This is the place. This is where you'll find the latest road racing news, editorial, behind-the-scenes coverage, videos—every conceivable gram of content from our professional racing teams, Boels-Dolmans, Quick-Step–Floors, Bora-Hansgrohe, and Axeon Hagens Berman. We'll be updating this page throughout the 2017 season, so come back and come often. Happy racing.
Twenty-one days. A few rest days scattered here and there to provide that, “Oh well, I’ve come this far. Might as well keep going” state of mind. Those who are injured sometimes refuse to accept it—how can the quest be over—before the injury wins and their Tour de France dream is dashed on the rocks of reality. Those who are left don their Lycra and fasten their helmets, day-after-day-after-day, to roll out and see who’s holding the fireworks. In the final week, the fuse is once again lit. With a rest day in their legs, the peloton twisted the throttle all the way to “drop mode” for Stage 16, setting a blistering pace. Unfortunately, that left Quick-Step’s Marcel Kittel in a bit of difficulty as contenders chipped away at his Green Jersey points. In a full-on hard charge to the line (of which he played no part), Kittel lost a few more of those points to his rivals. But it didn’t matter—the coveted sprinter’s jersey remained firmly on his shoulders as at the end of the stage. He, no doubt, dreams of holding it all the way to Paris.
But the thing about the Tour de France is that it doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t care what you want, really. Kittel may have started the day in Green, but Stage 17 turned out to be a bit of a shit day for the perfectly coiffed German. And while we may have been expecting fireworks on the climbs—this stage was stuffed to the gills with gains, including the mighty Galibier—we didn’t expect a small crash to blow Kittel’s dream to smithereens. Taken down by a fall just 20km into the stage, we watched as he valiantly tried to get back in the groove. His goal was clear: stay and finish with the grupetto. But then came the tweet from Quick-Step that ended it all: “Green jersey @marcelkittel, and winner of five #TDF2017 stages, has stopped at the top of Col de la Croix de Fer.” He abandons and the glory of finishing on the cobbled streets of Paris, of riding over that line with the Green Jersey all his, fades from view. Meanwhile, a former ski-jumper wins the stage, so as one TDF dream ends, another comes true.
And then we arrive at Stage 18 and the Col d’Izoard. It is, in a word, steep. The dramatic mountaintop finish caps the last day in the mountains for the Tour and provides what might be the last opportunity for GC contenders to snatch that Yellow Jersey away from the man who just can’t seem to let it go. The col is 14km long and averages out at 7%, which guarantees suffering for everyone. There are attacks and fireworks aplenty, and sudden surges as people are gapped. Finally, one man launches off the front for a solo victory. Cresting the summit, he's totally alone and silhouetted against the sky. His face shows no sign of the suffering—just sheer elation at having not just won, but securing the Polka Dot Jersey for the 2017 Tour de France once and for all. He just has to make it to Paris in one piece, a mere three stages away. The countdown continues.
Stage 19 is the longest of the Tour, with 222km of lumpy-to-flat terrain to contend with. It’s a long, hot stage that sets a searing pace in the French sun. A large break forms, breaks up, and reforms until finally, near the finish, two riders break free. With 2km to go, a sudden attack jerks ahead and is unmatched. Another stage, another solo finish.
Speaking of solos, Stage 20 sees the ultimate solo event, the Individual Time Trial. Starting and finishing at the velodrome in Marseille, riders head out for a 22.5km loop of the town. With the Yellow all but sewn up, this is a race for glory and a young Polish rider, Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), sets the standard early. As he sweats it out in the hot seat, he is left to watch rider after rider—previous TT world champions included—fail to beat his time. Finally, it's all over and Bodnar wins the TT by one second to get his first ever Tour victory. There's another victory this day—the Yellow is secured. Although there is one final stage to go, it’s pretty much all over, bar the shouting.
The last day of the Tour is like one long victory parade followed by a sprint to the bar. It started as this day most commonly does, with laughter and celebration and the sight of men on bicycles drinking champagne out of plastic (presumably) flutes as they roll through the French countryside. The pace is moderate and sleepy—well, for them anyway—and it isn’t until they reach the Champs-Elysées that there’s a murmur through the peloton that maybe they should settle down and do some racing. It’s a sprinters stage, and with 5km to go, Quick-Step’s Zdeněk Štybar lights his afterburners and attacks. But he's ignited too soon and is caught with 2.5km to go as all the sprinters mob the front. The race comes down to a neck-straining traditional hard man sprint and then, finally, the Tour de France is done.
