After what seemed like the longest off-season in history (each winter does), cycling returned with a vengeance in January, with some great racing to get our year started
With the European weather a bit dicey early in the year, the stars headed for far-away climes to get their seasons underway, with the Tour Down Under and Tour de San Luis providing the first of the action.
The women got us underway pretty early in the month, with Britain’s Hannah Barnes starting her year with a bang – winning the GP San Luis Femenino and then the first two stages of the actual race in three consecutive days.
She finished first in the youth classification, as riders from the American continents dominated the top 10 of the general classification.
In the men’s race, we saw the arrival of cycling’s next best young sprinter, as the little-known Fernando Gaviria beat Mark Cavendish twice in three stages. The Brit got his own back on the final stage, pipping his future Etixx-Quick Step teammate to the line.
Argentinian Daniel Diaz won his second San Luis title, having also triumphed in 2013, as defending champion Nairo Quintana battled to third place.
Tour Down Under
In sunny Adelaide, all eyes were on the Tour Down Under – a race which has become a staple of the early season, attracting many of the world’s best riders, but always seems under threat of extinction.
After the 2015 edition, though, organisers should be buoyed by the fact that the racing was superb, the Aussies did well and the route was pretty decent as well.
Marcel Kittel started his season ominously, taking the People’s Choice Classic on the day before the proper racing started, but he couldn’t carry that form into the stage race – only breaking the top 100 once.
The home support had plenty to cheer for as Jack Bobridge won the first stage in Campbelltown to take the first ochre jersey – keeping it at the end of the second stage as well.
By winning stage three, Rohan Dennis both stole the leader’s jersey and effectively sealed the race win overall. In the race’s six stages, four Australians were winners, including NFTO’s Steele Von Hoff and Team Sky’s Richie Porte.
Secrets of the Toolbox: MTN-Qhubeka
Europe wasn’t a complete racing ghost town in January, with some well-known riders taking part in the Mallorca Challenge races that takes place over four days at the end of the month and early February.
The first race, the Trofeo Santanyi-Ses Salines-Campos, saw an early win for IAM Cycling‘s Matteo Pelucchi – who would go on to win another on the first of February – as he beat Elia Viviani (Team Sky), José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to the line.
The following day, Steve Cummings got his MTN-Qhubeka career off to a storming start – winning the Trofeo Andratx-Mirador d’Es Colomer in a summit finish ahead of Alejandro Valverde.
Cummings’s emphatic win was caught on a shaky camera at the finish line and set off a remarkable season for the African team.
Jack Bobridge Hour Record
After two successful attempts at beating the UCI Hour Record by Jens Voigt and Matthias Brändle at the end of 2014, many people expected track specialist Jack Bobridge to storm his attempt on January 31.
Unfortunately, Bobridge got his pacing all wrong – setting off at a speed that even Sir Bradley Wiggins would have struggled to match – and came up short of Brändle’s mark.
It was hard to watch as Bobridge had to come to terms with the fact that he’d just emptied himself for nothing, as he struggled to get off his bike at the end and then was forced to recover under the track in Melbourne to allow the National Track Championships to continue.
Luckily, for Hour Record fans, this was just the first of a handful of attempts to come in the first months of the year.