Tag Archives: Brad Wiggins

Team Sky have slipped, but not fallen. A review of the ‘scandal’ as I see it

I told myself I wouldn’t bother writing about this whole Team Sky mess. Not this close to Christmas. Not with two children under four both hyper and my wife’s present still to buy. Yet here I am, rattling away on the keyboard in an attempt to squeeze in some thoughts before Christmas. After that, I’m not sure I’ll care enough. But there has been so much outrage that I wanted to give my own perspective to some degree or other.

If you’re still reading now then chances are you know the background and the details, so I’ll spare you a run down. Suffice to say, it has been an ugly year for Team Sky away from the racing. In fact, on the bike it’s been quite memorable. Another Tour victory, and their first Monument win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But the year draws to a close with their reputation on the line and a scandal at hand. One in which they have prolonged by failing to present an adequate response.

I must say though, I find it hard to call the whole mess a scandal in the traditional sense of the word. Knowing where the sport has been before, and all that.  An ugly situation for sure, but classified by your own personal perspective of it only. And that’s the difference with this one. In the old days it was a full-blown back and white objective doping scandal. This is more a subjective shade of grey; one of ethics and morals and where each individual sees the invisible ethical line in their own mind. With no violation of the rules taking place, where does Sky’s failure in ethics sit in proportion to your own standards? Or do you care about some fictional line if they haven’t broken the hard line that is the letter of the law? As such the outrage here is subjective to what you think is and isn’t wrong from a moral point of view.

Unfortunately though, Sky have created a mess far bigger than it ought to be by trying to wrangle their way out of it. As such it has now become a PR scandal. Not only an issue of Team Sky’s TUE use, the timing of that use and the jiffy-bag sideshow, but how they’ve handled the crisis. Not only a scandal about falling ethics but also about their failing transparency. Instead of being open an transparent as they promised they would be, they hoped it would all go away by dodging the questions. And no more so than with this jiffy bag. The silence of what was in it was deafening. And then on Monday, Dave Brailsford revealed it to be Fluimucil, an over the counter product not on WADA’s banned substance list. Why wait until they were in front of a Parliamentary hearing (the need for which at the expensive of the British tax payer, itself debatable) to finally come clean about something like that? The sudden reveal leaves people wondering why they didn’t say what it was to begin with? It also leaves others failing to believe them. Being pressured into it this far down the line has made it look worse. The optics are awful. And that is where this scandal is at.

Of course, that said, if this is were the benchmark for a scandal in cycling now lies, then the sport has come far. Cars full of EPO at the border, or a doctors fridge full of blood bags this is not. Still, it hasn’t been pretty and reputations are at stake.

As for me, there is no doubt Sky slipped up in comparison to their own high standards, but not by enough for me to hang them. From a PR perspective they made a right mess, but this is not a PR blog and I am no PR analyst. I prefer the cycling aspect of what happened in 2012 and what has happened since. In that regard, to me, Sky remained within the physical rules. They applied for and received a TUE by the protocols in place at the time. Some suggest Bradley Wiggins did not need that TUE for health reasons and that he got it for a performance enhancing benefit. But that is speculative at best and I am not in the business of speculating without facts. He may well have needed it, though in the end it was up to the UCI to reject the application. Why they didn’t, we don’t know. Still, this is something that Sky might want to explain further themselves in a bid to help clear the air.

But let’s be clear…the idea that Sky have abused the TUE system is false. From what we currently know, their TUE use has been minimal by comparison to some. TUE use has fallen at Sky in the five years since this affair. The TUE system in general has also tightened at UCI and WADA level, though the case could be mad for tightening it further. But take Chris Froome for example, he has only applied for two TUE’s over the years and never during his three Tour de France victories. They say that mud sticks and that might be the shame in all this. But if you can look above the mud, you begin to see a difference. If there is an underlying issue within Sky, that continues to this day, then it has yet to reveal itself. And I see no evidence of it.  If the Wiggins’ TUE application sat wrong with you, you can at least admit there has not been a repeat pattern. That isn’t to say Sky are in the clear though, far from it. Questions will continue and if they want to remain on a higher ethical standard, they need to start giving more direct answers.

