14 Predictions for 2014

Who knows what 2014 will bring? There are some signs but it’s often the unexpected events that delight and intrigue. Here are some extrapolations and wild guesses for the year ahead.

Chris Froome will win the Tour de France. An obvious one but telling as it’s the fundamental question in the sport and reflects the Tour’s dominance of the calendar. As for Froome, yes… but only if all goes well. A lot can happen between now and July and even during the three weeks. One slip, one injury and it all changes.

The same old same old for Tommeke?

Tom Boonen will be back to form for the classics. He seems to alternate between years of success and then bad luck. So after a rotten 2013 he should bounce back. Now 33 his performance can’t get much better but if he can recover his level in 2012 he’ll be ready to face the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan… although he’s got competition in his team from the likes of Zdenek Stybar.

Thomas Voecker can supply more animation than Disney but can Europcar cope with promotion?

Europcar will struggle in the World Tour. The French team were by far the best in the Pro Conti ranks this year but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to move up. The World Tour means quality and quantity, a much higher level of competition and crucially, a lot more days of racing. The team has the UCI-minimum of 25 riders which means coping with simultaneous races and doing three grand tours is a stretch, all whilst the majority of the team really want to race the Tour de France. There are some good riders but management will have to approach 2014 in a very different way to cope with the change.

Fernando Alonso’s new team might turn out to be an old team. An outsider with a lot of new money – reportedly from Gulf airline Etihad – but so far all the talk is about hiring Chechu Rubiera and Paolo Bettini, two names from the old school. If this keeps up the new team will resemble an old team rather than a fresh approach. We’ll see, will they try anything different like basing all the riders in one place? Or is this going to be a copy of the old model, only this time with petrodollars and consequent wage inflation in the peloton?

Points will matter: UCI points are the sporting version of Bitcoin, soaring and crashing in value. By the end of 2012 UCI points were valuable, so much so that riders were blaming their lack of points for the lack of a contract, in some cases in ignorance of the way the team ranking and “sporting value” system actually works. But this year there were 18 teams applying for 18 places so points didn’t matter. But if one more team wants to apply for a spot in 2015 – Hola Señor Alonso – then the other teams sitting near the relegation zone will have to start playing ranking points chess.

“Your name here”

Orica-Greenedge will get a co-sponsor. Orica-“your name here” and the Australian team surely deserves a second sponsor. As wealthy as Gerry Ryan might be there’s value to be had in linking up with this team which is improving and capable of big publicity… and not just from blocked buses.

BMC get their act together. You know the story: pots of money but a poor yield. The US-Swiss team has at times resembled a country club where wealthy folk waste time rather than a band of brothers ready to storm a race. But much of this has been about luck and perception, they had so many second and third places in 2013 that only a few lucky breaks are needed to improve; for example just how often does Sylvain Chavanel win bunch sprints… to deny Philippe Gilbert? As turnaround stories go this could be one of the easiest to achieve. People say performance director Allan Peiper is shaking things up and new coach Marco Pinotti should help riders perform better.

MTN-Qhubeka will ride the Giro. That’s 99% certain and much will be made about the first African team – don’t mention Barloworld – and this is notable for the sport and global business as a whole. But this story now seems baked in to the mix. Perhaps the next test will be whether the Giro squad is composed of a majority of African riders or instead relies on the base of Germans in the squad?

Goodbye Katusha? A bit of a wild idea but “the Russian global cycling project” hasn’t worked out too well so why does the team exist? The team’s Russians are often invisible or worse, rumbled for doping, and it’s Joaquim Rodriguez who gives the team so many wins and ranking points. No other team is so dependent on one rider. Team patron Igor Makarov sold his Itera business this year; he has the cash to fund the team personally but are Gazprom and other Russian agencies interested, especially if Rodriguez moves team? Quitting is probably too much but its owners might order a review, although the team has changed managers regularly to shake-up performance.

Will you bet on Betancur in 2014?

If 2013 was the “year of the Colombians” then which country will surprise in 2014? Err… Colombia. I’m concerned about Team Colombia, the black-jerseyed team run by Claudio Corti as all their best riders get poached faster than an egg in a changua stall. But there’s still plenty of room for the likes of Rigoberto Uran, Carlos Betancur, Sergio Henao and more to improve. The question is whether they’re hungry to succeed and keep working. Hopefully the answer is yes and expect to see them at the front in one day races too rather than just the Alpine stage races.

Italian cycling isn’t dead yet

Meanwhile the Italians will struggle. Once pro cycling’s top nation but you could probably correlate sales of EPO vials with Italian wins. Now there’s only Lampre-Merida at the top, although Cannondale and Astana retain Italian DNA. But Italian woes are not just restricted to vanishing teams, their races are disappearing as a struggling economy means fewer public subsidies and the calendar is being decimated. Even at the top Giro owner RCS is engulfed in financial scandal. This isn’t something for 2014 alone, it’s a longer trend. The good news is much of this decline is relative, Vincenzo Nibali is at the top of his game and more comforting, the base of the pyramid is strong with a network of clubs, U-23 teams and it remains a land of fine roads. We just need some charismatic riders to spark greater public interest.

