Warren Barguil’s move from Sunweb to Fortuneo-Samsic, from the WorldTour to the second division, was considered one of the big shocks of last year’s transfer markets, and one of the biggest gambles, too. The Frenchman had just enjoyed the summer of his life, winning two stages and the polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France, and his move was, depending on your outlook, a chance to tap into that liberation or a huge gamble.
Twelve months on and it’s fair to say it hasn’t worked out at all. Barguil has shown nothing of the flair of last year’s Tour de France, and having been signed as the French team’s clear leader and talisman, he has yet to register a single victory. The team as a whole only have two. He himself described his season as “rubbish” in June, and things didn’t improve at the Tour, where he was – not for a lack of trying – a shadow of his former self.
Barguil hasn’t had any major injury or illness, though he did hint at personal problems earlier this year. He wasn’t happy with the equipment at his new team and was pictured riding a bike that wasn’t from the sponsor, Look, but painted up to appear so. It wasn’t long before team cut their contract with Look and drafted in BH.
Barguil has two years left on his current contract and needs to start making things happen. Could that happen at Il Lombardia? On the evidence of most of the season, that’d be a resounding ‘no’, but there are signs. In the past month he has finished third at the Grand Prix de Wallonne, 13th at the Giro della Toscana, 10th at Coppa Sabatini, 10th at the Memorial Marco Pantani, and a respectable 19th at Milano-Torino. It says a lot about Barguil’s season that those results can be picked out as cause for optimism.
Warren Barguil on the attack during stage 10 at the Tour de France
Another big-name rider who has had an utterly miserable campaign. Sixth place at the Tour of the Alps suggested he wasn’t too far off track for the Giro d’Italia, his number one objective for the season, but he unraveled in spectacular fashion.
The first blow came at Gran Sasso d’italia and the rest of his race was a steady flow of time loss. He rallied with a surprising top 10 in the stage 16 time trial, but a punishment for drafting helped explain that one and he abandoned the race three days later, and two days from Rome.
Having identified overtraining and dietary intolerances as reasons for his slump, Aru reset and fixed his sights on the Vuelta a España, but that went similarly awry. He crashed on stage 2 and the whole race was nothing short of frustrating, culminating in his outburst when a blocked chain caused him to crash on stage 17.
After abandoning the Giro, Aru said: “The 2018 season isn’t over. There’s the Vuelta, the World Championships, the Italian Classics and Il Lombardia. There’s still time to show who I am.”
Three down – one final chance to salvage something.
Rigoberto Urán’s career appeared to have reignited at last year’s Tour de France, where he finished second overall, but the Colombian has failed to build on those foundations in 2018.
He was always going to be judged on his Tour performance, but his challenge was knocked off course by a crash on the cobbles on stage 9 and then completely derailed in the subsequent mountain stages. He lost nearly half an hour on stage 11 to La Rosière and did not take to the start the following morning.
Urán rested up before setting his sights on the Vuelta a España, which was no failure even if it wasn’t a great success. Urán was solid throughout and was up there in the key mountain stages, particularly towards the end of the race, but he was still something of an anonymous presence and was never remotely involved in the battle for the podium.
After finishing a lowly 33rd at the World Championships, Urán has shown promising signs in the past week, with second at the Giro dell’Emilia and seventh at Milano-Torino. He has twice finished on the Il Lombardia podium – and now would be the perfect time to grab a much-needed big victory for himself and for his team, for whom two stage wins at the Vuelta have only taken the edge off an otherwise sub-par season.
Rigoberto Uran (Team EF Education First-Drapac) at the Vuelta a Espana
After finishing second to Richie Porte (BMC Racing) at the Tour de Suisse in June, Astana's Jakob Fuglsang went into the Tour de France with a very real shot at improving upon his seventh place at the 2013 Tour, but he was never really in the mix.
The 33-year-old rarely finished outside the top 50 on each stage and hovered around the top 10 overall for almost the entire race, only truly shining on stage 12 to Alpe d'Huez, where he finished eighth.
His season started well enough with third overall at the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February, followed by fourth overall at the Ruta del Sol the following month, but aside from a stage win at the Tour de Romandie, Fuglsang's season – like his Tour de France – never really came alive.
However, the Dane – who is still contracted to Astana for 2019 – is another rider who seems to be coming into form nicely in the week leading up to Il Lombardia on Saturday, taking 11th place at the Giro dell'Emilia and eighth at Milano-Torino.
With two stage wins and the polka-dot jersey at the 2014 Tour de France, Rafal Majka appeared to have emerged as one of the world’s best climbers. He went on to podium at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana and then finished fifth at the 2016 Giro d'Italia, but things have stalled slightly since then.
