To misquote Frank Sinatra, it was not a very good year for some of cycling’s biggest names. This wasn’t necessarily their fault and – unfortunately – our favourite riders are only ever one moto/pothole/idiot with a flag away from having their big races ruined. Nevertheless, when you fail to meet your targets (especially when it’s a well-documented Giro/Tour double, spoiler alert, Nairo Quintana’s on this list) you’re going to want to forget the season as soon as possible. Here are my five losers of 2017.
How has the most exciting climber of 2014 become a Twitter joke? Quintana is clearly talented and will certainly win another Grand Tour (right?) but the time has come for a new approach. His 2016 Vuelta success over Froome remains the only time the Brit has been readily beaten in a Grand Tour in the last three seasons; so why have we all lost faith? Quintana lost some of us before the season had even started by stating his intention to ride a Giro/Tour double and happily accepting comparisons to Marco Pantani. Bizarrely, the Giro started perfectly with a comfortable win on the Blockhaus and a spell in the Maglia Rosa.
Proper gap. Stage over #Giro100
— Just Pro Cycling (@justprocycling) May 14, 2017
The world’s best climber wins the first big fight of Il Giro. Without incidents, Nairo Quintana will win this race. #Giro100
— Mihai Cazacu (@faustocoppi60) May 14, 2017
However, three weeks later a tactically naïve Quintana had been left in the shadow of Tom Dumoulin. Had he intentionally left something in the legs for the Tour? Apparently not. The Colombian never once looked comfortable in France, starting badly and fading to 12th. He seems to still have confidence in himself – but do Movistar?
Prediction for 2018: I have no idea any more. Quintana regularly performs in the opposite way to how I expect. Early signs suggest he will still be the favoured rider after the arrival of Landa.
I’m a big fan of Geraint Thomas – particularly the way he shrugs off miserable and muddy slogs through Belgium as if they were leisurely rides to the shops – but he’s not had a particularly good time this season. It’s unfair to say his season was devoid of good moments and his Tirreno-Adriatico performance was highly impressive. He arrived at the Giro as a favourite for the podium before everything started to go wrong. He lost his opportunity through no fault of his own when caught up in a crash caused by a police motorbike. He recovered to take a stunning second in the Montefalco time trial but soon abandoned citing injury pain. You have to wonder if he will ever find himself in better shape for a Grand Tour challenge.
The Tour told a similar story and – after beating Chris Froome to yellow in Dusseldorf – Thomas crashed out with a broken collarbone on Stage 9. He has every reason to curse his luck but he’s now 31, ‘stuck’ as Froome’s lieutenant, and yet to take a top ten at a Grand Tour.
Prediction for 2018: Thomas won’t become a bad bike rider any time soon but I’m worried by a possible lack of direction. With Froome leading at both the Giro and Tour, I can’t see Thomas being given much freedom to chase victories.
Bardiani have always found a way to write headlines at the Giro d’Italia. In 2012 an emerging Domenico Pozzovivo climbed to victory at Lago Laceno. In 2013 we enjoyed the exploits of Enrico Battaglin and Stefano Pirazzi, and the pair repeated their good rides to help Bardiani land a hat-trick of stages the following year. Nicola Boem found a way to win in 2015 and Giulio Ciccone was the latest climber to come through the production line in Sestola in last year. This season they used a different tactic to make it into the headlines; a dodgy double drug bust on the eve of the race.
Two of the team’s biggest names – Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni – returned positive samples from tests at the end of April. The team were later banned from action for thirty days – starting after the Giro – and the two riders promptly sacked. Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide (GHRP) isn’t a drug you hear about often but appeared to do Ruffoni some good; he has somehow kept his two victories at the Tour of Croatia, despite the fact the failed test came just days after.
The scandal was about the only time Bardiani found prominence in a very disappointing year. The Tour of Utah provided their only moments of excitement and they’re now a long way from a Grand Tour wildcard.
Prediction for 2018: The squad looks weak. I really want Ciccone to leave and go on to bigger and better things. Andrea Guardini returns to Pro Continental level and should be far happier.
It was a terrible year for last year’s Italian national champion. Starting in April and concluding in October, Nizzolo’s season was packed with injuries, a lack of fitness and a severe lack of results. In fairness, there wasn’t a lot he could do with the hand he was dealt. Diagnosed with tendinitis in January, Nizzolo was without a race day in his legs as the rest of the peloton hurtled towards the Giro.
It must have been his Italian national jersey that earnt him selection at the Giro off the back of just six race days and expectations of Nizzolo were at rock bottom. Much to his credit, he surprised us all by taking 4th and 3rd in the opening two sprint stages. Sadly, by the second week he looked like a man with lingering tendinitis in his knee and abandoned after Stage 11. Perhaps the worst thing about Nizzolo’s season was just how long his struggles continued and in the second half of the season he was almost non-existent. He had made several small breakthroughs in 2016 but this season saw things come to a crashing halt.
Prediction for 2018: I still believe Nizzolo is more suited to one day races than Grand Tour sprints. Unfortunately, I can’t see him bouncing back to the top level.
Tony Martin is such a popular rider that I can already tell this selection isn’t going to go down well. But what if I told you this was the first year since 2007 that the German didn’t win an individual time trial (yes, I’m excluding the sixth straight national title). Even if you don’t care for dragging up results, there was something about Martin’s first year at Katusha that suggested a changing of the times. At various points this season he was beaten by Stefan Kung, Geraint Thomas, Victor Campenaerts and Jonathan Castroviejo. Perhaps this was more of a natural transition than a bad year but Martin will surely be frustrated with his lack of results. Martin held some form right through to September and deserves credit for a commendable effort on a World Championship course that really didn’t suit. He seemed annoyed by the 3.4km climb of Mount Fløyen which essentially ruined his chances.
Prediction for 2018: Martin is a world class performer and will feel he has a point to prove. Unfortauntely, he might be too good to not include in the lead-out train of big money signing Marcel Kittel.