The Tour de France is a long slog for everyone, but hard not to love. With all the drama of this year, it would have been easy to just give up on it altogether. But it’s the fireworks we love. It’s the fireworks we can’t take our eyes of as we oooh and ahhh the festivities. Each stage is decided in a flash of glory. A man surges to the front and claims it, sometimes with an impressive solo with no one around, other times with a well-timed bike throw or sheer brute strength and determination. Fireworks. A rider, bruised and battered, rides because he does not want to give it up because the Tour is the Tour. Another is ejected, causing us to shake fists at the sky and choose a side. Fireworks. A thin and wiry man attacks on a climb so steep other riders seem to go backwards on it. Fireworks. We’re already counting down the days to next year, when the fuse is once again lit and we get to do this all over again. Why? Because Fireworks.
A fight breaks out. Not one of those roadside funky punch ups with skinny guys in Lycra attempting to land air-knuckle sandwiches while slipping around in cleated carbon shoes. Nope, not one of those. This is one of those majestic fights where blows are landed, not with fists, but with bristling quads and watts burnt like tissue paper in a fire. This fight is for a bit of cloth—the jersey they call Green. With the rest day behind them, the peloton embarks on 178km of racing for Stage 10. It’s a flat and short stage—definitely one for the sprinters—and with the break caught just 6.5km from the finish, the bell is rung. Marcel Kittel slams it home for his 4th win of the tour, and in doing so, the hulking German surpasses Cipo the Lion King's personal record, with 13 stage wins in the Tour de France.
“I feel like I live in a small little bubble in a small little world that is not really true,” Kittel says. In this alternate facts world we can confidently say this is not fake news, and as he slips on the Green jersey and zips it to his chin we all shout “ja!” to that.
Kermit the Frog once sang “it’s not easy being green,” but Kittel obviously doesn’t know the tune. He brazenly romps home to claim a deceptively effortless sprint victory in Stage 11, comparing his field leapfrog afterwards to playing Tetris—he just got the right gaps. Five stage wins in 11 days and we are left wondering—is the battle for Green all sewn up? What will the final week bring for those who love the brutal heave of a sprinter?
But before we get to that final week, the peloton heads into the mountains. Stage 12 promises sexy Cols all day long, and fans are treated to heroic climbs and exuberant breakaways. On a descent, the Maillot Jaune surprises fans in a switchback by rolling into the corner to do a quick spot check on their camper situation. Will this be the slight miscalculation that may prove costly later on? The finish ramps up to a wall that will test all comers. In the final stretch, the leaders grit their way up, and like a spoon hitting the hard shell of a crème brûlée, the Yellow Jersey cracks. A Frenchman, showing no sign of fatigue, wins it and tonight, a new man wears Yellow. There may be life left in this Tour yet.
The calendar flips over to Bastille Day and it’s out of the Pyrenees for a few Category 1 climbs wrapping up with 25km of downhill to the finish. It’s a day of breaks, with several riders throughout the day picking at the scab of victory, trying to pry it off for the win. In the end, it is a Frenchman who snags it on this most French of holidays and the Maillot Jaune stays where it is for the second night running. After finishing a valiant 6th on the stage, the sight of Quick-Step's Dan Martin being helped off his bike, his back seized tight and face grimacing as he hobbles to the bus, reminds us all that cycling is not golf. There are no caddies here—each man carries his own clubs.
Stage 14 comes and goes with yet another uphill wall-like finish. At an average of 10% for just over 500 meters of gains, this wall calls the shots. But when it’s all said and done, the Yellow finds itself hoisted, yet again, on the shoulders of a most familiar frame. Is the GC all but over? Will he crack again or ride this all the way to Paris? On paper, it’s not over yet, and as we rolled into Stage 15, fans were calculating times and crossing fingers for a showdown and fireworks. The last thing anyone wants is a script that’s been run year after year. It turns out to be a day of leg sapping climbs, culminating in the kind of victory we all love—a solo flyer with no other rider in sight. There's no change in the GC as we head into another rest day, and as the peloton kicks back with massages and easy spins we fans sleep in, dreaming of what could be. Yellow, Green, Polka, or White—no one gives up on a prized Tour de France jersey without a fight.
