Thursday, February 19, 2015

2015 Pro Cycling Tour Early Season Recap and Results

2011 Tour De France winner Cadel Evans says farewell to the peloton
The 2015 pro cycling season has gotten off to another thrilling start. Now that the classics season is getting underway, let's briefly review where the riders and teams are in terms of their successes, failures, plans and goals. Then we will look ahead and I will provide my notes and predictions for the rest of the Classics season, the Grand Tours, and beyond. I will also discuss some of the ancillary drama surrounding the peloton this year, such as the controversy surrounding the UCI's recommendation to pull Team Astana's World Tour license. Comments are welcome.

After an injury-plagued 2014, Team SKY came into 2015 with plans for Richie Porte to lead the team at the Giro d'Italia and Chris Froome to lead the team's GC aspirations at the Tour De France. As both of those same plans unraveled in 2014, this season offers another opportunity for Dave Brailsford's boys in black. This year's Tour De France will see a deep field of top contenders, so Froome's work will certainly be cut out for him, but Porte's Giro aspirations seem plausible right now, with Alberto Contador and Rigoberto Uran looking like the Tasmanian's biggest competition in May.

Richie Porte will lead Team SKY at the Giro d'Italia in May


Porte opened his account on January 8, 2015 at the Australian National Time Trial, where he beat out Rohan Dennis, Jack Bobridge and Luke Durbridge. In fact the previous six winners of the event all finished behind Porte, who showed he is in form and ready to compete at the top level. IAM's veteran sprinter, Heinrich Haussler demonstrated his good form at the Australian National Road Race Championship, edging out Orica-GreenEDGE neo-pro Caleb Ewan for the prestigious win.

Fernando Gaviria's early wins got him a Pro Tour contract.
As the early season, southern hemisphere racing continued, Mark Cavendish of Etixx-Quickstep and Nairo Quintana of Team Movistar were among the stars headlining Argentina's Tour de San Luis from January 19th through the 25th. 20-year old Fernando Gaviria shone brightly when he beat Cavendish in two finish sprints, and the successes netted him a spot on the elite Quickstep squad, in the form of a three-year contract offer at the end of the race. While Quintana described his own condition as at "50%" during San Luis, he finished the race third on GC, behind Team Colombia's climber Rodolfo Torres, and the overall winner, Eduard Diaz, of the continental Funvic Brasilinvest-São José dos Campos Team. Diaz took the overall after winning on two of the race's three mountaintop finishes. Cavendish logged his first win of the season on the final sprint stage.

On the other side of the world, the 2015 Tour Down Under got underway on January 18th, with the preparatory People's Choice Classic one-day race. Marcel Kittel of Giant-Alpecin won the day to open his 2015 season, which will see the big German compete at the one-day Classics races at Gent-Wevelgem and Paris Roubaix this spring, on his way to contest for the Green Points Jersey at the Tour De France in July. JJ Lobato of Team Movistar, showed his star on the rise by finishing second, behind Kittel, in what was to be a mere warm-up for further success to come.

The 2015 Tour Down Under was to be the final World Tour race for Australian superstar Cadel Evans. The 2011 Tour De France champion was duly honored by his appreciative fans at his final home race, and finished a respectable third place overall, with three top-5 stage finishes. Evans officially ended his professional racing career on February 1st at the eponymous Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, where he placed fifth from an eight-man finish sprint. Quickstep's Gianni Meersman won the inaugural event, ahead of Aussies Simon Clarke and Nathan Haas.

Rohan Dennis won the 2015 TDU.
Other stage winners at the TDU included a cast of young talent, such as Jack Bobridge (Now with the Continental Team Budget Fork Lifts), who won from the break on a fast flat finish on stage one; JJ Lobato (Movistar) proved that the promise he displayed in 2014 was not undue, as he took the uphill sprint win on stage two; Rohan Dennis (BMC) took an impressive punchy finish win on stage three, leaving Cadel Evans and Tom Dumoulin to fill out the stage podium :03 in arrears; Team UniSA-Australia fielded a winner on stage four in Steele Von Hoff, one of the casualties of the Garmin-Cannondale merger. Von Hoff pulled out the win after a big crash in the peloton took out several riders. Broken bones abounded, and sprinter Kenny Dehaes of Team Lotto Soudal received 25 stitches in his hand after three fingers got caught up in his spokes; Stage five featured the usual climb finish on Old Willunga Hill, and race favorite, Richie Porte did not disappoint. He took a nine-second win, ahead of Rohan Dennis, but Dennis still held the race lead by :02 after Willunga. The final sprint stage went to young Wouter Wippert of the Drapac pro-continental team, who made stage 6 his first career Pro Tour win.
Rohan Dennis pulled out the overall win by two seconds over Porte, and Cadel Evans was third at + :20. I, for one, will miss Evans' presence in races, but he gave us a full, impressive, and entertaining career, and he gave Australia their greatest talent they have ever seen on two wheels. Best of luck Cadel, in all future endeavors!

The four-day Challenge Mallorca races got underway on January 29th. The challenging one-day races known as the Trofeos Santanyi, Andratx, Serra de Tramuntana, and Playa de Palma were dominated perhaps by IAM's 26-year old sprinter, Matteo Pelucchi, with bookend wins in the first and fourth races; the other two wins went to Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Matteo Pelucchi showed good early season form in Mallorca.

Next: February races...

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