Hold up, this isn’t a preview? How do I start one of these without the classic “Today’s Recap”? I for one am at a loss…
However, I’m not at as much of a loss though as the cyclists affected by the now infamous Haughey Curse this year. If you aren’t aware and haven’t kept up with my previews this season, there have been numerous riders who I have tipped not even for greatness, but to at least put on a good show, only for them to be struck down by some misfortune; whether that be a crash, mechanical or some other bizarre incident.
The origins of the #HaugheyCurse are somewhat unknown. Some suspect it coincided with the invention of the wheel while most notable researches in the field all point to the 2016 edition of Strade Bianche and the ghastly time Salvatore Puccio had after I’d marked him down as a wildcard for the race. Ironically, the only break the Italian could catch that day was the move he found himself in with around 50km to go prior to falling foul to two punctures that saw him return to the peloton, before another mechanical completely ruined his race.
The 2018 season has been no different so what follows is a tongue-in-cheek review of the year, highlighting the #HaugheyCurse in all its, erm, glory.
A fateful fortnight in March
Cast your mind back to the beginning of the year. Almost two months of racing had past and with the riders returning from blocks in Australia or the Middle East, most were now back in Europe with a focus on the upcoming classics or stage races. Oddly enough, there had been no real ill-effects from my blog picks so far; maybe this year things were going to change? Ha!
March 11th – Stage 8 Paris Nice
Going into that afternoon I was sitting with a 40/1 ticket for Ion Izagirre to win GC at Paris Nice and the Bahrain man was only 11 seconds behind race leader Yates going into that final stage. Furthermore, my only stage punt for that day was Fuglsang who was far enough down in the GC picture to be given some wiggle room. The Dane made the morning break, if you can really call it that given the crazy tempo due to the short stage, along with a few other riders. It was a strong move that would ultimately fight it out for the day’s honours but obviously Fuglsang wouldn’t be there because the former mountain biker crashed on one of the descents. Something he hadn’t done for a long time before that day! Oh well, at least demon-descender Ion Izagirre can put some pressure on Yates on these wet descents? Well he did, and he even had a gap over the Bury man coming off the last climb. Yet inexplicably, he loses the front wheel going round a hairpin and that’s the dream shattered. Two riders you wouldn’t expect to fall on descents doing exactly that on the same day – some proper #HaugheyCurse stuff that.
March 17th – Milan Sanremo
You know when you see a rider in the shape of his life and are incredibly confident about his chances for a race? Well, that was my view of Andre Greipel before MSR this year. The Gorilla, as he is affectionately known, was climbing better than ever in the weeks leading up to the race and putting out some very strong sprint numbers. Lotto Soudal even brought a team that was fully focussed around him – no Wellens or Benoot as late attack options. It seemed they were as equally confident. Things went pear-shaped though when the German found himself on the deck in one of the early crashes. However, he’s a tough rider and a little bit of road rash wasn’t going to stop him. What was going to stop him though was a crash on the descent of the Poggio that completely wiped out any chance he had. A real shame as this was arguably his best but last chance of taking the title. I feel somewhat accountable for that…
March 25th – Stage 7 Volta a Catalunya
I thought the #HaugheyCurse had been somewhat abated the previous day after I pulled a remarkable/ridiculous Max Schachmann win out of the bag. Things seemed to be going really well too on the traditional finish in Barcelona with the racing being as fast past and selective as I thought it would be. I had named two riders to watch for that day Jungels and Soler, both of whom were active off the front of the race in the closing laps. It is the former though who the curse affected the most. Jungels had managed to escape his breakers and push on to form a reasonable gap over them with only 1 and a bit laps to go before disaster struck and a puncture forced him to wait up, consequently slipping back to the peloton. Not the worst in terms of injuries etc, but the Quick Step rider was definitely in a winning position. Although given how the rest of their season went, they probably didn’t lose sleep over that missed chance!
The potential career defining win
Things calmed down a bit once again after that point, thankfully, but the curse was soon to come back again, albeit in a slightly different form. Now I’m including the following one just because of how bizarre that whole day was and knowing that there were several of you with the same ticket as me.
May 12th – Giro d’Italia Stage 8
A day for the break? It should have been but this was the 2018 Giro and it wasn’t like any other Giro that I can remember. Normally the trip round Italy is pretty relaxed in the sense that the GC riders are happy for teams to get up the road and contest the stage win. However, Mitchelton Scott had decided to do things differently this year and chase a load of moves down. Stage 8 seemed to be the day that they were finally happy to let things go and I managed to have Bouwman make the break of the day as one of my lottery picks. The gap increased to the peloton and it looked as if they would make it to fight out the stage win comfortably until the most peculiar series of events unfolded behind and thwarted that opportunity…
Firstly, a bored Wellens and Hansen decided to launch an attack from the peloton, forcing them to chase, only for the Lotto Soudal duo to go and hide in a car park and rejoin the back of the pack. That saw the gap drop quite a bit but then Katusha Alpecin decided they wanted in on the action for some reason and chase at the head of the peloton. I’m a big fan of a certain #GoOnCalves but it wasn’t really the time and place for that! That saw the gap tumble even more and it was certainly within a catch-able margin, it all depended on the attitude of the GC teams. Of course, their mind was made up not moments later when the heavens opened so in the interest of safety and reverting back to their new-found Giro-type, Mitchelton upped the pace. Froome fell going uphill, riders were slipping out everywhere, a truly weird stage to watch. Poor Bouwman was the strongest of the break and tried desperately to hold on but he was caught with around 2kms to go. There is nothing more to say about that and the unusual turn events, they were obviously caused by a higher power a.k.a the #HaugheyCurse.
