What Happened To The Riders To Watch For 2018?

Back in January ten riders were picked out of interest to see how they’d fare. They were not picked as a forecast for the rankings, more that some could go onto great things and others have different challenges. As ever it’s always good to revisit things so here’s a look how they fared…

Richie Porte was the first pick and the question was whether he was unlucky. He’s a millionaire paid to ride a bike so it’s all relative but he brings to mind the line often attributed to Napoleon “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?“. This wasn’t just about staying upright although that was on the mind, it was also that Chris Froome was going to the Giro meaning the Tour de France podium looked more achievable than ever, was Porte about to get lucky? Once again Porte won on Willunga in January, once again he won a stage race in the build up to the Tour de France and once again he crashed out on Stage 9 of the Tour. So far, so similar but 2018 wasn’t a vintage year as his success in shorter stage races wasn’t as prolific and if he won the Tour de Suisse, a nice parting gift to BMC Racing, he still slipped down the rankings. Amid this he’s signed for Trek-Segafredo and won’t be riding the Tour Down Under next year for a change, even if he’ll start with the Herald Sun Tour soon after and maybe his luck will change?

Mikel Landa

Mikel Landa was one of the biggest team transfers and his move to Movistar saw the formation of El Tridente with him, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, a formation that sounded sharper than it proved. To some extent Sky wouldn’t have let him go if he was a direct threat but he was keen to switch teams and assume leadership. Things started well with a win in the mountain stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in typical nonchalant style but things went quieter. Not that it mattered, the Tour de France was his objective, only to crash hard on the stage to Roubaix which left him sore for the rest of the race and all he could manage was a bold attack on the last mountain stage, a lively move that helped enliven a great day’s racing but nothing more and after a crash in San Sebastian ruled him out of the Vuelta he had a string of DNFs for the rest of the season. It’s a case study in how a rider can look thrilling as the lieutenant, the understudy just waiting for their turn, but leadership is a heavy burden. We’ll see how he fares in 2019, a GC contender or back to harvesting mountain stage wins?

Warren Barguil was on fire in the 2017 Tour de France and arguably couldn’t stay at Sunweb any more, he’d have clashed with their ambitions for Tom Dumoulin. Sunweb have long term plans to make a Soviet bureaucrat proud, complete with daily drills and protocols that every rider has to buy into. It works for some but not others and Barguil left. A proud Breton he moved to the small fry Fortuneo-Samsic citing their regional connection and how he’d be able to ride for himself, in the way he wanted and more, including presumably cashing in on his 2017 value. Only the results never followed and the move to a tiny team wasn’t as romantic as it sounded. The resources weren’t there – apparently he didn’t go on a mountain training camp until after the Dauphiné – but the pressure and expectation were and arguably more so that if he’d been one leader among several with a foreign team. There was even trouble with frame supplier Look and a pre-Tour switch to BH, not a good luck for all involved. He wasn’t far from winning the mountains jersey in the Tour de France. He’ll form an odd combo with André Greipel but recruiting the German sprinter was essential for securing wild card invites, Barguil’s star factor has faded and we’ll see if he can start better in 2019.

Who’s the best rider on short, steep uphill finishes? Today the answer might be Julian Alaphilippe with the likes of Michael Woods and Simon Yates as good picks but a year ago Alejandro Valverde was the name to beat and Dylan Teuns looked like one to do it. Only this year he had 12 top-5 placings, including a podium in Lombardia (pictured) but no wins. At first glance this looks worse than 2017 but in fact it showed consistency and how he’s close to matching the big names even in races as tough as the Vuelta and Lombardia. He’s signed to Bahrain-Merida where he’ll have to take his chances on a team that has bought up more stars in the wake of BMC’s withdrawal.

Egan Bernal

Egan Bernal didn’t make the “neo pros to watch” as he’d spent two seasons as a pro with Androni before Sky came after him. We knew about the Vo2 Max and that he had good race craft already, the question was getting opportunities within the Team Sky hierarchy. One thing that impressed was his resilience, he had several hard crashes but seemed to bounce back within weeks, it wasn’t long after a nasty crash on the slopes of Montjuic that he was duking it out with Primož Roglič for the Tour de Romandie, he had an even worse crash in San Sebastian but finished the season strongly. His call up to the Tour de France was a surprise, as if winning the Tour of California ought to have been enough – he had a chance, he took it – and Sky had strength in depth: why bring a novice to the Tour where the team time trial would be new to him? The answer was that he was simply too good and was worth more than a Poels or a Castroviejo. His work on Alpe d’Huez helped Geraint Thomas and when he towed Chris Froome across the Soulor-Aubisque balcony it surely saved Froome’s podium. All this after a hard crash on the cobbles too and we can see why Sky have given him a contract like no other. After Tom Dumoulin and Simon Yates announcing they’re riding the Giro next year, what chance Bernal’s recorded a similar video announcing his participation too?

