How the hell … are Quick-Step wiping the floor with everyone else?

So far this season Quick-Step Floors have been the winningest team of the peloton. They’ve been taking victory salutes from the cobbles of Belgium to the dusty roads of Colombia. Journal Velo asks… how are they doing that? 
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A to Z 2017 men’s season: Part 1 – from Angliru to Monuments

It’s been quite a season – we’ve seen a lot of great racing and a lot of disappointments. We say goodbye to legends who have retired this season and hello to a new generation of riders. Here is Part 1 of our A-Z of the 2017 season …

A is for Angliru

It was a fitting end to Alberto Contador‘s career with his second win on Angliru in the penultimate stage of Vuelta 2017. Coming into the Vuelta hoping to win his final ever Grand Tour, things didn’t quite work out to plan when he lost time in Andorra due to illness in the first week. This misfortune didn’t stop him from riding like the champion he is, as he brought the race alive with attack attack attack day in and day out, giving fans a final glimpse of the rider who goes for broke and races with his heart, not his power meter. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of those riders around any more. We will miss him.

B is for Bromance

It was a bromance that could have rivalled Bernie & Cav, if only it had been given a chance to fully flourish. Yes, it was Michael Matthews and Warren Barguil – Bling & WaWa – who shared a room for the first (and last) time in the Tour de France and spent July in the throes of an Australian/French rom-com. Add to that, podium places for KOM and the points jersey and you could say it was a storming success for both. And while they’re no longer on the same team, they will always have Paris.

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C is for Crash

Crashes are a part of the sport, but this season, it seemed there were quite a few crashes that changed the very complexion of the race. Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa certainly didn’t have much luck in the Giro – both crashed due to a badly parked police motorbike on stage 9, losing chunks of time and any hope of a podium place. G then abandoned two days later, after finishing second in the ITT, while Landa went into full attack mode in the third week to win stage 19 and the overall mountains jersey.

Stage 9 feels cursed for G as it was in that stage in the Tour de France that he crashed and broke his collarbone, after winning the first stage to wear the yellow jersey. In both the Giro and the Tour, he was second overall at the time of the crash. But it was on this stage that Richie Porte – possibly Chris Froome’s biggest rival – crashed horrifically on the descent of Mont du Chat, taking Dan Martin down with him. Martin unbelievably got back up, but Porte was on the ground for some time – all the while, viewers at home were hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Miraculously, Porte made a full recovery.

The Tour de France took quite a toll on some of the biggest names in the sport – including Alejandro Valverde, who broke his kneecap on the very first stage when he hit the barriers frighteningly hard during the ITT, ending his season. Then, of course, Mark Cavendish crashed on stage 4, breaking his shoulder blade and ending his season, which led to Peter Sagan being kicked out of the Tour by the UCI for what looked at the time to be a dangerous move. Taking the UCI to court, the case was closed after both parties agreed that it was, in fact, an unfortunate and unintentional race incident.

Speaking of Peter Sagan, his Tour of Flanders title defence came to an inglorious end when he crashed on the Oude Kwaremont, taking down an in-form Greg Van Avermaet and Ag2r rider Oliver Naesen, in the last 17kms as they chased a rampant PhilGil. 

D is for doing the double

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This season, Chris Froome won the Tour de France (his fourth) and the Vuelta a Espana – the first British rider to win the Vuelta, one of only three riders in history of cycling to win the Tour/Vuelta double and the first to do it with the Vuelta coming after the Tour. He then announced that he would ride the Giro d’Italia in 2018, hoping to win this to become one of only three riders to hold all three GTs in a 12-month span.

But best laid plans of mice and men … Froome returned an adverse analytical finding after Stage 18 of the Vuelta, with double (see what I did there?) the allowed dosage of Salbutamol in his system. At the time of writing, he hasn’t been suspended by his team and is preparing his explanation as to how that could have happened, so his participation in the Giro (or anything) next year is up in the air, as is his Vuelta title. I reckon this’ll drag on for some time. For a comprehensive and impartial telling of the tale, read InnerRing’s article.

E is for End of an (GT) era

Adam Hansen, one of the toughest and most likeable riders in the peloton, completed his 19th consecutive Grand Tour when he rode into Madrid at the end of the Vuelta – a record that will stand for many, many years to come. But that is probably the end of his GT riding – he said after the Tour de France that he wasn’t going to ride the Vuelta and he was going to focus on other goals in cycling. (He only rode this year’s Vuelta because Rafael Valls fractured his hip in training.) Whatever races he decides to tackle next, we’ll all be cheering him on.

F is for Fuglsang

I couldn’t possibly write this without talking about Midge’s favourite, Jakob Fuglsang, who pulled off one of the great upsets of the season. On the final day of the Criterium du Dauphine – a stage race that also featured Alberto Contador and Chris Froome – Fuglsang pulled the rug out from under race leader Richie Porte to win the final stage (solo!) in the Alps and put in enough time to take the overall. It was the biggest win of his career and has paved the way for a possible leadership role in the 2018 Tour de France.