Applying for TUE’s at all, is enough to suggest an ethical slip to some, and on that basis even Chris Froome has taken heat. The belief being that TUE use in any regard is not good enough for a team like Sky. But the TUE system is there for a good reason; it’s the abuse of it we have to be wary of.  And if our ethics make us strict on that, then we must be wary of abuse from any team. Then to other fans, being ethical is not cheating by the letter of the rules of the sport. But as I have said, ethics are subjective.

For me, Team Sky are a clean team at their core. In applying for TUE use, even for a legitimate reason, they have proven themselves not to be beyond absolute reproach, but I have seen no evidence that Sky have gone beyond the line as I see it. If anything in 2016 they have happened to fall closer to the level of the rest.

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A word on the Wiggins/Sky TUE ‘scandal’

I wanted to ignore it, but I’ve felt obliged to put something on record. It’s not that it isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter. It does. It’s just mind numbing. It’s the racing I’d prefer to talk about. Yet I must say something. I will of course skip the who, what, when, where and why’s. If you’re still reading this come the end of the second paragraph, you’ll already know that.

Yes, I am referring to the ‘Fancy Bears’ hack of athletes private medical data. And in this case the cyclists caught up in it. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, and their Therapeutic Use Exceptions (TUEs).

Wiggins was the biggest one. If anything Froome came out looking good…two uses of a TUE, both of which we knew about anyway. He’s had none since 2013 and has done the best of his winning since then. At the 2015 Tour, Froome fell ill and should have had a TUE, but refused. He even put out a statement condemning the abuse of the medical exceptions.

Wiggins though…he’s in the hot water.

Wiggins received TUEs for corticosteroid shots because severe pollen allergies exacerbated his asthma. He received three triamcinolone acetonide jabs shortly before key grand tour races. The Tour in 2011 and 2012 (which he won) and the Giro d’Italia in 2013.

Now it isn’t the use of the TUE by Wiggins that is the problem per say. And I’d love to see the records of other top riders for I bet he’s far from the worst offender here. This drug has performance enhancing qualities, but the TUE program is there or a reason. If you’re ill, you can get help. If Wiggins needed it, then so be it. It’s the timing of the injections that raises concern. It’s that Team Sky were operating under a stricter set of self imposed rules regarding this stuff, or so we thought.

Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky’s boss, has said they would win by going as close to the line as possible, but not over. The line being the line of cheating. But when the line becomes blurred, how do you know exactly where it is? You could say the line is where the rules say it is. But Sky never gave off the impression of pushing such boundaries. Is there such as thing as very clean, kind of clean and sort of clean without being dirty?

Of course, we must be clear that Sky’s use of TUE’s has been minimal. They have far from abused the system and must get credit for that. And this is something that happened back in their earlier days. Call them naieve but a lot of their ‘mistakes’ appear to have come about from those days. Still, it raises an alarm…or at least the need for questions to be answered.

And there in lies one of the reasons this has dragged on so long. So many questions remain unanswered. Not least about the timing of Wiggins’s treatment. Did he only need these injections before his biggest races?

There’s talk that Wiggins took the shots because he didn’t want his allergies hampering his performance. But should TUE’s be awarded for preventative measures rather than only once you are sick? Did Sky weigh this up and go ahead with it anyway?

With these questions still up in the air, the saga rumbles on. This should have been put to bed and the attention should now be on how to improve the TUE process. Indeed, that’s another discussion that needs to be had. Things have improved, of course, since the Wiggins days. It’s a three man panel now who accesses whether a rider deserves one rather than one-man before. Still, there is no doubt more can be done, the regulations can be tightened further perhaps.

