We look into our crystal ball to see what could be for the 2017 racing season...
If Nairo Quintana rides the Giro, Chris Froome will win the Tour
Attempting the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double has become the cycling equivalent of a pretty girl asking a bunch of teenagers to win her a cuddly toy by playing a rigged ring toss game at the fair – each rider excitedly fancies their chances, only to realise the futility of their efforts upon attempting it.
Only in as recently as 2015 Alberto Contador won the Giro only to limp his way to fifth at the Tour, while Vincenzo Nibali was also triumphant at the Giro last year, only to slump lower still to 30th at the Tour.
Yet Nairo Quintana has become the latest to flirt with the idea of going for both, despite having enough difficulty overcoming Chris Froome without being weighed down by the fatigue of having already completed a Grand Tour a month earlier.
Should he follow through on his plans, the narrative of 2017 virtually writes itself – Quintana to win the Giro, and Froome to win the Tour.
Fernando Gaviria will be one of the year’s stars
Despite spending large part of 2016 on the track with his focus on the Olympics omnium (in which he finished fourth), Gaviria still found time on the road to win a handful of WorldTour level stage race sprints and the classic Paris-Tours.
Predicting him to win a monument aged just 22 may sound far-fetched, until you remember that he might have already have landed Milan-San Remo last year had he not crashed in the finale. Even if that proves too much too soon, expect him to star at his Grand Tour debut at the Giro in May.
Alberto Contador won’t win a Grand Tour
Now 34-years old, Contador’s Grand Tour appearances are approaching the stage where he threatens to resemble a middle-aged accountant who still attends night clubs every weekend – his performances at last year’s Tour and Vuelta seemed emblematic of someone who can’t quite hold their drink like they used to and find themselves dozing off in the seated area around midnight.
He had planned to retire at the end of last season, but the disappointment of crashing out of the Tour before he could even test his form prompted him to have another crack at winning the yellow jersey.
His ride at the Vuelta, however, suggested that while he retains the never-say-die attitude that’s brought him so much success, the legs don’t respond as they used to – despite instigating the attack that changed the race, he himself only managed to finishing fourth overall. Another Grand Tour victory this year looks beyond him.
Marianne Vos to return to her best
There were flashes of the Marianne Vos of old last season, as she made her gradual comeback from injuries that kept her out for most of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 – her sprint to win the Stoke-on-Trent stage at the Women’s Tour, for instance.
But having had time to build her form back up, and a pre-season to prepare for the start of the year (during which time she has been winning cyclocross races again), chances are Vos will be back to something like her formidable best in 2017.
The strength of opposition these days – particularly at Boels-Dolmans – means she’s unlikely to dominate as she used to, but is still inevitably going to win something big, be it a classic, the Giro Rosa or the World Championships.
Sep Vanmarcke will win a cobbled monument
Fabian Cancellara’s retirement leaves a void in the Classics, and although Peter Sagan looks like the rider most likely to fill it, there is another cobbled-specialist who possesses the raw power to dominate both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix; 28-year old Belgian Sep Vanmarcke.
So far his career has been characterised by near misses, usually to Cancellara – it was he who edged him into second at the 2013 Paris-Roubaix, and who won the four-man sprint Vanmarcke finished third in at the 2014 Tour of Flanders.
Last year, meanwhile both Cancellara and Sagan forced him into third at Flanders, and he has a late attack reeled in to finish fourth at Roubaix.
But with Cancellara gone, Sagan set to be heavily marked, and a fresh start at a new team following his transfer to Cannondale-Drapac, we’re predicting that 2017 will be the year Vanmarcke finally wins a cobbled Monument.
Miguel Angel Lopez to be the Tour’s breakout star
Four seasons ago, a Colombian climbing sensation and former Tour de L’Avenir winner named Nairo Quintana, who had turned 23-years old on February 4, astounded on his Tour de France debut to finish second overall.
This year, Colombian climbing sensation and former Tour de l’Avenir winner Miguel Angel Lopez will turn 23-years old on February 4, and is set in July to compete in his first Tour de France.
The parallels are uncanny, suggesting Lopez is set to become Colombia’s latest star – if anything, he’s ahead of where Quintana was at this stage of his career having already won races as prestigious as the Tour de Suisse and Milano-Torino.
Astana intend to select him as joint leader for the Tour, and we can expect him to take the race by storm – the white jersey looks probable, and a podium possible.
Katarzyna Niewiadoma to rise to the top of women’s cycling
This frighteningly talented 22-year old from Poland has been threatening to take women’s cycling by storm for a few years now, being up there in Classics like Strade Bianche and La Flèche Wallonne, winning minor stage races and twice making the top ten of the Giro Rosa. 2017 feels like the year Katarzyna Niewiadoma’s going to go to the next level.
For all her multitude of talents – most notably her ability to fly up the climbs – Niewiadoma is yet to land the kind of victory that will seal her status as one of the best in the world.
But the departure of star teammates like Anna van der Breggen and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot will provide her with chances to lead her WM3 (formerly Rabo-Liv) team this season. Expect her to pull off a major Classic, and build from there.