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  • Journal
    Racing
    02.01.15

    Five riders ready to build on solid foundations in 2015

    ...and five more with work to do

    Words
    Timothy John
    Photographs
    Offside-LeEquipe

A successful campaign in 2014 has left some of the peloton’s biggest names hungry for greater success in the year ahead. Others, by contrast, are facing a season that, if not quite make or break, will have much riding upon it. We consider five riders with solid foundations to build upon and five with work to do.

Grand Tour heavyweights

Vincenzo Nibali  (Astana)

Vincenzo Nibali turned what had been an uninspiring campaign into his greatest season by winning the Tour de France; only his second victory of the season after claiming the Italian national championship. By refusing to rule out his participation in the 2015 Giro d’Italia, the Shark could be lining up a ‘double’ in 2015.

Professional cycling race, podium, 2014 Tour de France, Vincenzo NibaliVincenzo Nibali completed a set of Grand Tour victories by winning the 2014 Tour de France. The Italian may yet attempt a Giro-Tour double in 2015. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

He has won both races before, and indeed is only one of six riders in the history of the sport to have won all three Grand Tours, but has yet to win two in a single season, despite coming close to adding the Vuelta a Espana to the Giro crown claimed in 2013. He might consider 2015 to be a golden opportunity to write his legacy: to claim a Giro-Tour double this year he must do so at the expense of Alberto Contador, who has already declared for both races.

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Chris Froome’s 2014 campaign can hardly be considered disastrous - a runners-up slot at La Vuelta and successful defences of his Tour of Oman and Tour de Romandie titles prevent such a bleak assessment - but it was the year in which Alberto Contador found an answer to his ferocious accelerations in the mountains, and proved himself more tactically astute (notably at the Critérium du Dauphiné). Nibali also had his measure on two of the five Tour stages Froome contested.

Professional cyclist, Chris Froome, holding bike, post crash, 2014 Tour de FranceChris Froome must improve his bike handling and tactics in 2015. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

By focusing solely on the Tour de France, instead of attempting a 'double', Froome has become increasingly isolated among the Grand Tour heavyweights. We still do not know how he will fare on the cobbles: he lingers on his appetite for them in his autobiography, but a rider saddled with the nickname ‘Crash’ is unlikely to gain much backing. He has power in spades but lacks tactical nous and bike handling skills. He must remedy both deficiencies if he is to flourish in a season in which the Grand Tour elite are likely to claim centre stage.

All-rounders

Michael Kwiatkowski (Ettix-Quickstep)

Michal Kwiatkowski enjoyed something of an annus mirabilis in 2014, crowning an impressively consistent season with the biggest victory of his career at the World Championship road race. A superb start to the year netted him stage race and Classic victories before March was a week old, at the Volta ao Algarve and the Strade Bianche respectively. Three time trial victories, including at the Polish championships, underline his versatility; see also two podiums and a fifth-placed finish in Ardennes Week.

Racing cyclist, Michal Kwiatkowski, winning World Championship RaceMichal Kwiatkowski enjoyed an annus mirabilis in 2014, crowning a diverse portfolio of victories by becoming World Champion. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

Despite underwhelming sojourns in the rainbow stripes from its two previous incumbents, Kwiatkowski is unlikely to endure a barren campaign as world champion. He finished on the podium at Liege last season and rode strongly in Flanders the year before. A Monument would be a fitting addition to his palmares.

Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka)

Edvald Boasson Hagen risks a career filed under ‘unfulfilled potential’. Few would have predicted a return to the Pro Continental ranks after five years with Team Sky, but if ever a rider needed a fresh start, it is Boasson Hagen. He has spoken highly of his former employers, with whom he won two Tour stages in 2011, but a winless final campaign speaks volumes for the British team’s failure to make the most of his considerable talents.

