10 lowlights from the 2014 road cycling season

by Matt de Neef


The 2014 road cycling season is more or less finished but before 2015 rolls around we thought we’d look back on the season that was. A few weeks ago we featured 10 of our highlights from the 2014 road cycling season and today we consider 10 of the lowlights, presented in no particular order.

Click through to see our 10 highlights from the 2014 road cycling season.

1. Froome and Contador’s exit from the Tour de France

In the build-up to this year’s Tour de France the race was largely billed as Chris Froome vs Alberto Contador, with Vincenzo Nibali seen as the biggest challenger outside the two big favourites. It promised to be a great showdown.

But then, on the epic fifth stage of the race, Chris Froome crashed twice and was out of the race. Five stages later, Alberto Contador crashed during a descent and, despite riding on with what turned out to be a broken leg, the Spaniard also abandoned.

Nibali won the stage in which Contador abandoned (the second of his four stage victories) and moved back into the overall lead. At this point it was clear that he was almost certainly going to win the Tour — barring a crash of course — and for many people the second half of the race lost much of its interest.

It was disappointing not to get to see Nibali vs Froome vs Contador in the high mountains, but equally as disappointing were the suggestions that Nibali’s win was worth little given Froome and Contador’s exits. Sure, Nibali won comfortably in the end, but with the form he was in even Froome and Contador would have been hard-pressed to beat him.

2. A string of Astana positive tests

Winning the Tour de France with Vincenzo Nibali makes the 2014 season a success for Astana, but the second half of the year was soured by a string of positive tests.

It began in September when Valentin Iglinskiy was kicked off the team for a positive EPO test at the Eneco Tour. A month later Valentin’s better-known brother Maxim was also suspended for apparent EPO use, prompting suggestions the team would have to self-suspend for eight days under MPCC rules.

But, predictably, Astana requested a B sample be tested, ensuring they delayed the self-suspension and didn’t miss Il Lombardia and the Tour of Almaty, a Kazakhstani race the team had been targeting.

Just as predictably, the team decided after those races that they wouldn’t request a B sample after all, thereby self-suspending for the Tour of Beijing.

The third rider to test positive in 2014 was stagiaire Ilya Davidenok, prompting the UCI to review Astana’s WorldTour license.

To some, the Astana positives come as little surprise — general manager Alexander Vinokourov has a famously chequered past. Worse, they potentially overshadow the great victories of Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru and others throughout the season, if not casting doubt on those performances.

3. Rabo-Liv’s “blocking” of Mara Abbott during the Giro Rosa

On the ninth and final stage of the 2014 Giro Rosa, Rabobank-Liv had no fewer than three riders in the elite lead group that was taking on the final climb. While Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol) rode away to take her third stage win of the race, the Rabo-Liv women kept a very close eye on last year’s winner and renowned climber Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare).

Depending on your perspective the Rabo-Liv riders — riding in defence of Marianne Vos’ overall lead — were either just using their numbers to their advantage … or they were deliberately blocking Mara Abbott, sometimes forcing her to the side of the road with no real chance of getting clear.

Scrub through to 34:30 in the video below to make up your own mind — 35:40 is particularly interesting.

In the end Marianne Vos won the Giro Rosa and the incident likely didn’t have a real bearing on the race overall — Abbott didn’t seem to have the same form as last year. Either way — and regardless of whether you think the Rabo-Liv riders were doing the wrong thing — it’s not a particularly great look and not great sportsmanship (sportspersonship?)

4. Andy Schleck’s retirement

Ever since Andy Schleck fractured his pelvis in the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine, the 2010 Tour de France winner hasn’t been the same. He never won a race after that crash and when he crashed out of this year’s Tour de France, it was more or less the end for Schleck.

The knee injury he sustained was far more serious than first thought, prompting the 29-year-old to announce in October that he was retiring from the sport.

It was a sad end to the career of one of the most exciting climbers of the past decade. Schleck became the butt of many cycling jokes in the past few years and was heavily criticised — something that effected him personally. Hopefully he will be remembered for what he achieved rather than the way his career came to an end.

5. The Roman Kreuziger debacle

Back in June Roman Kreuziger and his Tinkoff-Saxo team disclosed that the Czech rider was under investigation for biological passport anomalies dating back to his time with Astana in 2011-12.

Kreuziger was left off Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France team and was then provisionally suspended by the UCI. Kreuziger appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have his ban overturned before the Vuelta a Espana; an appeal that was ultimately unsuccessful.

But in late September, the Czech Olympic Committee (COC) cleared Kreuziger of any wrongdoing, and the Tinkoff-Saxo rider was able to return to competition for a handful of races in October.

The case is still ongoing, with the UCI and WADA contesting the COC’s decision and pushing for a lengthy ban.

