What to look forward to in the 2018 race season
The 2017 WorldTour racing season came to an explosive end this week with the Tour of Guangxi, the last and newest top-tier event on the calendar. It was a particularly eventful finale for Specialized thanks to one athlete in particular. Colombian fast man, Fernando Gaviria, showed off his unbelievable sprinting prowess by taking four out of six stages with Quick-Step Floors, leaving the cycling world reeling at his terrifying talent. Gaviria joins Kittel as the riders with joint-most wins throughout the season – proving just what a devastating team Quick-Step truly is.
Meanwhile, most of Kittel and Gaviria’s contemporaries have been enjoying a well-earned break from the bike to clear the mind and detox the body before looking forward to 2018 goals. Something which we are beginning to do now ourselves.
As far as Specialized supported athletes and teams are concerned, there is an embarrassment of riches. Whichever way you look, whether your gaze falls upon triathlon, mountain or road, you’ll find a higher concentration of athletes at the top of their game than most other squads put together. We’ve tried our best to pick out just a few key things to look forward to during the 2018 road cycling season:
Where to begin! If we leave aside the efforts of a certain Belgian named Greg, nearly every cobbled classic of 2017 was snatched up by Bora-Hansgrohe, Quick-Step Floors, or Boels-Dolmans in the Women’s WorldTour. And there’s no reason 2018 should be any different.
Looking back at spring 2017, Philippe Gilbert, new member of the Quick-Step rank and file, kicked off his season with real panache. Who could forget that 55km individual time trial after the Belgian “accidentally” gapped his rivals at the Tour of Flanders? Gilbert has accumulated victories at three out of five cycling Monuments, with just Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix to go. Whether he could get both in one season is a tough question, but we’ll certainly be looking out for his attacking style throughout the spring next year. It will be harder to miss fellow maverick Peter Sagan, in the rainbow stripes for the third year running, who will be his usual feisty self on both San Remo’s Poggio and Paris-Roubaix’s Carrefour de l’Arbre.
As for the hillier classics in the Ardennes region, we can’t wait to see what Anna van der Breggen does next after her stunning first season with Boels-Dolmans. Her historic triple crown at the inaugural women’s Ardennes week will be hard to beat, but she’ll surely go all out to entertain come the spring.
Tour de France
There are probably some of you out there who consider the cycling season to be over by the middle of April as the Classics specialists take their final bow in the Roubaix velodrome. Not in 2018! Next year’s Tour de France route was announced not so long ago and it features a bonkers, potentially race-defining stage featuring no fewer than fifteen sectors of pavé on the way from Arras to Roubaix.
The stage comes just before the first rest day at which point the race heads for the mountains. What is at the same time fantastic and terrifying (for some) about the 2018 parcours is the polarity of the terrains chosen. The amount of climbing is frankly insane, but combine that with the crosswinds of week one, the cobbles of stage 9 and the slimming of team size from 9 to 8 riders, and there could be some difficult discussions for team bosses. How do you build a team for such a multi-faceted race?
Names new and old to look out for
There has not been nearly as much moving and shaking this year as in previous, but there are a few incoming names we’ll be keeping an eye on. Bora-Hansgrohe welcomes two new additions to their climbing division in the young Italian, Davide Formolo and Briton, Peter Kennaugh. Formolo comes brimming with vivacity and attacking spirit while Kennaugh has the experience of working with a record-breaking Grand Tour-winning team and his own clutch of victories to boast about. Both will add climbing strength and depth to the Classics-heavy German squad.
Besides the obvious big names already with Bora and Quick-Step, there a few others who have started to make a name for themselves this year. Gregor Mühlberger was part of that unpredictably successful Bora lineup to ride the Giro d’Italia 2017, and who then went on to win the Austrian National Championship road race after impressing in the mountains at the Tour of Slovenia. Over at Quick-Step, Yves Lampaert and Enric Mas are two young guns likely to take a few (more) scalps in 2018. Lampaert has had a bit of a breakout year this year and the signs all suggest he’s on an upward trajectory. As for Enric Mas, the young Spaniard has shown strength beyond his years in his first season as a pro, particularly in the late summer Spanish races including the Vuelta a España. Could he be one for a stage win next year?
Both Bora-Hansgrohe and Boels-Dolmans keep the rainbow bands of the world champion in house for the third year running, the only difference being that Peter Sagan has kept them to himself while the ladies have passed it between them. The so-called “curse of the rainbow stripes” has never really troubled Specialized athletes and we don’t expect it to come into force in 2018. There’s little doubt that Sagan will reign supreme throughout the Spring and deep into the summer, possibly even swapping rainbows for green by July’s end. Chantal Blaak of the Netherlands had a relatively quiet year up until the World Championships, but we’ll look forward to seeing how she carries the rainbow at races like Gent-Wevelgem and the Boels Rental Ladies Tour where she has won before.
Then, at the end of the 2018 season comes a welcome change to the Road World Championships formula of recent years, with next to no flat roads offered by host city, Innsbruck, Austria. Boels-Dolmans is certainly stacked with the sort of talent which could succeed on the climbs, but it’s always difficult to tell. On paper, it’s unlikely Peter Sagan will be able to make it four in a row but after a climb-heavy Tour de France, you never know what he’ll be capable of by this time next year. Watch out for his teammate, Rafal Majka, though, who could go extremely well on this sort of route.
Clearly, we’ve barely been able to scrape the surface here. The road cycling calendar is fit to bursting with tense, thrilling and exotic racing such that to do a preview any justice would demand a great deal of time and space. Between now and January, we’ll be reflecting on the year just gone and preparing for the season ahead, as will all the pros now getting used to their 2018 bikes. You can get your hands and feet acquainted with these superb machines too. Have a look at just a few of some of the best bikes money can buy below. Here’s to 2018!
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