It’s finally back. We’ve survived another long off-season, and it’s getting closer to being able to step off the turbo trainers and head for rides outside, leaving the base layers behind. The Tour Down Under has been and gone, yet we’re still jealous that riders are applying sunscreen on themselves at this time of year, but not necessarily the fact that they’re riding the not-so-entertaining Tour of Oman in the process. With a fresh season ahead of us, it’s time to knuckle down and get ready…
So what’s there to look forward to so early? If you were extremely dedicated, set your alarms (plural, more than one is always necessary) and poured yourself some coffee before watching cycling on Australian time, Willunga Hill was definitely a season starting highlight. If, like me, track cycling has been your only form of entertainment this year, you’re probably yearning for some road action. The Perfs Pedal Race has just taken place, and eyes were on Tim Elverson’s team of Canyon Eisberg (formerly BIKE Channel Canyon, if you’re not used to the name change yet) to repeat their dominance here. After claiming the victory the past 2 years with Townsend in 2016 and Opie in 2017, they would gain their third consecutive win – Paton edged out Graham of Spirit Tifosi and Morvelo’s Marks on a windy course.
2018 also marks the season that I travel to watch some of the Classics. In April I’ll be heading to both Flanders and Roubaix with my friend Matilda, and we might just venture out into some vlogging. It feels like forever since I was last at a race (which, turns out, was the Tour of Britain in September), and I can’t wait to actually experience the Monuments for myself instead of watching them on TV. The chances riders take on the cobbles, the Belgian drinks and food on the roadside, the defending Flanders champion Gilbert hoping to retain the Flanders title. There’s also the Paterberg – now who among us wouldn’t pave the road outside our house in cobbles just so the race passes by our front door? You don’t have to travel far to see the action, and you get to remain a staple feature of Flanders history. Dedication. Paris-Roubaix is just the weekend after Flanders, and obviously I’ll be wishing Mat Hayman repeats his 2016 feat, hopefully without the broken arm five weeks prior, but if it works…
On to domestic cycling, and 2018 sees their Spring Cup Series shortened to 3 rounds, with Tour of the Wolds being cancelled while Chorley, East Cleveland Klondike and Lincoln remain throughout mid-April to mid-May. If I had to advise at least one to get yourselves down to – make sure it’s Lincoln on the 13th of May. Not only do riders scale the Michaelgate 13 times, and if you’re lucky the weather is pretty nice too, but the competition is incredibly fierce; the 2017 edition saw Ian Bibby of JLT achieve his first Lincoln win, while then-Bike Channel Canyon’s Rory Townsend’s second place on the day crowned him overall Spring Cup Series winner by 3 points. Simultaneously – the Lincoln GP marks the date that the National Women’s Road Series begins (9 rounds and equal prize money!), with Banks looking to defend her overall series title against the likes of Massey and Lowther.
The Grand Prix series is longer than the Spring Cup, comprised of the 5 rounds of Tour of the Reservoir, Bristol, Stockton, Leicester Castle Classic and Ryedale between June and August. After going to both Leicester and Ryedale, my favourite would be Leicester – it was much easier to get around more of the circuit, and with it being the last round of the Series in 2017, there were higher stakes on the line. Once again the Grand Prix Series last year was pretty close, the decider in Leicester began with just 5 points separating the top 2 riders in the overall standings of BCC’s Gardias and McEvoy of Madison Genesis on the start line.
The Tour de France. With the fate of the last winner uncertain at this moment in time, who else are we going to see contend for the yellow jersey in the staple of Grand Tours? Could 2018 be the year of Esteban Chaves? Hopefully; the smiling Colombian who easily marked himself as a fan favourite by joining forces with the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE, Orica-Scott, Mitchelton-Scott, has finished on the podium twice in Grand Tours, 2nd at the 2016 Giro d’Italia and 3rd at the Vuelta a España that same year. With his loyal teammates in Mathew Hayman and Sam Bewley alongside new recruits Nieve and Bauer to name just a few, there’s no doubt he’ll aim to make this year one to remember. The Tour de France is my favourite of Grand Tours – there’s something about it that seems to separate it from the others. For myself, the Giro d’Italia is usually during exam season, and while the Vuelta has produced some memorable moments, I just can’t shake those long transitional stages from my head. The Tour is different, it has Alpe d’Huez and the Champs-Élysées, the prominence of the jerseys, Didi the Devil, the fact it attracts a larger worldwide audience – and after travelling to see it twice last year – gives a definite party vibe. (Especially the Dutch Corner and Beefeater Bend).
Of course, La Course is a race to keep an eye out for too. While there’s currently no women’s equivalent of the Tour de France – or Roubaix for that matter – La Course is always enjoyable. While the format could be fixed further (I thought the 2017 ‘experiment’ was bizarre to say the least, the summit finish on the Col d’Izoard was great to watch, albeit short, and the time trial was only raced by 21 riders?) the 2018 edition should see riders such as Vos, Van Vleuten, Deignan and Niewiadoma tackle a 118km course, scaling the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière. No excuses for lack of televised women’s racing here – they’re on part of the same route as the men’s stage 10 of the Tour de France that same day.
