This is the first part of my review of the 2014 cycling season. Here I’ll analyse and recap the seasons of the ten best cyclists in 2014, according to the UCI World Tour rankings that take into account the performances on the most important annual cycling events. In the second part, I’ll focus on other riders, underlining some of the most relevant cyclists who missed this list and pointing out the athletes who underperformed expectations this season.
You can see the detailed distribution of points per racer in every World Tour competition here, along with the list of events that are part of the calendar. In the analysis below, I’ll sometimes refer to results achieved in races that are not part of the World Tour calendar, but that are relevant for the evaluation of the yearly performance of the rider.
- Jean-Christophe Peraud (France, AG2R La Mondiale), 300 pts
Despite being a respectable 37 year-old, the road career of Peraud is a short one. He was a cross-country specialist until 2009, when he, unexpectedly, won the French Time Trial Championships and signed his first pro contract with Omega-Pharma QuickStep. His first Grand Tour participation came at the 2010 Vuelta and in the following year he made the top 10 in the Tour, his first and only major result in a three weeks race until this year. Thus, the 2nd overall place at the end of the 2014 Tour was a surprise for everyone, even more if we remember that Romain Bardet, one the best young French riders, was the team’s first choice for a good spot on the general classification. However, when decision time arrived, only he could follow Nibali at the Pla d’Adet, on the 17th stage, before sealing his spot on the Champs-Élysées podium on the final time trial.
Outside the Tour, Peraud also added some great results on the season, winning the Critérium International, and finishing two World Tour races in the top 5, with a fourth place at Tirreno-Adriático, only behind Contador, Quintana and Kreuziger, and a podium on the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, another race won by Contador.
- Daniel Martin (Ireland, Garmin-Sharp), 316 pts
The Irish’s 2014 season was one of ups and downs. When the first big goals of Martin’s season rolled around, the Ardennes Classics, he was in great shape, and, despite a withdrawal from the Amstel, he performed admirably in the following races. On the Flèche Wallone only a great Alejandro Valverde could beat him and three days later, on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he was on his way to take the top honours when a crash in the last turn crushed his dreams of repeating last year’s win. Two weeks later, in the inaugural day of the Giro, at his home country, another personal goal was dashed, with a crash on the team time trial leading to his abandon.
After recovering, the lead up to the Vuelta went without incidents, with regular performances at the Tour of Austria and Clasica San Sebastian, and a podium finish at the Tour de L’Ain. On the main Spanish race, Martin performed admirably, delivering his first major Tour Top 10 finish, and the success inspired him for a spectacular end of the season, punctuated with the second win of his career on a Cycling Monument, this time Il Lombardia, and a runner-up classification, plus a stage victory, on the last World Tour race of the season, the Tour of Beijing.
- Alexander Kristoff (Norway, Katusha), 321 pts
The best year of the Norwegian’s career contributed to alleviate the weight of the unfortunate season delivered by Katusha’s leader Joaquim Rodríguez, who was coming out of two straight wins on the general World Tour classification. Thirteen of Kristoff’s 22 career victories came in 2014 and, even if eight of them arrived on home soil, the 27-year-old sprinter left a big mark on World Tour events too. After a stage win in the Tour of Oman, the Norwegian excelled against an impressive collection of fast racers on the finish line at the Milan-San Remo to gather his first career Cycling Monument.
His presence in Belgium for the local classics wasn’t as impressive, with a single top ten finish, the fifth position on the Tour des Flandres, but he managed to ramp up his form with top performances on the Tour of Norway and the Tour des Fjords, just in time for an outstanding Tour de France, brightened with two stage wins, four other podium finishes and the second place on the final green jersey classification. Another morale-boosting passage for the Artic Race set the table for the triumph in the Vattenfall Cyclassics, with his World Tour tally padded further with the eight place in the GP of Plouay. Kristoff ended the season after discreet presences on the Canadian World Tour races and a top 10 finish at the World Championships.
- Christopher Froome (Great Britain, Team Sky), 326 pts
Repeating a memorable 2013 season, in which the British rider won almost every race he participated in until the Tour and the Grand Boucle itself, was always going to be a tough task and the Sky leader wasn’t able to overcome the challenge. He started the season well, repeating the overall classification victory at the Tour of Oman and performing well on a top-notch Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, before withdrawing of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and triumphing for the second straight year on the Tour of Romandie. The problems started in June, when Froome seemed to dominate at the beginning of the Dauphiné, conquering the first two stages, before succumbing due to the effects of a fall on stage 5. The race ended up being far from the best preparation for the title defence at the Tour and the Kenyan-native was already late when he hit the road twice on consecutive days, withdrawing from the Tour de France on the mighty Arenberg stage.
