We can’t lie to ourselves any longer; the pro cycling season is over. It’s far too soon to start counting down the days until January’s Tour Down Under (is it?) and there’s plenty of time to reflect on the last ten months. Where better to start than with this year’s winners and losers?
For the second year running I’m leaving out World Champion Peter Sagan. By now, everybody must be sick of hearing me wax lyrical about his outstanding talent. His string of near-misses has well and truly ended and he’s been on target at all the big races this year – a theme that should continue for the rest of his career. Instead I’ve opted for winners who’ll recall 2016 with particular fondness, having made a breakthrough or landed a major result.
The ‘losers’ will all have one thing in common; disappointment. Some distance from being bad riders, my selection highlights those who, for whatever reason, couldn’t get the job done and fell short of their goals.
Forget the results that didn’t fall his way, Cavendish is a 2016 winner. The Tour de France sprints are the most competitive of the year and Cavendish pedalled to near-total domination for the first time in five years. The game’s changed since Team Colombia delivered him to the top of world cycling and the aging Manxman has been treading water the past few seasons. A move to Dimension Data saw him become their biggest name and his haul this season was more than a fair return. There were few moments better than Cavendish’s Tour de France victory on the opening day where he sprinted round the fearsome trio of Sagan, Andre Greipel and nemesis Marcel Kittel. A week before he had been outgunned by Adam Blythe in a sprint at the nationals and his eye-catching speed came as a pleasant surprise. Cav continues to be the best interviewee on the World Tour recalling his split-second decisions at depth just moments after crossing the line. He claimed an elusive Yellow Jersey in 2016 and stood atop the podium as Tour de France leader for the first time. I had thought Cavendish’s best days were gone; he proved me wrong in exceptional fashion.
Prediction for 2017: There’s plenty in the tank and Cavendish is constantly adapting – he guarantees wins. Nevertheless, surely he can’t be as dominant at next year’s Tour?
What a season for Esteban Chaves. The Colombian raced 62 days in 2016 and 42 of those were grand tour stages. He completed a Giro/ Vuelta double and made the top 3 at both to give Orica their first podiums. There might be a tinge of sadness tied to his Giro d’Italia runners-up spot having led the race on the final day. However, Chaves doesn’t really do sadness and he was grinning from ear to ear at most of the summits he tamed in 2016. At the Vuelta he followed Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome home after wrestling Alberto Contador off the podium on the final climb. Chaves is a wonderful climber whose results this year have been an accurate reflection of his talent. It’s strange to think that at the start of 2015 he wouldn’t have been mentioned in the same breath as the GC elite yet now poses a real threat. His success extended beyond the grand tours and he landed Il Lombardia earlier this month by floating over the spikey climbs and upsetting compatriot Rigoberto Uran in the final sprint.
Prediction for 2017: His Tour de France debut may be delayed for one more year to facilitate a winning return to the Giro.
Adam and Simon Yates
The brothers Yates may be sick of having their careers clubbed together as a duo but it was a ‘needs must’ in order to shoehorn both into this list. Alongside Caleb Ewan’s continued development, Matt Hayman’s superb Paris-Roubaix win and Chaves’ podiums, the two contributed to Orica’s fantastic season by delivering big grand tour performances. Prior to this season, both had their best result at the Criterium du Dauphine (Adam finished 6th in 2014, Simon 5th in 2015) and had yet to go deep into a three week race. Simon had the better of the last campaign but it was his San Sebastian winning brother who got the nod in this year’s Tour de France team. He was brilliant in France yet somehow his performance was lost in Froome’s shadow. He was often short of support and gambled by sitting at the back of the lead group. He was rarely in difficulty and was extremely unlucky to be dislodged from the podium by a mediocre Quintana. Simon spent much of the year racing in Spain and narrowly lost a top five spot at the Vuelta Espana following Andrew Talansky’s strong time trial. Both suddenly look like future grand tour contenders though they may be prised away from Orica in search of more mountain support. If pushed for an answer over who showed the most potential, I’d say it’s advantage Adam. He looked the more comfortable amongst the elite in 2016.
Prediction for 2017: There are too many riders approaching their prime for either brother to challenge at a grand tour next year and they may struggle to repeat this season’s highs. Instead, I expect a focus on winning races; Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico could appeal.
Readers will know how much I like Groenewegen so it’s no surprise he’s made the cut. All bias aside, the Dutchman powered to eleven wins this campaign confirming he is one of the most prolific sprinters around. At first he picked off some of the lesser sprints – West Vlaanderen, Tour de Yorkshire – but Lotto NL-Jumbo couldn’t resist throwing him in at the deep end for much longer and, after collecting more scalps at Rund um Koln, he was given a baptism of fire at the Tour de France. He struggled to put together a sustained sprint challenge but the 23-year old refused to let his season whimper out. More success in Britain followed before landing a huge victory at the highest level at September’s Eneco Tour. Groenewegen’s now the Dutch national champion and possesses an impressive mix of race endurance and sprint power. His last win of the season was an ugly one at l’Eurometropole where he squeezed out Oliver Naesen and was lucky to avoid a disqualification. Many of the leading sprinters have had the rulebook thrown at them at some point in their career and you can add just the right amount of aggression to Groenewegen’s list of attributes.
Prediction for 2017: Groenewegen’s part of the future of sprinting and will kick on in 2017. His team provide adequate support but he may need an addition to his train in order to nab a grand tour stage win.