Professional cyclist, Edvald Boasson Hagen, standing astride bike, holding cut armEdvald Boasson Hagen largely failed to fulfil his potential at Team Sky, despite some impressive results. The Norwegian will seek a fresh start at MTN-Qhubeka in 2015. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

When he joined the team at its inception from the equally gilded HTC, he was viewed as a rider of seemingly limitless potential, arriving as a 22-year-old with a victory at Gent Wevelgem and two Giro stages on his palmares. In the next five years, only the aforementioned brace at the 2011 Tour would surpass those accomplishments.

MTN-Qhubeka has already restarted the career of Gerald Ciolek, who won the 2013 Milan-San Remo, and may do the same for Boasson Hagen, with the Northern Classics an obvious starting point. A strengthened roster for 2015 includes WorldTour exiles Matt Goss and Tyler Farrar. A fresh start under ambitious manager Brian Smith may restore Boasson Hagen to the first rank of talented all-rounders, alongside the likes of world champion Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan.

Sprint kings

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin)

Marcel Kittel enjoyed a wildly successful 2014 campaign, and by doing so strengthened his grip on the unofficial title of world’s best road sprinter. He hit the ground running with victory in his opening race in Australia, won three times at the Tour of Qatar, before adding a record-equalling third victory at Scheldeprijs on his return to Europe. He performed superbly at the two Grand Tours he contested, bagging a brace at the Giro d’Italia and claiming four stages of the Tour de France.

Professional cyclist, Marcel Kittel, in yellow Tour de France leader's jerseyMarcel Kittel must simply continue in his present vein to enjoy further success. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

Kittel’s greatest achievement is displacing the Manxman as the fastest of the fast men. Kittel’s calm victory on the opening stage of the Tour, recorded in the aftermath of the home country hero’s self-inflicted disaster, spoke volumes about the German’s ability to handle pressure.

Kittel must do no more in 2015 than match his achievements of the two previous seasons. He is unlikely to match Cavendish’s success in the Grand Tour points competitions, but will find ample solace should he remain the first of the quick men.

Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step)

Everything is relative. Cavendish is a perfectionist and while 2014 brought further success – three more WorldTour stage victories, a formidable haul of four stages at the Tour of Turkey where he looked back to his best – a rare tactical blunder at Milan-Sanremo and the disastrous opening stage of the Tour meant that it was far from perfect.

Professional cyclist Mark Cavendish, cycling down finishing straight post crash in Harrogate, jersey ripped, shoulder dislocated. Tour de France 2014Mark Cavendish is a perfectionist and despite considerable success last year, 2014 was far from perfect for the Manx Missile. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

A revealing interview in Rouleur #50 portrayed a newly mature Cavendish, but the competitive animal never far below the surface of his persona might see him begin to close the gap to Kittel. Their belated duel on the final stage of the Tour of Britain could scarcely have been decided by a finer margin, but, typically for the seasons of both men, ended in Kittel’s favour.

How can Cavendish reestablish himself as the world’s pre-eminent road sprinter in 2015? He must beat Kittel. The task is simple and Cavendish has the talent, the team, and the tactical nous to do so. He has declared himself satisfied with the parcours of this year’s Tour, and alterations to the points system may provide sufficient motivation to challenge for a second green jersey.

Colombian young guns

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

2014 brought Nairo Quintana his first Grand Tour victory at the age of 24. He fulfilled the promise of his formidable talent with an emphatic victory on the Val Martello after stealing away on the Stelvio with an audacious attack in the snow. But for a pair of crashes in consecutive stages at the Vuelta a España, he may have contended for a ‘double’.

Professional cyclist, Nairo Quintana in pink jersey, celebrating Giro d'Italia win 2014Nairo Quintana fulfilled his Grand Tour potential in 2014 by winning the Giro d'Italia. He will seek greater success this year at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

Quintana will lead Movistar at this year’s Tour, or at least in partnership with Alejandro Valverde. The older man has assured the Colombian of his support and the Spanish squad seems relaxed about a strategy of joint leadership that has brought disaster to other teams. Quintana, despite his youth, is unlikely to be bullied. He is his own man, a father, and a rider who combines meticulous attention to detail with courage and commitment in the saddle.