For man to soar at the Tour de France, he must be as the eagle. He must stand at the precipice and stretch his wings wide, shaking out the feathers and twitching the talons to release. His engine must rev, and when at maximum RPMs, he must launch his willing body at the goal. And with his Lycra-clad body flashing in the French sunlight, he must then swoop in to snatch that victory mouse from the battlefield. Week two of the Tour—it’s an ornithologist’s paradise. The first case of eagle spotting occurred on Stage Six, with Marcel Kittel sharpening his claws and using his best skills to "ride the wind" all the way to victory. With his hulking frame hidden behind some real barn doors in the finishing straight, with 75 meters to go, he popped out from behind his safe draft to make the winning move. Case closed.
Stage Seven gave Kittel his three-peat in the sprint stakes, but it was a real talon-biter of a finish. Again, it was a wind assist, but this time it was a tailwind urging the peloton to hit even higher speeds. Flying toward the line, it seemed as though Kittel had left his charge too late, and as two riders crossed under the finish gantry side-by-side, cries went out, hands flew up in front of race feeds, and sprinters collapsed over their handlebars with heaving breaths. No one celebrated because no one knew who’d won it—you practically needed the eyes of an eagle to see a sliver of air between first and second place. Fortunately, technology took care of our failing eyesight, and within seconds, Kittel’s face went from hesitant doubt to jubilant celebration. With his 12th victory in the Tour de France, and third for this edition, the Green Jersey was his once more.
Eagles do what eagles do, and for stages Eight and Nine, our two-wheeled eagles went up. Stage Eight proved to be a tough series of hilly climbs, chained together and conquered in spurts. A Frenchman prevailed, daring to solo it to the top and battle his way through cramps on the final climb to secure the victory. A nation cheered. But then came Stage Nine, the toughest stage of the Tour, and the phrase "where eagles dare" really came into play, in both good and bad ways.
Riders are bold and brave. They seek and see opportunities and push themselves to limits. But with 45km of climbing on Stage Nine, many sought simply to survive. Sprinters dread days like this, and while the GC contenders battled it out at the pointy end of the race, these riders simply gritted their teeth, sucked down their gels, and dreamt of freezing cold cokes at the top of the climb. After surviving the Col de la Biche, they were promptly flogged by the Grand Colombier until their flesh was soft and tender. The final climb of the day—the Mont du Chat—proved the steepest climb of the day, and the Tour. Everyone felt this one. There were mechanicals and opportunistic attacks, heroics and fireworks. The break stuck in various forms all day, and looked to hold right to the end, but on the descent with 23km to go, everything changed. A crash, a wall, a nasty moment for us all with hearts in our mouths as we waited for news. Favorites abandoned or continued on with bloodied bodies and wincing faces, before the eventual winner, his own bike left traumatized by the day, made his leap to soar.
And after all the drama of Stage Nine, with favorites cracking on climbs, crashes causing abandons, and general suffering that we as fans are witness to, it’s time to put down our eagle-watching glasses for just a moment. But don’t put them too far out of reach because it’s just a rest day. We’ll need them again for Stage 10, because when eagles dare, we witness flight. And that is beautiful.
The Tour. It gets your blood up. Simmers it right there beneath your skin in a prickly, warm heat. Your flesh made tingly by the anticipation of a potential win, the excitement of a break, or the adrenaline rush of an attack. And then there are times when your blood just simply boils in unpleasant anger and you shake your fist at the sky. Precious GC time is lost; Bad Luck signs its name with a flourish to any jersey caught out; Fantasy Leagues are blown apart; and all in the span of five furious days. That was the week that was, folks. Now it’s over. Let it go. Plenty of racing left in the Tour tank.But sorry, we can’t let it go just yet, because what a damn week. The first stage, damp as a dishcloth, saw riders doing their best Tom Cruise-Risky Business impressions as they slid across the roads of Düsseldorf. Which was appropriate, because the strategy for the TT was literally risky business. Do you ride hard and chance crashing, or ride conservatively and lose time on the GC? The greasy roads had the final word on the twisty, technical course, turning some riders into human hockey pucks while stamping the word "ABANDONED" on their call sheets. But this is where the pieces are first placed on the board in this Tour de France, and after the stage, the Yellow Jersey first-timer wore his smile as broad and bright as the jersey itself. It’s obvious in this moment that this race can be just as kind as it is cruel.
