At the start of the year 10 riders were picked for 2015, some promised a breakthrough and others were trying to keep their career on the road. What happened?
Mark Cavendish went into 2015 with Marcel Kittel being mentioned all the time as the rising sprint king. Instead Kittel vanished and the season began with Colombian amateur Fernando Gaviria taking two wins ahead of Cavendish in the Tour de San Luis. Gaviria had been training for this, was in the middle of his summer season and more so it was hardly a straight contest but it set the tone on two levels. First the theme that Cavendish is no longer invincible, in fact he hasn’t been and often goes through sustained spells of being beaten, rallying just when the headlines begin to write him off. Second Etixx-Quickstep signed Gaviria marking the first move in the game of contractual musical chairs as Cavendish’s employment prospects became a summer saga. It’s been a mixed year, 14 wins in total and he helped save his Etixx-Quickstep team with a win in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne after Ian Stannard’s overwinning the previous day but his total of 14 wins came from smaller races like the Dubai Tour and the Tours of Turkey and California until the Tour de France jackpot. A move to Dimension Data sees a mini High Road reunion and given the team’s obvious focus on Cavendish and sprinting it’ll be fascinating to see how they manage their leadouts and related tactics.
Did you know Nacer Bouhanni likes boxing? Of course you did, no mention of him can avoid it and perhaps because it’s still noteworthy given his still welterweight palmarès. He was one of the biggest transfers for 2015 as he left FDJ for Cofidis, quitting the World Tour to become the highest paid French cyclist. Cofidis signed him following a run of Giro stage wins and during the heady days when Fernando Alonso was threatening to sign him and others creating feverish price tension in the rider market. Cofidis built the team around him but all sprint trains need work and several hired wagons were shunted into the goods yard by March, notably Jonas Ahlstrand and Steve Chainel. In came riders like Christophe Laporte and Stéphane Rossetto soon things began to work, two stages of the Dauphiné boded well for the Tour de France but a big crash in the French nationals wiped him out and put his presence in Utrecht in doubt. He started but was finished days later by an innocuous crash. 11 wins in all though and sixth in Milan-Sanremo and his win in the Circuito de Getxo with its steep uphill finish hints at more than sprinting. Team building takes time and he should achieve more in 2016.
Rafał Majka is still making a name for himself, or at least battling to ensure commentators say his name right: my-ka and not madge-car. The Pole had a great 2014 season, finishing the Giro and then riding the Tour de France for Contador only for the Spaniard to crash out leaving the way clear for two stage wins and the mountains jersey. The encore in 2015 was as good with a Tour de France stage win and he stood on the podium of the Vuelta a España with other consistent results. Fourth place on the Jebel Akhdar in Oman boded well but soon Tinkoff-Saxo riders were muttering about fatigue and overtraining for the spring races and come the first mountain stage of Paris-Nice a puncture saw him out of the bunch just as they rode to the foot of the Col de la Croix du Chaubouret and he could not get back. This was his chance at leadership while Alberto Contador was at Tirreno-Adriatico and he blew it thanks to an ill-timed puncture, a reminder of how fragile and ephemeral chances can be.
Tejay van Garderen is the nearly man. If he wins a grand tour or another major stage race in 2016 we’ll all be able to point to his consistent progress every year and say it was just a matter of time until the 27 year old landed it. Yet there’s the nagging concern that his rising trajectory is tapering off and converting his impressive performances into silverware and yellow polyester is proving hard. Take the Criterium du Dauphiné where everything went his way and BMC Racing won the team time trial stage but he was ditched by Chris Froome on the final climb to Valfréjus and lost on time bonuses. During the Tour de France staked his claim to be the fifth man of the Fantastic Four, in other words one of the best riders in the world; at least until he quit the race ill. The Vuelta was cued-up but this didn’t work out but he should deliver something in 2016, especially with a Tour de France route with added time trials. With Fabian Cancellara set to retire a sizeable chunk of cash is going to be freed up in the Trek Factory Racing budget and van Garderen looks like a natural acquisition.
Pierre Rolland had a solid season, leading the Volta a Catalunya and winning the Vuelta a Castille y Leon but struggles to convert chances into wins. Take the Tour de France stage to St Jean de Maurienne where Romain Bardet used the descent of the Col du Glandon to ride away while Rolland seemed confused whether to chase and finished second. He’s hard to label, a stage race specialist or a breakaway raider? The 2015 Tour de France route was designed for him but bad positioning saw him lose beaucoup time before the race reached France and he slowly clawed his way up to tenth overall. He’s signed for Cannondale-Garmin and he’ll be curious to watch, his first time out of a French team after 10 years as a pro.
Wilco Kelderman has still been eligible for best young rider competitions but the trouble is that he hasn’t been winning many of them. 2015 was supposed to open the way now that Bauke Mollema had switched to Trek Factory Racing and Robert Gesink talked about taking satisfaction from team duties. The elegant pedaller won the Dutch time trial championships and placed third overall in the Eneco Tour but 2015 wasn’t the breakthrough Dutch fans had been expecting. They got Tom Dumoulin instead.
Guillaume Van Keirsbulck is the Tom Boonen lookalike, at least when he’s in team kit and crouched low over the bike. But the results haven’t matched and partly because of intestinal problems, not a dodgy frikadel but a stomach problem that needed surgery. He had another operation to fix a hernia too so it’s been a year to forget. 2016 is crucial as he’s got a one year contract.
Edvald Boasson-Hagen was probably MTN-Qhuebeka’s best signing for 2015 but the Norwegian is still a long way from his glory days. 2015 brought news of old training plans being resurrected, a beefier build for the classics but it didn’t work out. He did well in a string of lesser stage races taking sprint wins and even the Tour of Britain overall.
Carlos Betancur continued in 2015 as he’d done in 2014: overweight and under-raced. In the picture above we wonder what makes more noise: the disc wheel or his rumbling stomach? He trundled around several stage races including the Giro and went home to Colombia. He was due to return to France in June but the team helper sent to collect him from the airport waited and waited and Bananito never showed: he hadn’t even bothered to tell the team he didn’t board the fight they’d booked him. The delay meant a no-show at a work visa appointment and Ag2r gave up on him and by August his lucrative contract was broken. He’s signed for Movistar, presumably on a measly salary and big win bonus deal, and could be a key signing.
Michael Matthews had a fine season with wins galore only there were two sore points. The first was his Tour de France crash and his struggle to continue throughout the race, as if chanting Nietzsche’s “what doesn’t destroy you only makes you stronger” as he limped to his bike every morning. The second miss was the World Championships where he second and frustrated, accusing Simon Gerrans of not helping him and it seems the feud persists. Gerrans probably deserved his chance but Matthews is used to total support, see his win in Paris-Nice this year where the team did a perfect job and too the stage win in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule and the yellow jersey too.