For the final of five pieces picking highlights from 2014, it’s been hard to choose an episode to celebrate, remember and review. It’s not for the lack of racing, there have been plenty of action-packed races and that’s just the ones we can see on TV, a lot of the sport still takes place beyond the reach of video. Rather it’s choosing which event to include.
Here is a look back at the E3 Harelbeke. Peter Sagan might do well to replay his win because it showed him triumphant, forcing the attacks and outsmarting breakaway companions, including an OPQS tandem. A far cry from his hesitant summer and invisible autumn.
The footage above shows Geraint Thomas attacking over the Kwaremont with 33km to go. OPQS were having a very strong spring campaign with their black and blue jerseys visible and any attack was always going to be accompanied and Peter Sagan jumped on for the ride. Thomas’s efforts were impressive, a long pull with little regard for the consequences. Behind Cancellara tried to chase and had help from others but nobody wanted to work too much for fear of gifting OPQS a fresh chance. Sep Vanmarcke, Luca Paolini and others were visible but could not make it across and the four riders pulled away.
In the finish Vandenbergh tried to exploit a traffic island to slip away from the group but it wasn’t as good as Jimmy Engoulvent’s dive in the Four Days of Dunkirk. Thomas couldn’t attack because he’d be countered by the OPQS pairing and so the inevitable happened with Peter Sagan taking the four man sprint. The certainty of Sagan’s win grew the closer the finish got but it only apparent once he came past Thomas in the final seconds.
Why the highlight?
An lively race where repeated attacks from the big names forced selections. The four rider move went clear with over 30km to go and provided plenty of suspense, especially with the OPQS tandem and more riders from the same team marking the chase behind. It was satisfying to see an attacking move go, leaving those who missed it to rue their hesitancy. The selective course and the big crowds make the E3 Harelbeke an underrated race.
A race in need of a better name
Named after a local express road, the E3 Harelbeke doesn’t register among the greats, more so since the E3 road has been renamed the A14. But it’s been promoted to the World Tour in recent years and the varied course has made it a perfect pre-Ronde race.
Sagan seemed to go off the boil just around the time his contract with Tinkoff-Saxo was signed. He will need to win early in 2015 in order to impose himself on the team and to avoid barbed tweets from Oleg Tinkov. Alberto Contador is going to command a lot of the team’s resources, not to mention Rafał Majka and others. But what of the others in the move to Harelbeke? Geraint Thomas seems so versatile, as if – with some luck – he could win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Nice. But surely he has to specialise at some point to get a win within his reach? The giant Stijn Vandenbergh had a great spring campaign, will he go into 2015 with stronger personal ambitions? Niki Terpstra won Paris-Roubaix and the Dwars door Vlaanderen too, the Amsterdamer will find it hard to repeat this, yet alone better it.
There were more highlights but it’s too easy to wallow in retrospection so that’s enough of the highlights of 2014 pieces and after Part I, I promised not to raid the Tour de France for more pieces. The piece above had two rivals for the last slot
- The Giro stage to Montecopiolo was exciting thanks to the attacks of Pierre Rolland and Julian Arredondo on Monte Carpegna, Rolland in particular blowing up spectacularly in the final moments. But with hindsight the fun’s marred by Diego Ulissi’s win and his subsequent positive test. He’s yet to be convicted of anything but it’s precisely this delay that means a Damocles-like question mark hovers over the stage
- On surer ground there was Giant-Shimano’s Thierry Hupond’s stage win in the Four Days of Dunkerque. “Who?” some might ask and that’s the point. The Frenchman took his first win since turning pro in 2008 and it was the story of a little guy eventually getting a shot at victory. “I’d forgotten how to do it, I didn’t dare let go of the bars” he said about his victory salute. A joke of course given his job normally involves riding with the hands of the bars in order to collect bottles, clothing and so on
If you have other moments, leave them in the comments below.