That all said. There are positives to take from this whole thing. By historic cycling standards of scandal, this is a storm in a tea cup. It isn’t pretty, but nor is it on the EPO or blood doping Richter scale of yesteryear. In that sense, this little hullabaloo shows how far cycling has come. If this is the best the hackers could come up with, then we’re not in the worst shape. And believe me, the hackers would have loved to have had greater dirt. Their modus operandi was to seek revenge for Russian athletes banned from Rio. The reaction of the Russians was to say this proved everyone else was at it too. As though TUE use was on a scale of systematic doping,  threats, intimidation, and switching samples through a hole in the wall of the lab in Sochi.

If this is it…if this constitutes a cycling scandal in 2016 then we’re not too bad off.

Elsewhere

It’s been a busy couple of weeks of cycling news from an actual racing angle. A number of one day races in Italy and Belgium as well as the Eneco Tour in the later nation. Peter Sagan stood out, winning two races at Eneco, finishing 3rd overall and winning the European road title. It’s been a heck of a month for the Slovak in his return to road racing from the mountain bike.

This coming weekend is another big one. The final monument of the season: Il Lombardia. Vincenzo Nibali won’t be fit enough in time to defend his title and the list of contenders is long. As wide open a field as we’ve seen in a while. My pick is Romain Bardet. The young Frencham is in good form and is due a big one-day victory. An outside tip might be Greg Van Avermaet. The Belgian showed his new found pedigree on hilly circuits at Rio and in Montreal and could find a way to shine. It will be a good watch.

Rider of the week (last week):

I missed last week. There was various 1.1 ranked races with various winners. Italians done well on home soil. Sagan won the European road championships. Jonathan Castroveijo won the European time-trial title. But I went with Rendon Gaviria who took a 2nd and a 1st over two days in one-day races in Belgium.

Rider of the week (this week):

The Enco Tour dominated the schedule this week; won by Niki Terpstra. But he didn’t win any stages on the way. Peter Sagan did though. He won two and was 3rd, 6th and 8th in three of the four others. He finished third in GC, losing out on the final day. He gets the prize.

Cancellara wins Olympic time-trial; British take over on the track

Chris Froome couldn’t repeat what Bradley Wiggins done four years ago in London by following up a Tour de France victory with an Olympic gold in the individual time-trial. Froome had to settle for third behind Fabian Cancellara, who brings the curtain down on his glittering career in style, with Tom Dumoulin, the pre-race favourite, settling for silver. In the woman’s race there was a turn up for the books as American, Kristin Armstrong (no relation!), who has done little racing this year, showed up and beat the controversial Russian, Olga Zabelinskaya to silver, and Anna Van Der Breggen to bronze. The Dutchgirl picked up her second medal of these games on the road after her gold last week in the woman’s road race.

Fabian Cancellara will have been a popular winner here in Rio. He’s been on one big final season farewell Tour, or so it has seemed though things haven’t often gone as planned. His crown of classic king was taken by Peter Sagan when the Slovak beat him at the Tour of Flanders, he was well beaten by younger men like Dumoulin in many of the individual time-trials and perhaps he was beginning to think he’d left it a year too long to say goodbye. Or maybe not. Maybe deep down he knew he had this in him and it was everyone else who had written him off. Despite his pedigree for the race of truth, many didn’t feel Cancellara was up to winning a medal, never mind the gold. But he was a force throughout the cross, measuring his effort to perfection and finishing a mighty 47sec ahead of Dumoulin and 1min 2sec ahead of Froome across the rolling 54.6km course.

Armstrong’s win was closer on the 29.9km course, finishing just 6sec ahead of Zabelinskaya and 11sec ahead of Van Der Breggen. Canadian Tara Witten was 7th at 35sec.

