The 2014 cycling season will go down as a season of change. Famous stage races such as the Tour of Italy and the Tour de France, and great single-day classics such as Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix all boasted first-time winners, proof that a new guard of cycling has stepped up. Racing throughout 2014 was more unpredictable, and more suspenseful, than in previous years. Outside looks for lessons from the year as the sport enters 2015.
Belgian great Tom Boonen on his way to winning his fourth Paris-Roubaix race in 2012. It remains his last victory to date in one of cycling's most famous events.
There Is No Grand Tour Patron
Today, there is no boss of the great three-week races. Just when it appeared that Team Sky had ushered in a new British invasion at the Tour de France, the English team self destructed in the 2014 Tour, a race it had won the previous two years. And when two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador also crashed out of the three-week affair, Vicenzo Nibali had a clear run to Paris. After winning the Tour of Spain and the Tour of Italy, victory in the Tour de France confirmed the rise of the Italian into the pantheon of grand tour greats.
Alberto Contador, Christopher Froome, Vicenzo Nibali, and Nairo Quintana all proved they can win. And their future victories will increasingly depend on the specifics of each race and the riders' tactics.
Christopher Froome (right) and Alberto Contador on the attack in the Dauphine Criterium, a key warm-up to the Tour de France.
One of the World's Greatest Riders Has a Successor
Holland’s Marianne Vos may not be ready to retire, but she's already found her successor. Up-and-coming French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot rides with Vos on the Rabo women's team. After winning the prestigious Fleche-Wallonne classic in April, the 22-year-old finished an impressive second to Vos in the Tour of Italy, just 15 seconds behind. But she saved the best for the end of the season when she stormed to victory in the world championship road race. Like Vos, Ferrand-Prévot excels in a number of the sport’s disciplines—mountain biking, time trialing, and road racing.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot at the start of inaugural edition of La Course by the Tour de France in Paris along with Anne Higaldo (left), the mayor of Paris.
We're Still Fighting the Dopers
Great strides have been taken recently in the fight against doping, but the Astana team provides a living example that the fight isn't over. With two positive cases on their World Tour team and three positive cases on their developmental Continental team, Astana came under fire at the end of the season. And although they maintained their World Tour status, International Cycling Union president Brian Cookson stated that the slightest infraction could result in the team’s suspension in 2015.
To make matters worse, more than a dozen past and present riders have been cited in the Padua doping investigation in Italy, primarily with links to the infamous Doctor Ferrari.
The string of scandals within the team tarnished the Tour de France victory by team leader Vicenzo Nibali, who rode flawlessly for three weeks and has never been implicated in doping.
Ilya Davidenok won a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir for Astana's continental team, only to test positive for doping afterward.
The French Are Back!
It's been decades since the French have raced so brilliantly at the sport’s highest levels. A pillar of bicycle racing tradition, France boasts a strong bike-friendly infrastructure, with many cycling schools for kids and established professional teams. The country also hosts the world’s biggest bike race.
But while they often score top results in the junior and under-23 level, they've haven't impacted the professional level for years. Why the resurgence now? Some claim that the international anti-doping code has just equaled France's (the country pioneered what is today the biological passport), and the playing field has finally leveled. Others say a new generation of French riders race with a confidence lacking in previous generations.
Whatever the reason, strong French riders were ubiquitous throughout 2014. La Française des Jeux sprinter Nacer Bouhanni dominated the Tour of Italy, winning three stages and the red points jersey. In the Tour de France, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaud Pinot, and Romain Bardet finished second, third, and sixth respectively, a feat unimaginable only a couple years ago.
French veteran Jean-Christophe Peraud (right) leads up-and-coming teammate Romain Bardet (center) on the attack in the Tour de l'Ain. Peraud finished second in the Tour while Bardet finished sixth.
The Kings of the Classics Are Getting Old
Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen still reign at cobbled classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but their grip is loosening. Boonen hasn't won one of cycling’s monuments since his Flanders/Roubaix double in 2012. And while Cancellara once again crushed the competition in Flanders, he was helpless to counter numerous challenges in the final of Roubaix, and could only watch as Boonen’s teammate, Niki Terpstra, soloed to victory.
The two greatest classics riders in history face more competition for the top step of the great one-day events. Alexander Kristoff won Milan-San Remo in March, while Sep Vanmarcke, John Degenkolb, Greg Van Avermaet, and Peter Sagan have all made it onto the podium consistently and could climb onto the top step at any moment.
Fabian Cancellara (left) leads Sep Vanmarcke over the cobbles on his way to his third Paris-Roubaix victory in 2013. Vanmarcke has proven to be one of his most consistent challengers in recent years when it comes to bike racing's legendary classics.
Rebirth of the Hour Record
Recent rule changes allowing for modern track bikes inspired a wave of riders to attempt to break the sport's historic hour record. The insatiable veteran Jens Voigt initiated the latest round of record rides, and officially retired from the sport by posting an admirable 51.110 kilometers at the end of the 60-minute ordeal. And Austrian Matthias Brändle upped the ante when he posted 51.852 kilometers only a few weeks later.
Others like Dutch rider Thomas Dekker, Australia’s Rohan Dennis and Jack Bobridge, and British rider Alex Dowsett have announced they will make attempts early in 2015. But everybody is waiting to see what happens when one of the big three—Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara, and Tony Martin—finally take to the track. All are world or Olympic time trial gold medalists on the road. And all could redefine the event.