2014 cycling preview
A look ahead to the pick of the year's action
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 15/01/14 5:26pm
The Giro d'Italia starts in Ireland, the Tour de France gets under way in England, and British riders are set to challenge for glory on several fronts.
Here, we preview the season to come...
After three months without racing, road cycling springs back into life in late January with the Tour de San Luis in Argentina (January 20-26) and 2014 UCI WorldTour-opening Santos Tour Down Under (January 21-26). The Tour de San Luis combines mountain and sprint stages, and is likely to once again likely to lure the sport's top general classification riders and fast men to South America for an early-season leg-stretcher. Over in Australia, riders will be given the chance to get some welcome sunshine on their backs in a race that mixes sprints with the odd hill to decide to the GC. January also sees the final UCI Track Cycling World Cup of the season (January 17-19) take place, with Guadalajara, Mexico, playing host.
Attention in the second month of the year turns to the Middle East for the Tour of Qatar (February 9-14) and the Tour of Oman (February 18-23). The sprinters will be to the fore on the flat roads of Qatar, with Mark Cavendish looking for a repeat of his dominant performance in 2013, when he won four stages, the points classification and general classification. A week later in Oman, sprinters will once again get a bite of the cherry on the early stages, but the real attention will be on the later mountain stages and early skirmishes between riders who could be challenging for Grand Tour victories later in the year. Chris Froome won a stage and the overall title last year and will no doubt be looking to do the same again one year on.
Road cycling steps out of the limelight at the end of the month to make way for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships (February 26-March 2) in Cali, Colombia. Sprinter Becky James enjoyed a breakthrough meeting at the 2013 worlds and will be keen to build on that success, while the women's team pursuit squad will bid to win the world title for the fourth year in succession. In the men's events, the team pursuit quartet will renew their rivalry with Australia, while Jason Kenny will defend his keirin title and simultaneously challenge for sprint honours.
The Track Cycling World Championships will remain in the headlines until March 2, but by then the Classics will already have got under way with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (March 1) and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (March 2). The first of the season's five "Monuments", Milan-San Remo (March 23), then follows, with E3-Prijs Vlaanderen Harelbeke (March 28) and Gent-Wevelgem (March 30) rounding off a big month of one-day action.
There is also plenty of stage racing, as the build-ups to the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France gather momentum. Paris-Nice (March 9-16) was won by Richie Porte in 2013 but with his sights set firmly on winning the Giro, he may decide to head to Italy instead this year for Tirreno-Adriatico (March 12-18), where he could be joined by Chris Froome and the other hopefuls for the yellow jersey at the Tour. Other mountainous tests are presented in the final week of the month by the Volta a Catalunya (March 24-30), where Dan Martin is the defending champion, and Corsica's Criterium International (March 29-30), which proved a key stepping stone for Froome in 2013.
The Classics dominate the agenda in April, when the next three of the five Monuments will be held. The Tour of Flanders (April 6) is first up and could well see reigning champion Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan renew their rivalry over the cobbles of Belgium. Cancellara will be back in action a week later as bids to win a fourth Paris-Roubaix (April 13) title, and then attention turns to the Ardennes Classics, which start with Amstel Gold (April 20). Next, the peloton will tackle the notorious ramp of the Mur de Huy in the midweek La Fleche Wallonne (April 23), before the climbers get another shot at Classics glory at the fourth Monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 27).
April is not all about Classics, though, because two key stages races also take place. Final preparations for the Giro will take place at the hilly Giro del Trentino (April 22-25), while the Tour contenders will continue their build-up at the Tour de Romandie (April 29-May 4).
The second half of the Tour de Romandie occupies the first four days of May, but then all focus turns to the opening Grand Tour of the season, the Giro d'Italia (May 9-June 1). Last year's race was heavily disrupted by snow, with one stage having to be cancelled and another significantly amended, so both organisers and riders alike will hope for better weather this time around. The 2014 edition starts with three days in Ireland - visiting Belfast, Armagh and Dublin - before heading back to Italy via an early rest day. Reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali appears set to skip the race in order to focus on a tilt at the Tour, so the door is opened for the likes of Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran, who was runner-up last year, to battle for a maiden Grand Tour win.
