Highlights of 2014 – Part I

Dauphine Froome Contador

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.

Chris Froome elbows

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.

Andrew Talansky

With Hindsight
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.

25 thoughts on “Highlights of 2014 – Part I”

  1. Froome’s attack on Stage 2 was the highlight of the year for me. Sky and the Sky leader (whether Wiggo or Froome) have been accused of soul-less racing, slaves to the powermeter. But an isolated Froome managed to show just how good he can be. No steady threshold riding here – this was classic old-school yo-yo attacking. An absolute barn-stormer of a ride, and he managed to hold on for the stage too.

  2. A fantastic race; the last stage alone merits re-watching in full. An absurd break with half the top ten in it and Contador hanging back seemingly more concerned with watching Froome crack than trying to win the overall. Talansky rode very well but I think he benefited from Contador’s odd tactics.

  3. “Do they still make race DVDs? If they did, this would be the one to buy.”

    Oh man, you touched a nerve with me there. You can’t even get a DVD of the 2014 Tour, much less the Dauphine. Are these really a money-losing venture now, or is there something else at play? World Cycling Productions was the source for US-formatted DVDs (don’t get me started on the regional formatting of DVDs…), but they seem to have pulled out of that business.

    Is there a company out there that’s listening?

  4. What is memorable about the Dauphine is it was the first time Contador significantly dropped Froome on a climb since the 2012 Vuelta..

    The telling psychological blow was Contador began to ride the Sky train as if Froome was his lead out rider.

    Sky and Froome never recovered from that for the rest of 2014.

    RE NIBALI – I just laugh at the notion that he can climb on par with Contador. No evidence of that throughout his career

    • I don’t think Nibali is worth Contador as a GT rider (while being a more complete rider in general).

      That said, there are indeed a couple of hints about Nibali’s potential ability to climb more or less like Contador.

      One is this year’s Tour: when the two were confronted, Contador went all out and finally got just three seconds or such on Nibali. My guess, in addition, is that Nibali hadn’t cracked but just decided to ease off (we saw him taking a similar conservative stance in another occasion or two, during this Tour). I admit that this second hypothesis is more personal opinion than fact, we really can’t know, but if we stick to mere facts, then losing three seconds can be considered quite fairly “to climb on par”.

      Another very interesting test to appreciate what may be the present climbing difference between the two is the 2011 Giro. It’s worth noting that we’re speaking of what arguably is the strongest Contador ever (especially climbing), whereas Nibali was living one of his worst seasons, probably his worst as a “mature” pro rider.
      Well, uphill Nibali lost a lot of time time in the Gardeccia stage, where he attacked recklessly… like on the third-to-last GPM, some 65kms to the finish line; and struggled on Etna and Grossglockner (more or less a minute in both stages). Nevertheless, up the Zoncolan he lost a few seconds, I think less than ten, despite a furious attack by Contador in the last km; and in Macugnaga, too, he arrived with him (just like in Montevergine, but I wouldn’t consider it an example of climbing, even if it’s an uphill finish). I’m writing by memory, so correct me if I’m wrong.
      From that benchmark on, Nibali has improved hugely; it’s hard to say about Contador, but I’d defend he sure didn’t get better.

      Finally, there’s the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico. Nibali dropped Contador a couple of times, the first at Prati di Tivo, where the difference was quite reduced, but what’s sure is that Contador wasn’t ahead. The second one in the P. S. Elpidio stage, where Contador even tried to bridge to the front but couldn’t.

      Generally speaking, even a less brilliant (and younger) Nibali was able to climb more or less on par with Contador when the “fondo” mattered the most (very long and hard stages, let’s say more than 170km, third week stages… the main exception being the Gardeccia stage, but that’s a different story because of the way Nibali rode it). He undoubtedly was less explosive.
      Then Nibali got better, and showed he could climb better than Contador, but in 2013 “it wasn’t the true Contador”.
      This Tour hasn’t said much, but that Nibali grew even stronger and that Contador couldn’t leave him more than three seconds behind.

      “No evidence” is quite strong, even if you could argue that we just have “circumstantial evidence”.

  5. Froome looked strong and lean, and rode aggressively in the Dauphine–even compared to his form in the Vuelta. With the Dauphine as an appetizer, I was so looking forward to the Tour. But, alas, t’was not meant to be….Next year, perhaps! “Hope is a good thing.”

  6. At the risk of stating the obvious the Garmin (now Cannondale) team’s performances through the season were dependent of just one single rider. Not Talansky, not even D. Martin but Ryder Hesjedal. Without his monstrous efforts and chutzpah through the whole season the team would have been in dire straits.

  7. The pave stage in the tour won by Boom with Nibali riding like he was born to it was my favourite. The “old style” bad weather I remember from years back only added to the occasion.

    • He did very well but didn’t win anything that week beyond the white jersey. It was impressive at the time because he was so strong after the Giro, despite three weeks of racing in his legs he was almost as fresh as Contador and Froome. 2015 will be a big year.

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