Sponsorship will get more innovative and we’re already seeing signs. Some squads change their kit slightly when racing in different countries which represent different markets for sponsors. Now Belkin is offering co-sponsoship on its kit for a race-to-race basis. It makes sense because for all the talk of “globalization”, cycling has a fragmented presence. There’s massive publicity to be gained for a Belgian sponsor backing the team in April and an Italian name joining for May. Just excuse the commentators who might struggle to keep up. But there’s room for much more, for example charging $X to become a premium team supporter and getting team-issue bike, a seat in the team car during a big race.

The UCI’s truth and reconciliation programme won’t be what you  expect. Don’t picture a South African-style process of forgiveness, instead the scheme looks set to be framed by the WADA rules and illuminated by the spotlight of media attention which means little room for manoeuvre and fear of participants being plastered over the press for their doping past. See Stuart O’Grady for an example of how the past can come back to ruin a reputation.

Shaking hands on a deal?

What if race-fixing replaced doping as the new new scandal? Doping isn’t going away but it got out of control because the sport thought it was a private matter and part of the job of “being professional”. All this sounds a lot like the continued practice of buying and selling races, whether outright trades of races for cash or hiring rival teams like contract worker for an afternoon shift on the front of the bunch. “Sure it’s unusual but it’s what we do” says the peloton but that’s hard for outsiders to accept. Yes cycling’s special because you conspire with rivals to attack others, to share the work in a breakaway and so on but as much as insiders know this, the law doesn’t. Fixing the outcome of a sporting event is illegal in many countries, indeed the act need not even involve payment, just conspiracy. The hard part is policing this, perhaps the sport will just stop doing this so openly, no longer will riders talk cash payments within range of a TV mic or make the thumb and finger-rubbing baksheesh gesture.

Finally,  a bonus prediction says most of these calls will be wrong. That’s the beauty of sport and the folly of forecasting. Look back at 2013 and who would have bet that Marcel Kittel would consistently beat Mark Cavendish in July? That Nairo Quintana would be second in the Tour de France and Chris Horner would win the Vuelta? Who imagined this time last year that Pat McQuaid would be gone? I look forward to being proven wrong.

34 thoughts on “14 Predictions for 2014”

  1. Not a comment but a thank-you for all the insightful and well informed posts of this past year. Reading inrng is a daily pleasure that I always look forward to.

  2. If any readers want to follow inrng’s lead of making predictions for 2014, there are some nice games based on CQ points in the forums of CN and Velorooms, they challenge you to pick teams of riders who will improve their CQ score. (I run the game for young riders)

  3. re Alonso Team and World Tour points. in a recent CN article about them meeting with UCI/Cookson, there seemed to be a suggestion they would be happy to be Pro-Conti (ie were talking about confidence in getting Wild Cards for Vuelta and possibly the TdF). So perhaps less premium on points. However the same article also referred to a potential reduction of the WT to 16 teams, which would increase the premium. (the article puts the 16 teams bit first – ie its this that leads to the likelihood of looking for wildcards – so perhaps they would fight harder if where trying to be one of 18, making my point about points a moot point)

    • It could make sense for Alonso to merge his plans with Cannondale, getting a big bike sponsor and a the backbone of a team (riders, busses etc). They’re so built around Sagan that if he goes their main selling point goes.

      • and the Alonso team would also appear to already be pursuing Sagan, so Cannondale’s best chance of keeping him might be by entering into the kind of partnership you suggest.

  4. RE: innovative sponsorship, I’d love to see an Ebbsfleet United FC experiment in the cycling world, with a team funded through individual membership.

    • There have been some attempts at this, Euskaltel started this way and there’s been iTeam Nova which collapsed. The problem is getting money in the first year and then ensuring the same funding is there for the next year and beyond. Not easy, especially as cycling fans rarely buy in to a team.

  5. Some interesting stuff. You make a good point about BMC i think, even with a very poor season they are not a million miles away and could easily start to win consistently and big this year…is it too much to hope that Thor Hushovd goodnight continue his form of late 2013 into some bigger races next year? It would be great to see the God of Thunder take go place among the big beasts again.

    Thought provoking stuff about race fixing too…that could become a real can of worms!

    • Race fixing always has. Its determined the transfer season and had says in wild card admittance into many a race. I love the story about Lance buying his Win in the US in the nineties. That Million Dollar Paycheck for winning the three races was under written by an insurer (as usual). Can you imagine how these firms are going to respond when they cotton-on that these bonuses are being fixed.
      Someone is going to go to gaol (jail), or get his ass kicked, or stabbed, shot or possibly run of the road one day. In my day, we used to use the hot shot, nothing like an OD to send a message.

