Blazin' Saddles: The best attacks of the 2018 cycling season
The third of our end of season reviews looks at the slickest moves, biggest attacks and most stinging accelerations of the past 12 months. As the dust settles on another aggressive season of racing, our cycling blogger Felix Lowe picks out his favourite throwing-down-the-hammer moments.
Michael Valgren in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
When pinging clear of a lead group in the business end of a race, it always helps having a couple of pals to cover your back. And so it was when the Dane attacked in the Omloop finale with 3km remaining, riding clear of a 12-man break that included Astana team-mates Alexey Lutsenko and Oscar Gatto.
Valgren held on to emphatically snatch the biggest win of his career as the peloton fought for scraps on the home straight, 12 seconds in his wake. Two months later, Valgren doubled up with victory in Amstel Gold – again making his decisive move in the final few kilometres before holding off Roman Kreuziger and Enrico Gasparotto.
Henceforth, "Doing a Valgren" will surely become common currency in the pro peloton. It certainly has more ring to it than "Doing a Dumoulin".
Tiesj Benoot in Strade Bianche
This year's sodden race over the Tuscan dirt roads was one for the ages as Belgian Benoot came of age while caked head-to-toe in mud.
The first big attack came from an unlikely source as French whippet Romain Bardet zipped clear to be joined with the youngster Wout van Aert. But Benoot combined with compatriot Peter Sierry before bridging over inside the final 20km. He then threw down the hammer with 12.5km remaining on one of the final sections of uphill dirt.
Benoot kept his cool to secure his first pro win in Siena's famous Piazza del Campo. Some may have argued that the 23-year-old had perhaps received a bit of a draft from the TV motorcycle – but then again, they were watching from the comfort of their warm armchairs, not in the rain and mud of Tuscany so they can just pipe down.
Marc Soler in Paris-Nice
It didn't take long for Benoot to be bettered...
Everything was left to play for when Movistar's Soler channelled his inner Contador in the final stage of the Race to the Sun. Trailing overnight leader Simon Yates by 37 seconds going into the short stage to and from Nice, Movistar's Soler rode clear of the pack in a break before joining forces with compatriots Omar Fraile and David de la Cruz with 40km remaining.
A crash behind involving Ion and Gorka Izagirre stalled the chase as Soler settled for third place on the stage but secured the yellow jersey with a four-second gap over Yates. A splendid conclusion to the Race to the Soler.
Vincenzo Nibali in Milan-Sanremo
If at first you don't succeed…
Vincenzo Nibali holds on to win Milan-SanRemo 2018From Official Website
For years Nibali had been trying to foil the sprinters with a Shark attack on the Poggio or Cipressa and finally, it paid off. Using a move by Latvia's Krists Neilands as a launchpad, the Italian danced clear as pre-race favourites Peter Sagan and Michal Kwiatkowski marked each other out.
He may have died a thousand deaths on the Via Roma but Nibali achieved immortality in the eyes of his fans with a third Monument win to go with his five Grand Tour triumphs.
Niki Terpstra in the Tour of Flanders
The rangy Dutchman proved a beguilingly unpopular winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen but anyone who soloes to glory over the Belgian cobbles deserves high praise in our books.
Terpstra made his decisive move with 27km remaining, taking advantage of a lull between the big favourites to latch on to an acceleration made by that man Nibali. The Italian didn't last long as Terpstra managed to bridge over to leaders Seb Langeveld, Dylan van Baarle and Mads Pedersen.
He despatched his rivals on the Oude Kwaremont and Peterberg before powering to glory after a chasing group including Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and team-mate Philippe Gilbert failed to gel. Plucky Pedersen held on for second place, 12 seconds behind the triumphant Terpstra who added the Ronde to his Roubaix crown from four years earlier.
Peter Sagan in Paris-Roubaix
If there was something anti-climatic about Terpstra's Flanders win one week earlier, the same could not be said for Sagan in the Hell of the North. Indeed, most people thought the world champion had gone gaga when he threw caution to the wind a huge 53km from the finish – such was the audacity of his attack.
But the Slovakian showman showed his class on the cobbles as he combined with Silvan Dillier – the strongest from the initial break that formed 40km after the start – all the way to the velodrome. There was only ever going to be one winner as Sagan broke his Roubaix duck ahead of the Swiss champion, with Terpstra a distant third.
Bob Jungels in Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Not content with seeing virtually every other Quick-Step rider notching wins in a sensational spring, the Luxembourg champion provided the cherry on the cake with a sumptuous attack to win La Doyenne.
Using the infamous Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons as his launchpad, Jungels zipped clear with 20km remaining to gain a 50-second lead on the flat run-in to the Côte de Saint-Nicolas.
Behind, a who's who of punchy pursuers featuring Alejandro Valverde, Tim Wellens and fellow Quick-Stepper Julian Alaphilippe rode in pursuit – and although Jelle Vanendert came within just 20 seconds at one point, Jungels held on to the lead as the road headed uphill to Ans.
Just as they would do in Innsbruck five months later, Romain Bardet and Michael Woods took second and third – but the only champion that day was Jungels.
Mitchelton-Scott on Mount Etna
It's hard to imagine a more perfect day for a single team throughout the entire season than stage six of the Giro d'Italia for Mitchelton-Scott.
