Highlights of the Year: Part V

tom dumoulin vuelta

The last of five highlights is a hard call. Like any list half the story is in the omissions and it forces you to cut out plenty of good moments. The Vuelta? Even nominating this stage race is tricky as it had several great moments.

Peter Sagan’s descent off the Rochette in the Tour de de France was a visual thrill. For all the excitement of his win in the World Championships it was a late attack in a long race, a brilliant move but only brief entertainment. Sagan’s a curious character, one minute labelled a pig for his podium peccadillos, the next minute the saintly supporter of Syrian refugees in central Europe; a serial loser who can’t convert power into wins then a worthy World Champion. Take your pick. In truth he’s just been riding bikes for years and doing well at it and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in 2016. The descent was Sagan at his most eloquent and expressing himself in a way that almost no other rider in the peloton can. One problem with the sport is that it doesn’t have many big personalities with reputations that reach beyond the sports pages, think Kobe Bryant or Lionel Messi and Sagan could be on the verge of this. But would he want it? He’s already left Slovakia for Monaco and not just for the taxes but to escape the local media hungry for any stories. If you want to see Sagan’s descent, visit youtube. If you’ve seen the film “C’était un rendez-vous” by Claude Lelouch you’ll know the director enhances the impression of speed with the low level camera, cycling’s filming techniques with a man perched high on the back of a motorbike probably makes Sagan look slower although we should salute the camera crew’s ability to keep up and stay filming. It’s an amazing ride and you can imagine IAM Cycling’s Jarlinson Pantano needed a stiff drink after the shock of trying to follow.

The Vuelta was a late surprise. Season fatigue can set in for followers just as much as racers but Tom Dumoulin’s performances kept things fresh. The Dutchman was strong on the first summit finish as Esteban Chaves won and beat Chris Froome in an uphill finish days later. Expected to crack in the high mountains he kept going and it was only on the last mountain stage that he cracked and Fabio Aru and strong Astana team got the better of him. It had a wider satisfaction too, Dumoulin crashed out of the Tour De France on the day when he could have ridden into yellow.


The Tour de France had a lively first week and plenty of breakaways during the three weeks to the point where a bunch sprint almost felt like a treat. Stephen Cummings’s surprise win came after a long, scenic stage and perhaps it piqued Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot into their impressive, salvage stage wins. If scriptwriters were involved perhaps they’d have narrowed the gap between Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana for the final mountain stage to Alpe d’Huez so that people were staring at the clock as Froome rode up the Avenue Rif Nel to the finish line in the ski resort but reality meant Froome was that bit ahead, it was still a tense moment and the roaring crowds had cheered up Thibaut Pinot who took a stage win. The Giro had a similar pattern with a big opening week before an obvious winner emerged only to wobble late in the race. But it was a different affair with the top riders emerging right from the start with the uphill finishes while the Tour had a proxy war between teams on the flatlands before the Pyrenees.

Taylor Phinney’s win was a good news story, a comeback from injury. It’s still a step along the way, without setbacks he’d be expected to deliver a lot more but this win was cheering and he visibly enjoyed it too. Esteban Chaves beaming smile was great to see, yes he wore extensive orthodontics for some team but radiates happiness.

Paris-Roubaix was a thriller with John Degenkolb’s late moves. Is he a sprinter? Labels can be too exclusive because he can win bunch sprints but his best triumphs came elsewhere, especially in Roubaix. Sanremo was barely a sprint, after 300km it’s a punchdrunk slugfest. Roubaix was lively, entreprenerial and the result of some effective team tactics.


There are many more good moments. The Tour Down Under was a close one for the retiring Cadel Evans. Paris-Tours was good. The Strade Bianche have become a classic, all that’s missing is a famous stretch of sterrato to become an infamous landmark. The Vuelta a Andalucia was a lively contest too with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador fighting for every second in a lesser race.

Away from particular races I’m not sold on on board cameras but they came of age this year in the Tour de France thanks to a sponsorship deal between Velon and Go Pro which brought sharper images, more filming and, crucially, professional editing. Until then the footage was poor and the production worse, often outclassed by the amateur – in the noblest sense – efforts of Jeremy Roy. 2015 could be the year TV coverage improved without us knowing, we had the first use of a drone camera in the Tour de France although you probably saw the images from the camera, not of the camera. Also the telemetry data is coming, this year’s test in the Tour was more zeta than beta but there are powerful capabilities, new tools for TV producers.

Has this been the year of the neo-pro? Many first year pros have had a great start with wins and impressive performances. Stefan Küng, Pierre Latour, Ilia Koshevoy, Emmanuel Buchmann, Tiesj Benoot, Miguel Angel Lopez and Caleb Ewan are among some who’ve caught the eye.

28 thoughts on “Highlights of the Year: Part V”

  1. While on the Vuelta, and in a purely partisan manner, I’d also nominate Caleb Ewen’s stage win… in his first Grand Tour. Great result for the young man and a nice foundation for the future being laid by OGE…

  2. LOMBARDIA. You went on and on about Sagan’s great descent, but wasn’t it for 2nd place? Nibali’s master-class in descending was for the win – in one of cycling’s 5 monuments. How many have won all three GT’s and one of these in their career? Certainly a top five 2015 highlight.

