Highlights of 2014 – Part II

Lars Boom Tour de France pave

Let’s limit this to one Tour de France highlight. It’s a tough pick, do we celebrate Tony Martin’s enormous ride across the Vosges? Celebrate Ag2r’s joy as the team stood below the podium in the pouring rain while Blel Kadri took the applause for his stage win? What about the French pride at two riders on the podium, the way the sport was reaching people like it used to? Or those huge crowds in Yorkshire and London?

The highlight was the stage to Wallers-Arenberg, 155km and several cobbled sections.

It hasn’t rained for years in Paris-Roubaix. You wouldn’t wish the grim conditions on an enemy yet at the same we have to have a rainy Roubaix once every generation for the sake of the challenge. Only this year’s cobbled classic didn’t deliver and ironically we waited for a rare visit by the Tour de France to the cobbles and in July too.

In fact it was raining so much that some of the cobbled sectors had to be abandoned. The late changes only added to the drama.

Chris Froome did crash out but he was really the victim of the previous day’s crash. We hindsight we know he’d broken bones so starting the cobbled stage was only going to end in a premature exit. He fell before the cobbles started. Others had been expressing reservations about the cobbles but this would only had Christian Prudhomme and his team cackling. Fear has long been part of the Tour de France’s aura whether myths of marauding bears in the high mountains a century ago or sending 190 riders down a cobbled track in 2014. The more riders went public with worry, the more people planned to day the day off to watch the stage. In the end nobody abandoned on the day.

Tour de France cobbles

What we got was vintage racing. The Tour didn’t use the fiercest pavé but it was enough to split the field and make the GC contenders nervous. Jurgen Van den Broeck crashed (pictured) but recovered and for all the slipping and sliding there were no big injuries. Further back Bjarne Riis said Alberto Contador had problems with his gears but the Spaniard looked uncomfortable on the corners and lost time. Alejandro Valverde lost time too, at one point the entire Movistar team was pacing him back.

But enough of the losers. Lars Boom’s stage win was almost forgotten. The Dutchman showed his power and perhaps he’s more suited to sharper, more intense efforts than a 250km classic? Up to him to disprove it next year. It was a convincing performance by Boom but not quite a team effort as Bauke Mollema suffered that day, the team’s hunt for a sponsor suggested it was every man for himself.

What made some forget Boom’s performance? Astana’s riding was so strong that Vincenzo Nibali extended his lead in the yellow jersey, performing better than the likes of Niki Terstra and Fabian Cancellara. The Danish media were wondering whether Jakob Fuglsang could finish on the podium as on the GC he was two seconds down on Nibali with the closest challenge Jurgen Van den Broeck at 1.45.

Lars Boom

Why the highlight?
Paris-Roubaix is a great race but this was more. It had more action, the cobbles were wet and there were several stories in one episode: the fight for the stage win, the overall contenders out of their comfort zone and in Froome’s case literally out.

Better still this was a special stage. The Tour hadn’t used the pavé for a long time so the race’s return risked falling prey to the hype with the reality not meeting expectations. But it delivered. The race won’t return to the cobbles for a few years either so you had to enjoy this race or risk waiting a long time again.

44 thoughts on “Highlights of 2014 – Part II”

  1. Actually, the coblles will return as soon as 2015´s stage 4. I couldn´t watch it live, sadly, but surely this was the highlight of this year´s Tour and hopefully next year I´ll be able to watch it live.

  2. Great stage.

    I also feel that the GC would have been set in a fantastic way for the rest of the race because of Nibali’s time gain. Being the 3rd favorite and now having the chance of holding everyone would make it pretty interesting. Unfortunately, without Contador and Froome, and with Valverde in bad form, no challenge at all for him. I can only hope the same happens in 2015 and we get a good showdown.

  3. As I remember, Boom could go for his own chance that day, as did Sepp. That Mollema lost some time wasn’t that a big deal……at the end he would lost way more time during a certain timetrail….ouch

    Boom biggest day in his road career so far.

  4. This was very possibly the best day’s racing of 2014.

    The combination of individual skill, risk-taking and team work on show was something you rarely see and the stage was set by the weather and the parcours.

