By Gregor Brown
As the 2019 season rolls towards the latter half of the year, with the Vuelta a España on the horizon, there have been many unforgettable moments so far that have captured the hearts and minds of cycling fans.
Here are seven standout moments we've picked out from the 2019 season so far.
Julian Alaphilippe wins first Monument
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) bossed Milan-San Remo to add his first Monument win to a rich palmarès. He did both, attacking on the climb to Poggio and then sprinting down the Via Roma. And it worked.
What was more impressive is that he handled the weight of expectations. He began as the favourite, winning the Strade Bianche one-day gravel race and two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico, the second one coming thanks to a powerful and unexpected sprint. It was the sort of all-round ingredient mix he needed to triumph in San Remo.
In his wake, he left behind former winner Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who was left wondering when his turn will ever come. The Frenchman's magical win added to Strade Bianche and later this spring, a second Flèche Wallonne title.
Mathieu van der Poel...
Where to begin with Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel? The Corendon-Circus rider can do anything it seems. Win the cyclocross world title and handle the stars in the major Classics – all at 24 years old.
In his first big one-day race of 250km, he placed fourth in Ghent-Wevelgem, going on to win Dwars door Vlaanderen.
At the Tour of Flanders he crashed spectacularly in the crucial lead-up to the Oude Kwaremont. After a mad chase, some of it solo, he took to the front to lead names like Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) and Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) over the Paterberg.
He thought was at the front of the race because he did not know about Alberto Bettiol's (EF Education First) solo ride to victory. Still, he placed third in the small sprint and fourth for the day. It put the pressure on him for his home race, the Amstel Gold Race, one his dad had also won. He did not disappointment, chasing down the final riders in the last metres and sprinting to the win.
The fastest ever Ghent-Wevelgem
Five and a half hours of racing at 45km/h, that is quick. It officially became the fastest Ghent-Wevelgem ever as Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) crossed the finish line first and celebrated in Belgium.
The early crosswinds ripped apart the race and had riders spinning out in their 53-11s. They rode at 51.2kph in those first two hours.
The Kemmelberg climb saw Kristoff attacking and cyclocrossers Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) chasing. The multiple attacks towards Wevelgem did little to slow down the bunch, led by Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck - Quick-Step.
Chaves's 'incredible day' of redemption at the Giro d'Italia
Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) has been suffering. First with a horrific crash in the 2013 Laigueglia and when he seemed back on top, winning on Mount Etna in the 2018 Giro d'Italia, he was knocked out all year by the Epstein–Barr virus. These misfortunes made victory on the Giro's 19th stage to San Martino di Castrozza so special.
"It's a liberation from the past two or three years of setbacks and difficulties, always with ups and downs," said Chaves.
Already at the Anterselva finish two days prior, the momentum began to build. Simon Yates's helper was let off the leash again for San Martino di Castrozza. While Richard Carapaz (Movistar Team) fought for the pink jersey behind, Chaves evoked tears from family, staffers, fans and also from himself at the finish.
"I believe that life can be summed in today's final climb," he said. "No matter how hard things might get, you have to keep attacking."
Egan Bernal makes history at the Tour
The Tour de France has not seen such a young winner since François Faber, 110 years ago. Egan Bernal (Ineos) became the youngest to celebrate on the Champs-Élysées with the yellow jersey in the modern, post-war era. Also, he began a party in Colombia that still continues in the cycling-mad country, he was the first to collect the Tour's blue vase.
Bernal began as co-leader with Geraint Thomas, just like Chris Froome did for Thomas in 2018.
Thomas then turned to help Bernal when he realised his team-mate could deliver something special. The Tourmalet stage and the Prat d'Albis stages showed he was ready, before he was unleashed in the Alps.
Perhaps the only disappointment was that he was unable to fully express himself due to bad weather and shortened stages. On the Tignes stage, he seemed ready to ride solo into the yellow jersey lead. However, race organisers had to cut the finish due to a landslide. Luckily for Bernal, he had already gained significant time that would pave the way to his Champs-Élysées celebrations.
Alaphilippe rekindles France's love for the Tour
After the Classics, Julian Alaphilippe's (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) goal was to go to the Tour de France and wear the yellow jersey. He did not, however, realise he would re-capture the love of home fans at their own Grand Tour.
Alaphilippe rode solo to win in Épernay, taking the yellow jersey and aside from a brief break, held it for 14 days until Tignes in the Alps. From the north to the Alps in the south, he rallied the host country for its riders.
The attention turned from the Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) duel to Pinot and Alaphilippe, and then whether Alaphilippe could withstand the climbs and Team Ineos to become the first Frenchman to win since 1985.
He failed at that, but with his yellow jersey run and the day in Pau, a surprising time trial victory in yellow over Thomas, he succeed in getting the home fans to cheer louder than they have in recent years. But they are going to have to keep looking for a victor because for the immediate future, Alaphilippe says he will to continue to race the Classics and then look for stage wins at the Tour.
Evenepoel's solo Clásica San Sebastián ride – at just 19 years old
Many expected big things from Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) in his first professional year. However, given that he has just jumped from the junior ranks in 2018 to the WorldTour, expectations were kept reasonable. Then he hit the ignition switch for lift-off at the Clásica San Sebastián.
He left his last competitor with 8.7km to the finish and rode solo along the promenade. The youngest rider ever to win the Clásica San Sebastián and the third youngest winner in any big one-day Classic. You have to go back to Georges Ronsse at the 1925 Liège-Bastogne-Liège to find someone younger.
At home in Belgian, cycling great Eddy Merckx took note. "Maybe he will even be better," Merckx said when asked if Evenepoel can follow in his footsteps. "Remco has all the qualities to make it happen."