We only have a couple of weeks before the World Tour kicks off again with the Santos Tour Down Under on 16th January. But before we start looking forward to the New Year, what were your highs and lows of the 2017 racing calendar? Here’s a recap of those landmark moments along with a few predictions of what to expect for the new season.
The pre-race favourites were Quintana and Nibali with Geraint Thomas throwing his hat into the ring as Sky’s race leader, but a crash with a parked motorbike wrecked the Welshman’s dreams.
Tom Dumoulin was always going to pose a threat with his time trialing ability, but even he had limited ambitions, declaring that he’d be happy with just a stage win. Drawing comparisons to the legendary Spaniard Miguel Indurain, the Dutch flier defied expectations by wearing pink for nine straight days.
He lost some dignity as well as over 30 seconds of his lead to Quintana when he had to pull over for a comfort break before the final climb of the day on Stage 16. It was Nibali who won that day although he drew a fair amount of flack for apparently breaking an unwritten rule of taking advantage of the race leader’s stomach problems.
Quintana wrested the jersey off the Dutchman a few days later only for Dumoulin to smash the time trial on the final day. His winning margin? 31 seconds. The same amount of time he’d lost on Stage 16.
He was a hugely popular winner, showing immense courage and determination and hanging on in the grueling final week despite lacking significant support from a weak Sunweb Team. He also left us with the indelible memory of the race leader pulling off the pink jersey to take a dump at the side off the road as well as the fitting moniker of Poomoulin which will stay with us for many a year to come.
With a start in Jerusalem, RCS, the Giro organizers have chosen a controversial location for the 101st edition. Amidst rumours of a lucrative golden handshake, Froome has been enticed to race the only grand tour he hasn’t won. That deal was done before the revelation of the failed doping test during the Vuelta which must have left RCS, furious. Who knows if last year’s back-to-back grand tour winner will be serving a ban by the time the Giro comes round. Put the dates in the diary: 5th to 27th May.
Tour de France
While Froome wrapped it all up without winning a stage this may have looked, on paper, a dull and uninspiring edition. But as ever in bike racing, the results only tell half the story.
While the Kenyan born Brit could be seen to have a guard of uber-domestiques to usher him to overall victory, cracks appeared when his supposed right hand man in the mountains, Mikel Landa, seemed to be challenging his team leader’s superiority. With echoes of Froome himself showing up Wiggins in 2012, Landa rode away from the Sky leader on the Peyragudes summit finish as well as breaking away on the short stage to Foix.
He was brought back into line a few days later by the Team Sky DS when he was ordered to drop back in support of Froome on the approach to Le Puy-en-Velay a few days later. No surprise that Landa has joined Movistar this year to realise personal GC ambitions for 2018!
The biggest controversy of the race, however had to be the disqualification of world champion, Peter Sagan when he and Mark Cavendish came into contact metres from the finish line in a messy sprint on the fourth stage. While it had initially looked as if Sagan had elbowed Cav out the way, most commentators disagreed with the race officials view after looking at the slo-mo footage. It was a sad day seeing two hugely popular riders, both the World Champ and the Manxman with a record number of green jerseys to his name, out of the race.
Other than Cavendish, Valverde crashed out of the team time trial, Kittel dropped out when the Green jersey looked beyond his grasp and Richie Porte suffered a horrendous high speed crash when he overshot a turn on a descent that also took out Dan Martin. The plucky Irishman rode on courageously, only discovering 12 stages later that he had suffered two fractured vertebrae.
Froome goes camping
Porte wasn’t the only one to misjudge a corner. Chris Froome and Fabio Aru both went straight when they should have followed the road to the right, ending up in a spectator’s campsite. Apparently he turned down the offer of freshly barbecued sausages and rejoined the race.
Froome and Aru
Stage 12 saw Aru wrest the jersey off Froome’s back, only to hand it back two days later. But their rivalry had already sparked to life on Stage 9 when the Italian (neither known for his good looks or his sportsmanship) appeared to attack the Sky leader just as he raised his hand to indicate a mechanical problem near the top of Mont du Chat.
Aru claimed he had not seen Froome raise his hand, a claim described by Simon Yates as “absolute bullshit,” adding, “I think it’s a dirty move. I don’t like what he did but it’s a bike race and he can do what he wants.” Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby seemed to agree with that by commenting that Aru “could smell Froome’s armpit” when he flew past.
After switching bikes Froome caught up with the group which had by then slowed down at Richie Porte’s behest. Froome reasserted himself by apparently elbowing Aru, before raising his hand in apology, later insisting that the contact had been unintentional.
Tour de France 2018?
With cobbles, dirt roads and three big mountain finishes including the iconic Alpe d’Huez it looks like it’s going to be a belter. Will Froome be facing a ban? Even if he doesn’t, will he be able to secure a historic fifth Tour victory after an energy sapping Giro? And after his Giro victory in 2017, perhaps Tom Dumoulin can do the same at the Tour in 2018. Quintana looked off last year, but he could be a resurgent force. Valverde will want to prove a point in the twilight of his career and his teammate Landa will by vying for top spot. 7th to 29th July. Make sure that Eurosport subscription is paid up.
Vuelta a Espana
While we wait to see if Froome can prove his innocence or otherwise over the number of puffs he took from his Ventolin inhaler, his ruthless dominance in Spain, marking back-to-back Grand Tour victories, can’t be denied. Not content with taking the race leader’s red jersey for the overall winner, he also contested the bunch sprint into Madrid, thus wrapping up the green points jersey too.
But while Froome received a lukewarm reception from his British compatriots back at home, his Spanish counterpart was basking in public adoration. Racing his final grand tour, Alberto Contador sought day in, day out, to tear the race apart with searing attacks in the high mountains. A fairytale stage win on the Angliru was a fitting final chapter to the rip-roaring read that has been his career. Fairwell Bertie. We’ll miss you!
2018’s route is yet to be confirmed, but we can expect a time trial on stage 1 in Malaga and that the sadistic organizers will be keen to include punishing climbs up some 20% gradient goat tracks.
Kwiatkowski got Milan San Remo, Van Avermaet won Paris Roubaix, Gilbert won Flanders and Nibali scooped his home monument of Lombardia. Veteran Valverde got his fourth Liege.
It was Gilbert’s Flanders victory that impressed the most with his stunning solo ride to the finish. Meanwhile Lombardia, the romantic classic, featured one of the most horrific crashes when Laurens De Plus flew over a vertical cliff. Luckily his fall was broken by a tree and he came away with only cuts and bruises. It was one of those moments that looked like it could have had tragic consequences. Thank God he was okay.
Michele Scarponi RIP
Sadly it was a year where the dangers of riding a bike came to the fore with Michele Scarponi’s death after he was hit by a car when on a training ride. He wasn’t the only bike racer to die this way- Australian Jason Lowndes was killed only in December.
On a happier note, I expect everyone was delighted to see Peter Sagan win his third World Championship. The final kilometers were nail-biting as the TV signal was lost and broadcasters had to resort to fixed cameras near the finish. Nobody knew who was going to be a contender until close to the end. Tom Pidcock won the Junior world title – such a talent that we look forward to seeing mature in the coming years.
Let us know what your favourite moments of 2017 were. And what do you think 2018 holds in store? In the meantime we leave you with a few choice moments from THE cycling commentator, Carlton Kirby.