The winner of the Giro d'Italia will be crowned following a ceremonial sprint stage into Trieste on June 1, and as soon as the pink ticker tape has settled, attention will swiftly move to the final few weeks of build-up to the Tour. The biggest and most important race of the month is the Criterium du Dauphine (June 8-15). Most, if not all, of the general classification contenders at the Tour will be at this race, and the last three winners have gone on to claim the yellow jersey in Paris a month later, so victory will be keenly fought for. June also sees arguably the most picturesque race of the season, the Tour de Suisse (June 14-22), although 2012 and 2013 winner Rui Costa is concentrating on the Tour this year so is unlikely to be back to make it three in a row.
The long wait is finally over as the Tour de France (July 5-27) gets under way - and does so on British shores. The first three days will be held in England, with stage one travelling from Leeds to Harrogate, stage two from York to Sheffield and stage three from Cambridge to London. Millions of people are expected to take to the streets of Yorkshire and the capital as fans scramble to get a glimpse of the largest free-to-watch sporting spectacle in the world.
The 2014 edition will see reigning champion Froome looking to make it two victories in a row, but the Team Sky rider will face stiff competition. Last year's runner-up, Nairo Quintana, is a year older and wiser and will relish the race's five summit finishes, while 2013 Giro d'Italia winner Nibali has his sights on the yellow jersey as he looks to become only the sixth man in history to win all three Grand Tours. The race is also significant for Mark Cavendish, who has the triple aim of wearing the yellow jersey for the first time (he has the opportunity on stage one), wrestling back the title of world's best sprinter from Marcel Kittel and prising the green jersey off the shoulders of Peter Sagan, who has won it for the past two years.
The Tour is not the only top-level cycling taking place in July, though, because the Commonwealth Games will see British riders battling for medals on both the track and road. The track events overlap with the end of the Tour (July 24-27) and will see the likes of Laura Trott, Jason Kenny and Becky James face rivals from countries such as Australia, Canada and South Africa in Glagow's Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. The road time trials then take place on July 31, with England's Sir Bradley Wiggins and Alex Dowsett expected to be among the favourites for victory in the men's race.
The Commonwealth Games cycling programme draws to a close with the men's and women's road races on August 3. Mark Cavendish and Lizzie Armitstead won the 2013 British national titles in Glasgow this summer and will be fancied to repeat the feat in front of what is certain to be a raucous Glaswegian crowd.
With the Tour over and done with, the road season enters its final phase with a busy August containing a mix of one-day races, stage races and the start of the year's final Grand Tour. Build-up towards the Vuelta a Espana steps up a notch with the week-long Tour de Pologne (August 3-9), while British fans will get another chance to see the world's best riders at the RideLondon Classic (August 10), where a high-pedigree sprint field is likely to be taking part and bidding for victory on The Mall. The Eneco Tour (August 11-17) and Vuelta a Burgos (August 13-17) offer alternative opportunities to fine-tune form, before the Vuelta a Espana gets under way in the final week of the month (August 23 - September 14).
The route for the 2014 Vuelta is still to be revealed but, should the previous two editions be anything to go by, we can once again expect a brutally mountainous parcours containing summit finishes probably numbering in double figures. The 2013 winner, Chris Horner, is without a team for 2014 as it stands and the 2013 runner-up, Vincenzo Nibali, is prioritising the Tour, so the race is likely to see new protagonists battling for overall victory.
The Vuelta continues for the first half of September but has to share the spotlight in its final week with the Tour of Britain (September 7-14). Sir Bradley Wiggins claimed overall victory in a compelling 2013 edition and the professional peloton will no doubt once again be greeted by passionate support from British fans when it returns for the 11th edition of a race that grows in stature with every passing year.
With the Vuelta and Tour of Britain both finished, cycling takes a week off before bursting back into life with one of the highlights of the season, the UCI Road Cycling World Championships (September 21-28), which this year head to Ponferrada in north-western Spain. The marquee events will be the men's individual time trial and the men's and women's road races, the latter of which take place on a rolling circuit that looks set to favour climbers.
Three races draw the season to a close in October. The final Monument of the year, Il Lombardia (October 5), will once again see the punchy climbers to the fore on a hilly route, with Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez looking to become the first man since Fausto Coppi in the late 1940s to claim three consecutive victories. The peloton then heads east for the final stage race of the year, the Tour of Beijing (October 10-14), which returns for its fourth instalment. The curtain is finally drawn on the season a week later at the French time-trial Chrono des Nations (October 19), which has been won in each of the past three years by Germany's Tony Martin.