For fun at the start of the year there were 10 predictions for 2015. If you make predictions for the future it’s valuable to revisit them and see what happened… and what didn’t.
Prediction 1: The Ardennes week will have a different feel
This one fell flat, got up and then stumbled over gain. First the mooted change in the finish of Liège-Bastogne-Liège didn’t happen, it’s still in Ans – a contract ties ASO to the shabby suburb – and so the rhythm of the race took on a familiar pattern. The second stumble was in the Flèche Wallonne where experience of racing up “the wall” was deemed essential ahead of the Tour de France’s visit. Yes, this did bring plenty of Tour de France GC candidates but they didn’t feature too much, a star billing where the race orbited around the usual specialists. Yes Alejandro Valverde won and stood on the podium in the Tour but he’s the prototype rider for a finish like this. Chris Froome crashed, Vincenzo Nibali was 20th and the real surprise was the inclusion of the Côte de Cherave, just 5.5km from the finish and 1.3km at 8% average but mostly over 10%. This novelty shook things up a bit compared to the traditional dash along the Meuse and hopefully it stays for 2016.
Prediction 2: Alberto Contador will win the Giro
This one went right but was this the predictive equivalent of saying night follows day? What really mattered was whether Contador could win the Giro d’Italia and then perform in the Tour de France. Contador’s Giro-Tour double attempt was a big attraction of the season only it seems he went too deep in May. The prediction suggested Contador could try to establish an early lead and manage this – tapering off during the race if you like – only his best plans were countered by other teams making life as hard as possible. Astana in particular were rapacious and a serious shoulder injury made it worse for Contador. He re-emerged in June to beat Nairo Quintana in the Route du Sud. His relative failure in the Tour de France was bad for him and a blow for the sport in general as it’s killed interest in the double for some time, although it’s worth remembering this was one case including a heavy crash injury rather than sports science proof that it can’t be done. It leaves the Giro as the alternative grand tour, a test event to groom budding champions before a tilt at the Tour: an outcome with political and financial implications as ASO and RCS do battle.
Prediction 3: The Critérium du Dauphiné will be a very different race
The idea was the 2014 Dauphiné was so good it surely couldn’t be repeated plus the lively racing had left Contador and Froome so rinsed it was better to back off and leave the door open for some younger riders to make their mark in June. Instead we saw two captains of two of the largest teams battling it out as Froome chased down Tejay van Garderen to win the race by ten seconds on the final climb, thrilling race with a great day in the rain across the Vercors plateau plus that Allos descent by Romain Bardet. It was a great edition and already many are announcing they’ll ride the Dauphiné in 2016 again. Riders seem willing to push themselves very hard in this race knowing they can back off for three weeks before the Tour begins.
Prediction 4: Marcel Kittel will be the sprint king and his Giant-Alpecin team will thrive
A safety in numbers pick given everyone was surely thinking the same. We still don’t have a full story of what went wrong with Kittel, just a “virus”. There’s been the sporting equivalent of the “tricky second album” after his smash hits of 2014, there was illness and fatigue, possibly more and then came contractual disputes in the team with his wish to ride the Tour de France extinguished by a steely management and the rare shredding of his contract to free up a move to Etixx-Quickstep. The broader point behind Kittel did work out, this is the story of a team that thrived without him though, Luka Mezgec didn’t flourish as predicted but John Degenkolb won two Monuments while Tom Dumoulin had a great season with the Vuelta as confirmation for the lanky Limburger rather than revelation. Once they were a small outfit with wooing ASO for wildcards as a central plank of their strategy; today they’re a big slick team with a pipeline of sponsorship but the foundations are still visible: their whole Tour team was a product of their rider development program.
Prediction 5: A year without a major doping scandal?
The crystal ball was brilliant here: we have indeed had a year without a major doping scandal. The closest was Astana whose licence was almost taken away by the UCI. Did they find a fridge full of blood or vat of vials? No, turns out they weren’t following suggested guidelines on coaching support and language barriers. Later the Tour de France had speculation and suspicion in the place of scandal and samples with Team Sky caught in a public relations bother. As written back then “not to say there’s no more doping but it looks like athletics is becoming the whipping boy of anti-doping”. Indeed.
Prediction 6: Cycling will remain impossible to watch
This turned out right too and in fact too much so. One obvious clue to the sport’s dysfunctions is that it’s very hard to watch a season’s racing without resorting to illegitimate means. Even the keenest fan could equip themselves with more satellite dishes and cable connections than a CIA listening station only to be thwarted because there still are no ways to watch a race on TV. Of course nothing is impossible and you can turn to the web and many races via a pirate stream on the internet but this is a black market in TV rights which is bad for race owners and teams alike and usually terrible for fans who are left to consume the sport on a low-fi stream that drops out before the finish, although just in time to sneak some malware onto your computer. For US fans things have got even worse with NBC dropping some coverage. It’s frustrating partly because the television can be brilliant, Sporza’s coverage of the spring classics is brilliant while both RAI and France Télévisions offer superb HD images for the Giro, Tour and more.
Prediction 7: The Tour de France gets sold
This was a cautious claim because while bidders were circling there are many obstructions, notably the government decree in France that insists the Tour is shown free to air (this exists in other countries too) so for all the Parisian stockmarket speculation it was stated that the probability of a deal was low. It seems exploring a sale has convinced the Amaury family that the Tour is a valuable asset with a promising future and they’ve sold off print titles like Le Parisien. RCS is copying this with a recent press release explaining their new strategy includes bolstering their bike races rather than selling them.
Prediction 8: The UCI’s 2020 reforms get diluted and delayed
This proved right too. A year ago the forecast was that the teams and the UCI would be at loggerheads and it seems this happened to the point where the UCI pivoted during 2015 to make the reforms less suitable to the race organisers and more for the teams although it seems to be a compromise solution where three year licences are seen as only the minimum by some team owners while the likes of ASO see it as way to much. More dilution and delays?
Prediction 9: Oleg Tinkov will continue to provoke
Right again. At first glance this is like saying “a dog will bark” but below the headline of provocations the real story was whether Tinkov would stay in the sport, at the start of the year some were saying the Russian rouble crisis could see the team fold before the Tour de France . But Tinkov always had the cash reserves and an undepleted passion to keep the show on the road. Still bark he did and Tinkov kept up the provocation whether the taunting tweets, public criticism of his riders and, during July, calling for teams to boycott the Tour de France which is a bit like visiting someone’s house for dinner and then telling other guests to stop eating and go home.
Prediction 10: Bike tech won’t bring anything new
It’s hard to name a big new product that appeared in 2015, we’ve seen trends continue for example Trek’s Madone sees the integration of components to make the bike more aero. For those who say disc brakes are new, we’re still in a trial phase of tech that’s been used on MTBs for ages. A change to the 6.8kg rule was mused but this is yet to happen, maybe in 2016? If anything there’s a reversal in some areas, carbon rims have got heavier with manufacturers citing the aero gains of wider rims but these are stronger thanks to the wider arch too while electronic shifting from Shimano and Campagnolo sees firmware used to prevent backwards compatibility, a unwelcome novelty. A potential novelty in the World Tour was the introduction of rider telemetry and again it’s been done before, just not on this scale and solutions now exist to capture every rider’s position, speed and more in real time and with luck this will feature more in 2016.