10 highlights from the 2014 road cycling season
The 2014 road season is effecively finished and already the focus is turning to what 2015 might hold. But before the new year rolls around, editor Matt de Neef put together 10 of the CyclingTips team’s highlights from the 2014 season, in no particular order.
1. Simon Gerrans’ entire season
When Simon Gerrans targets a particular bike race, he tends to do very well in it. He started the year in style, targeting and winning the Australian Nationals Road Race (ahead of Cadel Evans and Richie Porte no less) and his third Santos Tour Down Under. He peaked again for the Ardennes Classics, coming third in Amstel Gold, before taking the second Monument victory of his career: Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Victories in the two Canadian WorldTour races in September — GP de Quebec and GP de Montreal — made Gerrans one of the massive favourites for the World Championships. He finished second in that race, at the front of an elite selection, beaten only by an audacious move by Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
In 2014 Gerrans had what was arguably the most successful season of his 10-year career. And given he’s signed with Orica-GreenEdge for another three years, we expect there are many more big victories to come.
2. The introduction of on-bike cameras
We got the first real taste of on-bike camera footage back at the Tour of California in May and the amazing footage continued throughout the year.
Videos like the one below, shot on stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse, provided a previously unseen perspective of just how chaotic it can be inside the pro peloton and what it takes to be competitive at the end of a WorldTour race.
On-bike cameras featured in many races for the remainder of the season and the technology seems to be here to stay. The next step, clearly, is having live footage from these cameras included in race broadcasts. There were suggestions a trial along these lines might have occurred at this year’s La Course, but it didn’t eventuate. It might be a few years yet until we see live TV footage from inside the peloton, but we’re headed in the right direction.
3. Michael Matthews’ Giro and Vuelta
When Michael Matthews finished eighth on stage 2 of this year’s Giro d’Italia, he took the leader’s maglia rosa off the shoulders of his teammate Svein Tuft. Over the next six stages, the 23-year-old Australian would lead the race, doing his Orica-GreenEdge team and Australian fans proud. He also won stage 6, before eventually relinquishing the lead to compatriot Cadel Evans on stage 8.
Just a few months later, Matthews was back at it, taking the lead in the Vuelta a Espana after winning stage 3. His reign was far shorter in the Spanish Grand Tour — a total of three stages in red — but it was another great effort from a rider that’s traditionally thought of a sprinter but who is also more than handy when the road goes up and in a TT.
In fact, there are even those who believe he has the potential to be a very good GC rider if he’s given the opportunity …
4. Stage 5 of the Tour de France
In the lead-up to the Tour de France stage 5 was the one that many of us were most looking forward to. With nine cobbled sectors (reduced to seven on the day due to heavy rain) in the north of France, it was like a mini Paris-Roubaix inside the Tour de France.
The GC contenders were nervous about the stage coming in, and rightly so. Chris Froome crashed twice early on and abandoned the race before the cobbles even began, and Alberto Contador was distanced on the pavé as the rain fell.
While the stage victory went to Belkin’s Lars Boom, Vincenzo Nibali was arguably the biggest winner on the day. The Sicilian showed himself to be the most complete rider in the Tour, staying at the business end of the race and finishing third, just 19 seconds down on Boom. He would go on to win four stages and the Tour de France overall.
Most of all, we just love the photos that came out of that stage.
5. Introduction of major women’s races
If you speak to people that went to watch the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain this year, they’ll tell you just how large and vocal the crowds were. The impressive attendance at the five-stage race showed that it is possible to attract large crowds to women’s races, contrary to popular opinion.
— Annette Edmondson (@NettieEdmo) May 10, 2014
2014 also saw the introduction of La Course by Le Tour de France, a one-day race held on the Champs-Elysees, just hours before the final stage of the Tour de France. Broadcast live around the world, the race was one of the rare opportunities this year that fans got to see the women’s peloton racing live on TV.
The race has been confirmed again for 2015 and there are hopes that La Course will grow into something much bigger than a one-day race. Organisers of the Vuelta a Espana recently announced that they would be following suit as well, holding a women’s race alongside the men’s Grand Tour. Hopefully these developments only add to the great momentum women’s cycling seems to be building.
6. Michael Rogers return to racing
On face value (and there’s no evidence to interpret things any other way at this stage) Rogers’ comeback was one of the great sporting stories of the year.
