Things to Look Forward To In 2018

In the past the blog has opened with some predictions for the year ahead but forecasts so far out inevitably go wrong so instead here’s a collection of known things which look promising…

One of the essential predictions in years past was picking a Tour de France winner but with Chris Froome’s status unknown it’s more complicated and after him there’s no obvious pick even if Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana come to mind. Instead it’s the 2018 Tour de France route that is of interest with the trip around Brittany and the prospect of wilder weather and if not then ay least some hillier roads before the race heads for the pavé. Then comes a transfer to the Alps and a fun stage including a short gravel sector before more Alps, a finish above Mende and some new climbs in the Pyrenees before the short Basque Country time trial to settle things. Maybe there’s a selfish touch here as these are roads to recon but they have promise as roads to race on too. And it’s all live on TV too.

  • There’s a report the Critérium du Dauphiné is going to the fortress-like Vercors Plateau which is promising. As well as stunning roads that are light on traffic it’s been host to some great racing whether in the Dauphiné’s last visit in 2015 or the Tour de France in, say, 1989.

Smaller pelotons. Teams are reduced from nine to eight riders for the grand tours and from eight to seven in other races. Will this make a difference? Yes. What kind of difference we don’t know and it’d take years of controlled trials to reach a conclusion. Bike races can be thrilling with big or small teams but the hope, and this is early January after all so let’s be cheerfully optimistic, is that at the margin this makes racing more attractive. For example there might be a moment in a race where a team is trying to chase down the breakaway late into a race but they’re one rider short

The spring classics are an easy pick and this year sees a bunch without Tom Boonen or Fabian Cancellara. They deserved a good send-off but now all the talk is going to be about who is the future rather than who was the past. The new rivalry is Peter Sagan vs. Greg Van Avermaet but with Quick Step Floors as the strongest team, Team Sky made a late bid for Dylan Van Baarle to go alongside Gianni Moscon (or replace him, pending disciplinary hearings?), Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven should be ready, John Degenkolb too and Mads Pedersen is on the way up while over at Ag2r La Mondiale Oliver Naesen had a breakthrough campaign last year and there’s more. March and April is a packed time of year and includes plenty of extra races like the Strade Bianche which is itself the opener for a lot of women’s races meaning even more to enjoy. Better still things start with a bang thanks to the new Omloop Het Nieuwsblad route which copies a lot from the old Tour of Flanders route with the sacred Muur-Bosberg finale which will delight many even if it does show how dependent the classics are on the established pyschogeophraphy created from past races.

Tom Dumoulin. There’s the stereotype of the time triallist who wins stage races by limiting their losses in the mountains, see Miguel Indurain in the early 1990s or Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and it’s not great for the TV audiences. But Dumoulin seems different in his riding style, or at least he was in the Giro only Nairo Quintana got the better of him in the mountains and even then Dumoulin won at Oropa. So watching to see how he does again is going to be interesting and it’s possible the pink glow of the Dolomites has an orange hue this time thanks to the travelling support and seeing him up against the other contenders in May is promising.

Sprinting: Who is the top dog? We never got the definitive answer for 2017 because the Giro’s field was light on contenders… and so was the Tour after Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish left very different reasons. Marcel Kittel turns 30 in May but age isn’t the limit it used to be for sprinters, ask thirtysomethings like Mark Cavendish and André Greipel. But time flies and it’s possible and about time the likes of Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen usurp the established names. Only they’ll be worrying about Fernando Gaviria who is already capable of winning sprints and has already come within range in Milan-Sanremo before turning 23.

  • Can Nacer Bouhanni win a stage of the Tour de France? He may not be everyone’s pick inside or outside the peloton but Cofidis ejected their manager over the winter and in comes ex-pro and TV pundit Cedric Vasseur. They haven’t won a stage since 2008 and only four Pro Conti riders won World Tour races last year, including Bouhanni so it’s a big ask. If not see how the team fares under Vasseur who has to balance backing his sprinter alongside giving others opportunities

Early season races are typically viewed through the prism of what they mean for the next race, for example the Dubai Tour might inform us about rider form ahead of the Flemish classics campaign even if they can be entertaining in their own right. The new 2.1 Colombia Oro y Paz race in early February seems special as it marks the return of top level racing to Colombia after a long absence. With a varied route and landscapes that should be as breath-taking as the altitude this is something to look forward too but with a touch of caution before we see the… or any TV coverage. If any local readers know more about the likely coverage please share in the comments below.

The World Championships feel so distant they might as well be in 2019 but next September’s race in Innsbruck is going to be special. It’s got an Alpine course and promises to be one of the most vertical editions since Duitama in 1995 or Chambéry in 1989 with about 5,000m of vertical gain and this concentrated late in the race.

