It’s time for the negatives:
Mark Cavendish (Great Britain, Omega-Pharma Quickstep), 58th
Eleven wins in a season cut short by a crash is a dream scenario for the overwhelming majority of sprinters on the World Tour, but Cavendish is far from the average dude. With 40 Grand Tour stage wins on his résumé, the Brit is one of the most successful finishers of all-time and the truth is that 2014 ended without any major triumph for the former World Champion.
The Manx Man season was completely focused on taking the yellow jersey after the opening stage of the Tour de France, one that ended in Harrogate, his grandmother’s town, but an agonizing crash when Cav was beginning the sprint crushed his dreams and tore up his season. However, even if he piled up the victories early in the season, he didn’t exactly impress. He won only once during his opening three stage competitions of the season, on the last day of the Volta ao Algarve, and his performance on the Dubai Tour was particularly poor. His showing on the Tirreno-Adriático was better, wearing the yellow jersey after the team time trial win that opened the event, and taking a stage later on, but he couldn’t beat the competition on the final sprint at the Milan-San Remo. He then went to Turkey, dominating at will an underwhelming field to the tune of four stage wins and 2 podiums in 8 days, and rose up to the challenge at the Tour of California, picking up two stage victories against the likes of Sagan and Degenkolb. A win at the Tour of Suisse, another event where his main rivals, Kittel and Greipel, were absent, was a nice plus, but he then failed to finish the race and added a DNS at the Great Britain Championships, just a week before the summit (and the low point) of his season.
Following the Tour disaster, he returned at the Tour de l’Ain and was fifth at the Vattenfall Cyclassics, proceeding to gain some confidence and a couple of wins on an unheralded Tour du Poitou-Charentes. To close his season, on the Tour of Britain, he couldn’t beat Kittel on the two easiest stages of the competition, leaving 2014 with a sour taste on his mouth unlike some of his key teammates, which hit most of the targets set for the season.
Peter Sagan (Slovakia, Cannondale), 15th
Concealed among the acrobatics spectacles, charismatic personality and unbelievable talent, there was the Slovakian’s sub-par year on his farewell season to Cannondale. For the first time on his, still short, career, Sagan failed to increase the win totals, which is something perfectly acceptable after the 21 of 2013, but more importantly he couldn’t achieve most of his objectives. He picked up only two wins in the first three months of the season, which included stops in Argentina, Dubai and Oman before the beginning of his European obligations in Italy at the Strade Bianchi. Moreover, when the Spring Classics season arrived, the Slovak was once again impotent to come up on top at the Milan San Remo (10th), Tour des Flandres (16th) and Paris-Roubaix (6th), having to settle for a single success in the E3 Harelbeke. He then won once at the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse, while collecting two more green jerseys to add to the one from the Tirreno-Adriatico, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was getting beaten more and more by most of his rivals heading into the Tour de France.
On the biggest stage, he failed to deliver yet again, accumulating mistakes that burned opportunity after opportunity to pounce on finishes perfectly suited for his characteristics, but using his regularity to ensure a third consecutive points classification victory after nine(!!!) top five placements, four of them seconds.
If the season was being far from perfect until the Tour, the rest was a long slog until the end, with Sagan clearly distracted and disengaged following the announcement of his move to Tinkoff-Saxo in 2015. He struggled at the Vuelta, showing up only in a couple of occasions to fight for the sprint before withdrawing from the race, and later could not make a difference at the World Championships, ending in the seventh position. The Zilina-native suffered on many occasions during the season, isolated due to the lack of support and value on Cannondale’s roster, and that surely softened the critics in 2014, but all excuses are off heading into 2015. The number and quality of his victories is expected to go up significantly, since his new formation has lots of options to help in the pursuit of a maiden Monument victory and a couple of Tour de France successes.
Richie Porte (Australia, Team Sky), 74th
For a Sky team with so many financial and technical resources, the 2014 season was a huge disappointment and no rider summed up better the failure to complete the goals in hand than the tiny Australian climber. The Paris-Nice triumph, the brilliant support of Froome at the Tour de France, and a series of other impressive results during 2013 were still fresh on everyone’s memory, and Porte seemed poised to take the next step in 2014, receiving the task of leading the team on a number of races, the primary being the Giro d’Italia.