With the road asepct of cycling at these games complete, we moved indoor for the track program. Six days of racing sure to thrill with high expectations on the British contingent. At the time of writing on Monday, August 15, we’re into the fifth day and thus far Great Britain are not letting themselves down. So far they have won gold in both the men’s and woman’s team pursuits, with world records to boot; gold in the men’s individual sprint via Jason Kenny; and gold in the men’s team sprint, including Kenny again. There have been silvers in both the Men’s and woman’s individual sprints for Callum Skinner (who also got a gold in that team sprint) and Becky James, with Katy Marchant of Team GB in bronze.

In on-going events, Mark Cavendish is well on his way to a medal in the men’s Omnium, and likewise Laura Trott is expected to medal in the woman’s Omnium. That will leave the Keiren and both Jason Kenny and Becky James will race respectively. Kenny with two goals to his name so far will look to add a third in these games and if he does he would level Chris Hoy for the most gold medals by a British athlete. At 28 years of age, Kenny would have two more Olympics in him before he even raced the age of Hoy at his last gold, so the potential is there, if the ambition continues to burn, to double his current haul.

Another highly decorated British athlete is, of course, Wiggins. He was one of just four in the team pursuit, but when it was required he made some mammoth pulls to either push the team to a new World record in the semi-finals, or to overhaul a flying Australian team in the final and push the record out further. Also in that team was Ed Clancy, who himself won his third goal (all in successive Olympics in this event), Steven Burke, with his second gold, and Owain Doull, with his first.

So far then, of the six medal events completed, the Great Britain team have won six of them with only Kristina Vogel of Germany (woman’s individual sprint) and China (woman’s team sprint) breaking their domination.

Thoughts then next time on how the track program finished up, as well as how things went in the mountain biking next weekend.

Rider of the week:

I know that we shouldn’t completely single out one rider from a pursuit team, but when it’s Bradley Wiggins who four years ago was winning the Tour de France and the time-trial won this year by Cancellara, and has since transformed himself back to a track rider and who put forth an epic pull in the later stages to ensure the GB team overcame the Australians to take what would be his fifth Olympic gold, as well as the World Record, I can’t not give it to him.

Wiggins adds another string to his palmarès bow with a win in the time-trial world championships

Sir Bradley Wiggins announced this week that next year he is to tackle the World Hour record and on the form we seen him in yesterday when he romped away with the World time-trial Championship ahead of Tony Martin, of all people, it won’t be a matter of if he beats Jens Voigt’s new marker (or whoever holds it come that time), but by how much?

Wiggins has now won numerous track-titles (including Olympic Gold’s), an Olympic Gold in the time-trial, this World time-trial championship and the Tour de France, as well as several other week long stage races. And on top of a run at the World Hour record, he has said he is targeting the Paris-Roubaix next year, aided by the fact he is beefing himself up over the winter in a bid to return to the track full-time ahead of the Rio Olympics, and should he indeed win himself a Monument classic along with that World Hour record then he can ride off into the sunset of retirement as one of the most complete riders of his generation, if not all-time.

In winning these championships, Wiggins becomes the second man to become World time-trial champion while reigning Olympic time-trial champion. Fabian Cancellara won the championships in 2009 and 2010 having won the 2008 Olympic title (he also won the championships in 2006 and 2007). Also, Miguel Indurain won the 1995 time-trial championships before going on to win the Olympic title in 1996.

Decked out in British clothing with a British flag bike, Wiggins ride yesterday brought back memories of London 2012 when Wiggins rode through his home city to win that Olympic title in one of the most memorable moments of those games.

Yesterday’s time-trial was vintage Wiggins. A superb rider against the clock you only have to look at him to know he is on his game and going fast. Aside from the legs and the road below him, he’s virtually motionless; you could place a full wine glass on his back and you wouldn’t spill a drop.

And the time-checks showed he was on a good ride also. Leading at each, he only continued to build on his margin over Tony Martin, the pre-race favourite looking to win a record fourth time-trial championships in a row. By the line Wiggins had taken 26 seconds out of Martin and 40 out of Tom Dumoulin who took the bronze.

