Time to look back at the 2017 season and pull out a few highlights. First up is the Tour of Flanders which is such a great race that the fear is the action on the day won’t live up to the high expectations. Only it did thanks to the return of the Kapelmuur and the comeback of Philippe Gilbert.
The Muur was back in the route and it was decisive as Gilbert attacked and a move of 14 riders went clear with Quick Step putting their rivals into a panic.
With 55km to go Gilbert attached and was not seen again until the finish. This was strong from Gilbert and helped by teamwork. Luck? Yes in that being away from others means not having them crash in front of you but taking th lead from so far out was a big gamble.
Cast your mind back and the Tom Boonen retirement tour was a big thing only he’d drop his chain and get a bad bike change which dented his chances but allowed him to exit Flanders without having lost the race either, a mechanical rather than a physical.
All the time Gilbert was in the lead he looked good but his lead didn’t and he was in range for the chasers and at risk of cracking which set up the drama nicely.
Gilbert put in a big attack in Paris-Nice and went solo on a grim day. It never looked like he’d win but viewed as a trial effort it makes more sense. His performance in De Panne gave another glimpse as he took the first stage and then the overall.
Remember Sagan and that crash on the Kwaremont after he tangled with a jacket and the crash barriers? Maybe you do all over again now having forgotten it long ago but in the moment it was all over the media while Gilbert’s 50km raid seemed like a secondary story.
Much was made of Gilbert being hungry on a one year deal with significant win bonuses. The incentives are there. But if the hypothesis is true then why didn’t he win big in his last year with BMC when results could have been traded for a big salary. Another hypothesis is that with age Gilbert is losing his jump, the ability to launch searing uphill attacks that few could match. If he’s lost the acceleration he has to attack from further out.
Gilbert has talked about winning all the Monuments so he needs Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix. Is this a real objective or just part of pro cycling’s “what next” culture where no sooner does a rider win are they asked if they can win something bigger time? Sanremo seems a very big ask but based on De Ronde maybe Roubaix is within range.