The most troubling aspect of this whole story is the fact that national federations and committees are able to make rulings regarding their own athletes. Whether the Kreuziger case proves to be a catalyst in addressing this issue remains to be seen.

6. Deaths and serious injuries of individuals attached to various races

It’s a sad reality of cycling that riders will crash and, occasionally, get seriously injured or even killed. But it’s thankfully rare that you see officials or other individuals attached to a race getting killed. Sadly, we saw several individuals killed at bike races this year, and several others seriously injured.

La Gazzetta dello Sport moto pilot Koen Hadens was left in a critical condition after being hit by a van at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a female fan was hit at the Tour of Flanders and left in a coma. Then there was the horrible vision of a policeman being hit by a moto photographer during the Giro, landing him in a coma as well. We have been unable to verify whether these three individuals made a full recovery — we certainly hope they have.

Early in the season IAM Cycling’s Kristof Goddaert died in a tragic training accident when he crashed on a railway crossing and was struck by a bus. And then there was a member of the Spanish Guardia Civil police who lost his life while ensuring a safe passage for the riders taking part in stage 16 of the Vuelta. He lost control of his motorbike and struck a guardrail.

And most recently, Kenyan rider John Njoroge Muya was killed during the Tour of Matabungkay in the Philippines. Here’s hoping for far fewer (or ideally zero) incidents of the same nature in 2015.

7. Fernando Alonso’s off-again-on-again cycling team

It’s turned into one of the biggest non-stories of 2014. The rumours first started late last year when it looked like F1 star Fernando Alonso was going to buy the WorldTour license freed up by the demise of Euskaltel-Euskadi. Despite Alonso’s media team confirming that he had “reached an initial agreement” to buy the license, the deal never came to fruition … like much in this whole story.

A bunch of riders were reportedly linked with the team dubbed FACT (Fernando Alonso Cycling Team) — including Tinkoff-Saxo’s prized recruit Peter Sagan — but nothing came together. Licenses weren’t applied for, sponsorship arrangements fell through and, ultimately, the promised opportunity of employment for dozens of riders and staff never happened.

8. Diego Ulissi’s salbutamol positive

Diego Ulissi began the season in great form, winning stage 2 of the Tour Down Under and finishing third overall, before winning two stages of the Giro d’Italia. But in June it was revealed that Ulissi had been pulled from the team after testing revealed nearly twice the permitted amount of Salbutamol in the Italian’s system.

Ulissi had previously told authorities he would be using the asthma medication Ventolin during the Giro, but the amount detected in testing was considerably higher than would normally be used to treat asthma.

Ulissi returned to racing in September for a single race after lawyers decided that there was nothing stopping the Italian from doing so. But shortly after the race, Lampre-Merida confirmed that Ulissi had again been sidelined after the UCI requested disciplinary proceedings be opened by Swiss Cycling.

The case is still ongoing but it doesn’t look great for Ulissi.

9. Controversy over the Stelvio stage of the Giro

On stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia the riders were set to tackle two of Italy’s most legendary cycling climbs: the Passo Gavia and the Passo dello Stelvio. Heavy snow fell as the riders climbed the Stelvio and according to several sources (including the Giro’s official Twitter account) the descent was to be neutralised to ensure rider safety.

Only some of the riders got the message though and while some stopped for jackets before the descent — including Cadel Evans — a small group got away off the front, including Nairo Quintana, Ryder Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland. The trio started the final climb of the day nearly two minutes clear of the rest of the field (including race leader Rigoberto Uran) and Quintana went on to win the stage.

The confusion over whether or not the Stelvio descent would be neutralised — it wasn’t in the end — arguably affected the outcome of the stage (Quintana moved into the overall lead as well) but it didn’t alter the outcome of the race overall. Quintana showed in the final week that he was the strongest rider in the race and he won accordingly.

Regardless, it could have been much worse. We tend to agree with Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Lars Michaelson who said after the stage: “When an organiser steps in to control the race … they need to have the finesse and skills to do it properly. [The Giro organisers’] intentions were good but the execution was horrible.”

10. Overzealous fan at the Giro d’Italia

We see it every year during the Grand Tours — fans getting far too close to the riders on the roads of the high mountains. And this year, in the Giro d’Italia, we saw one particular fan potentially influence the outcome of a race.

On the final climb of stage 20, up the mighty Monte Zoncolan, Michael Rogers and Francesco Bongiorno were leading the race after escaping in a 20-man group earlier in the stage. An overzealous fan thought he’d give Bongiorno a shove but with the Italian sitting directly behind the Australian, Bongiorno had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting Rogers. The near-miss cost Bongiorno a few seconds and he ultimately lost contact with Rogers, who went on to win the stage.

Whether or not Bongiorno could have stayed with Rogers and won the stage is debatable — Rogers was looking the stronger of the two — but it was an ugly incident that hopefully serves to remind fans of the need to give riders space.

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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.