    • There are still plenty of teams with less than the maximum 30 riders, but it is really a question of team budgets – I’m not sure but I guess Europcar can’t afford any more big salaries for 2014.
      I wonder what Europcar’s best tactic would be to survive in the WT for 2015? Take chances where they can or ride conservatively and throw everything at a few carefully selected GT stage wins? TdF polkadot must be on their wishlist again, perhaps Lombardia and the Ardennes? Partly a question of how badly other teams do….Does anybody know how many WT teams Europcar would have gained in 2013 if they had been included in the rankings?

  6. Great stuff in all your predictions, really hoping a Colombian takes a grand tour in 2014, would signify a changing of the guard in pro bike racing. I also expect there to be a few revelations appear from the Verbruggen/McQuaid era, from within the goings-on at the UCI, there’s a lot more stories to be told, which could be the big scandal of 2014, from events before 2014.

  7. How is Belkin going to skirt the UCI regulations that stipulate a kit cannot be changed more than twice in one season (the “Rock Racing rule”)?

    • They claim the UCI is on board. Personally I think it’s ok as long the overall design remains consistent so people can spot the jersey rather than teams changing from black to white or yellow to pink etc.

  8. I think race fixing has not been as prevalent as doping (not Everybody was/is doing it, just the race leaders), but it’s been happening for just as long and it could certainly become the new whipping boy. Though I hope not. I sort of like the old stories about Poulidor and mid race deal making in general and the fact that there can be inter-team collaboration.

  9. My only prediction is that INRNG will continue to be the best site for news, views and articles on pro cycling.

    Great work, looking forward to 2014.

    p.s. my 2 predictions, Cavo back on top in the sprints, Sagan world champ.

  10. Finally a bonus prediction says most of these calls will be wrong

    Who imagined this time last year that Pat McQuaid would be gone? I look forward to being proven wrong.

    Gawd, imagine if I suddenly woke up and found it was all a dream, that Fat Pat was still in charge

  11. Well… Igor Makarov stands as UCI management committee member, Katusha shows good result for the second year in a row (3rd overall in UCI rankings, Purito — 1st in individual rankings), and you make up a conclusion that Katusha is done… That’s a bit hastily, don’t you think so?
    According to Russian media, the team has its sponsorship at least untill 2016, Purito has a contract for 2014-2015 years. Three Russian riders joined the team this year. And after poor presence of Russian riders at Worlds, obviously the team must focus on Russian riders results.

    “Team patron Igor Makarov sold his Itera business this year; he has the cash to fund the team personally…” — Katusha is not only business issue for Makarov, its personal. So I wouldn’t connect these two subjects.

  12. great commment and a great article…the world of cycling is changing as its characters but lets hope the we continue to see clean grand tour winners.Thats a way of gradually redeeming our sport…
    i hope the italian scene gets stronger but i dont think 2014 will be a classic year for racing….but the classics will provide the bst racing of the year and i hope we get better weather for the early season.

    great blog

  13. A couple of my own predictions:
    1. Tinkov will continue to be a loose cannon and a liability to the sport
    2. This will be Riis’s last year in top level cycling
    3. Brian Cookson will start to feel some heat as change proves difficult and the honeymoon ends
    4. Milan-San Remo will lose some of its lustre and join the Ronde as a new route blunts the racing.

  14. About Katusha Team…
    You write:
    “The team’s Russians are often invisible or worse, rumbled for doping, and it’s Joaquim Rodriguez who gives the team so many wins and ranking points. No other team is so dependent on one rider.”

    Sorry, but this is not true at all! Maybe, you just don’t know the situation in the WorldTour in the last season, because every person, and you too can do a simple check to find the following situation:

    Joaquim Rodriguez brought 607 points or 45,3% of all points to Katusha Team (1340 points).
    In the same time, Vincenzo Nibali brought to Astana 474 points or the same 45,3% of all points (1045 points). And his is Italian, not Kazakh. Does it mean, that Astana Goodbuy in near future? I think, no.
    Moreover, Peter Sagan (Slovak, not Italian) brought 491 from 750 points to Cannondale – this is 65% (!!!) of all points of the team…
    Dan Martin brought 432 from 855 points to Garmin – this is 50,5% of all team’s points…

    So, after all, does Katusha is the team, which depends of its leader more than any other team???

    • Thanks for the update, I added the line from memory late last season when Rodriguez was the biggest points provider. Hopefully Katusha stay but as the “Russian cycling project” they’re not bringing out the best of the Russian riders yet.

      As for Astana going, it’s very dependent on Vinokourov and political patronage so arguably it’s in a fragile position too.

      • Yeah, you are right, but, in Katusha there are some promising about Russian riders too.

        For example, in 2013 Russian riders in Katusha took 9 victories – this is the biggest, as I remember, point in Katusha history. Ok, not a WorldTour level with exception of Max Belkov, but anyway. By me, this is a point, which can be improved in upcoming season. Katusha has Chernetckii, who was great for his first pro season, Vorobyev, Kuznetsov, Silin, who also can bring something really good for the team… The situation changes in the Russian team, so, by me, I don’t see any pessimistic way as you wrote in the Predictions.
        Moreover, the pasion and energy used by Igor Makarov to bring back the license say a lot about his wish for a further development of the Russian cycling project.

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