired. What’s he going to be doing? Well, one thing he’s doing is roller hockey … yes. You read that right.
P is for PinotEmbed from Getty Images
The 2018 season was a great one for French riders [see A for Alaphilippe and B for Bardet] and Thibaut Pinot had a most thrilling season. Victories and heartbreaks – sometimes in the same race! – had us all on the edge of our seats. Pinot started his season off with a bang with the overall win in the Tour of the Alps in April, setting himself up for the Giro d’Italia, a race he was targetting. Sitting in third overall at the start of stage 20, Pinot only needed to hold on for one more big mountain stage … however, it wasn’t long before the French rider was dropped and rode in what later was revealed to be a fevered delirium. It was distressing to see him suffering yet so adament that he wasn’t going to climb off his bike. His teammates brought him to the finish line and almost immediately to the back of an ambulance for the ride to hospital. Diagnosed with pneumonia, he would be miss the final stage of the Giro and start of the Tour.Embed from Getty Images
He rode back for the Vuelta – a race that he continually animated with attacks and ‘Ne jamais dire mourir‘ spirit. He finished 6th overall but added two magnificent wins (Covadonga stage 15 and La Rabassa stage 19) to his palmares and now has stage wins in each Grand Tour. He then really hit his stride, winning Milan-Torino in October and then taking the win in his beloved Il Lombardia, making it his first (but certainly not last) Monument. It seems clear that Pinot thrives on the Italian roads and long may that continue! We just love to see him stomp on those pedals and ride his heart out.Embed from Getty Images
Q is for Quick-Step victorious season
It was an extraordinary season for Quick-Step Floors, who ended the season as the UCI’s top-ranking team. With 73 victories this season, there was hardly a race where a Quick-Stepper wasn’t at the sharp end. From cobbles to mountains to bunch sprints to solo breaks, there wasn’t terrain that the boys in blue couldn’t conquer. National champs jerseys were on the backs of Bob Jungels, both RR and TT for Luxembourg; Elia Viviani, Italian RR champ; Michael Morkov, Danish RR champ; and Yves Lampaert, Belgian RR champ who was recently named Flandrien of the Year. They hold two Monuments: Nikki Terpstra took Flanders; Bob Jungels soloed to a Liege-Bastogne-Liege trophy. Between them all, they won 13 Grand Tour stages: 7 of which belong to Vivz. Enric Mas was second on the Vuelta podium and Julian Alaphilippe was Top Pox in the Tour de France.
R is for Roubaix style!Embed from Getty Images
Paris-Roubaix is hands down my favourite race of the season and this year we had a mini Roubaix in the Tour as well. Both were extraordinary in their own way. First up, Paris-Roubaix. Peter Sagan‘s classics season was a bit quieter than he possibly would have wanted, although he did win his third Gent-Wevelgem. But all eyes were on the rainbow stripes as the 26 sectors started to come down one by one in Paris-Roubaix. In a Boonenesque move, Sagan broke free of the peloton with over 50km to go, followed only by Ag2r’s Silvan Dillier. Once gone, the chasers never saw them again, with Dillier doing well to stay with Sagan on a couple of bonkers devil-may-care moves by the Slovakian on some of those cobbled sectors! Once in the Velodrome, it was a two-up sprint which Sagan took easily. One of the best moments of the entire race was the handshake after the finish.Embed from Getty Images
Anyone who didn’t get a tear in their eye and a frog in their throat when John Degenkolb won his first race since being hit by a car a few years ago must have ice in their veins. In pure Roubaix style, the Mighty Degs rode with guts and cobbley experience to win stage 9 of the Tour de France, beating maillot jaune-wearing Greg Van Avermaet and Belgian national champ Yves Lampaert in an unbelievably emotional victory. It was a beautiful victory for all kinds of reasons – these are the moments we watch cycling for.