The Tour will be the most searching test of his credentials among the Grand Tour winners. Nibali and Contador have accomplishments that place them among the best of all time, and Froome’s emphatic victory at the 2013 Tour speaks of his ability to beat either. 2015 will tell us much about the young Colombian’s ability to compete on even terms. A tilt at the Vuelta will see him pitch for a Grand Tour 'double'.

Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Weight issues, extended leaves of absence, reports that he would not renew with Ag2r-La Mondiale… and victory at Paris-Nice. 2014 was a mixed bag for Carlos Betancur. Team manager Vincent Lavenu has supreme faith in the Colombian’s talent and has confounded the expectations of many by re-signing his wayward talent, hoping for greater commitment to a life in Europe.

Professional cyclist Carlos Betancur sits at roadside, post crash, attended by Ag2r-La Mondiale staffCarlos Betancur has much work to do in 2015 to put his career back on track. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

Betancur was expected to lead Ag2r-La Mondiale at last year’s Tour, but his extended leave of absence put paid to that ambition, and the performances of Peraud and Bardet have closed the door to the French race for Betancur, at least for 2015. He will instead tackle the Giro and Vuelta, the most mountainous ‘double’ and the least reliant on time trialling. Committed performances in both would go a long way to putting his career back on track.

Classics specialists

Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step)

Niki Terpstra’s career defining victory at Paris-Roubaix was the crowning achievement of an impressive spring campaign, rather than an isolated victory. He began the year in style by claiming overall victory at the Tour of Qatar, finished on the podium at E3-Harelbeke and produced a strong performance at the Three Days of De Panne. His final assault at Roubaix was perfectly judged and broke the hearts of an elite group of rivals that included four-time winner and team-mate Tom Boonen.

Professional cyclist Niki Terpstra celebrating Paris-Roubaix 2014 race win with teammateVictory at Paris-Roubaix represented the high point of a successful Spring campaign last year for Niki Terpstra. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

This year will be pivotal. There is no guarantee that Terpstra will be granted the status of team leader for the defence of his title in Roubaix, such is the strength in depth of his Etixx-Quick Step squad. And even if he is, he will be a man heavily marked by his rivals: surprise victories happen just once. Should he repeat his early season form of the previous year, however, then there is no reason why Terpstra should not command a position at the head of a squad even as strong as EQS. Much will depend on…

Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step)

As with his team-mate Cavendish, a consideration of Boonen’s 2014 campaign is coloured by his prior accomplishments. Victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, fifth at Gent-Wevelgem, and top 10 finishes at Flanders and Roubaix would be considered a productive spring for all but Boonen, who could point to victories in each of those races before the season began. Seventh at Flanders in the wake of a third victory for Fabian Cancellara would have stung, despite Boonen’s bravery in riding with an injured hand. He was a constant aggressor a week later at Roubaix, but team loyalties prevented him from chasing down Terpstra at the denouement.

Racing cyclist Tom Bonnen at the 2014 Tour of Flanders, riding a cobbled roadTom Boonen rode courageously with an injured hand at the Tour of Flanders, but defeat on home soil to Fabian Cancellara will not have pleased him. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

Boonen was clearly the strongest rider at the Tour of Qatar and is unlikely to show such munificence to Terpstra this year, should the pair arrive in similar form. He must break the season-on/season-off cycle that has characterised recent campaigns (dominance in 2012, accident and injury in 2013). A record fifth victory at Paris-Roubaix will be a strong motivation, as will settling scores with Cancellara to claim a record fourth title at De Ronde. Despite the embarrassment of riches at EQS, Boonen’s prior achievements should make him team leader for both of the cobbled Monuments, should he arrive at either even close to his best.

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