The New Year had barely arrived and the Australian was already racing on his home country, finishing the National Championships in third and then winning a stage and ending in fourth at the Tour Down Under. He proceeded to perform well in February at the Vuelta a Andalucia, where only Valverde could beat him, but a bout of gastroenteritis that forced him to abandon the Tirreno-Adriatico kick-started his demise. He couldn’t complete the second stage of the Volta al Catalunya and then failed to finish the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Romandie too, being forced out of Sky’s Giro team due to fitness concerns and assigned to help Froome on the Tour. His poor presence at the Critérium du Dauphiné, coupled with the one of his leader, didn’t anticipate a good showing at the major event and, unfortunately for the Brits, the worse projections come to fruit. Froome left the race early and a darting Porte managed to keep the team in the overall fight until the end of the second week, where the climb to Chamrousse was fatal to the Aussie’s ambitions, as he lost almost nine minutes due to new stomach problems. The 29-year-old concluded the Tour outside the top 20 and that was the last race he managed to finish in 2014, with abandons in Hamburg and Plouay ending a difficult season for the Tasmanian.
OK, just two more to go. An unlucky fellow and a real head-scratcher.
Andrew Talansky (USA, Garmin-Sharp), 38th
The young American GC-rider entered 2014 looking to emerge as one of the top contenders for a major Tour win and everything seem to be going according to the plan until the…unplannable derailed his season.
Talansky set his eyes on improving his 2013 10th overall classification at the Tour de France and he built his form steadily with regular performances at the Tirreno-Adriático (17th), Volta a Catalunya(7th) and Tour of Romandie (11th). With July approaching, he started the Critérium du Dauphiné as one of the outsiders for the win and handled the tough initial stages before pouncing convincingly at the sight of Froome’s problems and Saxo-Bank’s weaknesses. The last stage of the race was an unexpected exercise of boldness from the pack battling Contador and Talansky managed to believe in his chances and fight for them, ending up in Courchevel smiling at the brightest moment of his career. The win skyrocket his profile heading into the Tour and some put his name right at the top of the list of GC contenders, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Miami-native crashed heavily on consecutive days during the first week, fought a respiratory infection and left the race on the 12th stage completely heartbroken. On the previous day, he inspirationally battled alone to finish stage 11 after dropping from the back of the peloton with half of the mileage to go.
The sequels of the injuries sustained were still evident at the Vuelta and he went through the race anonymously to finish outside of the top 50. To wrap up a season that had so much promise, the American participated on the time trial and road race of the World Championships, ending up in 15th on the first event and withdrawing from the second.
Carlos Betancur (Colombia, AJ2R La Mondiale), 46th
Betancur is not only part of the new generation of talented Colombian riders that appears to have flooded the World Tour, but is also the most enigmatic of the group. At his best, the AG2R cyclist is an attacking force that can go head to head with the best in a variety of stage and one-day races, and his first season with the French outfit, in 2013, showed it perfectly, as he finished the Giro in 5th, and shined at the Liège-Bastogne-Liége (4th) and Flèche Wallone (3rd).
In 2014, the 25-year-old had to prove that his accomplishments were no fluke and, despite appearing overweight, he was once again one the stars of the first part of the season, claiming top honours at the Tour du Haut Var-matin and then leaving the Paris-Nice with the win. The triumph on the glamorous one-week race was a really impressive accomplishment, with the Colombian winning two consecutive stages to take the race lead and fending off multiple challenges thrown at him by a strong field of competitors. However, much like he did in the previous year, where he disappeared after the end of the Giro, the good results seemed to vanish quickly and the problems with his team director started to leak on the news. He couldn’t finish the Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al Pais Vasco, didn’t really contend for the hilly races of the spring, and went missing after the Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the end of April to return only in August, in Burgos. Afterwards, no one noticed him at the Vuelta and he collected DNFs until the end of the season. Once again, a truly puzzling season for a talented rider that his gaining a shifty reputation.