As a new season dawns, top photographer Graham Watson selects his favourite pictures from the last year in the pro peloton
Seeing Ian Stannard struggle to get up and out of a ditch after crashing during Ghent-Wevelgem turned my stomach. This was obviously a bad crash, with confirmation later of a damaged vertebra that virtually ended his season. He’s a tough lad!
Ireland turned pink for the first three stages of the Giro d’Italia. From Belfast to Dublin, there was a never-ending chain of people. This opened the organisers’ eyes to the appeal of their race. I’m sure a grande partenza in New York is a distinct possibility thanks, in part, to the race’s new Irish connection.
The weather in 2014’s Milan-San Remo was not much better than when it snowed in 2013. Svein Tuft was in his element though, towing Orica-GreenEdge into the crosswind on the approach to the Turchino Pass. This race needs a new finale, but there’s no sign of one soon.
Summer-like weather came to the Spring Classics this April, providing this unusual scene of the Flèche Wallonne as it headed north from its new start in Bastogne. The warm weather also brought massive crowds on the Mur de Huy, keeping Flèche up there in the popularity stakes.
Paris-Roubaix is the only one of the Classics I know where its survivors, including the winners, flop to the ground with fatigue. Team Sky gave their all to set Sir Bradley Wiggins up for a win, only for him to finish in ninth, which was nothing to be ashamed of. Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas joined Wiggins on the grass after the gruelling race. At times like this you realise the solidarity amongst these Brits. Wiggins is their talisman and they look up to him so much.
There’s a stage of the Tour of Oman that takes the race across a spectacular escarpment. The lunar-like landscape is unique to cycling and inspired one of my all-time favourite shots. We went to Oman after a week in bleak and blustery Qatar, host of the 2016 World Championships. What a pity the Worlds are not coming to Oman instead — the roads are made for it!
Fabian Cancellara winning the Tour of Flanders was for me the sporting highlight of the Spring Classics. It was hard to appreciate the pressure on him in 2014, as leader of a new team and a rider who has won almost everything, but who still needs to win for his sponsor. He may never win that elusive world road race title, but he could win Flanders or Roubaix again in 2015 — that would be something.
The St Gotthard Pass is one of the most spectacular roads in our sport. It has a never-ending series of bends and is cobbled most of the way up. The pass is similar to the Stelvio, but on a gentler gradient and not as long. When the Tour de Suisse climbed it in June, snow from a long winter was still in evidence, as was the chilly air. Not a day for sprinters.
When Bradley Wiggins hits the ground in a silly fall at the Tour de Suisse you knew something was not quite right with a man famous for his bike-handling and concentration. This came a week after he was told he wasn’t riding the Tour, despite winning the Tour of California. I think he was sulking or day-dreaming when he hit a back wheel.
For my money, Tony Martin is the most formidable cyclist in the peloton. He wins time trials and road stages. His solo win into Mulhouse in the Tour, having attacked over 150km from the finish, is the stuff of legends. My favourite is this one of him racing to a TT win at the Tour de Suisse. It shows his immense physique and absolute determination.
It was scary how casually Nairo Quintana won the Giro d’Italia. He made one major move, in a blizzard over the Stelvio Pass, and the race was his. Because he won the Giro so convincingly, the world now expects him to do the same in the Tour in 2015 — but it won’t be anywhere as easy. Quintana needs to win the Tour as soon as he can, while he’s very young. History has shown that Colombians win early, win big, but then fall for the good life as wealthy superstars in their own country.
It is said that Mark Cavendish built his whole season around winning stage one of the Tour de France. If that is true, then the agony on his face after crashing into Harrogate is the anguish of losing rather than physical pain. Cavendish has entered a quieter period of his career, following fatherhood and the rise of younger, perhaps faster, rivals. But I’m sure he has the courage to come back, be as fast and regain the confidence to win more Tour stages.
It’s a shaky feeling when you zoom in on Chris Froome’s face and see the trouble he’s in. Here on stage seven of the Dauphiné, Froome — the race leader — had simply ‘hit the wall’, proving he was a far different cyclist to the one that won the 2013 Tour de France.
You have to do a double-take to see that this is Alejandro Valverde on the cobbles in July — Alberto Contador is struggling to stay on his wheel. I’d never seen him race so brilliantly on the pavé. Whatever you think of Valverde, in the Tour he was on a mission. He finished fourth overall, and impressed enormously.