With Tom Boonen retiring how would Quick Step cope? And could Zdeněk Štybar come up with a win? This was asked because he was close but often just out of the picture. The team coped fine sans Boonen but Štybar scored plenty of top-10 placings again but no wins on a team where many get to win. Still if he was instrumental to his colleagues’ success as Quick Step’s tactics rely on having several options in the final. For example when Niki Terpstra floats up the road the others hesitate because the likes of Štybar and Gilbert are waiting to mark any moves. He’s due to try a few cyclo-cross races again this winter and should be omnipresent in the spring classics again.

Rigoberto Urán had the perfect Tour de France in 2017 so could he repeat this in 2018? No, unfortunately he was the main victim of the Roubaix cobbles and abandoned a couple of days later in the Alps. He rode to a steady seventh overall at the Vuelta, a model of consistency and finished second in the Tour of Slovenia just before the Tour.

Nacer Bouhanni

Could Nacer Bouhanni rediscover his winning ways? He’s won stages in the Vuelta and Giro but some readers may need to be reminded of this because success of late, especially in the World Tour, has been rare. Things actually started off worse for him after le clash with Cofidis’s new manager Cedric Vasseur. Bouhanni left Paris-Nice midway when normally he’s won stages there. He started winning again at the Four Days of Dunkerque but saw team mate Christophe Laporte as a rival and indeed Laporte was selected to ride the Tour de France while Bouhanni was left out. It was all a bit of a soap opera played ou in the pages of L’Equipe rather than on the road but things were saved when Bouhanni won a stage of the Vuelta in San Javier and with a year left on his contract he promises to turn things around.

Bob Jungels was picked to see what he could do, is he a stage race contender in the making? We’ve not got much more to go with regards a tilt at a grand tour, if anything he’s still coming up short in the high mountains but won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the already mentioned Quick Step fashion, doing “a Terpstra” by soloing away while rivals missed the move and looked worried about chasing. He’s won the Luxembourg championships by such a margin he’s practically got a long term lease on the jersey and still versatile, he should be able to win both classics and one week stage races in 2019.

Sam Oomen

Sam Oomen‘s challenge was to find moments for himself. Team Sunweb want to get the best out of Tom Dumoulin and this means flanking him with capable climbers so Sam Oomen, still just 23 today, was strong in the Giro on his way to a top-10 on GC while in a supporting role and then backed this up with 7th in the Tour de Suisse just weeks later. Not front page news but name other 22 year olds doing this and these are exciting times for Dutch cycling.

33 thoughts on “What Happened To The Riders To Watch For 2018?”

    • I didn’t know he’d broken his back (a fractured vertebra?) in the Tour, no. I knew he did this in San Sebastian and he cracked a rib which derailed his chances for the Vuelta, leaving him with a string of DNFs as he kept on trying to resume racing.

  1. Warren Barguil’s move and how he would get on was the most interesting for me. Maybe his time at Sunweb can be summed up by the saying ‘anything that testes bad is good for you’. He should have stayed and kept eating his greens, even if he doesn’t like them.

      • I think it wasn’t so much the strict regime at Sunweb that caused the departure of Barguil. He was perfectly happy to stay put at Sunweb when his career hadn’t taken off yet, before the Tour of ’17. But after the success at the Tour he thought he was too good to be helping others and refused to do so when he was supposed to ride the Vuelta for Kelderman. He is basically an incredibly selfish rider that most teams won’t want on their roster.

      • We like things structured, Ecky. Just compare the way houses are built to Belgium ;-). There is a stereotype and it seems Sunweb fits that. In reality, they do what lots of other teams do: Make training plans, make race day schedules, race pacing schedules for TT’s and so on. Nothing out of the ordinary there. It’s just that there were some sport scientist team staff on TV talking about that stuff and all of a sudden it seems like that’s a unique trait for Sunweb that gets picked up by media. It’s not, although not all teams are that professional.

        • I thought Ecky Thump was making a quip about the food preferences of the Dutch in general rather than a comment on how Dutch teams train and race. I’m not saying the sterotypical Dutch diet is quite bereft of healthy greens vegetables, but…

  2. @Inner Ring, your November blog when the Giro tour was announced noted that Bernal had been seen out on his TT bike in Bologna.
    Now this.
    Do you think he could be Team Sky’s main man at next year’s Giro, seems a big step?

    • All depends on Thomas, really; do we know what his plan is? He’s mentioned “unfinished business”.

      I’m not saying he’d contend but it would be a bit harsh on the man if Sky were to not give him a pick at what he wanted to do for this season, especially as he’d finally succeeded in finishing a GT riding for himself (and won it).

      But on the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Sky (arch pragmatists to the last) did give Bernal a go at the Giro. They’ve got a sponsor to find, after all, and Bernal is the future they’re selling – though you’d hope come May that would be sorted.

      Then they could use a battered Bernal in support for Froome at the Tour, and chuck Thomas in there as another Super Domestique with an eye on him having a proper go as leader at the Vuelta.

      • The noises seem to be suggesting both Froome and Thomas try for the Tour. A Gazzetta interview the other day saw their writer Antonio Morici ask Nibali about his rivals in the Giro and then the writer listed all the contenders… before they’ve been announced… like S Yates, Dumoulin, Valverde (today announced) and Bernal was on the list too.

