There is now more cycling races scheduled than ever but the cream of the crop will be found in the UCI World Tour. Alejandro Valverde was crowned World Tour champion but many others have animated the circuit throughout the season. Below I take a look at who will remember the 2014 season fondly, and who will be itching for a new start.Winners
Where better to start than with the winner of the Tour De France. Despite being blasted by his own team boss for a poor start the season, Nibali seized an opportunity to write his name into cycling history with his July win. Some of his rivals may have crashed out but Nibali avoided danger and went on to win four stages. Nobody got close to challenging him and the ‘Shark of Messina’ is a serious candidate for more Grand Tour success in 2015. Nobody- not least his team boss- should say otherwise. This year’s Italian National Champion has now won all three Grand Tours and reached the level many thought he could five or six years ago.
Prediction for 2015: A difficult defence of his Tour De France title against an in-form Alberto Contador will be a thrilling contest.
Last week Kwiatkowski was a surprise winner of the World Road Race Championships. He is a rider with bags of potential but the World Championship race is usually won by a punchy aggressor or strong sprinter; two things the Pole was not known to be. Nevertheless, Kwiatkowski showed his true potential when launching a late attack and holding off a field of big names. The 24 year old had another solid Tour De France, finishing third in the Young Riders competition for the second year running. Consider these achievements alongside a podiums at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and it is no surprise he has such a high position in the World Rankings.
Prediction for 2015: To challenge for a stage win in the Tour De France and to continue to shape into one of the best all-rounders in the cycling world.
Over the last two years, Team Giant-Shimano has become the best sprint team on the circuit. They set up races for their sprinters with the total control Team Colombia-High Road showed in 2009. Marcel Kittel was the team’s leading sprinter in 2013 and this year emphasized he is the fastest finisher on the planet. It is surprising then that John Degenkolb emerged as their star of 2014. In order to differentiate himself from his compatriot, Degenkolb has reinvented himself as a tougher sprinter, able to get over hills and win stages that Kittel simply cannot. He is also more able to challenge in Grand Tour points competitions by placing high on many stages. That is exactly what he did at this year’s Vuelta a España and Paris-Nice, where he won multiple stages and the points competition. He also showed his Classics ability when impressing to finish 2nd at Paris-Roubaix.
Prediction for 2015: To lead his team in races deemed too hilly for Marcel Kittel and to show his 2014 Vuelta a España Points jersey win was not a fluke.
New hope was breathed into French cycling this summer with the performances of Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot. The pair tussled over the Young Riders jersey at the Tour De France whilst holding on to high places in the general classification. Pinot ended up third and Bardet sixth, but it was the latter who has showed more potential over the season. Though short of victories, the 23 year old placed high in numerous races such as the Tour of Oman, Tour de l’Ain, and the Criterium du Dauphine. Unlike many young cyclists, Bardet has already begun to master the art of when to attack his rivals and when to dig deep to limit his losses. The only thing left for him to work on is his time trialling.
Prediction for 2015: Bardet looks ready to accept more responsibility from his team and climb his way to bigger things.
Alessandro De Marchi
The only man in this list who was relatively unknown 12 months ago is Alessandro De Marchi. The Italian started this season as a hard working member of the Cannondale team. However, this year he found he had strength in his legs to match his aggressive mentality. In a team built largely around Peter Sagan, De Marchi managed to ride his way to the Mountains jersey at the Criterium du Dauphine. He followed this up with strong rides in both the Tour De France and Vuelta a España. At the Tour he attacked on many stages and ended up with the award for the most aggressive rider. A victory may have eluded him in France but the strongman kept going and got his first major stage win in the Vuelta a month later.
Prediction for 2015: De Marchi has recently signed for BMC Racing and his new team should give him the chance to flourish and show what he can do.