The recovery from the injuries sustained in France took some time, but Froome seemed ready to challenge for the overall classification at the Vuelta. He started slow, losing time for his main rivals, but when the third week arrived, only Contador could keep up with his rhythm. The second position at the podium in Santiago de Compostela and four runner-up finishes in stages weren’t the desired outcome but the Brit was certainly happy to finish the season in good physical and mental conditions.
- Nairo Quintana (Colombia, Movistar), 346 pts
The diminutive climber was held out of the Tour de France squad as the team opted to focus on Valverde’s chances and instead was tasked with leading Movistar on the other two Grand Tours. The Colombian started the year in style, winning a stage and the overall classification of the Tour of San Luis, in Argentina, and then had his first encounter with some its rivals on the Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing only behind Alberto Contador. A fifth place on the general classification at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, in the end of March, preceded a long training period for the Giro d’Italia spent on the mountains of his native land. The off-competition time may have contributed for a slow start at the Italian competition, as Quintana looked rusty for the first couple of weeks, but the Colombian took control of the race on stage 16, with a polemic attack on the descent of the Stelvio opening a gap for his main competitors that had escalated to over three minutes at the finish line. Another win three days later, on a climbing time-trial, furthered his grip on the pink jersey and he was at the top of the podium on Trieste, at the end of the Giro, to seal his first Grand Tour win.
Another long period off followed, with the return matching a repeat of the triumph on the Vuelta a Burgos, just a week before the start of the Vuelta a España. Entering the Spanish race as the main favourite, the Colombian wore the red jersey after the ninth stage but a fall on an individual time-trial, two days later, proved fatal to his ambitions, with another incident, early on stage 11, sealing the abandon and an early end of the season.
- Vincenzo Nibali (Italy, Astana), 392 pts
After a highly-successful 2013 season, which saw the Sicilian at the top of the classification on the Giro and narrowly missing a second Vuelta title, Nibali set his sights on winning the Tour in 2014 and delivered flawlessly. The season of “The Shark of Messina” started with discreet appearances at the Tour of San Luis, Dubai Tour and Tour of Oman, with the Italian keeping the low profile over March, finishing outside the top 20 overall on the Paris-Nice and failing to reach a top 10 in any of the spring classics he attended. His first good result came at the Tour of Romandie, with a fifth place, two minutes away from winner Chris Froome, and on the beginning of June, at the Critérium du Dauphiné, he was still distant from his elite shape, yielding time to his main rivals on key stages before closing the race ranked seventh.
However, the Tour was still three weeks away and the Italian warned the competition that he was going to show up much better. Still, even after a perfectly timed attack at the end of stage two earned him the win and the yellow jersey, few expected what followed. Nibali, along with his teammates, put on a show on the critical stage 5, saw Froome and Contador withdraw due to injuries, and only relinquished the overall lead for a single day until Paris, exerting a dominance in the race that rivalled the Armstrong years. He closed the Tour with an advantage of more than seven minutes over the closest competition, won three more stages, and almost snatched the mountains jersey too. The Shark was satisfied and he went back to the shadow until the end of the season, appearing only on some small races and the World Championships, where he finished in the 40th position.
- Rui Costa (Portugal, Lampre-Merida), 461 pts
Is it possible to finish the season just outside the podium of the World Tour, in the best position of the career, and still have a somewhat disappointing year? The 2013 World Champion carried sky-high hopes entering 2014 but failed to impress in his new colours, fighting to break through the “curse of the rainbow jersey”. Leading his own team for the first time in the career, the Portuguese first goal of the season was the homeland’s Volta ao Algarve, where he started a weird series of second place finishes, ending three stages on that position and the overall classification in third. His first WT event of the year was the Paris-Nice and he barely missed the win in two stages once again, being beaten by Colombian Betancur on the general classification. Following a poor week on the Ardennes Classics, Costa returned to form on a country where he’s usually successful. A third overall place on the Tour of Romandie preceded the third consecutive triumph on the Tour of Suisse, secured after winning the last stage, which would end up being the only victory of his season.
The Portuguese entered the Tour de France vying for a top ten overall finish, but he never looked confortable, dropping out of the race due to persistent respiratory problems on the last week. He reappeared in good form on the Canadian WT events, beating everyone but Simon Gerrans at Montreal, and raising expectations for the World Championships, where he lacked the speed to follow the main contenders on the last climb. To end the season, already without the burden of the rainbow jersey, Costa clinched the first podium of his career on a Cycling Monument, at Il Lombardia, and fought for the Tour of Beijing, eventually concluding in fourth.
