A look at the 13 moments that helped to shape the 2017 cycling season
As the 2017 cycling season draws to its conclusion we reflect on some of the incidences that will be remembered for years.
Cycling Weekly takes a look at the 13 moments that shaped the season.
Kwiatkowski wins a thrilling edition of Strade Bianche
One of cycling’s most romantic nuances is its five Monuments and the revered, iconic status that is reserved for them. But one of the sport’s biggest tragedies is that there’s no space to add an extra Monument.
Traditionalists may question why a sixth should be added, but you only need to watch Strade Bianche each year to see why some believe it deserves its place alongside the fabled five.
This year was no different. In wet and miserable conditions in Tuscany, the undulations and white roads (which is where the race takes its name from) decimated the field and four of the strongest riders in the world formed a select group: Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
The latter jumped clear with 12km to go and soloed to an impressive victory.
What makes this race even more special is that very few races have a parcours that a great number of riders could win; as well as the one-day and Classics specialists, climbers and GC riders were also in the mix. Indeed, Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) was fifth and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) ninth.
Peter Sagan’s attack at Milan-San Remo
The memorable image from this year’s Milan-San Remo is arguably the three-way tussle at the finish line (see above) between Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and eventual winner Michal Kwiatkowski.
But the biggest excitement happened with a kilometre still to climb of the Poggio. The sprinters still fancied their chances until Sagan, resplendent in his rainbow jerseys, pushed himself off the front of the peloton to devastating effect.
Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski hurried after him but Sagan had a 10 second lead at the bottom of the technical descent. As things transpired, the pair caught him, refused to share the lead-out duties and denied Sagan a sprint win.
A thrilling finish at Paris-Nice
The Spaniard had lost time on stage one, but clawed some of it back in the race’s time trial and then succeeded with a stunning attack on the penultimate stage to move within 31 seconds of the yellow jersey, which was held by Team Sky’s Sergio Henao.
With 52km to go on the final stage – and much like he did in 2016 against Geraint Thomas – Contador attacked. He held a 50 second advantage, enough to make him the virtual race leader, and Henao, with minimal support, struggled up Col d’Eze.
The drama was palpable, going down right to the finishing sprint in Nice, but Contador missed out on the title by two seconds, with Henao doing enough to bring back the deficit and secure the victory. A breathless final hour of racing.
Quintana and Thomas impressing at Tirreno-Adriatico
His win on Monte Terminillo, which effectively secured him the title, was superb. The race’s only mountain top finish, Quintana rode away from his rivals convincingly.
The next stage, on the road to Fermo, he attacked again on 22 percent gradients with apparent ease. Okay, he didn’t solo to victory there, but his climbing was as good as it had ever been.
Geraint Thomas, meanwhile, was equally as accomplished, and certainly more valiant. Gianni Moscon’s collapsed wheel in the opening team time trial ruled him out of the GC, but he won stage two, finish second behind Quintana on Terminillo and then was the first follow the Colombian on stage five.
That Thomas finished fifth after the nightmare of stage one when he was already 80 seconds in arrears to Quintana demonstrated once more his stage racing capabilities. What a travesty he was denied putting them to full use at the Giro d’Italia.
Philippe Gilbert’s sensational Tour of Flanders win
Billed as the battle between Sagan and Van Avermaet, it was Quick-Step Floors’ Philippe Gilbert who took the honours and, boy, did he do it some way.
Gilbert had been building form during the spring and a few commentators were suggesting that he could be a force at Flanders, but no one anticipated what he would go on to do.
On the re-introduced Muur, with 95km to go, a leading group of 14 riders clipped off the front thanks to the efforts of Tom Boonen and Gilbert.
On the Oude Kwaremont, 55km from the finish, Matteo Trentin and Boonen ramped up the pace. Gilbert took charge, ‘accidentally’ got a gap and, sensationally, time trialled to victory.
It was the most successful long-range attack since 1969 when Eddy Merckx rode away with 73km remaining.
Some were saying it was the greatest Ronde win ever. Nevertheless, it’s certainly established itself as a win in Flanders folklore, that’s for sure.
Anna van der Breggen’s Ardennes Classic dominance
This year was the first time that there was a full week of Ardennes Classic women’s races and there was only one rider who dominated: Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans).
The Olympic champion took victory at Amstel Gold, followed it up with more success at La Flèche Wallone in the week, and then rounded off her exceptional week with a further triumph at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Her tendency to know the exact moment to attack on the climbs, how to hold off her rivals (namely, her teammate Lizzie Deignan), and her sprint was the blueprint to her golden week.
To win one was great, to win two was special, but to win all three was astonishing.
As a side point, in every race, Deignan was second behind her teammate, and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (WM3 Energie) third. It is clear who the three best women riders on undulating parcours are, and aged just 22, Niewiadoma is surely going to win several Ardennes races.
Van der Breggen went on to win the Giro Rosa, Tour of California and top the UCI Women’s WorldTour ranking at the end of the season.
Simon Yates’s Tour de Romandie stage win
As a British publication, we may well be slightly biased towards the Brits. But few – regardless of nationalities – would have failed to have been impressed by Simon Yates’ stage four win at the Tour de Romandie.
On the day’s penultimate climb, Yates counter-attacked an Ilnur Zakarin attack and charged up the road to catch the remains of the breakaway.
