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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  11/1/2018

Top Ten Riders of 2018

I usually do my retrospective Top Ten Riders ranking in December or even January, but the season is over by now so I figured I might as well get into it a month earlier this time around.

I’m keeping it simple this year: just ten riders. No special subset for sprinters, although I will note that Italy’s Elia Viviani seemed to be just marginally the most productive of the pure sprinters. And no baker’s dozen because I couldn’t narrow the list down to just ten. No doubt there are other worthies hovering right around the bottom of my top ten list, but they will have to hover in obscurity, at least in this space.

I had a really tough time sorting out the rankings this year. Pro road cycling is a complex sport with all sorts of races presenting all sorts of disciplines, challenges and outcomes. One-day classics are mixed in with longer and shorter stage races. The level of competition is not the same across all events. In spite of the muddle all that adds up to, in most years we can see a handful of riders who were head and shoulders above the rest. That’s true this year too: all the guys on this list. But among them, there was something almost approaching parity. No single rider bestrides the world like a collosus. I say this most years for the riders in the middle or near the bottom of my list, but this year it extends all the way to the top. Well…make of it what you will. All of these riders are worthy of being on the list. Exactly which rung of the ladder they ought to occupy could be debated all the way through the winter.

 

10. Michal Kwiatkowski, 28, Poland, Team Sky

KwiatkowskiFirst overall at Tirreno-Adriatico. He was first overall at the Volta ao Algarve, winning two stages and the points jersey. He won both the Tour of Poland and the Polish National Championship Road Race. He won two stages at the Criterium du Dauphné. He is still riding primarily as a super-domestique for his Team Sky leaders in the Grand Tours so won’t finish high up in those events. (He is excellent in that role, and the overall success of his team owes much to his otherwise anonymous labors in that department.) He was the designated team leader at this year’s Vuelta a España and wore the leader’s jersey for three stages but was never really a factor when it mattered.

9. Thibaut Pinot, 28, France, FDJ

Thibaut Pinot

He took the overall win at the Tour of the Alps and two impressive stage wins at the Vuelta a España. But he blew up catastrophically at the Giro d’Italia…cracked so badly he went straight into the hospital and missed most of the season, until those two stage wins at the Vuelta. He probably would not have made my list except for what happened at the end of the season: he won both Milano-Torino and the Giro di Lombardia, the final monument of the year. Sometimes he seems so close to busting through into the very top tier in the Grand Tours. I’m still not sure he can do it, but I wouldn’t count him out for 2019.

8. Primoz Roglic, 29, Slovenia, LottoNL-Jumbo

Primoz Roglic

Roglic finished first at the Tour of the Basque Country, winning one stage and also the points jersey. He finished first at the Tour de Romandie and first at the Tour of Slovenia, winning two stages. He won Stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico and was third overall at the Tour of Britain and fourth overall at the Tour de France, winning Stage 19. We can say the same thing about Roglic that we said about Pinot: don’t count him out for 2019.

7. Julian Alaphilippe, 26, France, QuickStep

Julian Alaphilippe

The promising young French rider finished first overall at the Tour of Britain, wining Stage 3. Also first overall at the minor Okolo Slovenska, winning Stage 1. He won the classics La Fleche Wallone amd Clasica de San Sebastian and was fourth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He won Stages 1 and 2 of the Tour of the Basque Country and Stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphiné. He won two mountain stages of the Tour de France and took home the mountains jersey.

6. Tom Dumoulin, 27, Netherlands, Team Sunweb

Tom Dumoulin

I have called Alejandro Valverde Mr Almost in many of the years of his career. This year I am borrowing that sobriquet and applying it to Tom Dumoulin. He didn’t do a lot this year but what he did do was almost spectacular. He finished second to Chris Froome at the Giro d’Italia, :46 behind. He finished second to Geraint Thomas at the Tour de France, 1:51 behind. And finally, second to Rohan Dennis in the World Championship Time Trial, 1:21 behind. Also second in the World Championship Team Time Trial. That is a lot of almost in a lot of big events.