Some more things in rapidfire include…

  • all the random surprises along the way from interesting routes to peloton plot twists
  • how The Tour de France has been pushed back a week which means at least some of the women’s Giro Rosa will be there to be enjoyed before being submerged by the tidal wave of content from France
  • you can’t watch everything but there is now huge coverage of pro cycling, even the Etoile de Bessèges is going to be on TV this year and thanks to technology and sometimes a little cunning you can watch more hours than ever before to the point where you can step out of a meeting – or crest a mountain pass – and whip out your phone to watch the finish of a stage and then return to where you were before. That’s before all the online writing, social media, written magazines, books – Daniel Friebe’s Ullrich biography is promising – as well as podcasts… and even a blog or two
  • On the sports admin front we should see things calm down between the UCI and ASO, RCS and others but this might be because things go into stasis. But that’s better than public bickering
  • Forget getting a reservation in a Michelin-starred restaurant, this year’s culinary plan is to eat an omlette Chez Françoise before Paris-Roubaix rolls through

34 thoughts on “Things to Look Forward To In 2018”

  1. If Froome rides – and if he’s up to his previous standard – (both big ‘if’s), for me, he’d be hot favourite for the Tour (again, providing he didn’t ride the Giro – that’s a lot of unknowns – who knows with the length of ban he might get). He’s better than Quintana, Landa, Porte, Bardet, Martin, Uran on the flat and good enough on cobbles to not lose too much to Nibali (I’ve no idea what those others are like on cobbles, but I’m guessing not terrific – I’d imagine Uran and Martin would fare better than the others I’ve mentioned). The TTT will also favour him. I think it’ll be a much more interesting race if he either isn’t there or has ridden the Giro.

    Can we please end the argument that teams of 8 will ‘make no difference to Sky because in 20XX they went down to X riders and were fine’ – that’s an illogical point, because now it’d be X-1. I doubt it’ll make a big difference, but I hope it’ll make enough of a difference to encourage a drop to 7 riders in GTs (with more teams).
    Short of a salary/budget cap, what can you do? (Another argument to put to bed is ‘Sky don’t spend more money than other teams’ – look at the combined salary of this year’s TdF team and compare it with any other.)

    I expect the spring classics to once again usurp the grand tours in terms of enjoyment – an ongoing trend as they are less controllable by big teams – particularly pleased about the Omloop’s ‘new’ route.

  2. Spring classics as always.

    I’m also looking forward to better coverage of women’s races. (No implied criticism of INRNG’s list there, btw.)

  3. The grand tours will be dominated by chat about Froome, whether he’s there or not. Sigh.

    That said, I’m really looking forward to the first week in northern France.

    The cobbled classics always get me salivating and MSR and Strade Bianche are guaranteed good racing. Hopefully Gilbert will make a step towards taking out all five monuments.

    Hoping we might see a bit more of Van Der Poel on the road this year. I know he’s not going to do any major races, but he was great entertainment last year.

    • Ref CX star Van Der Poel racing more road: he’s signed with Canyon with a view to completing a full summer XCO MTB season, with racing that discipline in 2020 Olympics his explicit goal so he’ll only be on the road if it fits his training schedule.

      How will Movistar’s ‘el tridente’ work with their infamous conservatism? You’d expect Orica to make a better play even if their 3 aren’t quite as strong?

  4. Really hope Froome rides to see if he’s a shadow of the rider he’s been before cf. Schlek et al

    IMO his results in 2018 (or lack of them) will indicate, although not conclusively, previous guilt or innocence

    • I’d love to see Froome dumped by Sky and having to ride for a weaker team. Would he still ride by his power meter or would he try to ride like Nibali or Contador? Could be fun to watch. Ain’t gonna happen I know.

      • He’s taken risks from time to time, see his descending down the Mont du Chat in the Dauphiné or the Col de la Colombière then too which made Porte lose the race last June. But why ride like this when he and his team don’t have to, it’s more risky.

        • Agreed, Froome isn’t like Quintana; and although most of the GT’s that he wins are boring he actually has added a lot of spice to some stages over the last few years. Looking at historic sanctions for his violation and the unlikelihood that he’s going to prove much beyond guilt in pharmacokinetic testing my money is on him not racing at all next year.

  5. A great glass half full article, yes there’s plenty to bemoan but a reason we all love the sport!

    Not strictly “pro”, but there are also some rapidly growing sectors within the sport like fixed crits and ultra distance self supported races. These strip back the faff and get straight to the essence in my view!

  6. Prudhomme looks like he’s really enjoying that omelette chez Francoise, which looks more like a souffle. Give it a try, and let us know whether it’s as good as it looks!

  7. Lots to look forward to.
    I was wondering what Daniel Friebe’s project was with all the time he has spent in Germany. Ullrich’s biography should be an interesting read.

  8. Thank you for the mention of the Ule biography – I’ve pre-ordered that just a moment ago. Looking forward to spring classics. Would be nice to see some young blood breakthrough.

  9. With ASO’s Lappartient running the UCI, the only promoter that need to worry is likely RCS.

    As far as I can tell, the UCI has backed-off most of their race format reforms they’ve been planning for years going all the way back to Verbruggen/McQuaid. There were supposed to be numerous changes at the second and third tier races. There were supposed to change the highest ranked races a bit for more second-tier teams to qualify for more HC events? They were also making the pool of second-tier athletes smaller. The first tier’s new scoring scheme was supposed to demote (??) the worst-performing WT team.

    Does anyone know what changes finally were implemented?