A sprinter’s diet is a meaty one, and Stage Two was always going to be a carnivorous feast for whomever got to the table first. Quick-Step’s Marcel Kittel, pompadour wrangled deftly beneath his helmet, no doubt felt the weight of his entire nation upon him as he lined up for the start in Dusseldorf, Germany. But it was a comfortable weight for him, as it turned out, and in the finish straight in Liège, Belgium, he jumped from wheel-to-wheel to get to the front and stomp on home as enthusiastically as a tourist stomps grapes. But unlike using feet to make wine, in Kittel’s case, all that stomping had a very tasty result—and the sight of an emotional Kittel at the end of the stage was something we could all drink in. It marked his 10th stage victory at the Tour, and it saw him zipping up the Green Jersey on day two. Fun fact. Kittel hit a top speed of 69.19kph in the sprint, which if he hadn’t been wearing an Evade, would have most certainly blown his blonde locks back as majestically as a session in the Win Tunnel here at HQ.
Lumpy. It was a good word to sum up the profile of Stage Three, and after the neutral roll out in Verviers, France, it was over the hills we go. Two-hundred kilometers of rollercoaster ups and downs, leading to a short but technical uphill finish. And after all the hills, the thing that really caught everyone’s attention was a dramatic “foot pull” by the current World Champion in the sprint. Just as Sagan began to wind up to launch, he pulled his cleat clear from the pedal and spooled down briefly before—showing that calm agility and ability we all adore—clipping back in and spooling right back up. Using pure Sagan strength, he claimed his eight Tour de France stage win, and the first, and unfortunately (spoiler alert) the last, for this edition.
Which brings us to the adorable elephant in the room. From this point on, Stage Four of the 2017 Tour de France will only ever be remembered for one thing—not the rider who actually won the sprint, but for the ones who didn’t. People will give it names ending in "GATE" and message boards will light up with judges and juries, but there’s really only one conclusion to be made. It’s not right or wrong. It’s not one vs. the other. It’s simply a kick to the guts for any fan of cycling. We call it "the elephant in the room," because it’s uncomfortable to look at, but remember this: the other thing about elephants is that they’re absolutely fantastic and magnificent beasts. They have tough skins and a trunk load of class. We could all stand to be a bit more like elephants. There’s still a whole lot of racing left in the Tour de France, which we may have forgotten in the moment—which is something an elephant would never do.
And with that, we were finally in the mountains for the first of only three summit finishes in this year’s Tour. It was a day of breaks, including a valiant one by Quick-Step’s birthday boy, Philippe Gilbert, as he tried to distance himself on the final climb—the La Planche des Belles Filles. And while this may actually translate to "board of the beautiful girls," Gilbert summed the difficulty of this climb less sweetly with what may be the quote of the day: “It looked much easier on TV.” But still, it was beautiful to watch, even as he got caught. There’s just something about the grimace of a face as it tackles a 20% wall, or the twist to-and-fro of a body as it snakes up a grade that makes us pull faces of our own from the comfort of homes. Gilbert may think it looked easier on TV, but we all felt the strain and effort of every rider we saw slaying that final climb and summiting the mountain.
Five stages down, sixteen to go. Emotions are all over the place. Thrills one minute, disappointment the next. You can call it an emotional roller coaster if you want, but really, it’s just called being a fan of the Tour de France.
