A muddy Strade Bianche
It was a golden spring for Anna van der Breggen. The Dutchwoman was at the peak of her powers as she claimed a first ever Tour of Flanders victory with a long-range attack, and later repeated her Ardennes double of Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Arguably, though, her crowning moment of glory came before all those races, when she triumphed in the Women’s WorldTour opener, Strade Bianche.
What helped make that result leave such an indelible imprint on those who saw it was the torrential weather and grim conditions it was achieved amid. Rain lashed down and the temperature was only slightly above freezing, and for most it was a day simply of survival. Of the 140 starters, only 59 even managed to officially finish the race, while another 17 were outside the time limit.
The stage was set for an old-fashioned classic, with the race’s infamous dirt roads being especially muddy. Van der Breggen rose to the occasion, attacking hard and riding the final 17km alone to complete a glorious victory.
The final moments of Paris-Nice
With just 10 kilometres left to ride on the final stage of Paris-Nice, the race was in the extraordinary circumstance of still having a whole six riders with a realistic chance of winning the overall classification.
Yellow jersey-wearer Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had just been dropped from a group containing Ion and Gorka Izagirre (both Bahrain-Merida), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Dylan Teuns (BMC), all of whom lay within just 27 seconds on the overall classification, while further up the road Movistar’s Marc Soler – who was 37 seconds down on GC – was putting himself into contention having attacked early on the stage.
The drama intensified when the Izagirre brothers somehow conspired to crash into each other, slowing the impetus of the group and allowing Yates to catch back up. A nail-biting chase still ensued as Yates desperately tried to limit his losses to Soler, but ultimately fell just four seconds short, meaning the Spaniard was crowned overall winner.
It might not have been the most prestigious or star-studded races of the season, but it has a strong case for being the most exciting.
Nibali attacks on the Poggio
The best editions of Milan-San Remo invariably feature strong, committed attacks on the Poggio.
Whether ultimately successful or unsuccessful, any rider who can crest it with a lead of at least a few seconds is guaranteed to play their part in a breathtaking pursuit to the finish.
That’s just what Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) managed to do this year. He attacked near the top of the Poggio, had a lead of around 12 seconds going over the summit, then dug deep to hold onto his lead which was decreasing at the kind of agonising rate that will no doubt have had thousands cheering him on in front of household TVs.
Even if Nibali had been caught, the ride would still have been among the most memorable of the year – the fact he held on for victory, and as an Italian on home roads known for his romantic sensibility for such daring attacks, made it all the more special.
Sagan wins Paris-Roubaix in style
The sight of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) adorned in the rainbow jersey crossing the finish line in the famous Roubaix velodrome would alone have been a memorable sight in its own right.
That Sagan did so following an attack launched over 50km from the finish made his victory at Paris-Roubaix (the first of his career) one of the defining moments of both this season and his career.
Like recent Classics legends Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen before him, it wasn’t enough for Sagan merely to win the Queen of the Classics – he had to do so in style, with the kind of long-range attack that only the sport’s greatest can pull off.
Still more impressively, the win involved getting the better of a Quick-Step Floors Classics squad that had throughout the rest of the spring looked untouchable – even their collective might could not resist the individual brilliance of Sagan that day.
Simon Yates stars in the pink jersey
Rather than get hung up on where it all went wrong, it’s perhaps best to remember Simon Yates’ glorious run in pink at the Giro d’Italia, during which time he did, after all, manage a spectacular three stage wins.
Best of the lot was in the Dolomites on stage 15. Despite already possessing a lead of 1-24 over his closest challenger, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Yates was not content merely to sit on wheels. He put in a couple of stinging attacks on the final climb, breaking clear with 17km to go, and holding out for a triumphant stage win which also saw him extend his lead overall by another considerable amount.
Yates may ultimately have paid the price for such aggressive tactics, but at the time it was thrilling to watch an emerging, inexperienced rider take the race with such brashness to his more esteemed rivals. He will have won lots of fans around the world for his panache.
Froome turns the Giro d’Italia upside down
The most stunning ride of the year so far is unquestionably Chris Froome’s attack to win stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia.
Defying all conventional wisdom, Froome – in one last bid to win the pink jersey, having fallen to fourth overall at 3-22 – launched an attack on the Colle della Finestre, despite the fact that there were still 80km left to ride until the finish.
With overall leader Yates dropped on the climb, the race had suddenly opened up, and Froome pounced upon the opportunity with an astonishing display of strength in which he managed to distance his lead over a chasing group of favourites featuring Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) despite having to work for so long alone.
He ultimately finished over three minutes ahead of everyone else, taking the maglia rosa in the most extraordinary circumstances, with a ride that will be talked about for years to come.
