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 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 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.
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‘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.