After the shouts and murmurs fade, and after the relentless meme-ification of “the squat heard ‘round the world” has finally died down, it all comes to this—the Giro d’Italia is in league of its own when it comes to good old fashioned dramatics. Each stage in this final week was like some wild gesticulation of an Italian cycling tifoso, containing the emotion of the world and signifying, well, everything. One question dominated all as the week began. Could a guy like Dumoulin, whose hopes looked to live or die with the final stage's time trial, hold off three GC contenders and maintain his slim lead, or would he swirl backwards down the mountains like water draining from an alpine sink? As we woke up for the final stage, only two jerseys hung in the balance—the White and the Pink. Gaviria had practically sewn the Maglia Ciclamino jersey on his back the previous week, so that was done, but White and Pink? That’s two-thirds of a Neapolitan ice cream and you can bet we were all screaming for it. We dream of this: a tight race decided on the last day, and the hope that some hero will rise—from a time deficit, a saddle on a mountainside, or even a roadside ditch (sorry)—to take it all.
A bad wheel, a bad meal, or a raw deal—that's all it takes. Fortune dictates that you can lose the Giro d’Italia in the blink of an eye, but flip that fortune over and you can just as easily win. And that’s what keeps us going. All those weeks of pink confetti and Italians yelling from their terraces or from the edges of neck-swiveling switchbacks; all those seconds calculated, with GC leapfrogs and nights spent sweating the time differences—it can all evaporate in the final kilometer on the final stage on the final day of the Giro d’Italia, when one rider defies the odds and grabs it all. Honestly, 3,612 kilometers had never seemed so short.
They’ll say the 2017 Giro was one to remember, and it’ll certainly be hard to forget. We had he first Dutchman to win the GC; the memory of Quick-Step running riot all over the race and claiming the team classification; Fernando Gaviria sprinting like a man possessed in his first Grand Tour; and let’s not forget Bob Jungels sneaking up on that last day to lay claim to the Maglia Bianca, making it two years running as best young rider. And there’s the rub. For as much as it’s the thrill and drama of this year’s hard-fought overall that’s forever branded in our minds, it’s the tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come when our current crop of legends depart. That’s what lifts our spirits, and it’s clear from one Giro to the next, the tifosi will never run short of idols.
Week two of the Giro begins with a Pink Jersey shuffle. It falls from the shoulders of one who's held it for days, and onto another’s whose goal is to fight to hold it until the end. Others are still hungry for it, of course, and their stomachs growl at the chance to taste victory in it. But after Stage Nine, the time gap is significant, and it will be a challenge to pull it back. There is still time—it’s only the start of week two and this is the always unpredictable Giro. Who knows what polémica will occur in the coming days? This is Italy, and mountain stages often come with a side of crazy. While the GC is the only thing that some riders are thinking about, others know on which side their bread is buttered. Throw it in the air and when it lands, it’ll always be “stage win” side up. This week, it is the young ones—and one in particular—who are the opportunists. Brash and bold, audacious and daring, Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria throws these marks of youth into his fire pit and propels himself to a dramatic win on Stage 12. Twenty-two years old and it seems he’s collecting sprint points as easily as postage stamps. Is he the New Hope? The force is obviously strong with this one—so much so that he goes again and wins Stage 13 the very next day, bringing his stage win tally to an impressive four. He pledges to defend the “Maglia Ciclamino” from this point on to the finish, in Milan, and with the mountains looming and nice flat sprints pretty much off the table from this point on, it seems set.
But the week isn’t done for Quick-Step, and we close it out with 24-year-old Bob Jungels deciding that it wasn’t enough to wear the pink jersey for five days, he’d actually quite like to see what a stage win feels like, too. On Stage 15 it comes and in an all-out drag race to the line, he claims his first sprint victory and Giro stage, a feat not seen by a Luxembourgian since 1956. The week draws to a close with podium kisses and champagne showers, and the exuberance of youth romping all over the Giro. And now? The mountains are calling, and experience may yet rule the day.
Like some impromptu game of Italian hot potato, the Maglia Rosa is punted from rider to rider during the first four days of the Giro d’Italia. This isn't unusual—not really—but with three of those riders being Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe, it was starting to look like sweaty jersey swapsies between Specialized-sponsored teams. Right up until Jungels decided he quite liked the hot potato in his hands, that is. The first week of any Grand Tour is nutso. A slow-burn of riders settling in, tamping down nerves day-by-day, and avoiding those dumb, Giro-ending crashes caused, most often, by unbridled exuberance. One jittery misstep can end it all—but week one is also the chance to snag those early wins and make a name for yourself. Riders are as excited as spectators for the show, with the allure of pink flashing before them like some neon sign in Vegas. “Who wants to wear me?” it taunts. “Do you dare to think you can hold on to me?”