You could have heard a pin drop as the seriousness of Contador’s crash on stage 10 of the Tour dawned on everyone. I think he knew his Tour was over, yet showed utmost professionalism by getting back on his bike. The peloton hesitated to allow him to get back, before he stopped for good.
The smooth, near-perfect road surface of the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace was made for Marcel Kittel when the Tour de France roared into London on July 7. After all, the fastest sprinter sprints the fastest on the fastest road surface, right? With Mark Cavendish out, there was no better candidate to win in London than Kittel, whose command of the English language wins him even more UK supporters.
I got myself into a small Twitter storm after posting this image of Luca Paolini apparently texting during stage eight of the Tour. It was a lucky shot I took using a long lens, while standing in a field taking a photo of the peloton flying by at over 50kph. Bearded Luca is quite a character and despite his denials, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was him emailing a photo of the peloton to his mate Filippo Pozzato, back in Italy!
I’ll never forget the Tour de France’s visit to the UK, and in particular to Yorkshire. For me it rates as highly as the 2012 London Olympics, and that was hard to beat. It seemed like there were millions of people lining our roads last July — and officially there were. This is Buttertubs Pass, where a sea of people submerges the peloton, each rider over-awed by the massive crowds. In what other sport could you see so many spectators but with little or no trouble at all? It was absolutely brilliant.
Chris Froome has recovered a little after a silly fall on stage four of the Tour, but it was a near fatal blow to his hopes of retaining his Tour crown. All this happened on the eve of the perilous stage across the Paris-Roubaix cobblestones, where Froome crashed twice and eventually quit. Incredibly, he crashed again in the Vuelta, but this time recovered and finished the race — a mighty stepping-stone to redemption in 2015.
I was delighted to discover this Andalusian horseman watching stage three of the Vuelta. It was like ancient Spain meeting modern Spain. However, when the rider suddenly pulled out his iPhone and took a shot of the race I was horrified — it didn’t seem right! My shot looks like a simple snap, but it took me over half an hour to get this horse and rider exactly into position, and keep him there long enough.
Don’t believe everything you read or hear about smog-covered China — it can be a very beautiful country. This scenery on stage four of the Tour of Beijing is one of my favourites of the whole season. This was shot on a day when the sun shone brightly and the air was as clear as bottled mineral water. It seems like a backward step to pull top racing out of such an important country, but China will be there for a little while longer, so there’s always a chance to start again.
Alberto Contador trounced everyone to win the Vuelta a España, less than two months after crashing out of the Tour. His presence in Spain made the Vuelta so much more exciting, and his win, and the manner of it, took his stardom to an all-time high. Contador’s formidable character and tenacious athleticism in 2014 will have spooked his rivals for 2015. If he can repeat such top-class form next July, I don’t think anyone can beat him — not Chris Froome, and not Nairo Quintana.
Where’s my bike? Adam Yates cuts a comical figure as he scrambles out of the bushes after a crash on the opening days of the Vuelta. In fact, the plucky Brit has survived a high-speed smash from a touch of wheels at the back of the peloton, that catapulted him onto a concrete wall above a motorway slip road, and down again. Apart from an element of shock, there wasn’t a scratch on him. That’s another reason to think that both Yates brothers have got what it takes to succeed — if they can stay on their bikes.
This is no rude insult but David Millar offering me a sign of bravado a few days after a nasty crash in the Vuelta. Millar and I go back a few years, and there have been many such moments as he has won, lost, or crashed out of races. He once told me, “If you see me crash, don’t be shy, don’t even think about it — just make sure you get a shot of it.” So I have, and I did so many times over…
Adam Blythe’s stunning sprint win in the RideLondon-Surrey Classic thrilled me, because I knew it would bring him back to a top-level WorldTour team for 2015. Blythe is a phenomenal talent, a rare and gutsy cyclist who made it as a pro without the help of Team GB/Team Sky to nurture him. He can sprint, he can climb, and he can work hard, and he did all of that to win in London. Blythe will be doing that all again for Orica-GreenEdge, his new home for the next two years.
He may have looked cool and blasé on the podium, but Bradley Wiggins must have been a very content man after winning the World Championships time trial in Ponferrada. Imagine where his mind was over the summer, considering his future at Sky and his future in general, after not being selected for the Tour. To then come back and win the Worlds after years of trying, and to have beaten Tony Martin in the process was some ride!