You could argue Bardet’s development has been slower than expected, fractionally improving each year since arriving on the scene with a gutsy 15th place at the Tour de France in 2013. Each season he’s found a way of making an impression (sixth at the 2014 Tour, the win in Pra Loup last year) but has failed to iron out his flaws and inconsistencies. Fans weren’t looking for flashes of magic from Bardet in 2016 but rather for him to piece together a complete race. Opportunity knocked at this year’s Tour de France and Bardet grasped it with both hands. The first two weeks were spent getting to within striking distance of the podium before he launched an attack on Mont Blanc with Yates showing a flicker of fatigue and Quintana missing in action. He went on to win the stage before nervously watching the monitor for his time gain. He eventually finished second in what was a huge result for French cycling. His podium finish was more impressive than Thibaut Pinot’s in 2014 due to the calibre of the riders in this year’s race and the relatively small gap to Froome. Bardet also continues to offer a threat in the hilly one-day races and enters his prime years with plenty to offer.
Prediction for 2017: Bardet faces a mammoth challenge to better his Tour runners-up spot and should seek a season of consolidation. It will be interesting to see when he chooses to tackle another grand tour.
Oh Thibaut not again. This was supposed to be the year Pinot breached the top tier of GC riders and everything was going oh- so-well until July. He started brightly, made all the right preparations and looked a class apart when winning the Criterium International. He placed a casual fourth at Pais-Vasco and was behind only Quintana in Romandie. The Dauphine started poorly but he danced up to Meribel for an impressive stage win. He entered Mont-Saint-Michel as a leading contender for Tour honours but by the end of Stage 7 – following only modest climbing – he was over three minutes off the pace. Every day looked a struggle and he soon switched focus to the King of the Mountains competition. Despite a few days in the break it was clear Pinot was lacking and he abandoned after finishing 157th on Mont Ventoux. He didn’t race again after July 24th. Once a prodigious talent of French stage racing, Pinot is slipping into disarray. He needs a big performance in 2017 and is capable of doing so – but are FDJ willing to back him all the way?
Prediction for 2017: They’ll be no quick fix for Pinot and his erratic form does not bode well for three week racing. If he gets it right, he could find himself back on a grand tour podium.
Tejay Van Garderen
I’ve been wrong plenty of times, but I don’t think Van Garderen has what it takes anymore. When his diesel engine gets going we know he can climb with the best but that’s simply not enough anymore. Pro cycling is edging towards favouring aggressors and Van Garderen seems destined to ride in the background. His best win of the season came at the Tour de Suisse’s Solden stage but riders of his ability will be trialled on their grand tour performances and it’s here where he falls horribly short. He was almost gifted the BMC leadership when Richie Porte lost time in the opening week of the Tour de France yet by the Champs Elysees he was over an hour behind his rival team mate. Van Garderen spent much of the race gutsily staying in contention but inevitably cracked in the final week. His lack of sparkle was a season-long trait and whilst he’s had his fair share of bad luck over the last five years, it must be time for something new.
Prediction for 2017: It’s unlikely to happen but I’d like to see Tejay skip the Tour de France and focus on the Giro d’Italia.
Continuing the theme of grand tour disappointments we reach Sky’s Mikel Landa. However, unlike the others on this list, Landa can’t be blamed for his shortcoming after picking up a bug on the Giro d’Italia rest day. Prior to his shock abandoning, Landa had actually put in an impressive time trial as a marker of his form. Perhaps more disappointing was how Team Sky failed to give him more opportunities for victory in the second half of the season. The Basque climber earned favour by supporting Froome at the Tour – but didn’t he leave Astana to pursue his own ambitions? His Giro d’Italia preparation was made up of a patchy, but stage-winning, return in Andalucia and overall victory at the Giro del Trentino. Neither of these results were good enough to convince me that Landa’s time at Team Sky is going to end in grand tour success. He looked off-beat for much of the campaign; a sharp contrast to his lively 2015 season where I listed him as a big winner.
Prediction for 2017: Make or break as Sky’s leader at the Giro d’Italia.
I really like Pierre Rolland so this was a tough call. Furthermore, he didn’t have a disastrous season showing promise at the Dauphine and putting in a typically plucky performance at the Tour de France. He stayed strong for the full race duration and didn’t fall out the top 20 from Stage 2 all the way to Paris. Rolland’s issue is that he’s now 30 and looking back at a gap of 1568 days to his last World Tour victory (there’s been two stage wins and two GC wins at minor races in that time). He’s achieved plenty of good results but it’s hard to imagine him developing now that he’s approaching the autumn of his career. So why is he a 2016 loser? Because he’d finally made a move away from Europcar yet put together a highly familiar campaign in Cannondale colours. Sitting 16th in the Tour’s final week, he wasn’t allowed the freedom to attack and completed one of his dullest races in years. Perhaps I’m being harsh on Rolland but I want to see him winning races.
Prediction for 2017: Left scratching his head after this year’s Tour, Rolland could sacrifice GC ambitions in favour of stages in next year’s race.
Lampre’s Modolo was the king of Italian sprinting this time last year having readily bested Giacomo Nizzolo at the Giro d’Italia and marked his Palmares with three memorable stage wins. He lost Argentinian leadout man Maximiliano Richeze over the winter and his 2016 season never really took off. Modolo frequently found himself beaten to the line by a handful of his rivals and was forced to settle for distant top five placings. He mustered up a couple of wins at the Tour of Turkey but was beaten in the finale by exciting compatriot Jakub Mareczko. He returned to the Giro d’Italia with high hopes and stayed the full distance whilst Germans Greipel and Kittel dropped out. Nevertheless, he still couldn’t get the job done and was squeezed into the barriers by Nizzolo (who was later disqualified) on the final stage. He doesn’t look fast enough to beat the best and is struggling with the loss of the experienced Richeze.
Predication for 2017: Lampre are folding and Modolo is staying on under new management. He won’t be fast enough to make an impact on the World Tour.