WorldTour Wrap: the heroes and villains of 2017
Here are some of our standout moments from an action-packed WorldTour season
All through 2017 we’ve been bringing you a sideways look at the WorldTour, pro cycling’s highest level of competition - and, just like every year, moments of incredulity haven't been in short supply.
From the early-season ‘dusty races’, like the Tour Down Under and the Abu Dhabi Tour, to the always-tumultuous Spring Classics, to the blockbuster summer Grand Tours and the final handful of one-dayers and minor stage races - it’s been a truly action-packed year. Here are some of our standout moments from 2017, which we’ve arranged into the heroic and the villainous.
The heroes of 2017
Maybe it’s unfair to think of the season in terms of heroes and villains, with all the riders on every team effectively trying their best to get the same outcome. However, there are more and less-heroic ways of achieving those goals – and some downright Machiavellian ones, too (more on that later).
Six words that came to define the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
Spoken by eventual champion, Tom Dumoulin, on finishing the Stelvio stage, which he interrupted mid-way through to ‘relieve himself’ at the side of the road.
Anyone who has experienced tummy trouble after one too many energy gels was able to sympathise, while the man himself was able to recover enough to limit his losses, before finishing in pink on the final day’s ITT.
Unlike others in the heroes section, Taylor Phinney didn’t win any races this year, but he did win a lot of lifelong fans (and wore the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France).
Returning from a horror crash last season, the American Cannondale-Drapca rider has captured the hearts of the cycling world with his thoughtful, somewhat meandering answers to interview questions - as well as the time he absconded from the Tour of Britain start to go for a ride with a local septuagenarian called Terry.
Scroll to the bottom of this WorldTour Wrap from September for the full story.
Thomas De Gendt
It feels like pretty much every stage report from the Grand Tours this year began with "The early break included Thomas De Gendt...".
The Belgian has long been one of the most exciting escape artistes in the peloton, but this season he really took it up a notch. Indeed, the man himself keeps a tally of how many kms he has spent in the breakaway on his phone, which, after the Tour de France, stood at 2,210km.
— Thomas De Gendt (@DeGendtThomas) July 21, 2017
De Gendt rode a staggering 40 Grand Tour stages this year, and was in the break for 15 of them, finally getting his reward in the last - a stage win in the Vuelta. It was particularly fitting given the Belgian was passed over outrageously for the Tour’s most aggressive rider award (given to home rider, Warren Barguil) earlier in the season.
I did 40 stages in grand tours this year. 15 stages i was in the break. I win the last attempt. I wish someone could have told me that.
— Thomas De Gendt (@DeGendtThomas) September 9, 2017
Daniel Oss at Roubaix
Daniel Oss got himself in the early breakaway at Paris-Roubaix and was looking fairly lively for much of the race out ahead. Then, as it became clear that the break was not going to make it, Oss switched modes, from escapee to domestique.
Once the favourites caught up, Oss’ team leader, Greg van Avermaet, hooked onto the rangy Italian’s wheel and Oss did a fearsome job of towing him along. So good was the support role he played, van Avermaet went on to win the race.
Now that’s a team player.
The goats of Bergen
Bergen threw one hell of a party when the cycling world came to town, with inventive course design and frenzied fans lining the routes - even for the team time trial. It was one of the best World Championships in recent memory.
It was made all the more enjoyable by the inclusion of a smattering of goats placed along the routes in special sheds. We’re not sure why there were goats, but we’re certainly pleased there were.
So far the UCI has not responded to our repeated letters demanding the inclusion of goats at all future World Championships.
Perhaps it’s a little unfair to pick Chris Froome’s lieutenant, rather than the man himself, but this year we’re not sure we enjoyed anything more than the performances of the Basque rider, Mikel Landa. While all around him suffered and spluttered, Landa seemed to glide over every col with a startling insouciance.
So strong did Landa look throughout the mountain stages of the Tour de France, many fans were calling for him to be freed to go for stage wins - and possibly even GC - for himself. In the end though, he toed the party line and worked for his leader - well, most of the time at least.
Next year, however, Landa will move to Movistar, where he will vie with Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde for team leadership and the chance to defeat Froome.
Phil Gil’s kidney at the Amstel Gold Race
Winning a one-day Classic is difficult. Winning a one-day Classic four times is even tougher. But winning a one-day Classic with a torn kidney, well that’s just superhuman.
Yet that’s exactly what Philippe Gilbert did this year, outsprinting Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski to take the victory, having crashed earlier in the race. That victory continued a remarkable spring for the Belgian, who had already won the Tour of Flanders, but ruled him out of the remaining two Ardennes Classics, La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Makes you feel bad about phoning in sick to work because you had a bit of a runny nose, doesn’t it?
And the villains...
Remember this? In the office here we like to watch it at least once a week and have done since the incident in question occurred during the Tour de France in July.
You can look back our reasons why we think Fabio Aru might have attacked at this exact moment.
Richard Freeman’s Dropbox password
We expect you remember Jiffygate, the saga that rumbled on for several months, all surrounding the question of what was inside a certain jiffy bag sent to Bradley Wiggins at the 2011 Dauphiné. We’ll admit that there wasn’t much to amuse in that whole sorry mess, but Dr Richard Freeman’s claim that he didn’t know how to use Dropbox did raise a smile. That’s right, a man with a medical doctorate, working for the largest, most detail-focused, best-funded team in pro cycling, couldn’t figure out how to upload his receipts on time.
Quintibali in the Giro
We’ve already mentioned Tom Dumoulin going number two at the roadside, but what we didn’t touch upon in the heroes section were the actions of Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana in that same Giro stage. The pair seemed to take the incident as an invitation to absolutely put the hammer down and steam up the Stelvio full gas, distancing current race leader, Dumoulin, by some margin.
Wherever you stand on waiting for the rider in the leader’s jersey, this season has been a great one for waiting and not-waiting, with Chris Froome (arguably) using the power of the maillot jaune to deliberately control the race when misfortune befell him.
Should people wait, or should they race? Are the days of sportsmanship over? What will happen if Chris Froome drops a deuce at the foot of the Alpe D’Huez next year? There’s only one way to find out.
Yes, coats. We’re talking here about actual coats. The Tour of Flanders was marred by a crash involving Peter Sagan, after a waterproof coat looped over the crowd barriers caught in his handlebars.
— Peter Sagan (@petosagan) April 3, 2017
Then, as if cycling fans had learned nothing from the incident, in the World Championships at Bergen, Marco Haller was taken down in a crash caused by exactly the same thing.
The questions to ask now are, ‘who has let these coats loose on the world of pro cycling?’, ‘are the coats sentient?’, ‘what did we do to anger the coats?’, and 'can the coats be appeased?'