I’m going to pick five moments from 2014. They are a personal choice. With any list you often omit more than you include but I’ll explain each moment. They’re presented in no particular order.
First up is the Critérium du Dauphiné, we got the duel between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome but it was Andrew Talansky who won with the suspense lasting until the last minute of the last day.
The Dauphiné is held at the start of summer and features a week of pre-Tour de France racing on Alpine terrain. What’s not to like?
The race started with a fun prologue in Lyon including a cycle path tunnel before a sharp hill, a slippery descent and then a flat run by the river to the finish. Bob Jungels led until Alberto Contador set the best time and then Chris Froome bettered it. Their styles contrasted, the Spaniard dancing up the hill and shuffling in the saddle, the Brit tucked tight into an aero pose. “Anything you can do, I can do too” would become the meme of the week and it didn’t take long for a showdown.
The race used the Col du Béal in the central Auvergne region, a long climb with some steep sections and just enough to smash the field. Team Sky set the pace and the scene looked familiar. Only Richie Porte cracked and Froome quickly found himself alone. Suddenly “offence was the best form of defence” and Froome launched a series of accelerations, a flurry of limbs, the aggression visible.
The week went with some surprises, the sprint stage won with a long, seated effort from Nikias Arndt and then two stage wins for Katusha who then blew a third after Lieuwe Westra caught them on the road above the Emosson Damn. Jan Bakelants won a stage notable for Chris Froome’s late crash.
The final stage was across a series of smaller climbs and a maxi-break went away from the start containing Andrew Talansky. The Garmin-Sharp rider had ridden well all week and was third on GC in the morning and, with help from Ryder Hesjedal, powered the breakaway to the finish. Behind Alberto Contador used a traffic island to ride away from Team Sky, diving across the road to slip them but the Spaniard’s effort couldn’t close the gap and Talansky won the race outright.
Given looking back at the year is an exercise in hindsight, reviewing the Dauphiné again is interesting. Vincenzo Nibali was off the pace. He did set the fastest time uphill in the opening time trial but on the Col du Béal he was dropped and certainly didn’t look like the future Tour winner. But it was all to plan, apparently. Afterwards coach Paolo Slongo took the Sicilian to the Alps after the race and they worked on efforts to mimic responding to Froome’s attacks. If Contador and Froome had stayed upright in the Tour could their efforts in the Dauphiné have cost them while Nibali’s form was ascendant?
Sky looked ragged. They’d had a poor spring classics campaign and were leaderless in the Giro after Richie Porte sat it out. The summer was supposed to see them in control and the Dauphiné was a perfect tune up. Only they looked vulnerable, Froome didn’t have the high altitude support we expected.
Looking back means we might look forward too. After Wiggins and Froome racing the Dauphiné to win has been the accepted path to the Tour de France but Nibali’s slower start might see riders easing back in June, either doing the Dauphiné for training or missing it altogether.
Why the Highlight?
Each highlight ends with an explanation but hopefully this doesn’t need much. What you saw was what you got, a week of good racing with the big names in action. It’s easy to forget what happened, to remember Talansky won but Contador tried several attacks in the week and was putting the whole Sky team on the rack. Does they still make race DVDs? If they did this would be the one to buy.