Last year I nominated a dozen riders to watch for 2014 from promising neo-pros to established world champions. It’s been a mixed year with success, surprise and some misfortune. What happened?
Tony Martin was the first listed. The story was one of time trial domination while the question was whether could he transfer his power to other events, notably road racing. Surely he could enjoy some alternative wins and get a chance to practice a victory salute in front of the crowds rather than waiting in the hot seat to see if he’d won? 2014 proved to be a mixed year as he did win Stage 10 of the Tour de France with a convincing show of force. At first he rode with Alessandro de Marchi and then went solo. We knew he could do something like this but he picked a medium mountain stage of the Tour, a day when many wanted to escape for the day. If it was triumphant, he then spent the next day off the front again in the service of his team and later winning the time trial stage. But 2014 wasn’t a vintage one for time trialling, you’ll remember he was beaten in the World Championships by Bradley Wiggins but he had other losses too including the long stage of the Tour de Romandie.
For Taylor Phinney it was a question of whether he could breakthrough during his fourth year as a pro. Long tipped for the top, although upwardly mobile his rise had slowed in 2013. This season started well with a win in the Dubai Tour, a new race and part of the sunny races that help part of the peloton prepare for the spring classics. Seventh place in the grim conditions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad boded well for the cobbled classics but it was to be his best result of the campaign. After a break he resumed racing at the Tour of California and took third in the time trial and then a solo win to Santa Barbara using his time trial skills to power away. Everything was building to the Tour de France where he hoped to make BMC’s team but disaster struck in the US national championships where he left the race with a broken leg, his season over before he could get a shot at the year’s big goal. Today the rehab work continues.
Could Romain Bardet continue his progress? Bernard Hinault might want every Frenchman to break though immediately with big wins but this still says more about Hinault than the sport in general. Bardet is on a long term plan to improve and 2014 has demonstrated this. It’s been a mixed year for him, just one win but some very consistent results. French focus might have been on Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot in the Tour de France but Bardet’s sixth in the Tour de France is huge for a 23 year old and even speculating about Alberto Contador and Chris Froome staying upright would probably still have him in the top-10. But look at the whole season, 4th overall in the Volta a Catalunya, 10th in Liège, 5th in the Dauphiné and he kept going after the Tour de France too, with 2nd overall in the Tour de l’Ain, 5th in the GP Montréal and 11th in Il Lombardia. 2014 hasn’t seen him strike gold but all these results impress for his age.
Talking about impressive results for a young rider I wondered what Michał Kwiatkowski would do for an encore after an impressive 2013. He started the year well, deposing Peter Sagan in Siena to win the Strade Bianche was symbolic of his ascendency. He was 5th,
5th 3rd and 3rd in the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne And Liège. As you’ll know summer was more of a miss with a DNF in the Dauphiné and the Tour not working to plan but he recovered via a series of results which culminated in the World Championship road race win. A consensus seems to be forming that he can excel everywhere except the high mountains.
This was going to be Rui Costa‘s big year. The Onion Grower of Póvoa de Varzim wore the rainbow jersey and was planning a tilt at the overall classification of the Tour de France, even opting for a one year contract with Lampre-Merida so that he could sign with
Fernando Alonso a new team once his value has risen further. But things didn’t quite work out. In the early season he was a regular runner-up but couldn’t get a win. It all came together at the Tour de Suisse where he won for the third year in a row, riding away to win the final stage and the race overall. The big goal of the Tour de France Was missed and he quit the race in the Pyrenees to bounce back with more results in the late season including a third place in the Tour of Lombardy. He’s been so consistent that surely he’s going to land something big in 2015?
Finally there’s Bradley Wiggins. I wrote “it’s up to Team Sky to help him find motivation again while avoiding a clash with Chris Froome” and this proved a public affair with the soap opera over whether he’d ride the Tour de France or not. He started the year a bit like a child in a toy store, pointing at a race saying “I want that” only to look at another race and want that too but things settled down once the objectives were agreed with his team. Ninth in Paris-Roubaix was impressive, seeing a Tour winner on the cobbles is rarity these days but Wiggins is an unusual Tour winner. He was at his best in the Tour of California with a stage win and treating the mountain stage like a training exercise as he set a tempo up to Mountain High, the picture of bio-mechanical precision with legs turning and the upper body frozen despite the intensity of the effort. A maelstrom of form, Froome’s biography, illness and injury on Team Sky and a sofa interview with the BBC prompted a media frenzy over Wiggins’s place in Sky’s Tour team, it grabbed the headlines but has since been forgotten about. The season ended with a rainbow jersey in Ponferrada, a more enduring memory. A solid season on the road and arguably Sky’s best rider this year. He’s got that celebrity X-factor that’s bigger than the sport but remains an elusive character, often very private and often so public.
Tomorrow I’ll cover the neo-pros.