    It was electric and, I’d venture, will be etched into many a fan’s memory for years to come.

    • Agreed, and it’s certainly etched on mine! 🙂 I was on the edge of my seat for most of the stage, as there was so much going on. Brilliant racing and as you say, possibly the best of 2014.

  5. You do like that Gibus bridge photo don’t you ?

    “In the end nobody abandoned on the day.”
    – err, Froome did, although as you say, with hindsight (and there was a lot of suspicion of it at the time too !) we know it was because he was more injured than the team were admitting from the previous day’s crash rather than from the cobbles

          • This stage was ridiculously enjoyable from start to finish (and afterwards, with Boom on the podium attempting to hold his trophies and his unusually-serene toddler at the same time). It felt like watching a trainwreck at points, but I get the impression some of the riders enjoyed the race as much as we did.
            Contador was definitely not one of them. Every photo of his face during this stage is hilarious.

            I think the new addition might’ve won the Paris-Roubaix a few new viewers next year. There is no way in hell I’m missing it.

  6. How you can exclude a key component of the highlighted stage, namely Lieuwe Westra’s ride in support of Nibali and Fuglsang, nor mention that Boom will be joining Astana, is a bit puzzling to me.

    • Don’t forget, this is just a blog of a private person who loves cycling. Even as professional (and I must say, often better than most real cycling news websites) as his articles are, he is only human 🙂

      Also, first Dutch Tour stage win in nine years since Pieter Weening in Gérardmer 2005.

      • yes, I know – sorry if it sounds unappreciative, but if you’re going to talk about and revere this stage for the classic that it was, then you must discuss the actual protagonists of the day rather than review the script and cliches. Westra deserves to be mentioned and pictured far more than Jurgen van den Broeck, Contador, Valverde or Froome. And given that he is a former bricklayer (stratenmaker om precies te zijn) I thought maybe a reference or two could be cobbled together.

          • Westra was in the break of the day along with Hayman, Burghardt, Taramae, Tony Martin and others, he then dropped back at about 35km to go and the break at ~20s to support Fuglsang and Nibali, who finished second and third behind Boom, and finished eighth himself. He led his teammates until about 10km from the finish, putting 2+min into Contador and co.

            Here, Cosmo also shows it in HTRWW

            Westra’s past as a hard-partying bricklayer is well-known; after giving up cycling, he spent seven years on his knees laying streets, taking loads of drugs and going to hardcore house parties; he ballooned to 90kg. He decided to take up cycling again and was nicknamed The Beast (Het Beest) for his hard-riding prowess. He said in an interview ‘I laid all the streets in Franeker, now I train on them.’

  7. (Disclaimer first that I am Welsh and therefore look out for Thomas’s rides however….) Thomas’s ride that day for Porte was also sensational, so another factor making this stage a highlight were all those rides all across the stage – I appreciate the difficulty in mention all of them in one piece!

    Also as you intimated, the way this stage was better than Roubaix is the little stories all across the field. Taking Thomas and Porte as an example, clearly they’d have ridden a lot more conservatively had this been a one day race given they weren’t going to win – but the multitude of stories from the day affecting the narrative of the tour as a whole makes this a highlight.

  8. This is possibly my favourite stage in modern history, intreague and suspense the whole day, it seperated the super stars from the proper bike riders and i think it has changed the face of the TDF forever……. in that

    * The routes will continue to be designed like this with mini classics stages to entertain us.
    * The teams have started to look at almost any tour stage as an opportunity to nick a bit of time here and there and this will ony increase with the reintroduction of time bonuses.

    I was fortunate to watch this live in a French Bar in Annecy with my Team Mates (after La Marmotte days before), less fortunate in that the rain for us was biblical for the whole week!

    Long may it continue

  9. I loved the stage and it certainly was a mini-classic. However, looking back at Astana victories with this autumn’s hindsight leaves an aftertaste. I really hope Nibali, Fuglsang, Westra and the rest were racing clean. The stage was also great because it was an extension of that incredible stage 2 victory of Nibali’s (again with Fuglsang as super-domestique). Nibali was a great tour champion because he went after historic, epic stages with panache and balls. So great to see a GC contender stick his neck out early in the race and seizing the moment instead of just sitting in the pack and waiting for the Alps or a TT.