Formerly the World’s best sprinter, Mark Cavendish has followed up a mixed 2013 with a poor 2014. The Manx man was once so superior to his rivals that victories were a formality. More recently, a mixture of bad luck and the emergence of Marcel Kittel have lead to a shortage of wins. While Cavendish gave as good as he got in 2013, this year is no doubt one to forget. On the first stage of the Tour De France Cavendish fell and separated his right shoulder, colliding with Simon Gerrans in the final sprint. This slice of bad luck was made worse by going winless in the Tour de l’Ain and Tour of Britain. Cavendish was beaten by not only Kittel but other sprinters who would have been nowhere near him at his prime. The 25-time Tour De France stage winner will be looking to rebound as quickly as possible.
Prediction for 2015: Perhaps the Brit is past his peak, but he will be eager to prove everybody wrong and has the ability to do so.
How harsh it seems to include the man ranked eighth in the world this year in the Losers section of this article. After all, Sagan won his third consecutive Points jersey in the Tour de France and continued to ooze class across the 12 months. However, he did so without winning many stages. He had is fair share of bad luck, placing in the top five in more Tour De France stages than he will care to remember, but he simply could not match the standard he set in 2012 and 2013. One stage win in the Tour of California was also below his norm; he won five stages in 2012. He was unable to stamp his name on the spring classics and landing a Monument must surely be a goal for Sagan. It seems as if the fun-loving Slovakian has been found out. He gets out-sprinted by the sprinters, and out-climbed by the climbers. Take a look at one post-stage interview in the Tour de France and you will see even Sagan is perplexed. It is all relative though for a man of such ability. ‘The Terminator’ will find answers to his critics soon enough.
Prediction for 2015: To tweak his strategy and find his way back to winning ways.
Edvald Boasson Hagen
A few years back Edvald Boasson Hagen was one of Team Sky’s rising stars, claiming a number of eye-catching victories. The Norwegian was a fast finisher who picked the right moves at the right time. This was never clearer than in the 2011 Tour De France when he grabbed two stage wins. Even when Mark Cavendish arrived at Sky he held his own, his unique skill set brought him more victories and a podium at the World Championships. Since then, Boasson Hagen has disappeared off the scene unexplainably and his 2014 was a non-starter. Though riddled with injuries, Boasson Hagen’s winless year has led to him leaving Team Sky. He was looked at by many big teams but has ended up signing a contract with MTN-Qhubeka who will not be part of the World Tour.
Prediction for 2015: Though the Norwegian remains upbeat, he may not get the opportunities he needs at his new team.
It would be unfair to say Joaquim Rodriguez has had a bad year. He has, however, had his worst year since 2008. The 35 year old burst on to the scene late, but since joining Team Katusha has had a string of high Grand Tour finishes and strong performances in the Classics. This year things were different and Rodriguez had very little success. He was unfortunate to crash out of the Giro but recovered for the Tour De France. At the Tour, he wore the King of the Mountains jersey briefly but was easily outdone by Rafal Majka and unable stay anywhere near the leaders. He was also mediocre in the spring classics abandoning Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April. Credit is due to Rodriguez for his defiant Vuelta a España; his 4th place finish puts a considerably rosy outlook on his season. Nevertheless, for a man ranked so high in the last two years, 2014 will have disappointed.
Prediction for 2015: He will be 36 for the most part of next Season, but expect Rodriguez to fight hard to find glory once more.
Forgive me Richie Porte fans, but the Australian had a great opportunity in 2014 and did not take it. When Chris Froome crashed out of the Tour De France, Porte became team leader and was surrounded by strong team-mates. The chance to lead Team Sky was exactly what Porte deserved. He worked hard for Froome in 2013, and showed his individual ability when winning Paris-Nice last March. When Porte led his team into Stage 13 of the Tour De France he promptly lost nine minutes to his rivals. It was the first really tough Alpine stage and Porte was found wanting. Porte had no answers on the next major climbs either and was soon riding for pride alone. He stuck at his task almost invisibly and finished a distant 23rd. No doubt Porte has a role to play for Team Sky, but he does not look a Grand Tour winner. Manager Dave Brailsford is unlikely to give him a second chance any time soon.
Prediction for 2015: To work hard to reach the level he was at in 2013, all the while playing his part in Team Sky’s plans.