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