 

G is for Gilbert

Leaving BMC behind, Philippe Gilbert joined Quick-Step Floors and started the season in the black, gold and red champion’s jersey of Belgium. And it was a champion spring for PhilGil as he slotted right into the Quick-Step team, coming in second to teammate Yves Lampaert in Dwars door Vlaanderen, second to former teammate GVA at E3 Harelbeke, before putting the pedal to the metal in Three Days of De Panne with a solo win. This set him up for his biggest win, Tour of Flanders, in magnificent fashion, soloing from 55km out to carry his bike over the finish line as hundreds of Belgian flags fluttered him home. But he wasn’t finished. Two weeks later, he took his fourth Amstel Gold title, riding nearly half the race with a ‘minor’ kidney tear (which ruled him out for the rest of the spring classics). One wonders if he was on for a triple-Ardennes if not for that unfortunate injury.

H is for Hundred

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It was the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia and it did not disappoint. #Giro2017 had everything from iffy sportsmanship to digestion emergencies – and a thrilling final day’s reckoning on the TT course that gave Tom Dumoulin his first (but almost certainly not his last) Grand Tour title. God knows we love a GT that goes right down to the wire – the only one this year that did. There were two other hundreds as well – both Peter Sagan (see T) and Alejandro Valverde (see V) chalked up their 100th WT win this season. Just think how many Sagan will end his career with if he’s already hit that milestone this year. Our A-Z of Giro100 is here and here

I is for Inconsolable

It can’t be easy being a French rider in the Tour de France. Romain Bardet and his Ag2r team tried to play Sky at their own game, but to no avail, and it was down to Bedhead to make good in the penultimate stage – a short TT – and save his third place. He did, by one tiny second – and he gave everything to do it. For our A-Z of Tour2017, go here and here

J is for Joy – Fierce Joy!

Fierce joy – many would like it but few have it. It’s when a rider takes on a race with everything, revels in the pain, rides with an instinct, a heart and an abandon that marks them out. This year, we saw that fierce joy in the riding of Thomas De Gendt – in pretty much every break in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta this year, he was robbed of the super combativity award at the end of the Tour (we like Barguil but come on!). He did take a stage win in the Vuelta – stage 19 – in pure breakaway fashion, giving him a stage win in each of the Grand Tours. De Gendt is a rider who leaves it all out on the road, day in, day out – and gets his Lotto team colours in front of the cameras all day long.

We also saw fierce joy in the the hell-for-leather, all-in-to-win attitude of Julian Alaphilippe – third in the MSR photofinish, chancing a thrilling break in the final kilometres of the Worlds (where the excitement was unbearable as we waited for pictures …), taking a stage and best young rider and points jerseys in Paris-Nice, second in Lombardia and taking his maiden GT stage victory in stage 8 of the Vuelta after playing cat-and-mouse with The Winker, Rafal Majka. Add to that, his sterling teamwork with the other QuickSteppers in the Vuelta and you have the personification of joie féroce.

K is for Kwiatkowski

After a disappointing – and difficult – 2016 season, Michal Kwiatkowski lit the races on fire in 2017. Taking his second Strade Bianche in some style (one more and he gets a stretch of the parcours named after him), he then went on to win a thrilling Milan-SanRemo by a hair – and showing that Peter Sagan might intimidate some rivals, but certainly not him, setting up what is hopefully going to be a rivalry for years to come. A second to PhilGil in Amstel Gold and third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege helped secure his spot on Sky’s Tour de France team. There he showed himself to be a selfless, tactically minded, super-domestique who never put a pedal wrong in July, fulfilling his dream of being on a Tour-winning team. It’s a thrill to have him back to the rider we know him to be. (And he’s utterly brilliant on Twitter, too!)

L is for Landa

The maverick rider had his share of disappointments this year – from losing any chance of a podium spot in the Giro on Stage 9 to seemingly being frustrated for not being allowed to break loose from Chris Froome to win a stage of his own in the Tour de France (2012 anyone?) and losing a podium spot by just one second. But there were some bright spots – overall win (and most of the jerseys) in Volta a Burgos; stage win and mountains jersey in the Giro; and a passionate if unsuccessful Twitter campaign to #FreeLanda in the Tour. Not surprisingly, he then jumped from Sky and signed a two-year contract with Movistar with the expectation of being an undisputed leader in a Grand Tour. Of course, it’s been announced that he’ll be riding the 2018 Tour with Valverde and Quintana… so he’s not free just yet.

M is for Monuments

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Five races, five different victors: Milan-San Remo – Michal Kwiatkowski; Tour of Flanders – Philippe Gilbert; Paris-Roubaix – Greg Van Avermaet; Liege-Bastogne-Liege – Alejandro Valverde; Il Lombardia – Vincenzo Nibali. The first three Monuments were won by these champions for the first time, while Nibali took his second Lombardia and Valverde took his fourth LBL – one more and he’s up there with Eddie Merckx for most LBL victories. Meanwhile, PhilGil needs only Roubaix and MSR to complete his set of Monuments.

For Part 2 of our A-Z, go here

Header image: Philippe Gilbert and Nikki Terpstra, Flanders ©GETTY/Corbis/Tim de Waele