Geraint Thomas starts to dream the impossible on Alpe d’Huez
With each passing day during his spell in the yellow jersey, what started out as a distant dream became an ever more likely reality for Geraint Thomas (Sky). Above all, though, it was his victory atop Alpe d’Huez that confirmed that the Welshman could indeed actually win the Tour de France.
Having won the day before atop La Rosière to first put himself in the yellow jersey, Thomas backed up that result by winning yet again, only this time on the Tour’s most famous and hallowed summit.
Thomas might publicly have claimed that his Sky colleague Chris Froome remained the team’s leader at this point, but deep down must have started to believe that he himself could win the Tour having proven to be the strongest rider on the legendary mountain.
A win on Alpe d’Huez is always special, but this one in particular will live long in the memory for the sight of the yellow jersey crossing the line with a raw of joy, and in the context of how the race as a whole would eventually play out.
The glory didn’t end there for Thomas, as the 32-year-old went on to become the first Welshman to win the Tour de France.
A surprise winner, Thomas finished almost two minutes ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and 2-30 faster than team-mate Chris Froome.
Van Vleuten mugs Van der Breggen at La Course
What an amazing finish it was at La Course this year.
Anna van der Breggen had appeared destined for victory, having dropped her compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) on the final climb, and having held her at arm’s length as the finish line approached.
Where Van der Breggen looked smooth and composed on the bike, Van Vleuten was ragged and messy, rocking from side to side apparently at the very end of her tether.
But suddenly, everything changed. With just 500 metres remaining, what appeared an insurmountable gap began plummeting at a rapid rate, and Van Vleuten passed her rival just 50 metres from the line.
It was a truly shocking turnaround, and quite possibly the most exciting finish to any race this season.
Retribution for Yates in Spain
Simon Yates was racing through a season of disappointment heading into the final Grand Tour of the season.
But the Vuelta a España is never a predictable affair, and this year’s edition proved no different.
The general classification battle remained wide open heading into the final week, as Yates had found himself leading the race for the second time in three weeks.
Hot on his heels were the Movistar tag-team of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, who threatened to outnumber the Brit heading into the final mountains.
Rather than defend his position, Yates opted to attack, a lot.
It was a risky strategy, but it all paid off.
Yates was able to throw off previous misfortune and dominate the last week in Spain, picking up his first Grand Tour win at the age of 26.
For the first time in history, all three Grand Tours were won by a British rider – Froome the Giro, Thomas the Tour, and Yates for the Vuelta.
Van der Breggen goes solo at the Worlds
Dutch domination was no surprise at the World Championships in Innsbruck this year.
Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin was the favourite for the men’s time trial, while Annamiek van Vleuten was expected to pick up a historic TT and road double.
Van Vleuten did indeed control the time trial to take the rainbow jersey but the road race was not hers for the taking as many expected, instead her Dutch team-mate Anna van der Breggen won in spectacular fashion.
Van der Breggen rode solo for almost 40km on the Austrian slopes to take her first world title.
The race-winning move came after the peloton stalled while chasing a six-woman group at the bottom of the Igls climb.
Dutchwoman Ellen van Dijk had been secure in that group but was dropped, forcing the Netherlands to respond to keep their hopes alive.
Van der Breggen was able to drop her rivals 40km from the line, including Australian Amanda Spratt who also rode solo to the line to secure a second place.
The Dutch winner crossed the line more than three minutes up on Spratt.
Van Vleuten’s hopes were dashed when she came down in a crash 90km from the line, leaving her with a broken knee.
But amazingly she was able to finish seventh, riding through her injury which she is continuing to recover from in November.
The following day, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde triumphed in a thrilling final of the elite men’s road race.
Thibaut and Nibali toe-to-toe at Il Lombardia
The 2018 season closed with a bang two weeks later on the roads around Lake Como in Northern Italy.
Il Lombardia, the final Monument of the season, saw Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali battling it out for the last big title of the year.
LottoNL-Jumbo’s Primož Roglič kick started the decisive move with 50km left to ride, but he was followed by Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
Nibali and Pinot proved themselves strongest on the day, eventually leaving Roglič in their wake and even Team Sky’s outstanding youngster Egan Bernal was not able to hold on.
The race was decided by Pinot attacked Nibali and quickly pulled out a 20-second lead, the Italian unable to stay with him.
Nibali was caught by a chasing group, but showing a return to form after his serious injury suffered during the Tour de France, he kicked again and was able to hang on for second.
But Pinot was the man of the hour, riding solo to the line to take the biggest victory of his career to date.