The first week, it’s anyone’s guess.
Day one and BOOM! Right out of the Giro gate and young gun, Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), surprises everyone by stealing first and sliding on the Pink Jersey. Twenty-five years old with a victory smile so wide it barely fits in the picture frame. This unbridled joy, this moment of unexpected brilliance—this is what the Giro is all about. And while he does lose the jersey the next day, there’s one thing no-one can take away from him—he will always be the first in pink at the 2017 Giro.
On Stage Three, Quick-Step’s Gaviria pops out at the right time to stomp across the line in a display of pure power, securing not only the victory but also slipping on the Pink Jersey for himself. He'll go on to win another stage two days later, but this will be the only day he dons pink. That's because, here comes Bob Jungels and his five-chapter Jungel Book. And while he may not know a jovial talking or have been raised by wolves, he certainly knows how to run with them, snagging the pink on Stage Four and not letting go until Stage Nine.
But we move on now to week two. What will it hold—more hot potato hijinks with the jersey, or a long stint in pink for someone ready to crush all comers? We're as excited as anyone to find out.
It starts on a cliché Lake Tahoe day, with the sun blaring from the bluest of skies, the lake glistening in its laid-back Californian “look at me” way, and snow sprawled across mountaintops like a lazy blanket. The riders of the Tour of California’s women’s peloton mill about at rider sign-in, waiting to be called up the stairs to make their mark on the board. Shortly after, they're taking their positions in the start corral, and shortly after that, they’re off. One lap of Lake Tahoe. 72.7 miles. They'll have no time to marvel at the glassy water, take in the snow-capped peaks, or stop for a selfie in front of a scene that looks 100% completely Photoshopped. No, they'll be too busy attacking each other, fighting for wheels and breath in the high mountain air. It is, by all accounts, a hot lap. Attacks come fast and furious but the field holds together. Nearing the finish with the road ramping up, one rider attacks, and then another. Opportunists jump to crack the field like a California walnut, before two Boels-Dolmans riders, Anna van der Breggan and Megan Guarnier, leap off the front to attempt to put an end to the pain. At the last corner, on the climb up to the finish, the three-time US National Champ kicks past the Olympic Champ to take the win. Stage One down. She breathes a sigh of relief, stepping off the podium with a stuffed victory bear and wearing the Yellow Jersey.
Day Two misses the memo about clichéd summer days in the Sierras and turns the thermostat down and the wind up. It whips across the lake and has spectators reaching for puffy jackets and beanies. They huddle around invisible fires, shielding each other from the wind, and warming their hands on cups of hot coffee. When the riders show up to sign-in, today, many are wrapped like burritos and will only strip down moments before the start. By the time they return to this start line, several hours later, the sun is out in force and Megan gives up the Yellow Jersey. But Olympic champion Anna van de Breggan is hot on the trail of the GC title, a mere three seconds off the leader. That afternoon, the peloton moves their race-hungry caravan downhill thousands of feet to warmer climates, and spectators break out the shorts and sunscreen, ready for Stage Three in Sacramento.
Three seconds. It’s all that stands between Anna and yellow, and on this, the third day, the Boels-Dolmans power house scramble and drive the train on a mostly tortilla-flat course. In an intermediate sprint, they crank the dial and Anna does the rest. Despite not being known for her sprinting, she nabs second and pulls back within one second of the leader. One thing’s for sure—the final stage is going to cook.
It takes a second to gain a second. For Stage Four, Anna van der Breggan embraces the California lifestyle and it’s “surfs up” as she grabs the wheels of her teammates. They're working for her and only her right now. Two seconds—it’s all she needs to leapfrog past the leader—and although she doesn’t win the sprint, it's enough. The second place has put her one-second in front. Later, as she pulls on the Yellow Jersey on the top step of the podium, securing the 2017 Women’s Tour of California overall, it’s plain to see that every second—both in time and your position in a bike race—counts.