Wiggins was the only man to go over 50km/h for the ride, a stunning average on such a course.

World time-trial championship result:
1. Wiggins (Gbr) in 56:25.52
2. Martin (Ger) + 0:26.23
3. Dumoulin (Ned) +0:40.64
4. Kiryienka (Bel) +0:47.92
5. Dennis (Aus) +0:57.74
6. Malori (Ita) +1:11.62

Wiggins: "I won’t be at the Tour"…the fallout is almost complete

Today, Sir Bradley Wiggins announced to the BBC (and not Sky) that “as it stands, I won’t be [at the Tour de France], probably,” and going on to say that “I will probably have to leave Team Sky” to ever ride the Tour again. A shame really for all cycling fans hoping to see how the form he showed in winning the Tour of California might carry over into the Tour de France and how it might stack up in aid of, or against, his teams’ leader, Chris Froome.

And by ‘against’ Froome, I mean the idea that Wiggins might have the form to show up with the instructions to help Froome but end up taking time of his own and putting himself into contention. As a past winner of the Tour de France, it would hardly be beyond all possibility that he could do it. Take time on the cobbled sections early in the Tour, limit his losses in the mountains and take more time back in the time-trial just before Paris.

I had said after that Tour of California in May that despite what he said about ‘riding for Froome’ at the Tour that I felt he had designs of his own on competing for the Yellow jersey again…clearly, Sky (and Froome) have thought this too.

Wiggins isn’t being dropped because he lacks form, but because he’s a risk to challenging Froome and thus destabilizing the defending champion, and given the harmony in which Sky like things to operate, they cannot have this. It would be like Mercedes F1 dropping Nico Rosberg because he’s too big a threat to beating Lewis Hamilton. Thankfully La Via Clair didn’t operate this way in 1986 when it came to selecting Greg LeMond to their Tour team to take on their defending champion Bernard Hinault.

As things are Froome would probably beat Wiggins head-to-head in this Tour even if he did show up and try take on his team-mate, but we’re going to be denied finding out for sure and Froome (as well as the fans), should he win, will be left forever with the question ‘what if Wiggins had been there…’ hanging over him. This would be the second straight Tour he has won and it would be the second straight Tour in which the champion that came before him was not available to challenge him.

A Froome v Wiggins showdown is all going a little Mayweather v Pacquiao on us.

In a purely professional, robotic, singular minded focus of winning the Tour, of which Sky tick all the boxes, I suppose it makes sense in a way, but for fans of cycling and of good competition and of wanting the most in-form riders all there, and of those who like a bit of drama to their sport, this is not good news today.

That said, I believe you should pick your best possible team and worry about inter-team rivalry later in the race, should it crop up. Having two men challenge one another for the title is a luxury any other team would desire. But there is more: In a three week grand tour, anything can happen and often strange things do happen. Froome could have a bad day in the mountains, he could puncture and lose time on the cobbles, he could slip on a wet manhole on the first day and crash out. Then what Sky? Wiggins would give Sky a plan B; another option. If Wiggins’s words today are true, Sky are very much choosing to put their eggs in one basket. It worked last year, will it work again?

Meanwhile in California … Sir Wiggo comes alive

Despite not yet being two years removed from winning the Tour de France and an Olympic time-trial title, a lot of people have been quick to write off Sir Bradley Wiggins. His disappointing 2013 season — highlighted by his withdrawal from the Giro and failure to make the Sky team (injured) for the Tour — have been used as reasons for thinking his best has come and gone and that he’s on the descent down into retirement. And there was also the thinking that he had enjoyed 2012 too much and was simply paying for it in 2013, that a year removed from that success might yet spark a fire within him to try and find that old form. Suddenly this week a few signs have emerged to suggest that it may well be returning.

