The past 12 months in cycling provided not only compelling racing, but also some insights as to how the sport might pan out in the future.
From unearthing potential stars to identifying riders in decline and revealing new trends, 2013 was an enlightening year.
Here are 10 lessons we learnt…
1. Chris Froome could dominate the Tour de France for the next five years
The Team Sky rider’s margin of overall victory at this year’s Tour stood at 4min 20sec, but that did not fully reflect his dominance and superiority over the rest of the field. Yes, Nairo Quintana matched him in the mountains, and granted, there are time trial experts who can better him in against the clock. However, no other rider can excel in both disciplines quite as effectively as Froome and, for that reason, it seems certain he will be challenging for yellow jerseys at least until his early to mid-30s. Vincenzo Nibali is adept at merging climbing with time-trialling and used that ability to win the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia in the past, but Froome has beaten him before at the Tour and will be confident of continuing to do so. Quintana, meanwhile, is just 23 and is surely a potential Tour winner of the future, but he is possibly years from peaking and must improve his time-trialling dramatically to threaten Froome over three weeks.
2. Mark Cavendish is no longer out on his own as the world’s No 1 sprinter
Between 2008 and 2011, Cavendish enjoyed near-total dominance of the sprints at the Tour de France. Although he won the green points jersey only once in that time, he notched up 20 stage wins at an average of five per race. He managed only three at the 2012 edition, but that was put largely down to being given little or no lead-out train by Team Sky. A move to Omega Pharma – Quick-Step followed in a bid to get the wins flooding in again, but instead, his tally fell once more, to just two wins. His lead-out train was still not functioning as smoothly as the one that propelled him to his 2008-2011 purple patch, but this time, there were other reasons behind the dip, notably, the rise of his rivals. Andre Greipel has been a persistent threat over the past couple of years and was more so than ever in 2013, but it was the emergence of Marcel Kittel as a genuine force that had the biggest effect, with the German taking four stage wins at the Tour. Where once Cavendish had sprints all to himself, now they are a three-way battle – and four if you include Peter Sagan. The fact that Cavendish himself has acknowledged his monopoly is over is further evidence that his grip on the title of No 1 sprinter in the world has been significantly weakened.
3. Sir Bradley Wiggins cannot ride downhill in the rain
When a rider wins the Tour de France, it becomes a fair assumption that they are the complete package. OK, Wiggins needed climbing help from Chris Froome on the way to his 2012 Tour triumph, but it is not as if he was being dropped in the opening kilometres of the mountain-top finishes. So when it started pouring with rain on stage six of this year’s Giro d’Italia and Wiggins lost a minute and a half after crashing and then negotiating a wet descent at crawling pace, all did not seem quite right. A similar thing happened again a couple of stages later, and Wiggins once more looked nervy descending in the wet during a rain-sodden Tour of Britain in September. The man himself famously admitted during the Giro that he has “descended like a girl” and his Achilles heel has now been revealed for all to see.
4. Age is no barrier to success
Pass 35 years old and your days of winning cycle races are over. Or so we thought. Cadel Evans, Alessandro Petacchi and Ivan Basso may be in decline, but this summer, Chris Horner proved age is no barrier to success with a remarkable overall victory at the Vuelta a Espana, aged 41. On a brutally difficult parcours containing no fewer than 11 summit finishes, the American outclimbed Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde on the way to a 37-second triumph in which he won two stages, became the oldest man to win a Grand Tour and then the oldest man to win one.
5. Britain’s next generation of road riders is blooming nicely
Britain has elbowed its way to the top of world road cycling in the past couple of years, but once Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish have retired, who will emerge to keep us there? Fear not, because the next wave of top British riders is developing nicely. The Yates brothers both performed superbly well at the Tour de l’Avenir (widely regarded as the Tour de France for young amateurs), with Adam finishing second overall and Simon taking two stage wins. Simon then went on to beat some of the best climbers in the world – including Nairo Quintana – on the way to winning the summit finish on Haytor in Dartmoor during the Tour of Britain. At Team Sky, Pete Kennaugh gets stronger with every race and performed brilliantly at the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de France, while further down the pecking order, climber Josh Edmondson has enjoyed an impressive debut season. Even younger, 18-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart won two amateur stage races this year and has now signed to one of the world’s leading development teams for 2014. All in all, the future is looking bright.
