Biggest Surprises of 2018
Egan Bernal‘s first season at Worldtour level has been a great season, winning the Tour of California outright (and two stages) as well as various youth and mountain classifications. He also finished 2nd at the Tour de Romandie, 2nd in the Tour de France white jersey (15th overall) and 6th overall in the Tour Down Under. His displays as first lieutenant for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome in the Tour and his strong time trials all season have marked him out as having definite future Grant Tour winner potential.
Quickstep’s Enric Mas announced himself in 2018 by finishing 2nd in the Vuelta. He made the jump up from Continental level to Quickstep in 2017 and whilst he had a couple of good results (14th in California, 2nd in Burgos) there was no obvious sign that he was ready to be a podium finisher in 2018. By the end of April this season, he had finished 6th in the Tour of The Basque Country before going onto finish 4th in the Tour de Suisse. It took 14 stages for Mas to break into the top-10 but a strong 3rd week, culminating in a stage win on the penultimate stage saw him rise to 2nd. He’s one who should win his first race overall in 2019.
Following on the success of Quickstep’s young riders, Alvaro Hodeg left his mark as a surprise sprint winner of the Handzame Classic back in March. He went on to record Worldtour wins at the Tour of Poland and the Tour of Turkey – beating the likes of Degenkolb, Greipel, Modolo, Ackermann and Trentin along the way. The other surprise is how to pronounce his name – Hodeg should apparently be Hodge (he has some Scottish ancestry) except for a typo a few years ago when getting new identity papers.
Fabio Jakobsen is yet another young Quickstep rider who has made the jump up to Worldtour level and started winning straight away. He started at Noekere Koerse in March and kept winning all the way through to the Tour of Guangxi in October. Like Hodeg, he was a surprising sprint winner at Scheldeprijs – the sprinter’s classic and he ended the season with 3 Worldtour wins. Being able to out-sprint Kittel and Ewan is no mean feat. Numerous top-15 results in the Belgian one day races helps to keep the sponsors happy – he should start winning more of those in 2019 too.
Finally, Sunweb’s Sam Oomen has started to find his feet at Worldtour level, starting the season off well with 15th at the Tour Down Under, 13th at the Volta Algarve, 13th at Paris Nice, 12th at Liege Bastogne Liege. His best result of the season was arguably the 9th overall at the Giro d’Italia – finishing consistently each day and 8th on the day Froome did his great escape. He proved this wasn’t a fluke by finishing 7th at the Tour de Suisse and 9th at the Tour of Poland. He also finished a creditable 14th in the World Championships in Innsbruck. His goal in 2019 will be to win a Worldtour week-long race.
Honourable mentions: Tiesj Benoot, Michael Valgren and Simon Yates
Biggest Disappointments of 2018
Mark Cavendish had a pretty poor 2018 – multiple crashes in key races early on in the season (Abu Dhabi, Milan San Remo etc.) meant that he couldn’t pick up victories there. This was then compounded by the illness he suffered from that prevented him from racing during the second half of the season. He only raced 22 days in 2018 – effectively a missed season.
Marcel Kittel had a huge comedown after a hugely successful 2017 – switching from Quickstep to Katusha saw his season wins go from 17, down to 2. Unable to finish a race after July, Kittel’s come out and said that he’s feeling burnt out after rushing back from a previous injury. Hopefully some rest this Winter will see him back to his best in 2019.
It already feels like a long time since Fabio Aru won the Vuelta in 2015. A DNF in this year’s Giro and 23rd in the Vuelta are tough results for someone considered a grand tour favourite. Crashes in the Giro and the Volta Catalunya didn’t help matters either. Diagnosed gluten and dairy intolerances, as well as too much training at altitude, are apparently to blame – Aru will want to put 2018 behind him.
The grand tour contender with the worst season has to be Louis Meintjes. Often accused of boring racing, he drifted out of sight in 2018. With only 3 top-10 results all season (9th overall at the Vuelta Burgos and two stages) and a DNF at the Giro and a lowly 58th at the Vuelta – the 2018 season was a write-off. Normally a solid shout for a top-10 at a grand tour each year, something hasn’t gone well after his move back to Dimension Data.
Honourable mentions: Vincenzo Nibali and Warren Barguil
Best stage of 2018
It’s hard to see past the amazing stage where Chris Froome took on the Giro d’Italia on Stage 19 and came out the other side the winner. Starting the day in 4th place, 3 minutes and 22 seconds down Froome took up the challenge on the fearsome Colle delle Finestre, a climb with 7km of gravel roads near the summit. Team Sky teammate Kenny Elissonde kept the pace high and allowed Froome to launch a solo attack. He gained 38 seconds by the summit.
The reason that gap then ballooned out was down to the teamwork of FDJ that actually hampered the chase and the non-interest of the two riders battling it out for White Jersey for youth riders. Thibaut Pinot managed to make the chase group wait for his teammate Sebastian Reichenbach, thinking that the added firepower would both close the gap and prevent him from having to do as much work in the chase. Richard Carapaz and Miguel Angel Lopez were solely in a battle against each other – with minimal overall position advantages to be gained, they just wanted to take time out the other rider. A tiring Domenico Pozzovivio was there but the tiny rider couldn’t add much to the chase. So it all seemingly fell onto the supreme engine of Tom Dumoulin. By the time they get into the following valley, the lead is close to 2 minutes.
The gap continually crept up over the climb to Sestriere and back down again, across the next valley and onto the final climb to Bardonecchia. At this point, the White Jersey battle springs into life. Having kept their powder dry all afternoon, suddenly Lopez and Carapaz start duking it out. Pozzovivo is finally spat out of the back and loses a whole bunch of time. Pinot rides with Dumoulin but then senses weakness and attacks himself. Dumoulin is seen manfully slowly pulling in each attack on his terms before eventually, even he can’t close the gaps any more. Meanwhile, exactly 3 minutes before the next rider crosses the finish line, Chris Froome is celebrating the stage win.