Wiggins and reigning Team Sky Tour de France winner, Chris Froome have had a rocky relationship and last year we were getting set for an inter-team head-to-head across France only for Wiggins not to ride. After Froome’s victory, Sky looked correct to have put their eggs in the Froome basket, and when word came out of camp that the two had reconciled it seemed Wiggins had accepted his new role on the team: Time-trial specialist who would become a super-domestique to Froome.

Now I don’t know about you, but even after Wiggins came out admitting that Froome was the top-dog on the team and that he would indeed ride for him, I couldn’t help but wonder whether someone with the ego of Wiggins would have it in him to put aside his past success in the Tour and simply ride for Froome, even in spite of Froome’s 2013 season. Sometimes I cynically questioned whether Wiggins had merely buried the hatchet in order to win back a place on their Tour de France roster.

I’ve nothing of course to suggest that all is the case, and maybe it all is genuine, but the way Wiggins has been racing of late, I’m starting to really think that he has designs of his own come July’s big race.

He came into the season looking a new man. A good winters training and a race program different from the past that would see him tackle — and target — the Paris-Roubaix first before thinking about Grand Tour racing. Had the man that had dominated the track before coming across to win the Tour de France before winning an Olympic time-trial title, now decided to add a Monument classic feather to his cap?

It looked that way and while he was probably a little disappointed inwardly to have finished 9th in Roubaix, there was no doubt that those who doubted his ability to adapt to one of the toughest and most rugged of spring classics were left amazed at his ability to hang in and mix it with the best in the classics business just as he had done when he integrated himself from a track rider to a full-time Grand Tour rider, winning the Tour in 2012.

But what next? Wiggins said he would be back for more in Roubaix in 2015 and no reason not to believe him anymore, but was his goal in the short term of this season now to shed a few pounds and make himself a respectable deputy for Froome by July? Well, the first test of how that was going is coming this weekend at the Tour of California. And it sure as heck looks to me as though he’s gone further than any of us might have thought he would.

The old fire in him appears to be burning again.

On Monday’s individual time-trial across 20.1 kilometres, Wiggins didn’t just win, but shattered the opposition. He beat a very good time-trialist in Rohan Dennis by 44 seconds over that 20.1 km, and took 52 seconds out of American Taylor Phinney in third.

But can he climb again?

Well, speculation is that Wiggins has shed 5 kilograms since the Paris-Roubaix and to look at him he looks like a Grand Tour rider again as opposed to a more bulky classics man. The test of his climbing came yesterday, a day after the time-trial victory.

On the days final seven kilometre assent to the finish at Mount Diablo, that included gradients touching 17 percent, Wiggins led from the front. He went all Miguel Indurain and simply let the others ride on his wheel as he pounded his way towards the top shedding men as he went. An exercise in hard training within a race as much as a tactic to simply win the race, or so it seemed, Wiggins obliged those that could sit on his wheel by setting the tempo. Few could sit with him, though one who did was Dennis who finished second to him the day before, and in the final kilomtre he jumped clear to win the stage. Wiggins hit a wall, somewhat, and lost 20 seconds thus reducing his lead over Dennis in the GC to 24 seconds, but had laid down another marker as to his new found form.

You have to think Wiggins is only going to get stronger as the days tick down towards the Tour. No longer can his selection for Team Sky be in doubt. And what is Froome thinking? What is Wiggins now thinking? Will he take this form and suddenly think, what if? What if he can keep close to Froome in the mountains, maybe even steal some time. What if he’s in contention come the Tours loan 54 kilometre time-trial? Could Wiggins shock his rivals — if indeed a former Tour winner just two years removed from that win would be considered a shock?

I’d say the odds are still against him and a lot of this might be me hoping that he can get himself into the mix to really spice up what is looking like a very competitive Tour. Maybe this is simply all part of Wiggins effort to get ready to help Froome, maybe this is all part of Sky’s big plan. After all, Froome was immense last July and is singularly targeting the Tour once more, Alberto Contador looks better than he’s been for years and last years Giro winner, Vincenzo Nibali is coming back to France for another bite at the cherry. But the odds against Wiggins must be reducing by the week, like his weight, and in direct contrast to his form and confidence. And beware someone like Wiggins when he gains some confidence.

