Highlights of 2018: Part II

Suspense, revenge, reversal, renewal, the 2018 Lombardia had it all.

Lotto-Jumbo hit the race on the climb of the Sormano, a proper climb just to get to the start point of the infamous Muro di Sormano and its two kilometres at almost 16. The Dutch team lined out the field and Robert Gesink a booster rocket trying to send Primož Roglič into orbit. The Slovenian went clear and was hanging solo off the front of a very reduced group until Vincenzo Nibali attacked and Thibaut Pinot went with him and the pair surged past Roglič. All with 47.5km to. For Nibali this was a bold move but a good way to show himself after coming back from his Tour de France crash via a quiet Vuelta and discreet World Championships, why not provoke a move and see what happens? If he was caught he’d have tried and pleased the crowd. For Pinot the gamble was bigger, he’d been in excellent late season form to the point of lamenting missing out on a medal in the worlds because of team orders and had just won Milano-Torino. To go this far out was risky with such great form.

Roglič got back on during the descent but this took him several kilometres to manage and there was a trio leading the race. Only Egan Bernal was suddenly closing in, the Colombian had been with the chase group at 40 seconds but seemingly he surged across, presumably part fearless descending, part because the TV coverage had missed him until he was in range of the cameras pointed at the lead trio. Bernal didn’t link up though with the trio until after the descent and the effort of chasing on the flat cost him.

Still we had four riders in the lead and they only had 20 seconds on the chase group led by Education First-Drapac’s Dani Martinez, a comeback of sorts for him after he was one of several to have crashed hard a year ago. It was close but Alejandro Valverde was there and his presence surely put worried the others: why pull only to have him fly past in the final 200 metres? Similarly Bahrain-Merida had strength in numbers and were marking the move.

Nibali, Pinot, Lombardia 2018

Onto the climb of Civiglio and right from the start Nibali and Pinot rode away, this wasn’t an attack, it was more Bernal and Roglič were cooked. Pinot and Nibali traded attacks and each move by Pinot saw Nibali pull level with the Frenchman. But this was spotted by Pinot as a bluff, as Nibali trying to show he could match anything but one more attack and Pinot was away.

Nibali wasn’t finished though. He was caught at the top of the Monte Olimpino climb but surged on the descent and got into a tuck while the others watched each other and so he stayed away for the podium. Dylan Teuns won the sprint for third place.

Why the highlight?
A long range attack, star names and beautiful roads lit in the autumnal sunshine. Peter Sagan made an audacious attack in Paris-Roubaix but the marking behind meant the suspense quickly fell out of the race as he and Silvan Dillier had a comfortable buffer on the chasers, it was a huge ride but not necessary gripping to watch. This time we had big names – grand tour contenders – on the move and the result was uncertain until late in the race, if Bernal had jumped across a 40 second gap then it was possible someone else could put in a big attack and bridge across too. This forced the leaders to race as hard as they could and in the end Pinot’s win was indisputable.

With hindsight
As practically the last race of the season there’s not much to unpick here. Nibali was again a catalyst, he didn’t win but he shook up the race. Lotto-Jumbo were the same too, they enlivened the Tour de France, especially with Robert Gesink to launch their leaders and did this again, if the results don’t show then it’s still worth celebrating their risk-taking tactics. Roglič didn’t get a result but impressed because he tried, after establishing himself as a Tour de France contender he could have coasted around the back end of 2018 but instead was gambling in Lombardia and has had a big season with wins in the Tour de Romandie and the Tour of the Basque Country, two of the hardest stage races to win.

Bernal impressed again. He’s been one of this blog’s riders to watch for 2018 – more on that soon – and having seen him in the Tour de France we knew he could cope with the set piece Alpine climbs but it was his descending that impressed this time, and so soon after a crash had left him severe injuries. It’s hard to see a weak point.

Pinot avenged his Giro collapse, and all on the Italian roads he loves so much. He’s finished the season on a winning note which might raise expectations and bring added pressure for 2018 but he seems able to detach himself from much of this.

Highlights of 2018: Part I

31 thoughts on “Highlights of 2018: Part II”

    • He kind of did. After making the deciding move and trading punches with Pinot and being one punch short, he gets caught by the chasers, watches them cat-and-mouse for a couple of seconds, and then digs deep and cranks out a big gap to the finish. One of the most impressive second places I’ve ever seen.

      • I fixed it where he “held on for the podium” rather than the win, a typo. I think he was helped by his team mates, when he went he had others to mark him but still very impressive to ride away like that and secure a deserved result.

  1. Wow, from Paris-Nice to Il Lombardia? I hope you’ll include something in-between. My 2018 was Nibali earlier in the season at MSR, but he raced with grit and class at Lombardia.
    While I was happy to see Pinot win his favorite race, a bookend for the 2018 Monuments for The Shark would have made me pop open the proscecco despite the fact I was streaming the race live in the morning while in the USA.

      • Dear Secretary of the Thibaut Pinot Fan Club
        I will be most upset if Milano-Sanremo is chosen ahead of Paris-Roubaix.

