My pro cycling review of 2015…
There was much to admire in the pro peloton in 2015. Minimal
drugs busts and maximum action in many of the big races will see us look back
on this year as vintage I feel.
Numerous performances would be worthy of consideration in any
review. John Degenkolb winning two of the first three monuments of the season
(Milan-San Remo and Paris Roubaix) certainly made the long list, as did Alberto
Contador picking himself up off the deck in the Giro to ride himself into the pink
Romain Bardet produced a master class of descending in the
Dauphine and then backed it up on Mont Vernier in the Tour de France. The
alpine clash ahead of the Tour in June was a really excellent battle between
Chris Froom and Teejay Van Gaarderen. It set us up perfectly for July.
The final short listed occasion was much anticipated and
much written about at the time. Bradley Wiggins top flight pro swansong (ahead
of his upcoming comeback in the Tour of California next year, of course!) in Roubaix.
The pent up excitement of his attack in the last kilometres was
palpable and the way that even when his attack was pulled back he never gave up
is a lasting legacy of his influence over the peloton. When the race was lost
he still desperately attacked on the back streets of the finishing town before
slumping exhaustedly in the velodrome after missing out on the win.
Moment number 1
Gent – Wevelgem March
With my own Flandrian odyssey a week away at this point, I
planted myself in front of Eurosport to watch the whole of the coverage.
As soon as the live feed started I knew we were in for
something special. There was almost 100km left to ride and the field was in
pieces. Driving rain and battering wind had literally blown riders off the road
and trees in to their paths.
I gulped back the fear. In 7 days it would be me.
Jurgen Roelandts of Lotto made an incredible solo escape and
looked like he might hold on before a dreamy group of classics specialists
formed behind and chased him towards Ypres. It was the cream of the crop.
Jens Debusschere was the classic team mate and anchor behind
in a group with Geraint Thomas, Luca Paolini and Sep Vanmarcke. They tried to
stay upright and make the Etixx pair of Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh do
all the work.
The freak gust of wind that blew Thomas off the road is now
legend, as is the tactical nous shown by Paolini to slip away on a long road
He took a splendid win, regardless of his subsequent expulsion
from the Tour and positive test. We weren’t even in April and the bar had been
set really high in the race of the year stakes.
Moment number 2
Alpe D’Huez July
Chris Froome had endured some pretty horrific things during
his likely second Tour de France win.
Despite a tactically perfect first week where he had
positioned himself wonderfully for the small summit finishes and cobbles, the
Briton was ending the Tour looking weak.
The first cracks had appeared on the new climb of Mont
Vernier where he was suffering over the summit at the back of the group of
As they were chasing after the breakaway, Froome had been
digging into his pockets for food, a clear sign that he was starting to get the
hunger knock. His aid up to that point, Geraint Thomas was also out on his feet
and starting to concede time.
The toll was also starting to get him off the bike.
Journalists were sceptical and fans hostile. Cumulatively Froome was being got
at. The chasing pack was starting to sense a chance and it was widely
anticipated that Nairo Quintana would attack.
On the stage the day before to La Touissure (ironically the
scene of the Kenya born riders emergence in 2012) he had lost time to Quintana
late on, but preserved plenty of time overall.
At the front of the Alpe D’Huez stage, Thibaut Pinot was
saving his Tour with a special win having duked it out with the Canadian Ryder
Hesjedal from Bourg D’Oisans up to the finish. That would be enough excitement
for most spectators but further down the slopes the Colombian shot out of the
group and opened up the race on the last possible moment.
Froome made no response. He couldn’t. Quintana quickly
seemed to gain half a minute lead before settling in and trying to push every extra
second he could out of his lead.
Suddenly he was getting involved in the stage win battle and
he was almost a minute ahead. Now the Tour could be on the line…
The SKY riders in the group behind were not large in number
but massive in heart. Richie Porte found his legs again having had a tough race
and shepherded his leader to a pace that he could maintain whilst not losing
Alongside them was Wout Poels, a rider who I have followed
since his times in the Vacansoleil team. He had a marvellous day and only when
it was clear that Froome would not lose sufficient time to surrender the yellow
jersey did he slip away back from the group.
Quintana gave his all coming up just over a minute short,
but it was a really exciting end to the Tour.
August 22nd– September 13th
It’s going to be difficult to encapsulate a whole three week
grand tour in a ‘moment’, but let’s try!
This was a race full of drama from day one to day twenty
one. The opening time trial was neutralised due to the fact it had stretches
along a beach… enough said on that.
From the moment that Vincenzo Nibali was booted out of the
race for a sticky bottle at about 90kph the drama kept coming. Not all of it
for good reasons.
Camera motor bikes and the list of riders they had taken out
dominated the early stage headlines. The duel between Esteban Chaves and Tom
Dumoulin was proving less interesting to the copy writers.
However as the race went on both proved capable of staying
in their lofty overall positions.
Chris Froome went home with a broken foot so the Vuelta
looked like going down to a battle between Italian Fabio Aru and the Spanish
pair Joaquim Rodrigues and Alessandro Valverde.
But still Chaves and to a greater extent (as he was in the race
leaders red jersey) Dumoulin proved unshakeable. So much so that as we hit that
final Saturday of the race the Dutchman still held a slender lead over Aru.
He had even attacked in the leader’s jersey on a stage won
by Frank Schleck (a blast from the past!) a couple of days before.
The fairy tale finish couldn’t last and the wait for a Dutch
grand tour winner goes on in the same way as it does for the French.
Aru accelerated on the penultimate uphill of the whole
Vuelta and Dumoulin finally looked down and saw his legs buckle beneath him in
a way that all of us club riders will recognise.
He lost almost four minutes to the other contenders for the race
to finish 6th. From the outside it will have looked like an epic
collapse at the 11th hour. For
most though the site of Chaves, Dumoulin and Aru battling it out for the win
shows that the future of grand tour stage racing will be in good hands once the
Nibali, Froome generation bows out.
Three memories, three snapshots of 2015 as a season. There were
many more that could have been in the short list and the three, but for me,
these will always be the highlights I look back on.
Now bring on 2016.