Eight things to look forward to in 2014 as well as a few predictions

There is so much to look forward to in the upcoming 2014 professional cycling road season, as there is every year and if I asked a dozen people for things that they’re looking out for the most I’d no doubt get a dozen different answers, so take of this what you will. These are eight things that jump out at me as things worth watching for as the Grand Tours make their starts in the UK, as British cycling tries to continue its dominance, and as the World Hour record comes back to prominence. I’ll also lay down a few predictions; though don’t be running to your bookie with them. Predicting cycling results on the day of a race is hard enough never mind months in advance. One thing I can guarantee however is that the season will be full of good action, beautiful scenery, and a few records here or there.

Giro in Belfast; Tour in Yorkshire

It’s a rare treat for any Grand Tour to start in the UK, indeed only the Tour de France has done that before, but for two to do it in the one year is almost as rare as the idea that back-to-back British winners of the Tour de France might have seemed a few years ago. The last time a Grand Tour visited the island of Ireland was in 1998 when that years ill fated Tour de France arrived in Dublin. Remembered for the ‘Festina Affair’ that year the Giro organisors will be hoping for none of the same when their big event arrives on that island with the start in Belfast. It’s a huge occasion for a city like Belfast and it should look fantastic. Likewise with the Tour starting in Yorkshire. Mark Cavendish seen last year’s mass start on Corsica as a big chance to pull on the Yellow jersey by winning that first stage sprint, but it didn’t go to plan. And maybe for the best because what better way to pull on his first Yellow jersey than on home turf?

Back to Back for Froome?

Chris Froome will be the favorite for the 2014 Tour. He won it in style last year and so long as his preparation matches what he did twelve months before and he can avoid any injuries there’s nobody I can see beating him. It could be tougher this time however with Vincenzo Nibali returning to the race and the most likely opponent to cause the Kenyan born, South African educated, British license holding Froome some trouble. There’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in the Tour, but Froome retaining his title is about as close as it comes to one.

Boonen back

In 2012 Tom Boonen was the King of the classics. He won Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, but injuries derailed his defense of those in 2013 and he watched from the sidelines as Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan took up the dominance of the spring races. Fighting fit again Boonen will be out to recapture his crown and that only serves us well. Seeing him, Cancellara and Sagan, among others, go head to head this spring will make for fantastic viewing. My money is on each of them winning at least one of the spring classics.

The continued rise of Rui Costa

At 27 years of age, Rui Costa is coming into his prime years as a cyclist and there’s enough there to suggest that it could be prime years full of big race wins. Back in 2011 he showed his ability as a big time racer by winning a stage of that year’s Tour de France and in 2012 he took the overall at the Tour of Switzerland. He repeated there last year and added to that result with two stage wins in Le Tour on the difficult stages of 16 and 19 before winning the World Road Race Championships in conditions even worse than those that faced him in one of his two Tour stages. Some think he even has Grand Tour potential in him and after moving to Lampre this winter to become a team-leader in his own right we’ll truly see how far his talents can go. At the very least this will remain a man who should feature highly in the spring classics and again for stages in the Tour de France as he looks to retain that rainbow jersey at the end of the 2014 season.

Classic expectations for Sagan

No doubt about it, Peter Sagan had a superb season in 2013. Victories at the Gent-Wevelgem and the Cycliste de Montréal to go with multiple stage wins at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour of Alberta, Tour of California, Tour of Oman, Tour de Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico, not to mention his Green jersey victory at the Tour de France, highlighted that. But to some there was too many second places at the classics and therefore too many missed opportunities. He was second at Milan-San Remo when those around him out foxed him and then he was beaten into second by his new spring-rival, Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders. It’s hard to imagine pressure being on Sagan to do even better than in 2013 and remember he’s still only 23 (24 later this month), but then, that age is a reason why we could well see better from him in 2014 and if he’s to truely prove to the world that he is going to be one of the greats then he might well need a win or two in one of the Monument classics this year.

