The best of 2018: The Cycling Podcast’s Daniel Friebe picks his top moments of the season

Daniel Friebe is a busy man. Not only is he a member of The Cycling Podcast team – alongside fellow journalists Richard Moore and Lionel Birnie – he’s also a regular contributor to ProCycling and part of the ITV team for the Tour de France.

He’s been a member of the cycling press pack for the last two decades and has been at every Tour de France since 2001.

Not only that but he’s also written a number of books on the sport including a highly-recommended biography on Eddy Merckx (titled Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal) and two volumes looking at cycling’s greatest climbs.

Allez! Allez! CC caught up with him recently to discuss his stand-out moments from 2018…

World Championships live up to hype as evergreen Valverde triumphs

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“The men’s road race was one of the best races of the season, certainly one of the most exciting.

“There was a lot of hype about the course and it could have easily have been an anti-climax because of that but it lived up its billing.

“There were a lot of teams that rode brilliant races – the French team, even the Italian team although Nibali didn’t really come through.

“The Italians had a clear leader and a clear plan and it has become easier for them over the years because they’re not as strong. The problems used to come when they had four or five good options.

“The French I thought got it slightly wrong but only with hindsight – the batting order was probably Pinot to Bardet to Alaphilippe but that didn’t work out on the day ultimately but you couldn’t fault them until the top of the final climb.

“I don’t think Valverde should change people’s opinion of him because we still don’t have that vital piece of information that would allow us to make an informed call on whether he is likely to be clean or not now.

“If you were a Valverde fan before then you’re probably still going to be a fan now. If you weren’t before then you won’t be now.

“Some people may draw comfort from the level of admiration from the other riders towards Valverde and might think that if the other riders hold him in such high esteem then that must be a sign they respect him and think he’s clean.

“But I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think riders base their opinions on personal interactions with colleagues and he’s a very personable guy and that was reacted in the way people reacted to him.

“I would say that for a long time now, it’s difficult to get a feel for what’s going on in the peloton now because there’s so few positive tests.

“The positive tests and the doping cases used to be the biggest source of information for what was going on.

“You used to be able to form quite a good overview of what people were taking, how they were taking and when they were taking. 

“But because the scandals and positives tests have dried up you’re guessing really and you don’t really know.

“It’s difficult to know what to make of Valverde at 37 who seems to be as strong as he was back then and he’s never really been rehabilitated in the public’s eyes because he’s completely unrepentant.

“He doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence with the way he answers questions about Operación Puerto and doping in general.

“This year’s course was a really good advert for more difficult courses because they’ve not had that many over the last 15 years.

“A lot of people feared it would be quite a sterile race until the last 15kms because it was so hard but in fact from 50km to go all of the major, major names in the sport were involved whether they were getting dropped off the back or they were moving to the front.

“That’s pretty rare because in most of the races on the calendar most of the big-hitters don’t come to the fore until the last 15kms.”

Nibali makes it a perfect afternoon on the Italian Riviera with Milan-San Remo win

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“Of the one-day races, Milan-San Remo is one where you either love it or you hate it and some people think it’s too predictable.

“But this illustrated perfectly why people love it. It turns on such fine margins and for a Nibali attack to stick so many things had to come together and there were so many moments in the 10-15 minutes that he was away that someone could have gone to the front and that would have been that.

“It was the perfect Milan-San Remo really with an Italian win, and one at the end of his career really, kind of completing his palmares.

“I’m not sure a fading force would be the right way to describe him but in major tours I doubt he’ll ever win one again because his highest level is definitely a rung below what we saw from Geraint Thomas at the Tour and a rung below Froome’s best plus you’ve got emerging talents like Tom Dumoulin who is getting batter and better.

“Possibly he could target the Vuelta but it would have to be next year with a weak field and he got a free hit at it but that’s probably not going to happen.

“That leaves one day races and the Classics. You’d think he has a Liege in him; I don’t know if he’s missed his one chance to win a World Championship this year because I’m not sure Yorkshire is difficult enough.

“His attitude disappoint me at the Vuelta more than anything. He was snappy and petulant and didn’t want to talk to any journalists because he had his crash at the Tour and he wasn’t happy with the way things were going.

“He cut a bit of a frustrated figure. And he talked himself out of the Worlds before he even got there and in the end he did ride and make a decent fist of it.”

Froome defies the odds with super surge to snatch pink at the Giro

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“The stand-out day in Grand Tours was Chris Froome which was almost surreal because we’ve not really seen anything like that for quite a long time yet there was a certain inevitability about it in that Froome was the best rider in the race and it was puzzling hat he’d not gone better until that point.

“You just thought that he was going to do it and then to do it in the manner he did over one of the televisually most spectacular climbs in professional cycling was pretty amazing.

“The more I think about that day the more I think you could extract the logic out of that performance.

“It made sense because you looked at how tiring the Giro had been and it came down to hand-to-hand combat. That’s why the time gaps were so big.

“It was still a bold strategy from Team Sky but there was a lot of luck involved in the sense that if you talked to them what happened to Simon Yates was logical because they thought he’d put in too many efforts in the two-and-a-half weeks before that.

“They formulated a plan to finally unhinge him on the first half of the Finestre. Even without them putting that pressure on he might have capitulated because he was on his last legs.

“It took a bit of a perfect storm for it to come off. It took a lot of courage from Froome as well to go from that far out.

“I know we’ve seen some spectacular riding in grand tours over the last few years but that is pretty unprecedented.

“Sky really did force it so fair play to them.”

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