The season-long curse
The #HaugheyCurse likes to spread equality throughout the ranks of pro cycling so the women’s peloton don’t get away with a free pass. No rider knows this more than late comer to the sport Lucy Kennedy.
After watching the early season races in January I was super impressed with the Mitchelton rider’s climbing ability and she went on to impress many more with a 5th place in Strade which was followed by a 9th at Binda. People seemed to take her talent quite seriously then. Unfortunately for Lucy, the Curse seems to affect people when they least expect it and when the form is good. Leading into the Ardennes week, the Aussie was going to be given some chances to race aggressively in what was a strong Mitchelton line-up with Spratt and van Vleuten. However, a crash in Amstel completely scuppered that and put her out of action for a while.
Eager to return to racing, Kennedy reset her goals and switched focus to being back and firing for what was going to be a very tough Giro Rosa, a route that had some proper mountains where she could test herself against the very best (mainly her teammates). Yet, she didn’t make the mountains after crashing, albeit finishing, on stage 3 of the race, before abandoning the next morning.
I don’t think I’ve ever “cursed” a rider so much in one season and that’s why it was so nice to see that during the Worlds she did exactly what I thought might happen, delivering a climbing show and putting some of the worlds best into the hurt locker. Hopefully 2019 will be crash free!
*BONUS* The Bizarre
July 22nd – Tour de France Stage 15
A day that was definitely for the break, I had named four lottery picks for that afternoon’s action. As always when deciding on the picks I look at various factors but I more often than not like to choose more of a “fun” rider from a slightly lesser known team. The majority of the time they get beaten if they make the break but their teams are more likely to try to get someone up the road. However this time, Élie Gesbert got beaten, but in a different way than expected…
It’s safe to say that Gesbert decided to stay in the peloton that day.
The “why I named 4 riders” curse
4th August – San Sebastian
In somewhat of a brash move for my San Sebastian preview, I only named 4 riders in the whole thing who I thought had a chance of winning the race: Alaphilippe, Roglic, Landa and Bernal. So it was almost a given that with 18km to go they were all still in contention but that wouldn’t be the case for much longer…
A slight lapse of concentration from Ben King saw him swerve in the road and cause a massive pile-up, taking out 3 of the 4 picks. Nothing much that could be done, it is just one of those unlucky racing incidents.
However, it is more than coincidental that two of the main casualties were Bernal and Landa, with Roglic also abandoning the race but with less severe injuries. On the flip side though, the only rider named to survive the crash went on to win the race so I guess there’s that!
With the season drawing to a close and the Curse finally seeming to have stopped early for its winter break, things were looking to be on the up. The Italian one-day racing was coming thick and fast with Lombardia on the horizon and riders were honing their form for the big one.
6th October – Giro dell’Emilia
A very active and tough edition of the race saw the peloton drastically whittled down during the local finishing circuit. Up ahead, mid-race breaker De Marchi was putting on a show but with his gap never increasing to a crazy advantage, there was always a chance those behind could catch him. Step up one of my picks for the day – Gianluca Brambilla. The Italian had looked lively after a strong end to the Vuelta and was consistently climbing near the head of the peloton on the finish climb of San Luca. On the final lap he attacked over the top of the climb, escaping on the descent with Mohoric in a bid to catch De Marchi. We were treated to some crazy descending form the duo and they had reduced the gap down to around 20 seconds – one that was certainly bridge-able on the tough San Luca climb. However, disaster struck for Brambilla just as they made their turn onto the ascent as he had suffered a puncture (probably from all of his fancy drain hopping descending). So miffed at the #HaugheyCurse and a race that he would have won, he didn’t even bother to complete the remaining 2kms and just quit the race then and there. Nothing beats a classic mechanical mishap!
So that’s the end of this year’s #HaugheyCurse review. There are definitely many more incidents that happened throughout the season but these are the ones that stood out for me/that I could remember. I wonder who will be affected next year?
It isn’t all doom and gloom though for riders mentioned in my blog though as plenty, well, a few, have actually went on to win the race or at least play a very active part in the outcome.
Special mention must go to my Flanders duo of van der Breggen and Terpstra who both managed win Ronde. See, it can be done!
So here they are doing their special “we avoided the #HaugheyCurse dance”…
Hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly more trivial take on the 2018 season rather than the usual “Best of” lists you see. I might, and might is the key word here, do an under rated/under the radar rides of the year at some point. Until then, thanks as always for reading.
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.