The breakout of Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski broke through into the big time last season and he’ll be looking to show the world that Sagan isn’t the only young talent capable of big wins and 2014 will be a year for him to prove it. And unlike Sagan, Kwiatkoswki appears to have the ability to climb in the higher mountains and compete at the sharp end of Grand Tours as well as time-trial and sprint. He didn’t have any big victories to his name last year but he was in the mix at a number of races and finished 11th overall at the Tour de France holding the White jersey for best young rider between stages 2-7 and 11-14 before falling short of phenom climbing sensation Nairo Quintana. And it was in the Tour that his talents truly began to shine. He was right near the front on several early race sprint stages, he was 5th and 7th in the respective individual time trials and never far off the pace in the high mountains fading only towards the final days of the Tour. He’ll be one to watch in 2014.

What will Wiggins do?

Sir Bradley Wiggins had the world at his feet as the 2012 season came to an end. He had won the Tour becoming the first British cyclist to do so and then he won a Gold Medal in the individual time-trial at the London Olympics. It was a supreme season and many wondered how he could top it. Well … he couldn’t. An off season rift with Chris Froome over the leadership of the team boiled over into the early season with both of them racing apart. Wiggins went to the Giro d’Italia for his Tour prep, but as we all know in this day and age if you try to win the Giro you probably aren’t going to then win the Tour and Wiggins was out to try and win the Giro. But he couldn’t do that either. A sudden fear of descending struck him followed soon after by an illness and before the racing had even got serious, he was gone. An injury followed and Wiggins was ruled out of even competing in the Tour leaving his season in tatters. He won the Tour of Britain but aside from that and the Worlds, in which he also failed to finish, little has been seen of him. Has he finally succumbed to working for Froome at the 2014 Tour as some have suggested, or is he out for one last throw of the dice? A penultimate stage time-trial at the Tour might allow for it, but chances are Wiggins will help where he can in the Tour before turning his attention back towards the track. I’d love to see him take a run at a spring classic, but who knows. And therein lays one of the great mysteries of the upcoming season: What will Wiggins do?

Cancellara world hour

This one has me the most excited of all. The World Hour is a special record in cycling history, though the way so few have tried to break it of late you would be forgiven for thinking the cyclists themselves didn’t think so. Then again, that is a tribute to its difficulty that so few have felt able to go for it. But that looks set to change this year as big Fabian Cancellara gets set to take a run at the record. Currently held by the relatively unknown, Ondrej Sosenka (49.7 km), if anyone can beat it, it’s probably Fabian. Prior to Sosenka taking it in 2005 it was held by Chris Boardman who had taken it under conventional methods (standard bike as used by Eddy Merckx when he set a record in 1972 (49.431 km) that stood for 28 years) in 2000. Before that Boardman had got into a head-to-head with Graeme Obree on superman like bikes that seen the top names of the era — Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger — all come out to have a crack at it. Cancellara taking on the record might well perk up the interests of another time-trial specialist, Tony Martin and don’t forever rule out someone like Wiggins having a try. And with that the World Hour rivalry might yet be born again.

Predictions

Milan-San Remo (23 March): Peter Sagan
Tour of Flanders (6 April): Tom Boonen
Paris-Roubaix (13 April): Peter Sagan
Liège–Bastogne–Liège (27 April): Rui Costa
Giro d’Italia (9 May – 1 June): Nairo Quintana
Tour de France (5-27 July): Chris Froome
Vuelta a Espana (23 August – 14 September): Alberto Contador
Giro di Lombardia (5 October): Philippe Gilbert
World Road Championships, Ponferrada, Spain (28 September): Peter Sagan