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Higlights of 2019 – Part V

It’s hard picking the fifth and final highlight, the trouble with lists is the story is often all the things left off. How to pick between two stages of Paris-Nice ravaged by crosswinds, then rate the winner against other stand-out races in the year? So here are a few more highlights…

The highlights started early with the Tour Colombia and its giant crowds. The TV production was terrible but it’s like a restaurant where you put up with a rude the owner because the food is so good. Julian Alaphilippe won the penultimate stage and the next day’s finish saw Nairo Quintana triumph in front of his home crowds.

The openingsweekend in Belgium is great for the anticipation alone. As a business cycling often overestimates its popularity but in Belgium it is truly a national sport. Het Nieuwsblad was a good race with a lively final two hours before Zdeněk Štybar won with a late attack.

The problem with Paris-Nice is going from Paris to Nice. The flat roads south of Paris are featureless. Add wind and everything changes, a dull procession leading to an inevitable sprint turns into an instant classic and TV caviar. This year we got two stages of crosswinds and if Egan Bernal didn’t win the race here, he didn’t lose it either and the sight of him holding his own with the flahutes and flandriens shows he’s a versatile rider. The image of him in the yellow jersey atop the Col de Turini looked like a glimpse of the future.

Tirreno-Adriatico‘s stage to Fossombrone was a thriller. Alexey Lutsenko went on the rampage and was pushing so hard he crashed one of the hilly loops but fell into a bank of chestnut leaves, remounted and kept going. He was caught in the finish by a select group of Adam Yates, Primož Roglič and team mate L-L Sanchez… and still beat them in the sprint. Roglič went on to win overall as part of his long winning streak.

Gent-Wevelgem was a hard race won by a tough rider in Alexander Kristoff.

The Tour of the Alps is a gem of a race, some mountain stages on roads you want to ride and being outside of the World Tour it gets a mix of teams. Glance at the results and it was another win for Team Sky but this time after a lot of attacks rather than the steamroller method.

The Critérium du Dauphiné is usually a highlight but didn’t catch fire this year although the second stage to Craponne was good as a select group escaped on the final climb of the day and we got to see Thibaut Pinot, Chris Froome, Jakob Fuglsang and Nairo Quintana trade blows on the road.

The Tour de France was great… except for the ending. There were few dud stages and even the time trial stage was a thriller. Thomas de Gendt’s stage win was a stand out highlight but Daryl Impeys’s stage win was a thriller, the crosswinds to Albi enlivened the day, Thibaut Pinot’s spell in the Pyrenees with a stage win one day and then dropping all the GC rivals again the next was impressive and Matteo Trentin got a deserved win at the end of a wild stage. The GC contest was very open and a complete change from the pattern we’ve seen this decade of Sky taking the yellow jersey mid-race and riding like a fortress. Julian Alaphilippe took the yellow jersey and the question was whether he’d keep it on the Planche des Belles Filles… and he kept on going and going. All this under near permanent sunshine and France on holiday.

Remco Evenepoel’s San Sebastian win impressed and impresses the more you look at it. He was on duty to help others early in the race but put in a late attack and rode away. Sometimes you can attack just when everyone is tired and get away but here he jumped and managed to increase his lead while the group behind was chasing hard.

The Vuelta proved a cakewalk for Primož Roglič, even if there was no time trial in the race he’d still have won and this after his Jumbo-Visma team wiped out in the opening team time trial. There were some good stages and Stage 17 was similar to Paris-Nice, on paper the terrain looked banal but that paper got blown away by the breeze and it set up a frantic day’s racing with Philippe Gilbert winning at the end. We’ll look back at this edition because of Roglič’s and Tadej Pogačar’s performances.

Annemiek van Vleuten impressed with her giant solo break in the World Championships in Yorkshire this year to finish another dominant year although not atop the UCI rankings.

Bauke Mollema’s win in Lombardia was satisfying, often an unsung rider he waited for the right moment to take his chance and triumphed and it ended the late season run of races in Italy which, thanks to full TV coverage, are enjoyable to watch at the end of the season.

It’s not all sporting highlights, there’s more to cheer in and around the sport:

  • The women’s World Tour is a good thing, for a long time it was just a calendar label but now it’s copying the men’s side to become a regulatory concept too with rules on minimum wages and other measures to professionalise the sport
  • He impressed on the bike but Richard Carapaz has a great story, the childhood bike without tyres and became a national hero in Ecuador and front page news (although part of this saw the government try to bask in the glory) and hopefully it brings in new fans
  • The Tramadol ban this year is a good thing, the UCI has gone above and beyond the WADA Code to ban something that was problematic, hopefully the cortisone controls follow in 2020
  • There’s more TV than ever with plenty of small races available to watch. There’s possibly too much and 2019 might be the high water point given 2020 won’t have the Tour of California, the Tour of Norway and smaller races like the Tour du Limousin will happen but the production costs may be too much for them.