        Yours faithfully
        Secretary of the Peter Sagan Fan Club (NW England Branch)

          • Given how Sagans Roubaix win is mentioned above i don’t expect to see it make the highlights list, and pretty much for the reason it’s described above. Long range yes, but once the duo moved away it never look in doubt and there was not a chance for Dillier to beat Sagan in a sprint.
            Certainly not compared up against a race like Lombarida, where the long move was action packed, there was genuine efforts and close chase behind that left the outcome unknown until the last minutes.
            God i hope we had more exciting moments than Roubaix otherwise i’d say it’s been a shockingly dull year for cycling (i know it’s not cause we got Giro + Vuelta action, an epic late Worlds finish and great fun in the non-GT stage races). But just cause it’s Sagan doesn’t mean it’s exciting.

          • Fair point about Roubaix this year, although it’s had a great run of finishes with Degenkolb, Hayman and GVA. Even Terpstra’s solo win had it’s tactical insights. Hopefully next year is another classic.

            I agree with Larry that MSR was the most exciting race of the year and hats off to Nibali for bookending things with a great ride in Il Lombardia too.

          • For me, too. I think it was only in retrospect that it “never looked in doubt.” At the time, with Sagan doing all the work on the cobbles, and virtually all the work on the smooth roads, it really felt like he may have gone too soon and too hard. It was thrilling to watch him gain time on a very capable chase group. He was like a man possessed. It would have been more thrilling if a few of the chasers had been right on his wheel, but the way he rode away with the race was a big part of what made it an epic ride.

          • Your top win of 2018 is a break of only a few kilometres Larry? Granted Nibali picked his moment and the fatal hesitations of others sealed the deal. Yet I can certainly think of one win this year that was just so many more levels of awesome better than that.

            I wonder what it could be?

          • What’s wrong with you, RonDuDe, that you always have to troll Larry? No wife, no life?
            We all know you only saw one win this year, cause every other rider is a loser, unless he wear the kit of oligarch Rupert Murdoch.

          • I disagree Larry – Sagan’s move immediately had an emphatic finality to it. It was enjoyable to see such a strong ride (and a deserved win) but not close to the thrills of other long-range attacks.

        • Hammarling-the title is HIGHLIGHTS rather than “Most Exciting Nail-biting finishes of 2018” so the choices are more varied. For this reason I expect to see mentions of race wins by a few people (and teams) that I dislike and that were not all that exciting – but for some are truly a highlight. Example #1 would be Le Grand Boucle 2018.

          • Heaven forbid i find a major race or personality winner not a highlight. I don’t think Roubaix was a highlight of the season. It is interesting that a World Champion won it for the first time since ’81 and that it was Sagan’s first Roubaix title in what for him was a relatively quiet season. But i’d rate De Ronde ahead of it as a highlight of the season, and probably E3 as well.
            Equally i personally wouldn’t put the Tour into my yearly highlights summary. And i goddamn love Geraint! It wasn’t as good as the Giro or the Veulta. Unless we’re just ticking off a summary of the major races of the year, then just call it a review of the season as opposed to highlights.

            If it’s not exciting, how can it be a highlight of the year? Or am i using a weird definition of the word highlight. (A highlight being the best/most notable of something, although Roubaix was definitely notable but for much sader reasons).

          • What’s NOT to like about the guy? Seems all of his peers hold him in high esteem as well. I guess some might whine about him being a showoff or too commercial, but to me he’s a breath of fresh air in a sport where far too many participants (and fans) take themselves way too seriously. The personality he projects continues to be one of a guy who still can’t quite believe he gets all the money and adulation for doing something as simple as racing a bicycle. Even if it’s 100% contrived by marketing-mavens I can’t see anything negative about it. Am I missing something?

  2. Richly deserved win and great to watch attacking racing (how many of this year’s highlights will involve a dominant team performance?) – including Nibali’s fantastic never-say-die 2nd place.

  3. Lombardia was a smash, but I have to speak up for huge solo victorious rides even if they have no suspense. I delight in seeing the gambling attacker stay away while his chasers become less and less likely to catch him.

  4. Great race, worthy podium, worthy winner, and after the bad luck for Pinot in Giro and Nibali in Tour, which cycling fan could not be happy with the result?

  5. So many good races this past season (Froome soloing away to the Cima Coppi on Stage 19 of the Giro and taking all 3 Grand Tours in a row) (Valverde winning the Rainbow Jersey, finally) (Terpstra breaking away at the Ronde), etc. Cycling is more fun to watch than ever before. Looking forward to next season!

  6. someone has probably already mentioned it – but Tiesj benoot at strade bianche was my favorite – so many great riders at their limit (bardet!). plus, the spectacle — benoot’s mud caked face was iconic.

    • Strade Bianche was my highlight. A brilliant mix of riders battling it out on tough roads in beautiful terrain and in the sort of conditions Paris Roubaix hasn’t given us for more than a decade.

      Van Aert collapsing on the final climb and falling of the bike was the image of the year for me.

  7. Most pleased to see Nibali win MSR and equally pleased to see Pinot win Lombardy. Two gutsy and attacking rides and wins which made me genuinely happy for results that genuinely made me happy for this wonderful sport.

  8. Nibali’s a real competitor. When he’s on he is never satisfied with leaving unburned matches. When he regrouped and then attacked the chasing group it added excitement to the race plus even added more to Pinot’s legacy. When the race leader can stay away knowing that Nibali is hunting them down shows true class.

    Back to Pinot – it’s been great following his career – coming back from his struggles with le Tour to some really really gutsy rides shows a true champion.

    These kind of races are making me love this sport more and more. Pinot is one of the most believable Champions.

    • Good call. SB was a fantastic day’s viewing. The result wasn’t especially notable in the context of the rest of the season, but my god was it fun to watch.

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