S is for Strade BiancheEmbed from Getty Images
My second favourite race of the season would have to be Strade Bianche and this year it was surprise after surprise with some heartstopping moments in between. Add to that, Italian rain that turned the white gravel roads to brown mud and chilled the peloton to the bone, and you had all the ingredients for an unforgettable edition of this beautiful race. It was a breakaway moment from Romain Bardet – yes, mountain goat Bedhead Bardet! – in the 8th gravel sector (about 50km out) that kicked it all off, with cyclocross wunderkind Wout Van Aert jumping to bridge and away they went. A little further down the road and Lotto-Soudal’s DS said to Tiesj Benoot “go yourself now, because everyone is f**ked” – and go he did, bridging to the odd couple up ahead in the penultimate sector and just blowing right by them to take a brilliant, bare-armed, mud-caked victory in Siena. But it was the battle for second and third on the run into the finish that had us all on the edge of our chairs …
T is for Transfers
There was a lot of action in the transfer market this season – and some surprising moves. Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria signed a three-year deal with UAE Emirates, who also picked up Sergio Henao from Sky. Emirates lose Darwin Atapuma and Ben Swift for Cofidis and Sky (again) respectively. Andre Greipel had a falling out with his long-time team, Lotto-Soudal, and will be riding for Pro-Conti team Fortuneo-Samsic, while Caleb Ewan takes his place on Lotto-Soudal. Tony Martin is washing Katusha right out of his hair to become a Jumbo Bee. Nico Roche is a Sunwebber next year from BMC, Richie Porte leaves BMC for Trek-Segafredo and the Izagirre brothers are both leaving Bahrain for Astana. Tejay van Garderen makes the least surprising swap of all – from BMC to EF All the Words. You can find all the transfers on ProCycling Stats
U is for UCI individual world ranking
It’s been some year for Alejandro Valverde – winning the World Championships and topping the UCI world rankings. Simon Yates is second, Elia Viviani third, Peter Sagan fourth and Julian Alaphilippe comes in fifth at the end of the season.
V is for Michael Valgren
Our Midge was hitting #PeakDane this season and one of the reasons for that was the breakthrough season that Michael Valgren had in 2018. He made an attack in the last 2km to win a thrilling edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, took that great form into Flanders to finish fourth (outsprinted by Philippe Gilbert) and then turned on the winning form for Amstel Gold. He also animated the Tour de France this year, setting up a stage win for Astana teammate Magnus Cort. Next year, Valgren joins Dimension Data as the team builds up its Classics team. A smart move, we think …
W is for World Champion
The three-year reign of Peter Sagan ended in Austria when Alejandro Valverde took the rainbow jersey on a leg-sapping parcours in Innsbruck, leaving Sagan to spend next season in less conspicuous kit. Valverde outsprinted Romain Bardet, Michael Woods and Tom Dumoulin to become the second oldest men’s road race World Champion and certainly the most contentious champion in the last decade. Valverde had a typically consistent season, winning four stage races (including Abu Dhabi and Volta a Catalunya), and both a stage and the overall points classification at the Vuelta. One wonders if, since finally achieving his rainbow goal on his 12th attempt, 2019 season will be the last in the peloton for the Spanish rider.
X is for X-rays
Quick-Step rider Petr Vakoc knows a thing or two about x-rays. He and teammate Laurens De Plus were hit by a truck during a training ride in South Africa in January, leaving the Czech rider with severe injuries, including serious spinal fractures. This year, he has endured three surgeries, 110 days in a chest brace, months of rehabilitation, all with a willing spirit and gritted determination. Vakoc is still signed to Quick-Step and we can only hope that we’ll be welcoming him back into the peloton next season.
Y is for YatesEmbed from Getty Images
Simon Yates spent a lot of time in pink this year – 12 race days to be exact – but even with a dominating performance and three emphatic stage wins (stages 9, 11 and 15), the British rider’s enthusiasm and no-holds-barred racing style, stage after stage, caught up with him on stage 19. Losing contact on an early climb, he lost nearly 40 minutes as Chris Froome made his 80km solo break to take the maglia rosa and the overall title. Yates finished the Giro in 21st, over an hour down from Froome’s winning time. After such a spectacular bonk, many lesser riders would have gone into hiding for the rest of the season, but not Yates. He came back for a tilt at the Vuelta and this time he didn’t go full-throttle 24/7 but gave a measured performance that had him standing on the top step of the podium in Madrid.
Z is for ZoncolanEmbed from Getty Images
This year, Chris Froome was targeting the Giro to be able to say he held all three Grand Tour titles simultaneously (and possibly take a Giro/Tour double). It looked for a while like his adverse finding for a whole lotta salbutamol in last year’s Vuelta or his terrible start to the Giro would put paid to that dream but Froome found a way. Allowed to ride while his AAF case was being heard, his comeback into GC contention came on Stage 14 when the Sky rider conquered the mighty Zoncolan for his first Giro stage win (and even had the energy to punch a dinosaur). From then on, he was always a danger but his unbelievable 80km solo win on stage 19 meant that his big Giro dream came true.