Sidelined after what was almost certainly an accidental positive for clenbuterol after racing in China late last year, Rogers returned to racing at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April. He then went on to race the Giro d’Italia where we won his first stage in a Grand Tour with a solo escape on stage 11. And then on stage 20, which finished at the top of Monte Zoncolan, Rogers rode away from his breakaway group to take a second stage victory.
At the Tour de France Rogers was riding in support of his teammate Alberto Contador but when the Spaniard crashed out of the race Rogers was freed up to ride for himself. He capitalised on the opportunity, winning stage 16 after outfoxing his breakaway companions.
It would appear that Rogers’ time on the sidelines might have been a blessing in disguise.
7. The emergence of Fabio Aru
There were many up-and-coming riders that caught our eye in 2014 and Fabio Aru was among the most impressive. Sure, he’s been in the peloton for a few years now (he debuted in 2012), but 2014 was a true breakout year for the Italian.
The then-23-year-old took the Giro d’Italia by storm, climbing his way to an impressive win on stage 15, on his way to finishing third overall. At the Vuelta a Espana he continued his impressive form, winning on another two hilltop finishes, and finishing fifth overall. If he maintains his current trajectory there’s no reason to think that he won’t win a Grand Tour in the next few years.
In addition to his obvious talent, we also love Aru’s panache — his willingness to go on the attack and light up the climbs. There’s also the fact he’s arguably got the best painface in the pro peloton.
8. A different winner in all of the UCI Women’s Road World Cup races
It’s hard not to like Marianne Vos, but it’s also good to see other riders winning races every so often. The 2014 Women’s World Cup comprised nine events and we saw a different rider take out each of the eight races that weren’t a TTT.
Granted, Vos didn’t ride in the first three World Cups, but it was still great to see a bunch of different names at the top of the results sheets (Vos won five of the seven World Cup races that she could last year).
Ultimately, if women’s cycling is going to find a bigger audience fans need to be familiar with a whole bunch of riders (and their personalities, strengths, weaknesses etc.) not just one or two. Having a variety of winners can only be a good thing for the sport.
9. Contador’s Vuelta comeback
Alberto Contador’s withdrawal from the Tour de France after crashing on stage 10 was one of the biggest stories of the race. Not just for the controversy (and conspiracy theories) about whether his bike might have snapped pre-crash (spoiler: it didn’t), but because it meant two of the race’s three favourites were now out of the race (after Froome withdrew on stage 5).
Contador himself was quick to rule out any chance of competing at the Vuelta a Espana, but he was soon spotted out training, prompting suggestions that the Spaniard’s recovery was coming along quicker than he had let on.
Sure enough, Contador soon announced he would ride the Vuelta, but with no ambitions of overall victory. When it came to the race, Contador shone. He won two stages before going on to win the race overall for at third time. Not only had Contador won the Vuelta two months after breaking his leg, he’d done so against the likes of Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.
Of course, there will be those that view Contador’s Vuelta win with suspicion given his previous missteps, but in the absence of any evidence of recent wrongdoing, we’re willing to view this as a great sporting comeback story.
10. Jens Voigt’s hour record
In some ways, Jensie-mania started to get a little tiring towards the end of the German’s long career, but it’s hard not to love the enthusiasm of the man. In early September he announced he was going to close out his career with a tilt at the Hour Record (after the UCI changed the rules to allow track bikes to be used) and later that month he went out and set a new mark of 51.115km.
There’s every chance that Voigt’s Hour Record will fall very soon (possibly even today) but what Voigt did by setting a new mark was to regenerate interest in the Hour Record. We can only hope that some of the world’s best time trialists (male and female) will throw their hat in the ring soon.
Of course there are many highlights from the season that we’ve left out here. Here are five of our honourable mentions:
- Fabian Cancellara’s continued consitency – a worst finish of third in his last 12 Monuments (including a win at Tour of Flanders this year)
- Rafal Majka’s amazing month – from not wanting to ride the Tour de France to taking two stage wins and the KOM plus the Tour of Poland overall
- Lisa Brennauer’s Worlds campaign – Wins in the TTT and ITT and second in the road race
- Evie Stevens’ Thuringen Rundfahrt win after 17 continuous days of racing – raced the Giro Rosa then started Thuringen the next day … and won it. Time for Grand Tours for women?
- Moments of brilliance from Cadel Evans – Tour Down Under stage win, Giro del Trentino overall victory and two masterful wins at the Tour of Utah
So, what have we missed? We want to hear what you would have included and what you wouldn’t have included. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Click through to see 10 lowlights from the 2014 road cycling season.