Any more highlights? Share them in the comments below…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael B Thursday, 19 December 2019, 2:25 pm

    “Alexey Lutsenko went on the rampage and was pushing so hard he crashed one of the hilly loops but fell into a bank of chestnut leaves, remounted and kept going. He was caught in the finish by a select group of Adam Yates, Primož Roglič and team mate L-L Sanchez… and still beat them in the sprint. ”

    He fell off twice that day! Incredible stage win.

    • Moten Reippuert Thursday, 19 December 2019, 7:07 pm

      + it was not LL Sanchez but of course Fuglsang in that group. if Astata had not had a disasaterous TTT riding in a thunderstorm and crashing wikth half the team Fuglsang would have won Tireno, not Roglic. Fuglsang punished Roglic and Yates every time rthe road tilted upwards all week.

  • Mikael Aa Thursday, 19 December 2019, 4:36 pm

    Beeing danish I am obviously biased when I pick Jakob Fuglsangs win in Liege-Bastonge-Liege. But the way he handled his bike and saved what seemed to be an inevatible crash on the last downhill, was at least a very thrilling moment.

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 19 December 2019, 4:48 pm

      It was a thrill but I didn’t pick it as a big highlight because the race seemed to suddenly come to the boil on the Roche aux Faucons climbs and Fuglsang just rode away… and that was it. Still he’s had an excellent season and if it wasn’t for Alaphilippe having an even better one perhaps he’d have won even more.

    • Morten Reippuert Thursday, 19 December 2019, 7:08 pm

      LBL was not Fuglsangs most impressive ride that spring – it was the Muur stage in Tireno.

  • DJS Thursday, 19 December 2019, 5:20 pm

    Thank you for all the great blogging this year! Merry Christmas and all the best for 2020.
    A personal highlight was the ‘Ronde’ – where Bettiols win was helped by very tactical riding from a team that so often misses out – Vanmarcke and Langeveld were doing some great blocking. Also, and before that, impressive riding by MvdP to close an ‘unclosable’ gap after his crash hitting a flowerbed.

  • SYH Thursday, 19 December 2019, 6:19 pm

    My favorite race nobody watched was Plouay/Bretagne Classic. Extremely active racing from about the break capture at 75km to go, former U-23 champion Bernard Cosnefroy impressing, and a fully deserved win by Vanmarke.

    G-W was my favorite race of the year though. No moment in 2019 matched the excitement when I sat down to watch only to find a breakaway with Sagan, VDP, Trentin, and a bunch of other favorites from basically every team but DQS.

    Oh, and La Vuelta was fun- one of those GTs where everything was fun except the GC winner. Stage 20 was the obvious highlight, with Astana throwing absolutely everything at the wall in desperation, only for Pogacar to take off to such an extent that Valverde’s second place was put under serious threat.

  • amelon Thursday, 19 December 2019, 9:48 pm

    I second Lutsenko’s gutsy win at T-A! Such highs and lows in the last 15 kms with him surging, crashing, surging, crashing, getting caught, and finally trumping them all in the sprint!

    • Anonymous Friday, 20 December 2019, 11:40 pm

      Truly unbelievable. Who could possibly imagine that Lutsenko is Vinokourov’s favorite son?

  • Matt F Thursday, 19 December 2019, 10:46 pm

    I thought Mads Pedersen’s win in the Yorkshire Worlds was one for the ages. Apocalyptic, highly selective conditions where only the strongest were left standing. What’s more, he dispatched one of the pre race favourites in the sprint (Trentin).

  • Pilgrim Friday, 20 December 2019, 9:51 am

    The best moments in races for me are those when something might happen but then doesn’t. I know that doesn’t make sense! There is usually a very long German word for this – the tension caused by anticipating something happening that is only exacerbated when nothing happens.

  • plurien Friday, 20 December 2019, 12:01 pm

    Thank you for another insight and consistently good writing Mr INRNG.
    Also for the reminder that pivotal stages often come from the least likely parcours, thanks to all the factors other than the road tilting upwards.

