Highlights of 2014 – Part V

E3 Harelbeke Sagan

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.

Four fortunes
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.

Other highlights
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.

Highlights of 2014: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

40 thoughts on “Highlights of 2014 – Part V”

  1. Maybe I’m blinded by patriotism, but I really enjoyed Ian Stannard’s win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It had everything – crosswinds, terrible weather, Cofidis in their full speed skater regalia, pavement-hopping, some spectacular wipeouts and almost-constant grimacing from about 80k to go. Plus the almost comedic spectacle of IS mashing a huge gear and getting the drop on a single-gloved GVA 300m out for the win, then being too shattered to celebrate as he crossed the line.

    That was a proper race.

    • Good pick too. The finish was a strange one, GVA was the faster on paper but he’s a specialist at finishing second. But maybe it’s not a race to win, whoever wins the Omloop often seems to be “cursed” for the rest of the spring classics. Certainly Stannard had a rotten season with two big injuries this year.

  2. The Stelvio Stage was an obvious highlight… maybe too obvious?
    Fair to give a proper share to one-day races (I even tend to prefer them), but this year we got a lackluster Classics season and a great stage-race season, so why don’t reflect that in the highlights?
    2014 E3 and Flandres were fun enough, but they weren’t worth several moments of the Giro or the Vuelta (nor most of the previous editions of the very same races); at least, if we look at those GT moments as parts of a three-weeks long narrative (or – even better – of a way longer narrative, especially in Vuelta’s case).
    That said, I share Cragomatic’s opinion about Stannard’s victory in OHN… great racing.

    • The Stelvio was a mix, a big ride by Quintana to attack from so far out. But many got annoyed by it, we had two polemics, the first about the weather and the second on whether Quintana should have attacked/how he was allowed to ride away. It prompted a meeting of the team managers the next day, arguably a low light as they stood in public view to confirm they were powerless to act.

      • Agreed on the Stelvio- polemics prohibited the true spirit and full potential of the stage.

        Great line about “barbed tweets” regarding Sagan and his dubious employer. I hope PS notches a few wins early to keep the proverbial monkey off his back. Love to see him take down a monument this season, although I am not ready to see Fabian and Tommeke finished up quite yet, either.

        My Inrng cap made it’s merry way across the pond!
        Thanks for giving us a chance to participate and keep up the superb work.

      • The Stelvio was no doubt one of the very highlights of the season, the weather and the polemics all adding to the greatness. Much more tan E3, if I may say.

      • We definitely would need a whole new thread, but the only questionable things were some supposedly expert riders obeying to the voices in their ears (their DSs), instead of racing as a team captain should, and DSs trying to create a controversy just because they failed to take advantage of political pressures to get their gregarios back in the main group without losing time in the process.
        Poor organisation, indeed, but the disinformation (an impressive amount of lies) that followed – mainly in behalf of the teams who just had their tactics wrong – was way worst. And part of the fun.

  3. Like Cragomatic, I’m being a bit blinded by home country bias, but the ToF stage 2 to Sheffield was also a really good day for cycling. The crowds, the hills, the finish, and – in hindsight – the sight of Nibali putting one over on his rivals while they were still in the race. Perhaps not Top 5, but Top 10!

      • That was my high spot of the year too, a fantastic day for cycling, preceded by a great nights camping. Apart from catching one handed a British Cycling snap bracelet hurled from the caravan as it whizzed down the Lea Bridge Road at forty mph. My kids were impressed, momentarily. I was merely surprised.

  4. Nothing wrong with HCB (home country bias) just so it’s disclosed.

    HCB, although sad it was a moment of reference seeing Talansky suffering so in the TDF.
    Great preparation for next year GT’s. go bull dog..

  5. It is often great to look back over a season with the benefit of hindsight. One example is that duel up through the cobbled streets of Siena in the finale of Strade Bianche. It was quite prophetic: it confirmed that Sagan was human and fallible after all and that Kwiatkowski was ready for some seriously big wins. That aside, it’s swiftly become one of my favourite races of the year.

  6. won’t get many other votes I guess, but I found MSR pretty compelling this year. His Nibs with the desperation early attack, then the madcap chase down the Poggio, Sagan and Cannondale melting away, great ride by Paolini, GVA in the mix as usual, building excitement that Cav had it in the bag, then the slowmo sprint that really makes you appreciate what these guys put in over the preceeding 7hrs or whatever, yet another podium for Canc, Hello Swifty!, and a great win for Kristoff launching him into the top rung of sprinters. You just have to ignore the first 5hrs or so while they do the softening up process… I think also it’s the first ‘big’ race of the year, so there is several months of anticipation leading in to it…. I love it!

    • You’ll get mine!

      Admittedly coloured by ACB (Norwegian = Away Country Bias?), the race has great history, great champions, great scenery and a great number of kilometers to it! I’ll take slo-mo mano-y-mano sprints in rain and sleet over the lead-out trains of TdF any day. What’s not to love?

  7. Dropping the Haitch and being CB (Celte Bias), whilst G riding for Murdo Muc Murdoch, just can’t see him winning a classic, super rider but needs to challenge himself elsewhere. Oh and Majka’s antics , swinging of the motor-bike and winking,something doesn’t ring true with that boy. But then i thought that with Jon Locke performances early 2012. Strade Bianchi stand out for the season. Everything about the race is outstanding. The run into town, the time of year, the way its raced.

  8. I really like Greg VA but, it’s the truth that he’s a specialist at finishing second. Would love to see him win a Classic.

    Also, how pitiful that I’d rather listen to announcers in Flemish than Phil & Paul or the surfer dudes on NBS Sports. I don’t speak Flemish.

  9. Patriotism…yes – but for me Niki Terpstra’s spring was a highlight – he so deserved to win big. Especially stylish was his Dwars door Vlaanderen post-race TV interview in which he quoted the lyrics of a Dutch song about a guy racing to the line knowing he’s going to win word for word – which the interviewer didn’t catch but the audience definitely did.

  10. Also love Strade Bianche 🙂

    Not sure if Geraint Thomas needs to move team, where would he go to? Although he’ll probably support Wiggins effort to win PR next year he has a chance in something like E3 that the big guns are not quite so interested in. At least he stayed upright this year.

  11. It’s been fascinating to look back at INRNG’s highlights of the year and also the many other comments and suggestions from those below the line. What this has brought home to me is the sheer complexity and diversity of the sport (which is perhaps both it’s blessing and curse). There are so many races across so many distances and terrain how do you pick the best ? Personally I enjoy this diversity but I can imagine for those unwilling to invest the time to understand it or for marketeers trying to sell the sport to a wider audience the diversity must appear a weakness.

    For me personally my overwhelming highlight was standing by the side of the road seeing the Tour de France actually in the place where I live (Leeds, Yorkshire) something that will live with me forever. Also as a Welshman watching the effort Geraint Thomas puts in all year has been a highlight and in particular his win at the Commonwealth Games.

    Thanks as always to INRNG and the intelligent comments from most below the line. This keeps me informed and entertained throughout the season and add much to my enjoyment of this unique sport.

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