While the win for Anna van der Breggan did end up being dessert—a deliciously sweet end to the Ardennes Classics— Liège-Bastogne-Liège proved that, for Boels-Dolmans, the week was actually more like a choreographed dance routine. Podium step 1-2, step 1-2, step 1-2. Anna van de Breggan and Lizzie Deignan—in the end, it seemed they only wanted to dance with each other. Liège-Bastogne-Liège began like most awkward school dances—a bunch of people, shyly scoping each other out and wondering who’ll make the first move. But everyone knows wallflowers get no action, so it didn’t take long for the pace to pick up. With each climb came another move, another breakdance, and another quickstep, but all were soon absorbed back to the fray. The band—a strong team fielded by Boels-Dolmans—played on as Christine Majerus, Megan Guarnier, and Karol-Ann Canuel kept the tempo high. It was a beat that not everyone could keep up with.
Cliques formed, and when a select group of five drove forward, Van der Breggan and Deignan tapped their toes patiently to this new move. Soon after it was “So you think you can dance” time for the group—now four—and with a glance back from Van der Breggan, and a small nod from Deignan, the Olympic Champion was off. You can talk fancy footwork all you like, but Anna simply throttled and surged from the front with a smooth, watts-charged rhythm. From there, it was pure interpretive dance all the way to the finish, four kilometres later.
The clean sweep for Anna van der Breggan—Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone, Liège-Bastogne-Liège—was more than just a hat trick for one rider. Fun fact: no team has ever put two riders on the podium of every Ardennes race in the 1-2 position every race. And we can only talk the men’s teams here, because until this week, the women’s pro peloton had never had the opportunity to race all three races of the Ardennes Classics. Which just goes to show that, although we all love a good slow dance, there’s nothing better than that moment everyone’s invited on to the dance floor to strut their stuff.
Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege—a veritable three-course meal of single-day races making up the Ardennes Classics menu. This year, for the first time ever, the women of the pro peloton are sitting down at the table, tucking their napkins into the front of their jerseys, and dining like Queens on all three races. And with the first two courses already down and only the dessert of Liege-Bastogne-Liege to be served, it’s plain to see that Boels-Dolmans's Anna van der Breggen has worked up a bit of an appetite. First came Amstel Gold. While the name may suggest a beer-themed appetizer, it’s actually more an expensive caviar of a race: rich, intense, and lumpy, with 17 climbs to pop a little “pain flavour” on your tongue. The Olympic champion, Anna van Breggen, was just 12 years old the last time women lined up for this race in 2003, and on Sunday, she broke away from a group of six—including teammate Lizzie Deignan, who claimed second—to clean everybody’s plates for the win. A Dutch winner on a Dutch team in a Dutch race? Mmmmm, as delicious as a hot, fresh stroopwafel.
The second course, La Flèche Wallonne Feminine, arrived a few days later. Like a favourite dish, the flavours were familiar and comforting to van de Breggen—they tasted like victory. Attacking in almost identical fashion to the year previously, Anna launched herself between the final two climbs, finding herself alone for the final push up the Mur de Huy to win by 16 seconds. Ardennes victory #2 for the Olympic champion (and 2nd again for Lizzie), but even more impressively, the third year in a row that Anna van de Breggen has won this race. With the most wins of any woman in this race ever, she is a true “Queen of the Mur.”
Now all that remains is dessert—Liege-Bastogne-Liege. What this race tastes like, no one in the women’s peloton knows, since it has never before appeared on the Women’s World Tour calendar before. And while we know victory will be sweet for whoever ends up on the top step of the podium, we can’t wait to see who’s hungriest, and who’ll get stuck with the check.
Saying goodbye is never easy, but watching Tom Boonen on Sunday as his dream of a 5th win at Paris-Roubaix slid from view brought a particular lump to the throat. As the kilometres slipped away, a singular thought hit fans of the mighty Belgian: This is the last time. This is the last time we will see him power across the Trench of Arenberg. This is the last time we will witness Tommeke gliding over cobbles at a speed that makes us breathless, his legs moving like liquid, the familiar hunch of his "Forward ever Forward" position on our screens. As he entered the velodrome for the last time—the sprint for victory decided several thrilling minutes before he arrived—we wonder if he’s thinking what we are? That this will be the last sprint of his career. But amidst the sadness—our fairytale ending denied—we can’t help but smile. What a career. What a gift we were given. Tom Boonen has provided us with 15 years of unforgettable racing. His effortless style on the bicycle, the numerous wins and epic battles on the road, his leadership and grace—we can’t help but rise to stand on our desks and declare, “Oh, Captain, my Captain.”
