Three weeks of unrivalled success
With the pro peloton taking a well-earned breather after battling it out across the sunny beaches of California and the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Giro d’Italia, Specialized have been celebrating a spectacular few weeks of racing. The pro teams supported by Specialized have experienced unrivalled success, with Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe taking no less than eleven World Tour stage wins on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dominating on home ground
Three stage wins, a points classification victory and a string of podium placings – the 2018 Tour of California proved to be a complete success for Specialized. Young Colombian, Fernando Gaviria of Quick-Step Floors, dominated the world-class sprint field, snatching the Californian ‘sprint king’ title from the previous holder, world champion Peter Sagan.
Taking the win on stages 1, 5 and 7, Gaviria was emphatic in his domination of the designated sprint stages, his vicious acceleration in the final 200m enough to leave the likes of Caleb Ewan, Alexander Kristoff, and Peter Sagan fighting for his coattails. Rocking a similar setup to teammate, Elia Viviani over in Italy, and riding on the momentum of #Wolfpack success, Gaviria piloted his S-Works Venge ViAS with unmatched speed, showcasing its nimble handling and aero profile in hectic bunch sprints.
Away from the sprints, Bora Hansgrohe’s Rafal Majka also put in a solid performance, representing in the tough mountain stages to finish an impressive 7th overall, showing promise for the upcoming Tour de France. Aboard the S-Works Tarmac Ultralight, the Pole danced on the pedals on some of California’s toughest ascents, the lightweight frame and wheelset making each of his accelerations appear effortless, gliding on a wave of adrenaline.
Perhaps one of the standout performances in California was from the Hagens Berman Axeon squad, the Pro Continental team managed by Axel Merckx, duking it out with the top World Tour teams with admirable results. Their star man, Sean Bennett, rode to an impressive 2nd place on stage 3, part of a thrilling breakaway that was eventually won by Trek-Segafredo’s Toms Skujins. His podium finish was all the more impressive for the fact that Bennett was riding atop an alloy frame, something unheard of in the professional echelons. The Specialized Allez Sprint Comp may be a mere fraction of the price of carbon models, but it more than proved its worth in a world-class field – the nimble and compliant, aluminium frame accompanying Bennett to one of the stand-out results of his career so far.
Taking the fight to Italy
From the first road stage to Tel Aviv, to the mountaintop finish of Prato Nevoso and the final day in the Italian capital of Rome, Specialized splashed their name across the Giro d’Italia thanks to a haul of eight stage wins, two spots in the GC top 10 and more podium placings than we can even remember.
Kicking off the show in Israel was Quick-Step’s Elia Viviani, who took two stage wins in as many days aboard his trusty S-Works Venge ViAS, a bike that would go onto score two more victories on the Italian mainland for the eventual maglia ciclamino winner.
Fighting for his wheel on both occasions was Ireland’s Sam Bennett, the Bora-Hansgrohe sprinter eager to take his first ever Grand Tour stage win. His chance to raise his arms would come on stage 7’s finish in Praia a Mare, thanks to a last minute killer kick in the final 50m to haul himself past a surging Viviani, breaking his Grand Tour stage win duck in the process. By the end of the first week, Specialized had already seen their Venge ViAS take three stage wins and six podium positions, with plenty more racing to come.
The next sprint opportunity didn’t fall until stage 12, a technical finish into the MotoGP Imola circuit bound to create a thrilling finish. In the end, it was the downpours that really animated the race, and Irishman Sam Bennett seemed to make the most of familiar conditions to take his second stage win, without doubt, his most impressive of the entire race. Sensing a breakaway robbery from late attackers Matej Mohoric and Carlos Betancur, he launched with 400m still to race, easily catching the escapees and leaving just enough time to sit up and celebrate.
No less than 24 hours later, Elia Viviani took another victory, pushing the score out to 3-2 between him and Bennett. Stage 17 gave Viviani yet another chance to up the score, the Italian getting the better of Bennett once more into Iseo – the score now 4-2.
One of the big stories of the 2018 Giro d’Italia was the distinct lack of breakaway victories. When the opportunity finally arose on stage 18, it was the former white jersey wearer and revelation of this Giro d’Italia, Maximilian Schachmann, who took the honours in his maiden Grand Tour with a phenomenal climbing performance aboard the S-Works Tarmac.
When the race finally reached Rome, it was inevitable that it would come down to a battle between the two strongest sprinters, Bennett and Viviani. The Italian would surely have loved to finish off a sensational Giro with a victory on the professional finale in Rome, but with fatigue in the legs and the maglia ciclamino confirmed, he appeared content in defeat. Brimming with confidence and looking forward to a post-race pizza, it was Bennett who surged ahead of the field with yet another, characteristically explosive acceleration before the iconic Colosseum.
The finish in Rome also confirmed that two of Bora-Hansgrohe’s young GC hopefuls had finished in the top 10 overall, with Patrick Konrad 7th and Davide Formolo 10th. Both managed to maintain consistent climbing performance in the final week as so many others faltered, giving Specialized two more results to boast about.
The road ahead
As the cycling world takes some time to recover, attention turns to the Tour de Suisse and Critérium du Dauphiné, two major precursors to the Tour de France. With Ardennes champions, Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) off to the Dauphiné and Peter Sagan travelling to Switzerland with Fernando Gaviria, Specialized’s animation of racing looks set to continue.
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