When I think back quickly on the 2014 cycling season without allowing myself anytime to think in depth, three moments spring to mind: The first is Vincenzo Nibali bouncing across the cobbles of northern France in his mud stained yellow jersey. The second is riders crashing out of Grand Tours -- from Dan Martin at the Giro (in Belfast in front of huge crowds); Mark Cavendish (in England in front of massive crowds), Chris Froome (before the cobbles!) and Alberto Contador (before the mountains) at the Tour de France; and Nairo Quintana (in a time-trial) at the Vuelta -- and I may have missed someone. The third was Jens Voigt riding into retirement by breaking the historic world hour record.
It was a heck of a season in which a variety of riders stepped up to win at various stages of the season. In reality the cycling season can be split into four mini-seasons within one: The early-season week-long stage races, the spring classics, the Grand Tours, and the fall classics/World Championships. But even within the mini-seasons, no rider came forward to dominate and as result we had unpredictable racing that generated some great action.
Those early-season week-long stage races provided a variety of winners from specialists targeting them to others using them as form builders ahead of the Grand Tours.
The spring classics seen four different men win the four spring Monuments, though Fabian Cancellara still come close to a superb spring by finishing second at Milan-San Remo and third at Paris-Roubaix to go with his obligatory Tour of Flanders win.
In the Grand Tours we had three different winners; not unusual in itself but perhaps highlighted when various contenders crashed out of each, removing those head-to-head battles we had been hoping for...especially at the Tour when Froome and Contador abandoned. And those first two Grand Tours will especially be remembered fondly for the big crowds that watched the Giro in Belfast and the Tour in Yorkshire. It was fantastic to see; as a Northern Irishman, I never thought I'd see a Grand Tour in Belfast.
By the time of the fall classics there was a lot of tired legs. Simon Gerrans (one of few who won in early season, in the spring and then again in fall) became the first to do the Montreal-Quebec double, Dan Martin rebounded from his LBL and Giro crashes to win the years final Monument, the Giro di Lombardia, and Michal Kwiatkowski took the World Championships. It left us with a lot of riders (none at Sky though, I would imagine) that must have finished the season satisfied with how their respective years went.
One man whose 2014 season was his last, was Jens Voigt. A stalwart of the peloton for 17 years, Voigt announced his retirement before the season began and went about trying to make it a memorable one. Every race he entered he was on the attack and on the first stage of the Tour in England he got away long enough to pull on the polka-dot jersey for the first time since his first Tour in 1998. Voigt had come full circle, but he didn't leave it there. On 18 September he took a run at the World Hour record after the UCI announced regulation changes to try and modernise the record. He was the first to do it in nine years, and he set a new standard in what became his retirement ride (what a way to go out!) and ignited a new love-affair with the challenge. 42 days later, Matthias Brandle broke Voigt's record and early reports suggest as many as seven men will try for it in 2015.
Everyone will have different memories of different moments that stood out to them and different riders that impressed them the most, but below are some of mine, though I hope at the very least you'll agree with why I've gone with what I have, and who I have. So without further ado, here's The Cycle Seen's best moments and awards for the 2014 road cycling season.
1. Stage five of the Tour; on the cobbles
The image was brutal and beautiful all at once: Vincenzo Nibali on the drops, in his dirty yellow jersey, pushing it at the front of a select group of cycling s hardest men in the driving rain through the mud of a cobbled lane with grass down the middle in northern France. A ride for the ages that surely lays the foundations for his bid to win the Tour de France. READ MORE>>
2. Quintana attacks on the Stelvio Descent
Nairo Quintana, pre-Giro favorite who looked to be in a little trouble just a few days ago, pulled out what will surely go down as one of the great rides in the history of this great race to win stage 16 and turn a 2 minutes, 40 seconds deficit to fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran into a 1 minute, 41 seconds lead in this race in one of the most difficult, yet brilliant, stages of cycling you're ever likely to see. READ MORE>>
3. Voigt breaks the world hour record
It's been so long since this last happened that a whole generation of cycling fans have come into the sport and grew to love it but without ever having seen one of cycling's greatest records get broken and so how good it was to see the likable and ever hard suffering Jens Voigt bring down the curtain on a long and illustrious career by setting a new benchmark for the World Hour for a new era of cycling. READ MORE>>
4. Dan Martin crashes out of the Giro in Belfast
You know that theory that you cannot win a Grand Tour on the opening days time-trial but you can lose it? Well, never before has that been so evident as it was today in Belfast for the team-time-trial to start this years Giro d'Italia. A dramatic day of edge-of-your-seat action surrounded by an amazing turn out of fans generating a 21.7 kilometre wall of noise despite the changeable conditions that seen the race play into the hands of some, already begin to slip away from others, and totally vanish for Dan Martin. READ MORE>>
5. Contador returns from a fractured leg to win the Vuelta
On 14 July, Alberto Contador crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken Tibia. On 23 August, he took to the start line of the Vuelta a Espana. Few thought he would make it that far; fewer thought he’d have the form to compete. But he did both. He won two stages, overcame rival Chris Froome and came away with the overall win – his sixth Grand Tour victory (eight if you count the two he was stripped of) – by 1'10" over Froome.
