FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — With 2018 around the corner, only a few uncertainties remain for next season’s grand tours and their star competitors. Sky’s Chris Froome decided his program will include both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. The rest are following as the winter days and team camps pass.
The Santos Tour Down Under starts the 2018 WorldTour season on January 16. Right before that, the Vuelta a España will unveil its route on January 13. And along the way, we will see the confirmation of schedules for riders like Mikel Landa (Movistar in 2018) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).
Perhaps this is the greatest suspense of the off-season, with photographs circulating of riders already in their new team colors trickling out — Marcel Kittel and Ian Boswell in Katusha’s red — and the grand tour routes reported days or weeks before the actual presentations. Giro director Mauro Vegni said last month, “By now, you all know everything because it seems that it’s a race among the media outlets to publish the route in advance, be we still have something important to unveil with regards to the participants.”
The certainties outweigh the unknowns. Sicilian Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain-Merida has his eyes on the Tour and wants to prove the 2014 victory was not simply due to Froome abandoning in the first week. He would love to return to the Giro, where he supported Ivan Basso before going on to win titles in 2013 and 2016 and placing third behind Dumoulin this May, but pride drives him.
The alleged decision of organizer RCS Sport to cater to Froome reportedly upset Nibali. Also, those whispers about the 2014 Tour cannot be ignored. These reasons could affect Nibali’s decision to skip his home race and go abroad to the Tour.
It was not an easy decision to make. “Sicily is back on the Giro route next year, a second year in a row, which has never happened,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport during the Giro presentation last month. “And then the goal of winning the Giro three times is enticing, there are not many who’ve done so.”
Nibali and his team will meet this this week in Hvar, Croatia, where the 2018 plan will be put together.
Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) will be among the star riders heading directly to the Tour on July 7 in Vendée. At BMC Racing’s camp in Denia, Spain, Porte confirmed his plan with support coming from American Tejay van Garderen. Porte, in the form of his life, crashed this summer on the wet downhill heading to Chambéry during stage 9 and had to exit the race. It was “hard to take” for Porte but he said he is “motivated even more for next year.”
Quintana, winner of the 2014 Giro and the 2016 Vuelta, will try to take care of unfinished business in the Tour. He finished second twice and third once behind Froome. This year, he fell short in his Giro-Tour double by placing second behind Dumoulin in the Giro and 12th in the Tour. Quintana said last week he will focus on the Tour in 2018:
[twitter url=”https://twitter.com/NairoQuinCo/status/938433419587063809″ align=”center”]
The Tour de France could be more open than before, with Froome trying for a slice of history. He will race the Giro after winning both the Tour and Vuelta in 2017. He would be only the third rider ever to win three consecutive grand tours if he succeeds at winning in Italy. After that, he’ll aim for a fifth Tour title. Rivals and teammates have taken note.
Sky’s Geraint Thomas will skip the Giro and race the Tour in support of Froome, but also as a serious plan B. He will focus on the Vuelta later in the summer. “Obviously Froomey will still be the leader going into it, but it might be more of a chance for me to have more of a go myself,” Thomas told BBC Wales regarding the Tour. “The Vuelta after that could be a potential race for me to go into in the full team leader role.”
Added Dumoulin at the Giro presentation: “Will [Froome] be worn down in the Tour? I think he showed an even better form in the Vuelta this summer than in the Tour, so you never know with him. But I don’t look to other riders for making a decision about any kind of race.”
Dumoulin and Spaniard Mikel Landa remain the big uncertainties heading toward the new season. Dumoulin will announce his grand tour plan at the team’s presentation on January 4. La Gazzetta dello Sport, which has links to Giro organizer RCS Sport, claims he will return to defend his title. Those close to the Dutchman, however, say his eyes are only on the Tour in 2018.
Landa, according to one source, will lead Movistar in the Tour against his former team leader Froome. The Spanish WorldTour squad will send Alejandro Valverde to the Giro and a super-team led by Landa, Quintana, and Valverde to the Tour. That remains to be confirmed at the team’s presentation Thursday.
Italian Fabio Aru will lead his new UAE Emirates team at the Giro and will try to win his home race after placing third and second and canceling his plans to race earlier this year after a last-minute crash. He went to the Tour instead and won a stage, held the yellow jersey, and placed fifth. His new teammate Dan Martin will take aim at the 2018 Tour.
Australian Rohan Dennis confirmed he will continue his four-year plan to transform from a time trial rider into a grand tour contender. He will have BMC Racing’s support for the overall at the Giro.
“I was inspired how Dumoulin raced the Giro,” Dennis said. “He raced physically and mentally, and he stayed positive no matter what happened in the stage. It’s possible for the type of rider I am to be good in the grand tours.”