    • RCS have nothing to fear from ASO, they work well together and went hand-in-hand last time things got really ugly between them and the UCI during 2008-10. Starting last year, RCS races are even broadcast in France by the l’Equipe TV channel.

      The reforms to split the WT into two tiers with reduced overlapping are best summed up by simply forgetting about them, they got scrapped. Everything went in the opposite direction during Cookson’s time in charge.

      The changes that have happened are:
      – WT increased to 37 events, the 10 expansion events introduced in 2017 are optional for the WT teams and are subject to lose their slot on the calendar if they can’t manage to get 10 WT teams to attend.
      – from the end of the 2019 season the lowest ranked WT team each year will be subject to relegation, first two teams to go won’t be replaced, unless it gets to the end of 2019 with none having left in which case the lowest ranked team will be potentially y’ll relegate the lowest ranked team in each of the next two years to get the numbers down to 16 teams (delayed from previous intended schedule)
      – previous item subject to change, of course
      – inflatable banners across the road to be phased out, and the UCI is finally allowing various documents to be submitted by email.

      • My ideal format for the WorldTour in the future would be as follows.

        – 3x grand tours.
        – 5x monuments.
        – up to 1x other tour and 2x other classics on each continent, rotated if there are multiple candidates with the races having HC status in the years they aren’t on the WT schedule.

        16 WT teams total:
        – 4x three year WT licences awarded at the end of each year, going to the top-ranked teams.
        – 1x two year WT licence awarded each year to the top-ranked PCT team applying for WT entry.
        – 3x one year WT licences awarded to the next-best teams applying, first priority to teams coming off the end of a three year licence and not getting another one as a ‘safety net’ for a good team having one bad year.

        While we’re at it, reform the Road World Championships as well:
        – four year cycle with the 1st year hosted in Europe, the 2nd year outside Europe, 3rd year open to all bids, 4th year an ‘expansion’ event in a country which does not host a WT race or have a WT team registered.
        – each venue to host the junior races one year and the elite/U23 races the following year, to reduce total event hosting costs.
        – pro team TTT replaced with a 4 lap relay ridden by two male and two female riders from each national team.
        – male and female ITT courses to both be full length, female RR distance to be gradually increased to 75-80% distance of male RR distance.

        • Surely by having a world tour system based on success, the richest would have the biggest success and so therefore the system would be weighted against underdogs but I do see benefits to your system and what about if a world team fails to get results but shows that they had a major impact on racing throughout and if there are constant changes there would be increased difficulty with sponsors.
          Also I feel that I’m misunderstanding your race system, is it not biased to areas with greater history?

  10. A new executive team at the UCI creates opportunities for Cookson’s name and some controversy to be dragged into the press. For example, it’s funny how Froome finally gets a case opened on him with Cookson exiting his role at the UCI.

  11. I should have mentioned the prospect of Movistar’s “El Tridente” of Quintana, Valverde and Landa all riding the Tour de France together. It could all go wrong very quickly but on paper it’s an interesting prospect with three leaders taking to the start.

    • The multiple leader thing never really works either in business or grand tours in professional cycling; see BMC and Blackberry as good examples.

  12. We, Colombian fans, are also in ignorance about the details of this race; specifically about TV broadcasting.

    The fact that race is organized directly by the Colombian Cycling Federation and not by an expert enterprise in this type of events makes me doubt that we will be able to see a race at the level of the best races 2.1.

    • Hope so, but I’m afraid, we’ll be cheated once again by BC -UKADA-SKY- UCI-WADA quintet. If it’s fair penalty, we won’t see Froome on the road in 2018. But the problem is, the culture of cheating created by SKY will remain alive. This team will go forward. We had Brailsford with steroids “for his knee” (volumen like for 10 cows), we had jiffy bag, we had Wiggins with TUES and cortisteroids(!), we have Froome with too many TUES and salbutamol. Yet SKY will try to “defend” themselves once again. I’m afraid we’re in the darkest moment of cycling and cycling will die if this case is not solved properly. Sponsors are not blind and this season can be very destructive for this sport.

      • The culture of cheating in cycling was created by a team that only started 8 years ago? If you want to link this to the Brits, it makes much more sense to trace it back to Choppy Warburton. That would give your rant some historical context.

  13. Finally some great news, totally opposite to grey zone of SKY triade Brailsford, Wiggins, Froome:

    No big illusions or hopes, but Sunweb at least tries to rebuild a destroyed picture of cycling. Destroyed by SKY, Brailsford, Wiggins and finally Froome (many TUES, salbutamol). It’s been long 5 years of cheating, an era similar to that of Lance’s 7. It looks like cycling nowadays is even sicker than it was decade ago. Today we have mafia-like structures of British Cycling, British UKADA and SKY. And UCI +WADA are paralyzed…

    • @nbs

      As you seem already acquainted with, could I direct you to the comments section of that site if you’re looking to cast hysterical, unsubstantiated and tribal aspersions around which teams/riders are/aren’t cheating? Inrg’s excellent blog is largely free of this nonsense and I, for one, would prefer that it is kept that way.

      Thanks in advance,


Comments are closed.