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At a time when Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) should be coming into the peak of his career, the 28-year old is instead at risk of falling into terminal decline.
It’s been over three years now since he won the Vuelta, but whereas in 2016 and 2017 Aru at least managed to mount a challenge at the top of the GC in Grand Tours, last season he failed to get anywhere near the other favourites at both the Giro and the Vuelta.
Now entering his second season at UAE Team Emirates, his status as the team’s star rider has been curtailed, with last year’s underwhelming performances and the arrival of star sprinter Fernando Gaviria potentially taking away his luxury of choosing which Grand Tour to target.
Whichever - if any - Grand Tour Aru ends up leading, he needs a big performance to get his career back on track.
Between 2017 to 2018, Marcel Kittel dramatically slumped from being the best sprinter in the world to a guy who couldn’t buy a win.
His transfer from Quick-Step Floors to Katusha-Alpecin evidently played a significant part in his struggles, but shouldn’t be ascribed as the only reason, and Kittel has opted to stick with his current team for the new season.
With a new generation of young sprinters looking more and more accomplished, Kittel will be desperate to reassert his authority in the peloton’s bunch sprints.
The German has bounced back before from a lean patch in his career when illness decimated his 2015 season - can he do so again?
A one-year spell at Wiggle-High5 did not really work out for Lisa Brennauer, who only managed victory at the Thuringen Ladies Tour in the team’s colours, and the German will be on the move again to WNT-Rotor following her former team’s disbanding.
In truth, it’s been a while now since we’ve seen the very best of Brennauer. Four years have passed since she shone on British roads by winning the Women’s Tour, and five years since she was crowned time trial world champion, and victories in the biggest races since then have become fewer and further between.
Set to turn 31 later this month, she faces a stern task to rediscover her glory days in 2019.
Whereas Nairo Quintana’s (Movistar) failure to win a Grand Tour in 2017 can be put down to the excellent form of Tom Dumoulin at the Giro and his own tired legs at the Tour, his difficulties last season cannot be so straightforwardly excused.
Despite planning his whole season around the Tour de France, the Colombian barely managed to scrape a top-10 finish. Then at the Vuelta a España, what had looked like potential redemption for Quintana turned sour when he faded in the final week to eighth overall.
That’s a significant downturn in fortunes for a rider who until recently looked like the best climber in the world. The 28-year old still shows flashes of his best - his attack and victory on the Col du Portet at the Tour de France for instance, as well as winning the queen stage of the Tour de Suisse - but it’s his former consistency he really needs to rediscover.
Elisa Longo Borghini
It’s been nearly two years now since Elisa Longo Borghini last won a World Tour-ranked race, during which time she’s mostly only added a handful of small Italian races to her palmares.
Illness prevented her from bringing top form to the classics last season, but despite recovering she failed to make much of an impression during the second half of the season.
Having recently turned 27, the Italian is in need of a boost to start adding the other major classics to go alongside her victories as an under-25 at the Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche and Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and a move to new team Trek-Segafredo could be just what she needs.
In theory she’s very well suited to the Ardennes Classics, but hasn’t had the chance to ride Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the peak of her powers since both races were introduced in 2017. Overcoming Anna van der Breggen’s supremacy in those races will be no easy feat, however.
Time is running out for Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) to at last land the major Classic he has spent his career threatening to win.
The Czech rider has come close many times in the past, most notably with runner-up finishes at the 2015 and 2017 editions of Paris-Roubaix, and has played a key role for teammates in Quick-Step’s many Classics triumphs.
The departures of last spring’s star Niki Terpstra as well as Fernando Gaviria, and the fact that Philippe Gilbert is now 36, may pave the way for Stybar to adopt more of a leadership role in the Classics line-up, and thus provide him with the best chance for personal glory in years.
But he himself has recently turned 33, and will need to transform his consistency from last season into more explosive form if he’s to win big.
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Edvald Boasson Hagen has had a curious career. Whenever he’s looked on the brink of greatness, he’s faded, and whenever his career seems to be flagging, he’s bounced back.
Last season was another case of the Norwegian flagging, as he failed to build on the momentum of a prolific 2017 to pick up just the two wins all season.
There remains the nagging sense that Boasson Hagen has never quite fulfilled his considerable potential, but a few major wins in 2019 - which remain a very real possibility if he can stage another comeback - would help silence such doubts.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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