Dr. Hutch: Looking back at 2014

2014 had seemingly been mapped out as another great year for British cycling. But the blueprint was flawed. The Doc discusses an eventful, if unpredictable, year…

Well, that was 2014, that was. The year when Chris Froome was going to become the first British rider to defend a Tour de France title. The year when Richie Porte was going to add to the lustre of Team Sky by winning the Giro d’Italia. And the GB track team were going to continue their dominance of every discipline from the keirin to the aerodynamically optimised manicure.

Mark Cavendish was going to grab the once in a career opportunity to win a Tour de France stage in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate. Peter Kennaugh was going to win the Commonwealth Games road race, and Peter Sagan was going to win everything else, except that Bradley Wiggins was going to top the general classification at the Tour of California. Here’s what really happened.

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At the Track World Championships in Cali in February, the British men won nothing at all. The British women won enough to make the men look bad, but not enough to make the whole team look good overall. In the aftermath, Sir Dave Brailsford resigned from running the British national squad so he could focus on the continued domination of the road stage-race scene by Team Sky. We shall catch up with how this project went a little later.

In May, the Giro d’Italia came to Ireland. To celebrate, Belfast painted itself pink. A much-publicised flock of pink sheep in a field near the route in North Antrim mysteriously vanished overnight when it was realised that the dye wasn’t permitted for use in the food chain. Meanwhile, back at the race, the home favourite, Dan Martin, vanished overnight after crashing into the only pothole in Belfast’s famously smooth-as-silk boulevards, breaking his collarbone.

The Tour de France kicked off in Yorkshire. The roadside verges were packed with spectators for the entire length of the route, meaning that for many riders their abiding memory of the event was getting to the finish sitting on a bladder the size of a basketball because there’d been nowhere quiet for a pee in 200km.

Teapots and potholes
That may or may not have been a contributing factor to Cav’s Tour-ending crash just outside Bettys Tearoom in Harrogate. This is the most self-consciously genteel spot on which anyone has ever crashed a bicycle.

Chris Froome’s exit from the Tour was the result of a crash that was so lacking in spectacle that almost no one noticed it — he slid off on a greasy corner to compound injuries from the previous day’s equally innocuous looking incident, thereby becoming one of relatively few riders to crash out of a race in a series of daily instalments.

Sir Dave had said before the Tour began that Team Sky had “no Plan B” at the event. He wasn’t kidding — Plan B spent July at home preparing for the Commonwealth Games and perfecting his beard. Sky Plan C was a Richie Porte still struggling to get over a spring wrecked by illness. They decided not to protect Geraint Thomas as Sky Plan D, but instead they skipped straight to Sky Plan E, with Mikel Nieve finishing in 18th overall.

Weird tactics, odd logistics
Peter Sagan managed the remarkable feat of seven top-10 Tour stage finishes in a row, without managing to actually win one. On the other hand, in his career he’s ridden 62 stages (and a prologue) of the Tour since 2012, and worn the green jersey for 55 of them. So we’ll concede that he’s not doing too badly.

The Tour was taken by Vincenzo Nibali, who apparently failed to notice that both Froome and Alberto Contador had crashed out, and won by the unnecessary margin of 7-37. La Course, the slightly apologetic one-day women’s race put on by the Tour organisers, was (perhaps inevitably) won by the best current pretender to the title of ‘World’s Greatest Cyclist’, Marianne Vos.

At the Commonwealths the following week, Sky Tour Plan B duly won gold in the team pursuit. Peter Kennaugh spent almost the full length of the men’s road race in a tactically baffling solo break, despite no less a directeur sportif than Mark Cavendish repeatedly telling him not to. He finished eighth of the 12 riders who made it to the line.

At the Tour of Britain, Alex Dowsett gained and then lost the leader’s jersey with two consecutive days that were equally spectacular, but for opposing reasons. Meanwhile, young British rider Tao Goeghegan Hart catapulted himself to stardom by misreading the final turn onto the seafront finish at Brighton and crashing into the crowd while travelling at fully 90 degrees to the direction involved in a less banzai approach. It’s comforting for the rest of us to reflect that whatever he goes on to win, up to and including the Tour and the Olympics, that’s what we’re all going to remember him for.

The World Champs were at the Western European pole of inaccessibility in the Spanish city of Ponferrada. “Where?” said the riders and team staff. Followed by “What the ****!” when they fished out their road atlases and it became clear that it was five hours from the nearest airport.

Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead arrived in the finishing straight of the women’s road race with just three other riders for company. After an extended round of, “After you, Elizabeth,” “No, after you Marianne, I insist,” accompanied by no one looking over their shoulder and exclaiming, “I say, ladies, is that the bunch bearing down upon us at 60kph?” the tactical acumen of four of the best riders in the world ensured that they finished third, seventh 10th and 14th.

The race was won by French rider Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who was described by the international media as “unheralded”, which is a technical term for, “we had to check how to spell her name.”

The men’s race was won by Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski, who sprung a surprise attack on the bunch. You might have expected the quality of this surprise to have been spoiled somewhat by the fact his entire team spent several hours on the front of the bunch grinding the early break back. But everyone very politely pretended they hadn’t noticed that.

The most unexpected act of the year was when the UCI attached electrodes to the long-dead corpse of the Hour record, and shocked it back to life. A change of rules allowed Jens Voigt to utter a final cry of “shut up legs” and set a new record. It was less, in fact, only the ninth-greatest distance ever covered on a bicycle in an hour. However, this is the sort of footling technicality that the UCI takes in its stride these days.

Voigt’s record only lasted six weeks before unheralded Austrian Matthias Brändle broke it, with the seventh-greatest distance ever recorded. In his case, “unheralded” means, “we know how to spell it, but we have no idea how to pronounce it.”

And finally, Bradley Wiggins did indeed win the Tour of California.