5. Peter Sagan, 28, Slovakia, Bora-Hansgrohe

Peter Sagan

Sagan had another stellar year but not as good as some recent seasons. He had won no less than three World Championships in a row but his unique skills were not really a good fit for the hilly circuit this year. So that amazing streak comes to an end. He opened his account for the year with a stage win at the Tour Down Under. Didn’t do much in the earlier spring classics but made up for that by winning both Gent-Wevelgem in March and—best of all—Paris-Roubaix in April. He once again rode away with the points jersey at the Tour de France, winning Stages 2, 5, and 13. But he was shut out with no stage wins at the Vuelta…a first for him in a major stage race. All of his accumulated good placings over the season left him a close second in the UCI World Tour standings.

4. Alejandro Valverde, 38, Spain, Movistar

Alejandro Valverde

Valverde lost the latter half of last season after crashing out of the Tour de France. He began his comeback this year with an overall win at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, winning one stage. He won the Abu Dhabi Tour, winning one stage. In between those two early season victories he was second at the Vuelta a Murcia. In March he won the Volta a Catalunya for the third time, winning two stages and also the mountains jersey. He was active among the leaders at the Vuelta a España, winning two stages before finally fading to a rather tired looking fifth overall at the end. But he rebounded from that disappointment in a most dramatic and emotional way by winning the World Championship on a very tough, hilly circuit in Innsbruck. No one has more podiums at the World Championship Road Race than Valverde—seven—but this is his first victory. All his hard work this season resulted in third place in the UCI World Tour standings.

3. Chris Froome, 33, Great Britain, Team Sky

Chris Froome

Froome has dominated the cycling world for the past few years, putting together seasons that will be remembered as among the best ever. Even if he never does anything worthwhile again, he is already reckoned as one of the all-time greats. But 2018 was not his best year. He won the Giro d’Italia and did it in such an audacious manner that it will go down in history as one of the greatest feats of cycling ever. He was third at the Tour de France. So…a win and a third in the two most prestigious Grand Tours. That earns him this high spot on my list. But aside from those two admittedly impressive results, there is essentially nothing else to show for his season.

2. Geraint Thomas, 32, Great Britain, Team Sky

Geraint Thomas

My first rough draft of a top ten had Chris Froome second and Geraint Thomas third, but after digging into the past season a bit more I had to swap them around. Thomas won the biggest race of the year—the Tour de France—and did so convincingly, with two impressive mountaintop wins on Stages 11 & 12. He also won the prestigious Criterium du Dauphiné, was second at the Volta ao Algarve, third at Tirreno-Adriatico and fourth in the UCI World Tour standings. It will be interesting to see how Team Sky parcels out the leadership roles over the course of the coming season.

1. Simon Yates, 26, Great Britain, Mitchelton-Scott

Simon Yates

I am awarding top billing on the 2018 list to Simon Yates. It was tough to decide between the top three, the winners of the three Grand Tours. But I give the nod—barely—to Yates for his overall body of work, which added up to his being ranked #1 on the UCI World Tour for the year. He was 2nd overall at both Paris-Nice and the Tour of Poland, in each event winning one stage. He won three stages at the Giro d’Italia and wore the Maglia Rosa for 13 days (before flaming out badly on Stage 19). But what puts him over the top was winning his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. He won Stage 14 to take the lead and was always up among the leaders. As I noted in my Vuelta write-up, he didn’t pound everyone else into submission with some monster beatdown. He was simply better than everyone else, pretty much throughout. Had he not had that one dreadful day on the Giro, he might have won two of the Grand Tours. Barring some catastrophe in the seasons ahead, I expect we will see more of him on important podiums in the future.

There was a good deal of turnover on my list from last year. Vincenzo Nibali, Michael Matthews, Greg Van Avermaet, Nairo Quintana, and Rigo Uran…all gone. That’s half the top ten. Some of that is old guys getting older and some of it is just the capriciousness of a long and complicated season. Right now I can picture most of the riders on this year’s list being on (or close to) next year’s list. But nothing is promised and nothing predicted. We will just have to tune in next spring and see what happens.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net



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