Cyclist of the Year: VINCENZO NIBALI
This wasn't easy. Not because Nibali isn't a worthy winner having had a fine season, but because nobody jumped out right away and dominated the season; that at various points in the season different riders came to the fore in their own brilliant ways. In the spring the results were spread, at the Giro it was the brilliant Quintana, at the Vuelta it was the Contador show, and in the fall there was Michal Kwiatkowski's superb ride at the Worlds. And so, I've looked at how different riders dominated certain points of the season and tried to pick who done it best. With that in mind, I couldn't only go for Nibali for the way in which he won the Tour de France. He took four road stage wins in all (the most since Eddy Merckx in 1974): On the rolling roads of England, in the Vouges mountains, in the high Alps, and the Pyrenees. He won on all those terrains, and then there was the cobbles of Northern France. He didn't win there, but he smashed his rivals and laid the foundations for his Tour win. It was a command performance and when the dust had settled on it, Nibali had won his first Tour (becoming just the sixth man to complete the Grand Tour career triple crown) by a staggering 7 minutes, 37 seconds; the largest since Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Runners up: Alberto Contador, Michal Kwiatkowski, Nairo Quintana and Simon Gerrans.
Past winners: 2011 - Philippe Gilbert; 2012 - Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 - Vincenzo Nibali.
Sprinter: MARCEL KITTEL
He won the first two road stages of the Giro, in Belfast and Dublin, before retiring with an illness from a race he looked set to dominate and then turned up at the Tour de France and won four stages including the first stage in England which, like last year, netted him the yellow jersey for a day. His biggest rival, Mark Cavendish, didn't ride the Giro and only lasted one day at the Tour so we never truly got to see them go head-to-head, but even with that, there is little doubt now that Kittel is the fastest man in the world today. Beyond the Grand Tours, Kittel won two stages at the Tour of Britain and three at the Dubai tour.
Past winners: 2011 - Mark Cavendish; 2012 - Mark Cavendish; 2013 - Marcel Kittel.
Climber: NAIRO QUINTANA
He skipped the Tour, but his display at the Giro was more than enough to win this award. Every time the road pointed upwards he looked a threat and only got stronger as the race went on. Yes he attacked on the descent of the Stelvio on stage 16, but when it came to the final assent to Val Martello he only extended the time gap he had at the foot of the climb right up to the top. Then on stage 19's mountain time-trial, he destroyed the opposition to confirm his Giro win. He only took 17 seconds out of the impressive Fabio Aru (see breakthrough rider award), but beat Rigoberto Uran by 1'26" and Pierre Rolland by 1'57". It was such a shame that we never got to see the best of him at the Vuelta before he crashed out.
Past winners: 2011 - David Moncoutie; 2012 - Joaqium Rodriguez; 2013 - Chris Froome.
Time-trialist: SIR BRADLEY WIGGINS
I know Tony Martin won time-trials at the Giro and the Tour, but Brad Wiggins wasn't present for either and so to judge the best we could only go on when they went head-to-head and where better than at the World Championships were Wiggins ended Martain's run of four straight titles by beat him by 26 seconds over the 47.1km course for an average speed of 50km/h. Beyond that Wiggins won his national time-trial title and the time-trials at the Tour of California (where he also won the overall) and at the Tour of Britain. Next year he'll go for the World Hour record and it's hard to believe he won't smash it.
Past winners: 2011 - Cadel Evans; 2012 - Brad Wiggins; 2013 - Tony Martin.
Classics rider: SIMON GERRANS
He didn't dominate the classics by any means, but then again nobody did really, though as mentioned above, Mr. Classics himself Fabian Cancellara, sure came close, but that win at Flanders was his only classic victory and we didn't see much of him the rest of the year. Gerrans on the other hand was good from the start to the end of the season. Before the classics began he won a stage and the overall at the Tour Down Under, and then in Belgium, won the Monument classic Liège–Bastogne–Liège after Dan Martin (yes him again) crashed at the final corner. But he showed up again in the fall, and won back-to-back races in three days at the Cycliste de Quebec and Cycliste de Montreal, in Canada. Neither are a Monument, but both are World Tour races and extremely challenging to say the least, and many use them as World Championship preparation. Speaking of which, Gerrans finished second.
Past winners: 2011 - Philippe Gilbert; 2012 - Tom Boonen; 2013 - Fabian Cancellara.
Most complete rider: ALEJANDRO VALVERDE
Say what you like about his past, but he's served his time and this is about the 2014 season. A season in which Valverde showed just what a complete talent he is. He could easily have been my choice for cyclist of the year (Nibali beat him well at the Tour) and he could easily have won the best classics rider also (Gerrans got a Monument to his name) but came up a little short despite being supremely consistent at the front end of so many races. Valverde won the UCI World Tour, which you might think would automatically make him the most complete riders, but that's not always the case. This time though, it is. He won eleven races on the season including the Roma Maxima, GP Miguel Indurain, La Flèche Wallonne, Clásica de San Sebastián, and two stages of the Vuelta; finished second at Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Giro di Lombardia; third at the World Championship and Strade Bianche; fourth at Amstel Gold; and was third overall at the Vuelta and fourth overall at the Tour de France. He's one of the few who can be in the mix for the Grand Tours in the summer, but also compete to win the spring and fall classics.