6. Britain’s presence in women’s track sprinting is in safe hands with Becky James
Following the retirement of Victoria Pendleton in the wake of London 2012, we could have been forgiven for fearing that British women’s sprint medals might dry up. That hasn’t been the case, though, because James has fulfilled her potential in stunning style this year and amply filled the void Pendleton left. James started her year by winning two gold medals and two bronzes at the world championships in Minsk, and then followed that up with a European championship bronze and a total of five medals at the two Track Cycling World Cups of the season so far. At 22, she can only get strong and better.
7. Britain’s women’s team pursuit squad are among the best sports teams in the world
Bayern Munich, the All Blacks, the Spanish national football team, the USA basketball team, Red Bull Racing and the Jamaican sprint squad are arguably among the best sports teams in the world, but to that list we must now surely add the British women’s team pursuit squad. If winning the world and Olympic titles in 2012 represented their breakthrough year, 2013 was the campaign in which they became legends. They retained their world title in Minsk in February and then, after the event had been modified from three riders over 3km to four riders over 4km, they added the European title in world record-breaking time. The real barometer of their superiority over their rivals, however, came at the Track Cycling World Cups in Manchester in November and Mexico in December. They broke their own world record at both meetings, lowering the mark by a total of ten seconds in little over six weeks. It has got to the point where they are now so far ahead of other nations that they are effectively racing only themselves and the history books.
8. The opening week of the 2014 Tour de France will be dramatic
The route for the 2014 was revealed in late October and while it is usually the mountain stages that catch the eye, this time around all attention was on the first week. The second stage, from York to Sheffield, contains no fewer than nine climbs, including one 5km from the finish line that boasts a maximum gradient of 33 per cent, meaning that the general classification is almost certain to get an early shake-up. Then, three days later, the race will tackle more than 15.4km of cobbled roads on a fifth stage from Ypres in Belgium to Arenberg Port du Hainot in France. Again, this terrain is almost guaranteed to create gaps among the contenders for overall victory, completing what could be one of the most eventful opening weeks in the race’s recent history.
9. Peter Sagan is a brilliant each-way bet for almost any one-day race or stage
This is not necessarily something we learnt only this year – everyone knows Peter Sagan is prolific – but 2013 did serve underline the Slovak’s status as the sport’s most consistent high achiever. He won 22 times from his 91 race days in 2013 and finished on the podium on another 15 races. This means that every time he takes to a start line, there is a 40 per cent chance he will finish in the top three. This ratio includes mountain stages and time trials, where Sagan is not competitive, so if you exclude them, the percentage only rises. The conclusion? Bet on Sagan each way in every race in 2014 bar mountain and time-trial stages and you will probably end the year with a nice wedge of cash in your wallet.
10. Sprint stages are not necessarily guaranteed
Another reason why Mark Cavendish might not win so many races and stages in the future is that bunch sprints haven’t been the dead-cert in 2013 that they usually are. No fewer than three times this season, we have seen sprints hijacked by late escapes from the peloton’s powerhouses. The first instance came at the Tour de Pologne, when, with a bunch finish beckoning, Taylor Phinney broke away from the pack with around 8km to go and held off the chasing sprinters by just metres to claim victory. Next, on a sprint day at the Vuelta a Espana, lone breakaway rider Tony Martin somehow managed to avoid being caught and took a handful of seconds’ lead into the final kilometre. He was finally swallowed up just metres from the finish line, but the frantic chase effort ensured that the day’s winner was not a sprinter. The following day, it happened again. This time Zdenek Stybar and then world champion Philippe Gilbert broke away from the peloton 10km and held on to fight out a two-man sprint between themselves. These instances are far from the norm, but sprint teams should nevertheless be on guard in the future.
- Chris Froome eyes Tour de France triumph (sykose.com)
- Chris Froome nominated for BBC Sports Personality award (sykose.com)
- GB cyclist Chris Froome wins prestigious Velo d’Or award (sykose.com)
- Simon Yates tempers expectations ahead of first pro season with Orica-GreenEdge (sykose.com)
- Froome welcomes crackdown (sykose.com)