Vincenzo Nibali to win the Tour de France
Recent Tours de France have felt like foregone conclusions, but, following the shocking news that winner of the three editions Chris Froome potentially faces a ban, the 2018 race looks like it could be a lot more open.
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Last time Froome failed to finish the Tour de France in 2014 (that time through a crash), Vincenzo Nibali was the rider to take advantage and win the yellow jersey, and the Italian might just be able to do so again should Froome be unable to compete.
Now 33 and perhaps past his very best, the Italian does not seem the obvious candidate to assume Froome’s title, but a lot of factors play in his favour. Unlike Nairo Quintana, he’ll relish the chance to return to the kind of cobbled terrain where he gained so much time in 2014; unlike Tom Dumoulin, he has opted to skip the Giro in order to be fully fresh for the Tour; and unlike other contenders such as Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Uran, Mikel Landa and Richie Porte, he’s already proven himself capable of handling the mental demands of winning a Grand Tour.
Geraint Thomas to podium at a Grand Tour
Since his breakthrough ride at the 2015 Tour, Thomas has wanted to ride a Grand Tour as designated team leader, to the extent that he recently admitted to considering leaving Team Sky. The Vuelta would likely have been his only chance to do so this season but, in the event of Froome being hit with a ban, he could have his pick of the Giro or the Tour.
Despite having never finished higher than 15th at a Grand Tour, the Welshman has demonstrated all the attributes necessary for finishing as high as the podium – all he needs is a little more luck (which deserted him at the Giro in 2017) and the opportunity, which he might be granted in 2018.
Anna van der Breggen to be even more dominant
There might not appear to be much room for improvement when you’ve won the Giro Rosa, all three of the Ardennes Classics and the WorldTour all in one season, but Anna van der Breggen has the potential to win even more in 2018.
For one thing, the Dutchwoman’s relatively young age of 27, and the fact she has got better and better with each season, suggests she’s still building towards her peak.
Better still, the routes that have been announced for some of next year’s major races seem to play in her favour. The presence of Monte Zoncolan at the Giro Rosa gives her a chance to climb other contenders out of contention; the redesigning of La Course (which she skipped in 2017) as a single day of racing in the Alps suits her more than perhaps any previous edition of the race; and the more selective terrain of the World Championships in Innsbruck also plays to her strengths.
Perhaps Marianne-Vos-levels of dominance would be asking a lot, but expect Van der Breggen to be difficult to contain throughout the season.
Peter Sagan to win a fourth World Championships title
After Peter Sagan won an unprecedented third consecutive World road race title in September, speculation that he could break even more records by winning a fourth was quickly dismissed upon inspecting just how much climbing features in the Innsbruck course.
But should we really be writing the great man off? When Sagan skipped the 2016 Olympics road race in Rio, partly put off by all the hills involved, the consensus after the race was that he could well have won it, seeing how a similar rider Greg van Avermaet had managed to get the better of all the climbers to take gold.
And Sagan himself certainly believes it’s a possibility, insisting that “with an adjusted programme, I think I could be able to aim for it”. His climbing has defied expectations throughout his career, and, should he indeed plan his training with the goal of winning the Worlds, could spring yet another surprise.
Hannah Barnes to break into cycling’s elite
Hannah Barnes. Photo: Dan Gould
Hannah Barnes came on leaps and bounds in 2017, finishing a surprise third overall at the Women’s Tour, and claiming arguably the biggest win of her career with a stage at the Giro Rosa.
Results like these suggested that not only has the Briton fully moved on from the long-term injury that disrupted her early career, but also that she has developed from a sprinting specialist into an accomplished all-rounder who can compete in more challenging terrain.
Aged just 24, if Barnes continues to improve at this race we expect to see her challenging the world’s best in 2018’s biggest races.
Julian Alaphilippe to dethrone Alejandro Valverde as king of the Ardennes Classics
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has been just about unstoppable in recent Ardennes Classics, winning two of the past three editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a record-breaking four successive Flèche Wallonnes.
That could be about to change in 2018. The Spaniard’s 2017 came to an abrupt end after a serious crash during the Tour de France prologue, meaning he’ll start the new season as a 37-year old attempting to recover from a long-term injury that has prevented him from racing for half a year. Even for a rider who has proved as durable as Valverde…
His natural successor in the hilly classics would appear to be Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), who has been in the ascendency for a few years now. The Frenchman has already podiumed at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia and Milan-San Remo, as well as finishing runner-up to Valverde twice at Flèche Wallonne, and excels in the kind of uphill sprints Valverde has made his forte. Expect Alaphilippe to start getting the better of his Spanish rival in 2018.
La Course to be one of the races of the season
The route for La Course has been tinkered with a few times since its inauguration in 2014, starting out as a circuit race around Champs Élysées before being re-imagined in 2017 as a two-day even culminating in a novel pursuit-styled stage.
The 2018 edition, a single-day race finishing in Le Grand-Bornand, coinciding with stage 10 of the men’s Tour de France, looks set to be the best yet.
The problem with many of the new high-profile races introduced in recent years is that they don’t showcase the best the women’s sport has to offer – events like the Women’s Tour, which tends to boil down to sprints for bonus seconds, and La Madrid Challenge, which is a pan-flat circuit race, receive more television coverage, while the spring classics and Giro Rosa remain criminally underexposed.
La Course should buck this trend, however, consisting of a route that features plenty of Alpine climbing to set up what should be a thrilling, competitive race that will be broadcast to a wide audience.
It will likely be a great watch, and will hopefully lead the way to the development of the event into a full women’s Tour de France.