Past winners: N/A
From top to bottom this is one powerful line-up, especially when it comes to the Grand Tours were they won multiple stages in all three this year including the overall at the Vuelta via Alberto Contador. At the Giro it was Michael Rogers who carried the can, taking two stage wins in a season that really was becoming a throwback year for the 34 year old Australian. And then at the Tour, when Contador crashed out and all seemed lost, it was Rogers doing his big to rescue things with a stage win to go with two stage wins by Rafal Majka, who also won the King of the Mountains crown. It was facinating to see the differences in how both Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky reacted upon losing their team-leaders. When Froome crashed out, Sky went into their shell and were barely seen again whereas Tinkoff-Saxo picked up the pieces and got the best out of others. At the Vuelta it was the Contador show, with two stage wins and the overall, to cap a season in which the team won stages throughout. Next year Peter Sagan arrives so they'll also be strong in the classics and don't rule out the rare possibility of them winning all three major jersey's at next years Tour with Contador going for yellow, Sagan for green and Majka for the King of the Mountains.
Past winners: 2012 - British Olympic track team; 2013 - Orica GreenEdge.
Breakthrough young rider: FABIO ARU
Cycling is drenched with young talent breaking through right now. Rafal Majka, Wilko Kelderman, Romain Bardet, Michal Kwiatkowski, Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil, to name but a few. Sure there is also Quintana but despite his youth, he’s already knocked down that door to stardom, highlighted by his Giro victory. As such, and for all those names, it was Fabio Aru that leapt out at me this year. Third in the Giro with a stage win and fifth in the Vuelta with two stage wins marked him out as Italy’s great hope for the future and one who will surely push to win a Grand Tour in the coming years. Indeed, next year he will lead his teams bid to win the Giro.
Past winners: 2011 - Pierre Rolland; 2012 - Peter Sagan; 2013 - Nairo Quintana.
Hard man: ALBERTO CONTADOR
Stage ten at the Tour de France and on the descent of the Col du Platzerwasel, Alberto Contador crashed at high speeds. When the cameras picked him up, it was clear he was in pain, limping well behind a charging peloton and his Tour was slipping away. Vincenzo Nibali couldn't wait on him as a rival in Michal Kwiatkowski was further up the road on the attack (see Domestique award), though at the time many felt Contador may be able to limit his losses, he was still riding after all. But it was only later, after he had eventually climbed off and retired from the Tour, that we found out just how badly injured he was. A broken Tibia, and he had ploughed on for some 20 kilometres trying in vein, but with great courage, to regain contact with the peloton. It was mightily impressive, and not least the fact he returned to the Vuelta just 40 days later to win two stages and the overall.
Past winners: 2011 - Johnny Hoogerland; 2012 - Johan Van Summeren; 2013 - Geraint Thomas.
Domistique: TONY MARTIN
Most people think of Tony Martin as a time-trialist specialist, which he is of course, but it would be wrong to say that he's a one trick pony and that this is all he offers his team and that was never highlighted better than on stages nine and ten at this years Tour. On stage nine from Gérardmer to Mulhouse, Martin got into a break, went into time-trial mode and won the first road race stage of his Tour career by almost three minutes. It was a superb solo ride and no doubt he was exhausted. Nobody could have blamed him for hiding up in the peloton until the only individual time-trial of the Tour on stage 20. But that's not the Martin's way...the very next day he got into the break with his team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski who was trying to recover time he had lost on previous stages and get himself back into contention for a podium position. Martin went to the front and went into time-trial mode once more, pushing himself to the limit on climbs as Kwiatkowski's time built so much that at one stage, he was provisional yellow on the road. When. with 20km to go and a 2'17" lead over Nibali, Martin couldn't go any further, he swung to the side and almost came to a standstill. Kwiatkowski couldn't reward him with the stage win, Nibali overhauled him on the final climb, and Martin limped home 16 minutes after Nibali. But it was a heroic effort nonetheless.
Past winners: 2013 - Adam Hansen.
Book read: ETAPE by RICHARD MOORE
Etape was a fantastic read for anyone into their cycling history looking across some of the great stages in the Tour de France. It doesn’t shy away from stages now known to be tainted, and while putting everything into perspective it focuses particularly on the racing aspect and what happened on the road on that given day, and I found that refreshing.
Other books I read (and would recommend): Inside Team Sky by David Walsh, RIIS by Bjarne Riis, A Clean Break by Christophe Bassons and Shadows on the Road by Michael Barry.
Past winners: 2012 - The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton; 2013 - Domestique by Charlie Wegelius.
So there we have it. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The 2015 season promises to be epic and known as the year of the hour record!