- Simon Gerrans (Australia, Orica GreenEDGE), 478 pts
2014 was an absolutely brilliant season for the Australian veteran. In the first days of January he secured the second Australian championship of his career and kept the pace on the inaugural WT event of the year, the Tour Down Under, collecting top 5 finishes on five of the six race stages, and taking the overall and points classifications. His start on European soil was timid, with abandons in the Paris-Nice and the Volta al Pais Vasco, but he appeared in great shape for the Ardennes Classics, managing a podium in the Amstel Gold Race and winning the second Monument of his career (Milan-San Remo, 2012) in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, benefiting from the last minute disaster of Daniel Martin.
Gerrans then failed to leave his mark at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tour de France, where he concluded two stages in fifth before withdrawing, or the Clasica San Sebastian, but apparently he was only getting ready for a blistering end of the season. He finished in third at the Vattenfall Cyclassics and became the first man to win both Canadian World Tour events on the same year, before taking the silver medal on the World Championships, beating the competition on the group that arrived after Kwiatkowski.
- Alberto Contador (Spain, Tinkoff-Saxo), 620 pts
After a disappointing 2013 season, Alberto Contador was under pressure at the start of the 2014 season, with his chances of winning another Grand Tour, specially the Tour de France, under dispute. The Spanish cyclist responded exemplarily to the critics right from the beginning, taking the second overall position and the king stage of the Volta ao Algarve, and kick-starting the World Tour season with an impressive general classification win at the Tirreno-Adriatico, carving a two minute difference for Nairo Quintana while collecting two stages victories. His preparation continued in Spain, with the Pinto native narrowly missing the general victory in the Volta a Catalunya, and then conquering his third Vuelta al Pais Vasco. In the tune up for the French Tour, the Spaniard looked like the strongest rider at the Dauphiné, but was let down by his own team, with the victory escaping on the last stage due to the formation of a successful breakaway that involved several high-profile riders.
At the Tour de France, Contador suffered tremendously on the cobbles of Arenberg but seemed to be on his way to the top after a second place classification on stage 8, at Gerardmer, the first mountain finish of the competition. However, two days later, with Nibali holding a 2:30 minutes lead on him, Contador crashed violently and his dreams of winning a third Tour were ruined, at least, until 2015. He then made an almost miraculous recovery to be fit in time for the start of the Vuelta a España, where, given the quality of the field of competitors and the doubts about his physical condition, his real ambitions were unclear. Defying the odds, the 31-year-old inherited the red jersey after the first individual time trial and kept getting better every day, looking in top shape by the final week, when he won two stages and clinched masterfully his third win on the competition (2008, 2012) and sixth Grand Tour. With the World Tour title on the line, Contador also attended Il Lombardia but decided to forego the trip to China, giving up on surpassing the man below.
- Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Movistar), 686 pts
For the third straight season, the general classification winner of the World Tour was a Spanish cyclist. Alejandro Valverde succeeded Joaquim Rodríguez and the title landed in deserving hands, since the 34-year-old was extremely regular over the season, adding at least 40 points from every WT event he participated in. Valverde won ten times this season and four of those came in February, at the Vuelta a Andalucia, with three stage wins and the general classification victory. Before the fifth place overall on his first WT event of the year, the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, he also collected the Vuelta a Murcia, the Roma Maxima and the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain. As the end of April arrived, he managed to improve on the excellent results obtained in 2013 on the Ardennes Classics, taking the win on the Flèche Wallone, the second place on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a fourth on the Amstel Gold Race.
He continued to have success in June, finishing as the runner-up on the general classification of the Route du Sud and in the Road Spanish Championships, while becoming the national time-trial champion for the first time. Skipping the participation on the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse meant the true physical condition of Valverde was unknown entering the Tour de France, and the Spaniard flew under the radar on the first week, before the abandons of Froome and Contador placed him right after Nibali. He managed to hold onto the second place until the climb of the Hautacam, on the 18th stage, where he failed to follow Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud, thus missing the opportunity to clinch his first Tour de France podium finish. Nevertheless, he rebounded well from the disappointing end and, just a few days later, was smiling again at the finish line of the Clasica San Sebastian.
The short recovery time until the start of the Vuelta did not scare the Spaniard, who usually races both Grand Tours, and Valverde performed admirably well, celebrating victory on the team time trial, winning the sixth stage, and ending the race with eight top four finishes. For the second consecutive year, he beat Joaquim Rodríguez in the battle for the third position overall, and was also a top three on the points and mountains classifications. To cap a truly special season, he led the Spanish National team on the Ponferrada’s World Championships Road Race, terminating, for the third consecutive year, on the lower podium position (sixth podium appearance), and was, once again, in the fight for the win at Il Lombardia, ending in second place for the second consecutive year.