Colombia's rider of team Mitchelton-Scott Johan Esteban Chaves (L) crosses the finish line ahead of teammate Britain's rider of team Mitchelton-Scott Simon Yates to win the 6th stage between Caltanissetta (Sicily) and the Mount Etna during the 101st GiroGetty Images
Esteban Chaves, the smiling assassin, set the scene by getting into the main break of the first mountain stage with 100km left to ride. His presence gave team-mate Simon Yates a free ride behind and with 5km of the final climb to go, Chaves jumped clear of the break as the main pack of favourites jostled and closed in.
Yates completed the pincer movement by putting in an explosive dig with 1.5km remaining, kicking clear "like a bull" in the words of rival George Bennett before drawing level with his team-mate on the home straight.
Allowing Chaves to take a well-earned stage, Yates settled for the maglia rosa instead, but set the tone for an aggressive race in which he would win three uphill showdowns before eventually succumbing to fatigue just two days from Milan.
Chris Froome on Colle delle Finestre
The final nail in Yates' pink coffin was delivered by the man who had caused so much controversy leading up to the race. With salbutamol storm clouds refusing to part overhead, Froome looked out of sorts in his bid to complete a Grand Slam of Grand Tour wins. If his rousing victory on Monte Zoncolan was an indication that he was finding some form, then what he did in stage 19 was confirmation of his class.
After Yates was dropped at the start of the Finestre, defending champion Dumoulin was the man we expected to see in pink three hours later. But the boldness and sheer length of Froome's sustained attack, along with the lack of cohesion in the chase, ensured that Team Sky were back in the headlines – and this time, for the right reasons.
Geraint Thomas at La Rosiere
The Welshman's win in the Criterium du Dauphine was a taste of things to come over the roads of France as Thomas became the first man since the asterisked Lance Armstrong to win back-to-back summit finishes in the Tour.
While the win on Alpe d'Huez in yellow was more iconic, Thomas's win at La Rosiere made it possible. He attacked with 6km remaining, bridged over to Tom Dumoulin and then attacked again, clinically and decisively. Former Sky rider Mikel Nieve had looked like a shoo-in for the win, but Thomas was giving no gifts – even to old friends – as he crossed the line to secure both the stage and the maillot jaune.
Steven Kruijswijk on Alpe d'Huez
Part of a large break in stage 12 that formed ahead of the Col de la Madeleine and the picturesque Lacets de Montvernier, Steven Kruijswijk kept his powder dry until the massive Croix de Fer where he rode clear of his 10 fellow escapees with 73km remaining.
He crested the summit of the 29km climb with three minutes in the bag, a lead which he had doubled by the time the Sky-led chasing pack had reeled in the remnants of the break to set up a grandstand finale.
No Dutchman had won on Dutch Mountain since 1989 and, for a moment, Kruijswijk gave belief to the orange-clad fans on Dutch Corner. His lead was over four minutes as he swung onto his 13.8km date with destiny with the virtual yellow jersey on his back.
But while Kruijswijk was caught well before Thomas kicked clear for a successive win, his brave ride will linger long in the memory as will his huge effort to limit his losses once caught, which was rewarded with his fifth-place finish come Paris. Is Kruijswijk the best GC rider never to have won a Grand Tour? Quite possibly.
Oscar Rodriguez in La Vuelta
Superlative attacks peppered the final Grand Tour of the season including two ballsy efforts from the American Ben King and an emotional win for the Canadian Michael Woods in the mist of Monte Oiz. But perhaps the most eye-catching attack came from the unheralded Spaniard Oscar Rodriguez in stage 13.
Riding his maiden Grand Tour, the 23-year-old from wildcards Euskadi-Murias was seemingly dead and buried when fellow escapees Dylan Teuns and Rafal Majka dropped him on the brutal double-digit ramps of La Camperona.
But from nowhere, Rodriguez fought back into contention before surging clear of his two rivals on the steepest part of the climb inside the final kilometre in a move that was more leftfield than a 90s progressive house duo from London (with a penchant for dub, trip hop and reggae).
Thibaut Pinot in Il Lombardia
As enthralling as the Worlds in Innsbruck were, Alejandro Valverde's victory came at the end of a long battle of attrition with the fiendish final climb so steep it ruled out any explosive attacks – just implosive collapses. And, so, it was left to the final Monument of the year for our final entry.
France's Pinot had a good season when it came to ballsy attacks with his acceleration in stage 15 of La Vuelta enough to secure him a historic win in the clouds at Lagos de Covadonga.
But the day Pinot will remember best came right at the end of the season when he opened up his Monuments account with a hard-earned victory in Il Lombardia – taking on Vincenzo Nibali at his own game with a decisive dig on the Civiglio climb inside the final 15km.
Three days after he won Milano-Torino, Pinot showed that he was the man to beat after being the principal individual animator in a race in which Primoz Roglic's LottoNL-Jumbo were doing their best at winning the team combativity award thanks to a string of early accelerations through the falling leaves to whittle down the pack.
Roglic, however, had been dropped by Messrs Pinot and Nibali before the Civiglio and, after some remonstrating, Pinot emphatically danced on the pedals to drop the cooked defending champion and put one hand on the trophy. Vintage Pinot... cheers!