    • And that’s just the GC/climber riders, there’s the women dominating their races; van der Poel for the CX and a future on the road (and maybe MTB too) and if Groenewegen is great in the sprints, there’s Jakobsen too.

  3. A good look back through the rear view mirror (Landa may appear closer than he really is).

    Who’ll be on next year’s list? Quintana and Nibs for the “can he challenge for GC in a grand tour again?”

    Vanmarcke who hits thirty and essentially has a palmares of one Omloop to show from a career?

    Cavendish for one last tilt at Merckx’s TdF stage wins record?

    • Ouch…so true about Vanmarcke – exceptional talent on the cobbles but only one top spot, sometimes through sheer bad luck such as repeated punctures. I hope he will do a “GVA” and suddenly starts winning next year – but maybe his best shot would be joining the wolfpack…

      • So many names, I find picking 10 is difficult, you want to cover 10 more, then readers suggest 20 more etc. No bad thing given all the stories possible and the way cycling allows different types of riders to thrive on different terrain, in varied roles etc. Some good suggestions already.

        • May I humbly suggest a reader’s 10 as a second string once you’ve had first dibs obviously. Given the length of some postings here I’m sure you have budding bloggers who would offer to pick 1 and write a piece at season’s end. Provided you have the server space…

        • Except that Poulidor won some good races, including Milan – San Remo. Vanmarcke has got OHN and, what, a couple of stages in the Tour of Austria?

  4. Another interesting thing for 2019 is the string of GC teamleaders who have announced to focus on the Giro instead of the TdF (maybe start in the TdF but focus on Giro). Would the likes of Dumoulin, Simon Yates and others bide their time and let the Skytrain dominate France for one last year to see if they stand a better chance of winning the TdF in a more ‘egalitarian’ peloton in 2020? (this apart from some obvious considerations such as amount of climbing and TT-ing involved, obviously).

    • I find a suggestions like this highly insulting to those you named. The idea that riders of this level would decide their programs based on who might show up to compete against them goes against pretty much everything about sport. Great champions want to beat the best competitors at their best. While certainly they decide what course might favor their chances in any given year, I find the idea that they’d duck a challenge against what you call the Skytrain repulsive.

      • I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Cycling is a team sport though and many people, including commenters on this blog, have complained about the stifling of races by certain teams (Sky at the moment, but earlier on US Postal was also an example). I’m sure most of these riders would not shy away from a mano a mano fight with one of the Sky team leaders and this was not meant as a comment to say that they duck a challenge but more that they would calculatingly ride where they have the best chance of winning – and that does involve both the terrain/course as well as the competition – not just the team leaders but also the muscle they bring to the party.

        • Yeah. I think you were a bit clumsy in your comment. But GC riders will likely assess both the course and their chances of winning. But the best riders in any Team will ride the TdF. Occasionally you have a rider that pin points one of the other grand tours, but every team wants to try to win the Tour, and in those cases it usually because their is strong internal competition to be the TdF lead. It’s what the sponsors will require.
          There are exceptions, but being top dog for your team at the biggest bike race in the world is a big deal.

      • On the contrary, I thought it was bizarre of Dumoulin to do the Giro last year once Froome had entered, as it was an ideal chance to win the Tour.
        His decision to ride the Giro this year seems no less odd and does suggest that he might not fancy his chances against Froome.
        And I say that as someone very much biased against Sky.

  5. A nice article Inrng! I think that Warren Barguil had a reasonable season against my expectations (which were not high in a tint team) , he warmed up at the tour eventually and went on a few rampages as per his style which leads me to believe he will come good again soon.

    People of principle are rare and maybe this is the price he has to pay

  6. Porte is sadly hapless. It seems to be a mental consciousness thing. Armchair cyclists have the benefit of not suffering blood sugar deprivation, and so it’s easy to criticise Porte’s misfortunes, but comparative to his competition he always seems to be coming out worse.
    He would do well to drop the team leader position and work as a super Dom. That’s where his value is, taking orders, riding for others, and staying out of the wilting gaze of publicity. He will no doubt frustrate myself and others at Trek if he assumes the mantle of leadership.
    We may have seen the best of Stybar. I like him as a rider. His win Strade Bianche was fantastic, but I think there are too many in his team that do what he does, and slightly better.
    Mikel Landa’s step into the shadows of Quintana and Valverde seems predictable. Trek would have been a better fit. With Valverde moving on he may fair better, but they have some younger talent there who will look to put him further in the shadows. It feels like he has to redo all the hard work he did at Astana to get noticed.
    Warren Barguil’s anonymity in 2018 was likely predicted by Nostradamus – the step back into the minor leagues having such a predictable outcome. A shame, but he didn’t seem comfortable with the inevitable fame, focus and attention that his success generated. I fear that his orbit has met its zenith and is now in irreversible retrograde, otherwise 2019 will need to be a good one.

Comments are closed.