Once all the time bonuses had been added, Froome now led the Giro from Tom Dumoulin by 40 seconds, a remarkable turn-around.
Best one day race of 2018 – Strade Bianche
The weather leading up to Strade Bianche in 2018 turned the white gravel roads into a snowy quagmire. The photos of riders at the finish echoed some of the older versions of Paris Roubaix with empty eyes and faces caked in a white crust. The 2018 race was given an extra boost by the inclusion of 3-time World Cyclocross champion, Wout van Aert – the conditions appeared suited for him. In fact it was him and surprise attacker, Romain Bardet that pulled ahead of the 10 man strong field at the head of the race on the 8th sector of gravel road. Tiesj Benoot then managed to attack out of the chasing group to join the pair upfront and turn it into a trio. He initially went with Pieter Serry but Benoot’s acceleration was far too strong for him and he dropped back.
Behind them, the pre-race favourites were busy marking themselves out of the race – Michal Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan both had multiple teammates with them but couldn’t make headway to close the gap. Once the race hit the final sector, Tiesj Benoot attacked again and managed to get himself clear on his own. Bardet and van Aert were clearly both on their last legs and unable to respond, leaving Benoot the chance to ride the last 12km to the finish on his own. Coming into Siena he allowed himself the chance to celebrate but it wasn’t premature and he swooped down into the square to win.
Bardet and van Aert were still together on the final climb in Siena, duking it out to see who would claim 2nd place. Bardet attacked and van Aert had an attack of cramp. He fell, tried to get back on his bike, failed, before getting back on to ride the last part to the finish. The 12th edition of Strade Bianche was an absolute instant classic.
The 2018 Grand Tours
Giro – More or less covered above, with the exception of how much Simon Yates lit up the race during the first two weeks. A series of well-timed attacks near the end of stages netted him 2 stage wins and a 2nd place that could’ve been another win if he hadn’t have given the win on Mount Etna to teammate Chaves. He backed up this future Ardennes classic potential with a long breakaway stage win 18km, extending his then lead. Unfortunately, the Finestre proved a climb too far and he lost 38 minutes on the day – eventually finishing 21st overall.
Tour de France – With the possible ban of Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas had been prepared for the Tour as the Plan B option. He managed to stay out of trouble in a tough first week that saw many rivals lose time in a variety of ways. When the Alps arrived, Thomas unleashed his good form. He won back to back stages to put him into the Yellow Jersey, including becoming the first Briton to win on Alpe d’Huez. He maintained his lead through the Pyrenees, managing to match his rivals and pick up bonus seconds to take a lead of 1 minute 51 seconds to Paris where he was crowned on the Champs-Elysees.
Vuelta – The Vuelta saw the redemption of Simon Yates. Now seriously mooted as a GC rider with the potential to win, question marks remained as to whether or not he could maintain his form for three full weeks. He moved into 3rd position on the first mountain stage behind Michal Kwiatkowski before taking the lead for one day. A breakaway win saw Jesus Herrada have a large lead that Yate clawed back in big chunks. Just two days after losing the leader’s jersey, he was back in it as he won Stage 14. On the last real day of competition, he finished 3rd behind Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez to extend his lead as Alejandro Valverde and Steven Kruijswijk lost out. Yates became the third different Brit to win a GT in 2018.
People to watch out for in 2019
After the Strade Bianche result, Wout van Aert announced himself further with good results at Gent Wevelgem, Flanders and Paris Roubaix (10th, 9th and 13th). He even went on to win a stage race in Denmark before finishing 3rd in the European Champs. He’s a pretty safe bet to progress further with a full road season at Lotto-Jumbo in 2019 (probably…it’s an open secret at this point). Expect to see him smash it in the Spring Classics – it’ll be interesting to see which races he tackles later in the season as well.
Team Sky’s Kristoffer Halvorsen had a mixed season after moving up to Worldtour level, 2nd in the Handzame Classic was his best result. He managed two 4th place finishes at Worldtour level sprinting in Abu Dhabi and the BinckBank Tour. Most of his season was spent supporting the team in races without having the opportunity to sprint outside of his native Norway. He’s one looking to match some of the results that the young Quickstep sprinters have managed.
FDJ have managed to un-earth someone to win their domestic races for them in Valentin Madouas. He won Paris Bourges, 2nd in Paris Camembert, 5th in Paris Tours, 6th in GP d’Isbergues and 8th in the Bretagne Classic. He also managed a 4th in the overall at Haut Var and 7th overall at the 4 Days of Dunkerque. A solid one-day racer with a sprint that can beat Laporte and Coquard, he may be the next big French sprinter.
Dimitry Strakhov spent most of the season racing at Continental level for Lokosphinx winning races at 1.1/2.1/2.2 level before getting a contract as a stagiaire for Katusha from August. He instantly started producing with 9th overall at the Arctic Tour of Norway and 8th at the Tour of Britain. He’s not confirmed as a Katusha rider for 2019 yet but it looks like he’s ready for a move to Worldtour level.
Cofidis’ Hugo Hofstetter managed a huge season in 2018 with 14 top-5 results with a further 10 top-10 results. A one-day specialist at 1.1/1.HC level, he showed that he could get solid results in France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. Already 24, he’ll be looking to convert more of those consistent top-10 finishes to wins as he only managed a single win (outsprinting Lilian Calmejane, Dylan Page and Andrea Pasqualon). Look for more wins in 2019 at the level below Worldtour from Hofstetter.