  10. Great choice! Nibali looked quite comfortable and fast on the pave’ – his ride manifested what was to come and his overall strengths as a rider. He did seem fazed by the conditions at all.

  11. I was just watching highlights from SBS yesterday while working on my work commuter bike. What a stage! Love the full trenches of water, love all the havoc, love the head-over-tea kettle crash from the Lotto rider.

    What a win from BOOM! What a ride. 47 kph for 155 km. Insane.

    What a display of skills from Nibali too. And Fuglsang. That guy needs a team to support him. Love that dude and saw him interviewed afterwards. WOW! Compared to most pro sports interviews (I’m in the U.S.) Jakob actually answered questions after thinking, didn’t speak in cliches, and came off as a sharp, likeable dude. Very cool.

    Okay, so the FSA logo on the bartape. Is that a sticker put onto the tape? Is it printed/embedded in the tape? Never been able to figure out how that works. You can see it on Boom’s tape, Nibali’s, etc.

  12. Boom’s win is long overdue.

    That poor guy has made some career decisions that prevented him from being on the podium, (OPQS) and then there is the simple fact tragedy strikes him regularly on race day.

    Let’s hope the 2015 Spring campaign is better for him!

    • I am champing at the bit hoping for a wet Roubaix or Flanders , it really showed who had “mad skilz” like the cools kids say and who didn’t , I remember even Cancellara didn’t have the chops to over take on the pave. Boom was a very deserved winner.

  13. I don’t think that the TDF organisers had any worries about falling prey to the hype. For me the Paris Roubaix definitely lives up to the hype, as a cycling fan I realised this when I rode the club sportive this year. It so unique that the potential for an epic ride or race is increased, rain or shine.

  14. To me, it’s the one that got away.
    I spent that afternoon loading 20 bikes bikes into a van in Oslo and then I drove it to Annecy with a friend.

  15. Watched it outside Erre, on the Hornaing cobbles.

    First stage I’d seen in France (followed from here in Leeds), freezing cold and rain beating down- I’d do it everyday given half a chance

  16. Both my adult sons and I watched it at Erre too. We were almost directly adjacent to the water towers. We pitched up about 3 hours before the riders were due, having purchased camping chairs to sit on after standing out in the rain on Mont Noir the day before for about the same length of time. Sitting under umbrellas with the rain pouring down somewhat tested out father/sons relationship but we got through it and the rain stopped just as the Lead cars came through some 10 minutes before the first riders. Now on Mont Noir the whole circus, excluding the Caravane, had passed in about 5 minutes flat and both sons had been slightly disappointed that the speed, even uphill, meant a rapid pass. It was their first Tour stage ever and they had resisted every attempt of mine to follow cycling but with age they had mellowed and now both ride.
    At Hornaing the peloton took nearly an hour from first Lead cars to Voiture Balai so missing the Caravane did not matter too much as there was enough to watch. I think that this aspect is worth repeating as only on true mountain stages does this time spread occur.
    Echoing the comments above and also being Welsh I was awaiting G, having screamed at him, and Maggy as they won junior and senior Roubaix in 2004. Could not believe how well Richie rode as when they both came towards us only G was visible as Richie was tight on G’s wheel. Bellowed out “Go G” as loud as I could as they both took the left hander flat out.
    Nibali was half a wheel off Fuglsang and to my mind emphasises how much confidence Richie had as Nibali seemed to need a confidence gap by comparison.
    Sorry to have taken so much space but I had such an excellent time and can’t wait for next July, after an April recce and Roubaix watch, natch.

    • I’ve probably got several pictures of you in amongst the hundreds I took that day (indeed thousands that week), as we were stood directly in front of the water towers, between the barbecue and the bar.

      • If you have a photo of a bald, chunky 50+ year old with glasses, wearing khaki shorts and a black jacket near to the Devizes Dave banner it could be me lol. Btw I am not Devizes Dave.
        Sorry INRNG for hogging your blog.

Comments are closed.