Enjoy your cycling but don’t fancy being stuck in front of your screens for 7 hours a day throughout the whole month? The fast-paced nature of the National Circuit Series also provides great entertainment throughout the whole of July. Crits are short and definitely not sweet, with more corners, more technical elements and more crashes. But that’s what makes them exciting and fun to watch – plus there are six rounds centered primarily in the heart of England throughout the whole month, plenty of opportunities to get outside and watch some competitive domestic cycling.
Now it’s no secret the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain generate some of the largest crowds for a British cycling race. But what makes them so special?
All the way back in 2014, the early stages of the Tour de France began in England, most notably – Yorkshire. What began as a Tour de France visit developed into a continued 3-day stage race in May that saw UCI Continental teams race alongside UCI World Tour teams. What’s not to love about it? The fact it’s up north, the publicity caravan, the flags, the crowds… most of these can apply to the Tour of Britain too, but the Tour of Yorkshire is a race to look forward to in its own right. I’m an atheist, but I can see why they call it God’s own country.
While the Tour of Britain in September is the last event in the British Major Events calendar, it always manages to end the season on a high. The Tour of Britain brings some of the best riders from around the world to our country, and travels further around Britain than the Tour de Yorkshire, with 8 stages for riders to contest. Again, UCI Continental teams race alongside the World Tour, but this time through points amassed from the start of the Spring Cup Series to the finish of the Ryedale Grand Prix. Last year’s edition brought the drama; abandons, crashes, disqualifications, photo finishes, retirements, highs and lows all throughout the eight-day period. I know I say this about a lot of events, but the Tour of Britain is definitely one to travel to.
Needless to say, there are more races I’m looking forward to seeing; CiCLE Classic the day before my birthday in April, the Tour Series in May and the National Road Championships being contested in Northumberland at the start of July, as well as Sagan possibly going for 4 (because despite the numerous repetitive climbs, if anyone can, it would be Sagan) at the World Road Championships in September, and somebody different from Valverde winning La Flèche Wallonne this year. On that topic, it’ll also be interesting to see how Movistar cope with 3 leaders on their men’s team now with the addition of Landa alongside Quintana and Valverde, when the latter two haven’t always been so supportive of riding for the other. There’s also the newly formed Movistar women’s team – so keep an eye out for their 2016 Orica Scott/Astana kit mashup in the peloton. But enough about me. What are other people looking forward to this season?
“I’m looking forward to watching Louis Rose-Davies and Isaac Mundy in the prems this season” – @matildaprice_
“So this year, I’m incredibly excited for the road season just to get going! There’s nothing better than rocking up at a race HQ and seeing everyone for the first time in ages, the dodgy tan lines from Calpe, the new kits and bikes, and everyone keen as hell to get on with it. From a Twitter point of view, it’ll be nice to talk about results and startlists and parcours, instead of this silly track nonsense!” – @CEUKFans
“Since I first saw the route, it’s been the Worlds in Austria. It’s been the first time I can remember that I’m more excited for that than any of the Grand Tours or classics. I can’t believe there won’t be a climber that won’t target the men’s seriously and it also gives a real test for the fantastic women’s climbers. Apart from that, the adventures of Superman Lopez have me on tenterhooks – I pray for his health every day, and he’s a future Grand Tour winner in the waiting. Watch out too for the overdue but welcome Movistar Women’s team.” – @KeejayOV2
“Call it wishful thinking, but I’m wondering if we’ll see a couple of first-time Grand Tour winners. On the women’s side of the sport, I’d love Niewiadoma to challenge the current Boels supremacy in the spring races and improve on her hat-trick of third places from 2017. From a personal point of view, I can’t wait for Strade Bianche – which I will be attending for the first time this year. My last wish would be a fast recovery for Luke Durbridge! – @JustProCycling
“I want a rainy Roubaix” – @InsidePeloton96
“More live women’s cycling coverage and an increased interest in general, which seems to be happening. I’m also really looking forward to CanyonSRAM (PFP and Kasia) actually challenging Boels in the Ardennes races this year. As for the men, Chaves back to top form and challenging for a GT and Lutsenko getting close in either Roubaix or Flanders.” – @JamieHaughey
“Strangely enough I’ve been feeling hyped about Nibali at Flanders. Usually I don’t care much about Flanders. I’m curious to see how Jungels, Meintjes and the Yates’ will ride. They were a generation that had total control over youth classifications for a few years, but now they’ve got to set different goals and different tactics to achieve them. Also, the top of the women’s peloton at Boels Ladies Tour and AGR. Hoping to see Chavito win the Giro, Van Vleuten the Giro Donne and Gracie Elvin some spring classics. – @badgerbaroudeur
“I want good weather for the first ever Tour of Germany after 10 years, so I’ll finally see a cycling race live without rain!” – @Benni1000
“I want justice for Aqua Blue Sport.” – @Spudacus12
Hope you enjoy the 2018 season!