This year he had an OK first half of the season, with top 10s at Abu Dhabi, San Juan, California, and Slovenia, but he was way off the pace at the Tour de France, which had been planted as his primary objective for a second year in a row. He provided a glimmer of his old self by finishing with the main GC favourites on the final mountain stage but was otherwise an anonymous presence. He turned to the Vuelta but was out of the GC equation from early on, and despite getting into a couple of decent breaks in the mountains he was unable to take a stage win.
It's easy to forget that Majka finished third at Il Lombardia in 2013, when he was 24, and his bronze medal from the 2016 Olympics is further evidence of one-day ability.
By his own admission, Steve Cummings has had a miserable season, which has never once got going. The British rider seemed to have rejuvenated his career when he joined Dimension Data in 2015, but this year he has changed his race programme and training structures and has been a shadow of his former self.
Describing himself as ‘goal-oriented’, he has suffered at the team’s long list of injuries and illnesses, which have forced him to plug gaps in the schedule instead of setting himself realistic targets.
Cummings, despite some big wins in recent years, is not considered a serious contender for Il Lombardia, but he has shown an eye for a good break. Even if he’s under no real pressure to get a ‘result’ as such, Cummings has already said he is laying the foundations for next year, and a strong, positive display at Lombardia could be the ideal way to draw a line under 2018 and head into the off-season with renewed motivation.
Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) wins stage 1 at the 2017 Giro della Toscana
Ilnur Zakarin’s 2017 performances – fifth at the Giro d'Italia and third at the Vuelta a España – made for lofty expectation in 2018, but he has been unable to build on those foundations. Ninth at the Tour de France was no disaster, but it wasn’t the next step that had been promised, and it fell some way short of his pre-race goal of a top-five.
At the Vuelta he was well off the pace and ended the race in 20th overall, having been reduced to breakaway efforts in the final week. As such, he goes into Il Lombardia looking to scramble something from his season.
It’s worth noting that the victory is needed just as much on a collective level as an individual one. Katusha-Alpecin are currently second from the bottom in the WorldTour standings, with just five wins from the season so far. As well as Zakarin, the team’s other focal point, Marcel Kittel, has flopped, leaving them looking for something to gloss over what has been a sorry campaign.
Ben Swift left the comfort of Team Sky at the end of 2016 in order to give himself a true shot at personal success. He now finds himself back on the transfer market after two barren years at UAE Team Emirates. He says he doesn’t regret the decision to move there, but it’s clear things simply haven’t worked out.
The 30-year-old is now chasing a contract and is in discussion with a few teams. As it stands, he doesn’t have the luxury of calling any shots, be it demanding a leadership role or a salary on the level he’s received at UAE, but he has a couple more chances to put himself back on the map.
After the Hammer Series in Hong Kong, he’ll race the Tour of Guangxi in China later this month.
After a breakthrough 2017 season that boasted eight victories, many expected Dylan Teuns to establish himself as one of the best riders in the pro peloton in 2018. To a certain extent, that has happened, but while he has demonstrated his quality and potential, the 26-year-old Belgian is without a win.
Teuns has been something of a nearly man in the second half of the season. Twice a runner-up in stages at the Tour de Pologne, he finished fifth overall in the race he won last year. Then at the Vuelta a España he was a constant presence in breakaways but never quite landed the victory. Third, fifth, fourth, third and second read his string of results.
Teuns has already lined up a move to Bahrain-Merida next year, and his reputation hasn’t exactly suffered this season, but a win would make the string of disappointments immediately forgotten. Il Lombardia is a long shot, but the route is slightly less hilly this year, and the late climb of Monte Olimpo is punchy, so he cannot be ruled out.
What happened to Carlos Betancur after the Giro d'Italia? The Colombian finished the race in Rome at the end of May but has only just resurfaced this week at the autumn Italian Classics. That’s four months without a race, and without a public explanation from the Movistar team.
Since his return, the 28-year-old was a DNF at Giro dell’Emilia, 101st at GP Beghelli, DNF and Tre Valli Varesine, DNF at Milano-Torino, at 74th at Gran Piemonte. He hasn’t made Movistar’s Lombardia team but will line out at the Tour of Guangxi.
As it stands, his future is shrouded in confusion. He has a contract with Movistar for next season, but it was reported earlier this year that an early split could be in the cards. It was even suggested he could move to UAE Team Emirates before the end of the season. What is clear is that Betancur is drifting further and further from the promise he once showed.
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