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Professional cycling’s early season jigsaw

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Photographs: Offside-LeEquipe

The early season races offer an interesting insight into a rider’s greater ambitions for the year ahead.
Sprinters, Grand Tour contenders, and 1s targeting the Spring Classics are likely to choose different events to begin their season, with selection dictated by the greater goal.
We consider the opening campaigns of three riders with different ambitions for 2015: Rigoberto Uran, Alexander Kristoff, and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick-Step)
Rigoberto Uran will tackle two Grand Tours this season and so the Classics play little part in his schedule. Typically, those aiming for the Giro will begin their European campaign in earnest at the Ardennes Classics, but the Colombian’s only one-day engagements will be Strade Bianche, presumably to be ridden in support of defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski, and Sud Ardeche.
Rigoberto Uran enjoyed a stint in the maglia rosa at last season’s Giro d’Italia and will target the race again this year. His early season is heavy with stage races. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
Instead stage races dominate his agenda, beginning with Tirrenno-Adriatico on March 11, and followed less than a week later by the Volta a Catalunya. The Colombian then has a break in his schedule of nearly a month before returning to competitive action at the Tour de Romandie, which starts on April 28.
Uran will begin his season at the Colombian national road race championships on the second weekend of February. Such an important fixture is likely to see him start the season strongly, rather than build form in the manner of the other riders considered here. He fancies his chances for the overall at the Giro, but will “stage hunt” at the Tour. A comprehensive early season programme that extends only to the Grande Partenza confirms these differing priorities.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
Alexander Kristoff enjoyed the best season of his career last year and will roll out for Milan-Sanremo on March 22 as defending champion.
The Norwegian will skip both the Tour Down Under and the Tour de San Luis, the peloton’s choice for January, and begin his season at the Tour of Qatar before heading to Oman, where he won stage two last year. The desert races will reunite him with road captain Luca Paolini, who helped steer him to victory at Milan-Sanremo and stage 15 of the Tour de France.
Alexander Kristoff’s first big goal of the season will be Milan-San Remo. He will prepare, as last year, in Qatar, Oman, and at Paris-Nice. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
Kristoff will contest both races of the opening weekend of the Classics season, Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussles-Kuurne, before heading to Paris-Nice. A week later, his major target for the opening part of the season is reached: Milan-San Remo.
What then for the Katusha sprinter? 1 understands that the Tour of Flanders will be high on his agenda. Kristoff was fifth last year, the first of the finishers behind the breakaway quartet which decided its outcome.
Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)
Wiggins has made little secret of his ambition for Paris-Roubaix. He will end his career with Team Sky at l’enfer du Nord and his early-season programme is filled with races that will hone his skills for this most specialised of races.
Sir Bradley Wiggins has made little secret of his first goal of 2014 The Briton will hone his challenge for Paris-Roubaix in Mallorca, France, and Flanders. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
The Briton will begin his season at Challenge Mallorca, as he has done for the last two seasons. While a rider’s opening race increasingly informs his later campaign, Challenge Mallorca, almost his home event, given that he has property on the island, has been little more than a leg turner for Wiggins, and is likely to have little bearing on races to come.
He is then due at the Tour of Qatar for a mildly more challenging engagement: a chance to play in the crosswinds with Boonen. But it is when he returns to Europe that the work of preparing for Roubaix begins in earnest. The opening weekend of the Classics season is no gentle introduction: characteristically cold conditions and fierce competition mark the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussles-Kuurne.
Wiggins will undertake his only stage race at Paris-Nice, an event he won in 2012, but for which he is unlikely to have any serious intent this year. Indeed, he has hinted that Geraint Thomas will lead Sky, and that a strong performance from the Welshman may be enough to secure leadership at Roubaix.
The Tour winner will return to Flanders for E3 Harelbeke and Schelderprijs as final preparation for the Queen of the Classics on Sunday April 12 – his last engagement with Team Sky.

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