On the stones of the Kwaremont, Philippe Gilbert extricates himself from the tentacles of the group. This move is risky—just over fifty kilometres to go and a whole lot of chances to be sucked back to the hungry peloton. He surges and people cheer, from sidelines and sofas alike. We hold our collective breaths as we watch this man, head down and heart out, gun it for the finish. He is relentless, he is desperate, he is flying.It holds. The frantic chase is a full 29-seconds back when Gilbert approaches the finish, casually steps off, and hoists his bike aloft as though pulling a sword from the very cobblestones he has conquered. We watch as he walks across the line, his smile giddy and broad at what he has just done. It is incredible. In one of those “push all your chips to the centre of the table” gambles, he has snaked the whole pot. Philippe Gilbert has just become the new hero of Flanders.
Like a sweater unraveling, Milan-San Remo begins with a casual tug as the peloton rolls out of Milan. The sweater remains a solid, recognizable form for some time as rows and rows of Italian farmland are methodically ripped from it. As they race toward the tunnel at the top of the Passo del Turchino, these disappearing stitches on the plains of Lombardia are deemed so uneventful they are rarely broadcast. But once the peloton dispatches the Turchino and descends to the coast, everyone knows threads are about to be gripped tightly, ready to be yanked. As helicopters hover along the coastline, we fans are mesmerized as miles and miles of sea-blue thread are pulled from the race. A break of 10 riders plucks away for as long as they can, but it's only a matter of time—they are never more then five minutes out. Back in the peloton, sprinters are readying themselves for one thing: to survive the Cipressa and Poggio. With a puff of acceleration on the Cipressa, riders—some hopeful sprinters included—are blown off the back like Lycra-clad dandelion in a stiff, Mediterranean breeze. The unraveling begins in earnest. On our sofas, barstools, and beds, our hearts began crawling up our throats.
When Sagan attacks on the Poggio, it is with such violent strength it can only be read as a statement to those behind. It says: “Taste the rainbow.” Rainbow tastes like lactic acid. Two men survive this assault and join him at the front. While their hearts must surely be beating through their eyelids, our hearts are now stuck firmly in our mouths. After negotiating with those iconic hairpins on the descent, they come off the Poggio as one. The frenzy is palpable. They will not be caught. This will be our podium.
The sprint stops hearts. A finish like this—with three elite riders locked in a battle royal for the line—is everything we dream the destruction of a fine Italian sweater to be. It is beautiful obliteration. As they propel and throw and beg and urge their bodies and bikes towards the finish line on via Roma, it is obvious they are giving us everything they have. There is no more juice to be squeezed from these legs. No more air in these lungs. While our hopes were with Sagan and Alaphilippe, we are anything but heartbroken with the outcome. A finish like this? It’s what cycling dreams are made of.
In its short 10-year history, Strade Bianche has cemented itself as one of the most illustrious, picturesque one-day races on the World Tour calendar. From the white gravel of its namesake to its finish in the medieval UNESCO World Heritage site of Siena, the gran fondo turned burgeoning Spring Classic serves up everything you could want in a cycling monument on a gilded Italian platter. And this year, the heavens opened to give the typically sun-drenched, white Tuscan strade a flavour reminiscent of the northern races to come. Of course, we were routing for our protagonists, Zdeněk Štybar and Peter Sagan, the former of which narrowly missed a repeat visit to the podium's top step, but the sheer beauty of this undulating Classic-in-the-making was enough to stoke the fire of our passions. More simply, though, it was a beautiful day of bike racing.
If we were to define 2016 in a word, it would be "transition." We saw old friends go in new directions, crowns get heavier, legacies meet the final page of their stories, and the dawning of new eras. And while it would be easy to stay there in the past, time waits for no one, so neither should we. Walk through the thresholds of Quick-Step–Floors, Boels-Dolmans, and Bora-Hansgrohe's Team Camps with us and witness what 2017 has in store