  3. Wait, wait, wait… not even a mention for the Lombardia? Whatever “Rosa-tinted spectacles” might be ready to write 😀 I think it might have been a proper highlight in its own right, quite probably the best Monument this year (Flandres and Roubaix were fine but, on the whole, both lacked a *certain je ne sais quoi*… no ok, yes I know, we all know, they were lacking in Boonen and Cancellara! And a bit more action, too).

    • Definitely Lombardia was the best monument of the year. PR and de Ronde were not that exciting this year (but sill much better than the walloon classics… How have LBL become such a boring race? They really need to reshape the finish in my opinion, it is both ugly and boring).

  4. Stephen Cummings’s stage win in the Tour was definitely a personal highlight. Watching Bardet and Pinot stubbornly trundling along, each wanting the other to do the work, and then seeing their visible shock as Cummings came flying past them both at a ridiculous rate of knots, was a real sight to behold. Cummings is apparently a lovely guy and it’s always nice to see more experienced domestiques, who have toiled for years with little fanfare or reward, triumph unexpectedly in a high-profile event.

    As an extension, MTN’s performance this year–and at the Tour in particular, with that stage win and Teklehaimanot wearing the KoM jersey–has been another highlight. Will be interesting to see how they fare next year with Cav on board. At least it should guarantee them wildcard invites to most of the major races.

    • Yes – that was great! There isn’t much strength in depth in British road cycling, so it was gratifying to see an unusual suspect freed from WT domestique duties get a canny win.

      Looking like Dimension Data (as they’re likely to be called next year) have a strong chance of becoming a World Tour team, though – so they won’t have to rely on invites.

  5. Agreed – Lombardia was definitely one of the top races this year. Nibali proved once again why he is paid so handsomely. Without a Grand Tour win this year he did what other Grand Tour contenders could not – he decided to go out a win a monument, in the same way that some days I go out and order a pizza. He made that look easy, as easy as last year’s Tour de France in the Paris-Roubaix stage when he rode on Lars Boom’s wheel and blitzed the stage.

    He’s a true champion.

  6. So many highlights for me but I think the agony for Tom Dumoulin on stage 20 of the Vuelta takes it for me. The moment on the descent when he can see the group ahead only a 10 second gap and if he can just get back on their is still a chance he can hold onto red. But then Aru picks up Andre Zeits who just drills it on the front and its game over for Dumoulin. Agony for Dumoulin but great tactics by Astana and 3 weeks of racing coming down to a tiny margin.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of watching a non climber gritting his teeth and hanging on in the mountains.

    Also since then its also been my go to for showing the importance of team tactics in cycling to people who just don’t quite understand how it works.

    Other mentions – Paris Nice stage won by Gallopin, one of those stages where everything just blows apart and you are never quite sure whats happening, a great day of racing in grim conditions.

    Sagan at the tour – so strong yet unable to get a win.

    Degenkolb and Krsitoff in the classics – both showed they are more than just sprinters – they’re going to be tough to beat over the next few years.

  7. Highlight of the Year Part V ??
    ….for me, no contest… it’s INRNG. A sublime, year long, sustained effort. Truly the reliable diesel of cycling blogs, but with plenty of panache too…
    – and I’m happy to say that the comments section, having gone through a mid-year angsty phase, has returned to its previous respectful quality also. Chapeau.

  8. I remember watching that very stage where Sagan attacked and broke away on the descent. I wonder how he’d fare against another superb descender, Il Falco (Savoldelli). In fact, to stretch the analogy a bit, Talansky also descended very well in that “devil’s on my heels” kind of way when he won Dauphiné: using the whole road and having the spectators going “oh shit!” all the way. Kudos to all of them. But still, Il Falco against Sagan on a match to the bottom of a climb…hmmm. hard to pick a winner.

    • I hope that the Rainbow Jersey inspires him to great things in 2016.
      Love to see him go back for a season in CX too, win the World Champs just for the hell of it!

  9. Lombardia – Certainly a brilliant ride- no doubt about it.
    Perhaps it is not mentioned because of the context of Nibali being such a prat beforehand: his ill-grace at the Tour and the blatant cheating that had him thrown out of the Vuelta. That Vuelta tow must have been the number one “WTF” highlight of the year- indeed many a year: the car was going so fast maybe he dare not let go. And the group he left behind just could not believe what they were seeing. It was Keystone Cops Cycling very unfortunately.

  10. Just a minor point: I thought during the Tour Go Pro had a sponsorship deal in place with both – ASO and Velon. Otherwise these images probably would have never seen the tv screens?

  11. Another vote here for Lombardia. Nibali’s descent to win was breathtaking. He may not be able to deliver the watts-per-kilo like Froome or Quintana, but by God he can race.

    I did also think Paris Roubaix was also a highlight. I sense a bit of fandom snobbery about P-R, as it’s probably the most-watched classic, but it rarely fails to deliver an exciting race.

  12. Just read that Cancellera will be calling it quits after next season. Will miss him in action on the bergs of Flanders. No one could match his power moves on the Keppelberg! In 2015, instead of a highlight, it was truly a low-light to see Spartacus taking fall after fall in the Classics and then at the Tour, fracturing his vertebrae and being side-lined. Hope you will go out with a bang next year! Vai, vai Spartacus…!

  13. Personally, I was more impressed with Roman Bardet’s descent on Stage 5 of the Dauphine, which was for the win, not second. The road seemed narrower, twistier and more enclosed by vegetation and rock walls, which made it visually more spectacular.

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