    Happy holidays to all.
    (..and when is the Wielerjaar Oversicht on Sporza? )

  • RQS Sunday, 22 December 2019, 10:42 am

    What about the WC? That’s a bit rhetorical since you have not included it, but also that the rain turned it into an ordeal which would have satisfied the sadism of Henri Desgrange. But actually it was a good ride by Mads Pedersen. The problem for the race was that the final selection was not as stellar as you’d hope and took the edge of the victory, which is a little unfair on Mads who rode superbly.

    • Ecky Thump Sunday, 22 December 2019, 12:55 pm

      I’m of the opposite view on the WC.
      I thought the rain was an ingredient too many, it over-egged the pudding for me.
      I do hope that the win sees a breakthrough for Pedersen this coming season, to become a lead rider rather than a cast member. I think it’d be a bad look to have a tactical worker in the WC colours?

      On a more positive note, I was fortunate enough to be tuned into that crazy Lutsenko win in Italy and it really helped set up the Spring, and Astana as a chief rival to DQS. Great drama.

    • Larry T Sunday, 22 December 2019, 3:11 pm

      “…sadism of Henri Desgrange” Sadism? Really? It’s not like the guy spent his whole life sitting in a cushy newspaper office and just wanted to see others suffer. He did plenty of suffering of his own on the bike, including an hour record, which I assume you are aware of?

      • RQS Sunday, 22 December 2019, 10:59 pm

        I wasn’t aware of that, but to be fair I do mean sadism. I’m talking about his aim to make a race so hard that only a single competitor would finish, Yorkshire was close to that in the way with the number of DNFs compared to many other races in the modern era, although largely unintentionally.

        • Larry T Monday, 23 December 2019, 10:52 am

          Definition of sadism
          1: the derivation of sexual gratification from the infliction of physical pain or humiliation on another person
          a: delight in cruelty
          b: excessive cruelty
          Without an example of Desgrange forcing anyone to ride in his races I think your claim is rather hyperbolic

          • RQS Monday, 23 December 2019, 12:27 pm

            I think by the very nature that he wanted a race where only one rider was capable of finishing is excessively cruel considering he needed more than one competitor.
            I would agree that I was using hyperbole though. I don’t know why that matters in this context though.

  • Richard S Monday, 23 December 2019, 10:08 am

    I might be alone in thinking this but for me a race has to be important for it to be a highlight. By this I mean a major classic or Grand Tour really. The winds might blow a stage of Paris-Nice wide open, or it might snow at Tirreno-Adriatico, or Dwars Door Vlaanderen might be blown wide open from the gun but they are just warm up races and in the end it doesn’t really matter who wins. There is far more drama in seeing who will get in the decisive break at Flanders or Roubaix, or if the attackers over the Poggio will make it stick at Milano-Sanremo. Even if it follows a relatively predictable script. Because it matters.

    • Larry T Monday, 23 December 2019, 10:55 am

      You’re not alone.

    • RQS Monday, 23 December 2019, 12:42 pm

      I disagree. The manner of victory matters, this may well be dictated by the quality of the competition, the stature of the race and the relative circumstances of the parcours. But take Stannard’s victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, or the chap who crashed and dropped his chain in the final kilometre and still won the race. Stannard was outnumbered and still won against the odds. The other guy whose name escapes was close to throwing it all away, but showed coolness under pressure to put his chain on and hang on to win. These are the sorts of scenarios which you hypothesise and seeing them played out is truly thrilling despite it not being Paris Roubaix or whichever other races you arbitrarily feel are only worthy of being a highlight.

      • Richard S Monday, 23 December 2019, 7:34 pm

        I never said anyone had to agree. My point is though, as impressive as Stannard was in that Omloop in outgunning 3 very good Quick Step riders it’s still worth less than the Ronde that year, whoever won it and however they did it. And I’m sure he’d swap it too. For me the anticipation and enjoyment is heightened knowing that it really counts.

        • RQS Monday, 23 December 2019, 8:21 pm

          That’s fine. But you’re effectively saying the highlights are the Monuments and the Tour De France (I’m paraphrasing as you highlight the Ronde Van vlaanderen), and yet they could be as turgid as you like. A lot of commenters on this site would say anything won by Sky/INEOS was not a highlight.
          That’s pretty limiting and misses what makes the best races in my opinion. Each to their own I guess. Of course a rider will value those races on their palmares more, but that’s different to how you perceive it as a spectator. A bunch sprint in MSM is pretty dull, and I’d skip that for Omloop if it serves up more dramatic finishes. While the Monuments are recognised as the longest running and most famous, the fame and support only grew out of the fans it brought. It looks all self fulfilling looking back, but really wasn’t at the time.