Richie Porte, admirably, joined Yates and the leaders, but only Yates could respond to Porte’s attack. With the two reaching the finishing kilometre together, Yates display experience and confidence that belied his age to sit on the Australian’s wheel and sprint to the victory and to take the leader’s jersey.
Porte may have grabbed the win on the next day’s time trial – remember, Yates isn’t a superb time triallist – but this victory was certification that the Brit no longer just has potential, but that he is absolutely one of the best world’s best climbers.
Tom Dumoulin’s natural break in the Giro d’Italia
There’s six stages left of a Grand Tour that you lead by 2-41, and the next week is going to be crucial in your quest to win your maiden three-week race.
What do you not do? Among many answers, one is strip off and have a natural break. But that’s exactly what Tom Dumoulin did on stage 16.
With 30km remaining, Dumoulin got off his bike, did the deed, returned a minute later and got back racing. Movistar and Bahrain-Merida, however, kept racing, and Dumoulin lost more than two minutes.
He kept hold of the pink jersey but a substantial amount of his lead had been sacrificed for nature. But we all know what happened next.
Peter Sagan’s Tour de France came to an abrupt end on stage four to Vittel, when he was sensationally and controversially disqualified from the race after a clash with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) during the final sprint.
Cavendish was brought down into the barriers, and the race jury deemed that Sagan was responsible after the two riders appeared to come into contact in the high-speed sprint.
Having been initially just handed a time and points penalty, Sagan was disqualified from the race by the jury an hour after the stage finish.
Sagan was quick to apologise to Cavendish after the incident, and both riders appeared to agree that it was a racing incident. However, that did not stop many in the Twitter jury blaming Cavendish for Sagan’s ejection from the race. Despite suffering a fractured shoulder blade, Cavendish recorded a video asking for the ‘vile and threatening’ messages to stop.
Porte and Thomas’s Tour de France exit
Richie Porte (BMC) went into the Tour de France as one of Chris Froome’s strongest-looking challengers, but we were left wondering what could have been when the Tasmanian crashed out of the race on stage nine when in fifth place overall – a day that also claimed Geraint Thomas.
Porte was descending Mont du Chat when he over-cooked a sweeping, wet corner hitting the grass verge before skidding across the road on his front into a stone wall. It was an awful moment as Porte lay on the ground, attended by medics.
Hospital tests later revealed that he had suffered a fractured pelvis and clavicle, but it could have been so much worse and he has now made a good recovery. Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) was caught up in the same crash, and it later transpired that he had fractured his back, even though he went on to finish the race in sixth place overall.
Thomas was brought down in a crash with Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), fracturing his collarbone and bringing his bittersweet 2017 Grand Tour aspirations to an abrupt end. The Welshman had started so well, winning the opening time trial and wearing the yellow jersey but must now once again look ahead to next season for more luck.
Chris Froome’s historic Tour win
After three weeks of close racing, the 2017 Tour de France was well and truly settled on the penultimate stage, a 22.5-kilometre time trial around Marseille.
Chris Froome went into the stage in the yellow jersey and with a slim 23-second lead over second-placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r). Although Froome was the strongest of the GC contenders against the clock, one mishap could have spelt disaster for Froome’s aspirations of a fourth Tour victory.
A nail-biting time trial saw the general classification shaken up with one exception – Froome stayed in yellow, managing to extend his lead after placing third behind stage winner Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The final procession into Paris the following day saw Froome celebrate the victory. He then went to the Vuelta a España and won that in a similar fashion, cementing his status as one of the all-time Grand Tour greats.
Alberto Contador’s perfect win to end his career
Alberto Contador left it until the very last moment to secure the only win of his final season before retirement in the Vuelta a España. And the way in which he did it was trademark Contador style.
After a disappointing start to his final Grand Tour due to sickness, Contador had subsequently attempted to animate the racing in the mountains, putting pressure on the GC riders with an almost relentless number of attacks.
Most of them had failed to bear fruit – up until the race’s penultimate day to Alto de l’Angliru. Everyone knew that Contador was going to try something on the legendary climb, yet they still could do little to stop him when he attacked at the bottom of the ascent.
Contador had Trek team-mate Jarlinson Pantano for company as they made their move, chasing down the remnants of the day’s earlier break. Contador forged ahead to secure a hugely crowd-pleasing victory: not only his last Grand Tour win, but also Spain’s first in this edition of the Vuelta.
Peter Sagan’s Worlds triple
To go into a race as outright favourite and still win, despite having one of the weakest teams, is an almost impossible feat to pull off. But we’re talking about Peter Sagan, and seemingly nothing is impossible.
The Slovakian was seeking a third consecutive win in the elite men’s World Championship road race. The long day around Bergen, Norway, was its usual war of attrition, but Sagan cannily stayed within the peloton marking his rivals and letting their teams do the donkey work.
Having been barely visible for much of the race, Sagan appeared in the final sprint to edge past home favourite Alexander Kristoff and take the victory.
It doesn’t seem to matter what sort of course is used in the Worlds, be it flat or hilly, Sagan can conquer them all. And he’s not ruling out a fourth consecutive win in 2018, either.
We’re so used to seeing Sagan in the rainbow jersey that it is going to look plain wrong when – or if – he is out of it.