March had the first big GC showdowns of the season, with Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya, as well as Milan-San Remo
Kuurne-Bruxells-Kuurne and Strade Bianche
Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick Step) continued his early-season form with a sprint victory at Kuurne-Brusells-Kuurne beating Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky).
Cav managed to salvage some pride for his Belgian team, who were outmanoeuvred by Ian Stannard at Omloop Het Niuewsblad in the last week of February, to register his second win at the race, having previously won it back in 2012. Only 106 of the 200 starters managed to finish the 193km route.
Later in the the month, it was time for Strade Bianche, which was won by Cav’s Etixx-Quick Step teammate Zdenek Stybar by 2 seconds from BMC’s Greg van Avermaet, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) rounding out the podium 18 seconds back on the Czech rider.
That trio led the race for most of the last 20km before van Avermaet attacked on Santa Caterina, the 16 per cent gradient final climb. But the effort to drop the always-dangerous Valverde tired the Belgian, allowing Stybar the perfect opportunity to sneak past him at the line.
In the inaugral women’s edition of the race, Britain’s Lizzie Armistead took second place, 37 seconds behind her Boels-Dolmans teammate Megan Guarnier. Guarnier made her decisive attack a little under 20km from the finish and, with the chasing group behind unable to cooperate to reel her back in, she was able to keep her lead to the finish in Siena.
The most significant story of the cycling season that wasn’t directly related to racing was the publication of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report on doping and corruption in cycling. But, unsurprisingly, the report contained very little that wasn’t already known.
The UCI leadership, in particular Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid, came in for criticism for flouting anti-doping procedures and favourable treatment to big-name riders like Lance Armstrong – but, of course, we already knew that.
In the aftermath of publication, the UCI announced a raft of new anti-doping measures, including working more closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the introduction of a fit-and-proper persons requirement in the team licensing process.
Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico
Two of the first big GC tests of the season kicked off in the middle of March, with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico running at the same time. Two of the riders expected to feature heavily at July’s Tour de France, Team Sky’s Richie Porte and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, made significant claims to be amongst the favourites with wins at the week-long stage races.
Quintana arguably beat a stronger field of riders than Porte, with Alberto Contador (fifth) and Vincenzo Nibali (16th) continuing their early-season preparations in Italy rather than France, alongside the likes of Thibaut Pinot (4th) and Joaquim Rodriguez (13th), while Peter Sagan recorded his first win of the season. The podium at Tirreno-Adriatico was rounded out by Bauke Mollema and Rigoberto Uran.
Chris Froome withdrew the day before the week-long race due to a chest infection, drawing the ire of race organisers.
In France meanwhile, Porte managed to take the overall win , despite a nasty crash, with Bradley Wiggins riding as a super domestique as Geraint Thomas emerged as a potential GC contender for the future and Team Sky and Porte rode themselves to the top of the WorldTour rankings.
However, if only to prove that early-season form means little at the business end, eventual Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru (Astana) finished 39th in the race, nearly 25 minutes in arrears on Porte.
Milan-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem
The first Monument of the year, Milan-Sanremo, traced a punishing 293km route which was won by John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), who beat Alexander Kristoff and Michael Matthews in a sprint finish, with Peter Sagan finishing in fourth-place.
Geraint Thomas followed up his impressive showing at Paris-Nice – and his heroic ride at Milan-San Remo – with victory at E3 Harelbeke, beating Zdenek Stybar by 25 seconds in what he called the best win of his career.
Classics legend Fabien Cancellara broke his back for the first time of the 2015 season in a nasty crash that cut short his spring racing. Elsewhere in the race, BMC’s Greg van Avermaet went straight over his handlebars in the final kilometres of the race and was lucky to escape a similar injury.
The Welshman was on the podium again two days later at Gent-Wevelgem, further bolstering his Classics credentials with third place, 11 seconds behind winner Luca Paolini (Katusha), who stole the show with a superbly-timed attack from the lead group 5km from the finish.
Volta a Catalunya
Richie Porte added another stage-race win to his palmares in the Volta a Catalunya at the end of the month, finishing just four seconds ahead of triple stage-winner Alejandro Valverde to give the Australian confidence moving into the summer.
Victory on the seventh and final stage moved Valverde up from fourth to second on GC, knocking Alberto Contador – who suffered a bad crash on the previous stage – off the podium, having already won stages two and five.