From Chris Froome to Peter Sagan to the return of Marianne Vos, the 2018 racing season promises plenty of drama. – By Whit Yost
1. Froome’s Fate
Chris Froome outdid himself in 2017 by winning his fourth Tour de France in July and his first Vuelta a España in September. In doing so, he became the first rider since Alberto Contador to win two Grand Tours in the same season. But his accomplishments were overshadowed in December with the news that he had returned an “adverse analytical finding” for salbutamol during the Vuelta.
Salbutamol is generally prohibited by the UCI, pro cycling’s governing body, but asthmatic riders (like Froome) are allowed to take it via inhaler. Here’s the thing: Froome’s test revealed a salbutamol level that was twice the approved limit. In the past, riders who have gone over the limit—and to a lesser extent than Froome did—have received suspensions, which puts Froome’s plans to win both the 2018 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in question. There’s still no timeline for a decision, but whatever it is and whenever it comes, expect it to send shockwaves throughout the sport.
2. Greg Van Avermaet, King of Belgium?
Last spring, Belgium said goodbye to Tom Boonen, as one of the most nation’s most successful and beloved riders retired. While the entire country obsessed over Boonen’s final weeks as a pro, his compatriot Greg Van Avermaet did his best to give fans a reason to still believe in Belgian cycling. The BMC rider won just about every major cobbled classic on the calendar, including the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem, and most importantly, Paris-Roubaix (which happened to be Boonen’s final race).
If Van Avermaet really wants to put himself first and foremost in the hearts of Belgium’s cycling-crazy fans, there’s one thing left to do: win the “Super Bowl” of Belgian cycling, the Tour of Flanders. He’s scored podium finishes in three of the last four editions, but a win in the season’s second Monument has eluded the 32-year-old. Van Avermaet has made it clear that a win at Flanders this April is his number-one goal. If victorious, he’ll be crowned the new King of Belgium.
3. Sagan, With a Little Help from His Friends
Yes, he became the first rider in history to win three consecutive men’s world road race championships, but 2017 was largely a disappointment for Peter Sagan. He failed to win a major Spring Classic and was controversially disqualified from the Tour de France, which prevented him from contending for a record-tying sixth green jersey as the winner of the Tour’s Points Classification.
Will 2018 bring more near-misses and bad luck, or will we see the return of the Sagan of 2016, who won two Spring Classics, the green jersey at the Tour de France, and a world championship? His Bora-Hansgrohe team has certainly done its part in supporting its superstar, most notably by signing Daniel Oss (who helped Van Avermaet win last year’s Paris-Roubaix) away from BMC. Adding Oss means Sagan won’t be on his own at the end of long, hard races like Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. If 2018 is Sagan’s best season to date, Oss could be the reason why.
4. The Return of Marianne Vos
Between 2010 and 2014, Marianne Vos won 121 road races (and scores of cyclocross victories), an incredible streak that prompted many to wonder if she would one day supplant Eddy Merckx as cycling’s GOAT. But rather than give her body sufficient time to heal from a hamstring injury in September 2014, Vos continued training and racing, pushing herself past the point from which she could recover. As a result, she raced only twice in 2015 and spent the rest of her time resting and recovering.
But Vos returned to win six races in 2016 and eight in 2017, including a gold medal at the European Championships despite breaking her collarbone less than two months before the race. Only 30, Vos has put her struggles firmly behind her. We’d love to see her add some cobbled classics to her resume in 2018, starting with the women’s Tour of Flanders. She might also have her eye on a fourth win in the women’s Giro d’Italia, whose penultimate stage will end atop the infamous Monte Zoncolan.
5. Nairo Quintana vs Mikel Landa
Movistar’s Nairo Quintana came into 2017 hoping to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, an ambitious goal no one has achieved since 1998. The Colombian failed on both counts, finishing second at the Giro and then barely putting up a fight on his way to a 12th-place finish—the lowest of his career—at the Tour. To make matters worse, his team responded by signing Mikel Landa away from Team Sky. This created a logjam at the top of the Movistar hierarchy, with Quintana and Landa both deserving of the stop slot at this year’s Tour.
Things didn’t get off to a great start after Quintana claimed himself to be the leader, which prompted Landa to say that he had hoped for a better welcome from his new teammate. Landa, who previously shared the leadership of Astana with Fabio Aru and Team Sky with Froome, is no stranger to playing nice. But he’s certainly getting tired of it, and we have to wonder how long Movistar will allow Quintana to falter at the expense of Landa’s development. Expect this to be one of 2018’s major soap operas.