Notes from the Scrum: Season predictions, and my man crush
The snow has fallen again here in Boulder, Colorado, knocking me back into the dream-like state of morning coffee and staring out the window and thinking about all the beautiful things in life: Whole Foods, the Denver Broncos, lunch, Zipp hoops and a steel frame, Instagram.
And then, I think about bike racing. Because it’s happening in other hemispheres now. Neal Rogers and Andrew Hood found themselves in Argentina and Australia. I’m like a bear waking from hibernation when I think about this season. I’m irrational, sleepy, emotional.
OK. I’m bad with metaphors, but hopefully less bad with predictions. Let me spell it out for you and at the same time offer you a lamb of a season predictions column that you may routinely slaughter for the rest of the road season.
Cadel Evans is finished
So much for getting off to a good start for me. When you look at this flatly and objectively, all signs pointed to, “Yes, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is finished.” He hasn’t notched a meaningful win since the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2012, where he won a stage, and has been shot with laser-beams from the Sky Death Star in the Tour de France the past two attempts. But his pop at the Santos Tour Down Under and dropping of Richie Porte (Sky) to take a stage and eventually second overall showed a fierceness from the 37-year-old that he’s been unable to tap into for a few years. His third-place showing at last year’s Giro d’Italia was what many thought was a warning shot for the Tour, but those hopes faded as Sky shattered the dreams of GC riders on the very first mountain stage of the Tour. Will Evans win the Giro, as it’s his primary focus? No, because …
Richie Porte wins the Giro
Porte has been knocking on the doorstep of greatness for what feels like forever. He’s got the full backing of the Sky Empire for a grand tour bid. He is a climbing talent and is good in the time trial. His team will rally around him, the ever-faithful worker for others. It’s his time. He may have been dropped by Evans the other day, but it’s a long way to Trieste, where the Giro will end after 3,450 kilometers and one Monte Zoncolan. Who’s picking against Porte? Horner, maybe, but he still needs a team to ride for. [After this column published, Movistar announced that Nairo Quintana would focus on the Giro and not the Tour in 2014. Would this change the author’s pick? Maybe. —Ed.]
Peter the Great, but not the greatest
I’m going to run out of things to say about Peter Sagan (Cannondale) for the third year in a row by July, but he won’t win the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) or Paris-Roubaix. Not this year. I’m as big a Sagan acolyte as there is. Ask anyone in the office. “Matt, who’s going to win today?” Peter Sagan, I say, 90 percent of the time. And it isn’t for the ease of the post-race interview, I’ll tell you that much right now. His skillset is so diverse and his talent is so prodigious that on most one-day type courses he’s as safe a bet there is to win, or be in the hunt at the right moment. But there was that little something missing last year at Flanders, on the Paterberg, when Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) ripped Sagan’s mouth open and rode away to glory. It just wasn’t there yet for the Cannondale rider. I think he’s close again, but he’ll come up just short at the cobbled monuments. As far as Roubaix, that takes time, luck and patience. The cycling gods wouldn’t just let him show up and win that, would they? Well, they might. It’s a cruel sport.
Cancellara defends at Flanders, Boonen’s back to the good at Roubaix
I like “Spartacus” to win another Ronde the same way I like Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) to come back from his disappointing season of 2013 and stake his rightful place atop the podium at the Roubaix velodrome. It would help me sleep at night knowing Boonen is back in a big way before he exits for good. Reasons? You want reasons for these two to win these races? Can’t some things just be? Fine. Cancellara knows time is limited; so does Boonen. Cancellara was immense last year in these races, and he knows exactly what it takes. Boonen has seven wins between the two, and his Omega Pharma men are impossibly deep. My only hope is that we see both of them at their respective bests at the very same time. My brain may explode if they come into the velodrome together. I hope it does.
The new Milano-Sanremo route changes … everything
Some people complained when organizers changed the parcours for Milano-Sanremo. Something about tradition, something about … I don’t know. I stopped paying attention, because the idea of a little extra spice in La Primavera is thrilling to me. The addition of the Pompeiana between the Cipressa and Poggio climbs, in the final 40km, will give the contenders another chance to turn the screws. Imagine if, say, Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) shakes loose and … stays loose? Or if one of the Sky boys hammers the Pompeiana and goes alone into the base of the Poggio? Change is a good thing. Also, I have no idea who’s going to win. Not Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma).
I have no clue about the Ardennes races
I could say a bunch of stuff here. But these things are a nightmare to predict. What version of Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) suits up this season? Does that guy even exist anymore? Will Sagan come in hot, or will he cool down after Roubaix? Will Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) repeat at Liège-Bastogne- Liège? Will I be able to find the start lines when I cover these races for the first time? Anything could happen. But I know one thing: Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is absolutely due for a win. Maybe he’ll get one. That’s as far as I’m going.
Chris Froome wins the Tour de France by five minutes — at least
At least hide the shock, OK? I laid out this daring theory when the route was first announced. I noted one of the 2014 summit finishes, La Planche des Belles Filles, was the site of Froome’s first-ever stage win in 2012, and to look for a repeat performance. It’s horribly steep, and it’s where Sky is likely to mug the GC field of its dreams again. Actually, Sky is like some mythic team full of monsters that enter men’s brains at night and incinerate their dreams while they sleep innocently. Froome is that guy. The dream killer.
Oh. The cobbled stage. Froome’s roster is loaded with men for the north of France. He could even take time. OK, fine. The whole “Froome will be attacked in the mountains by desperate climbers and falter in the final time trial theory.”
No. That 54km stage 20 time trial from Bergerac to Périgueux will be a coronation. In last year’s first TT, from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel, Froome put just over two minutes on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and slightly less on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Rodríguez was more than three minutes back. And that was in just 33km. Sure, we’ll write all kinds of “what-if” stories, but we pretty much just know. Until we don’t.
Tejay van Garderen is under an immense amount of pressure, and it doesn’t look good from here
BMC has announced it’s backing the American, who was fifth in the 2012 Tour de France, as its GC man in this year’s Tour. A move like this is something the team should have done for some time, because that GC marriage between van Garderen and Evans seemed as comfortable as toilet paper made of rocks. While resources are a good thing, the pressure that goes with them can be hard on younger riders, no matter his talent (which is ample in van Garderen’s case). Throw out last year’s Tour, in which he was blown up by the Sky Dream Killers in the mountains early on. He was fifth the year before and won the white jersey in what can only be described as a brilliant ride. But that was also the Bradley Wiggins Tour, with a route that suited a grinder like van Garderen, and Froome spent July on a short leash that was tethered to his teammate Wiggins’ front wheel. A super-aggressive Tour (which this one will be) doesn’t favor the bigger motors without top-5 climbing ability. Van Garderen should have a very solid early season and perform well in the Tour tuneups, but if his season really is built around July, it’s going to be a tough month.
Andrew Talansky wins a major bike race and inches higher up in the Tour results
I’m bullish on the “Pit Bull” this season. He’s spent months training in California and is focused on improving his results compared to last season, which was a good one for the American. He was second at Paris-Nice with a stage win and finished 1oth in the Tour, his first. When people talk about Talansky, they talk about his fire and his edge. All fine and well. But equally prevalent is his calculated work ethic and careful training. He’s a dynamic bike racer. If he can try to win and his power meter is saying no, he will tell the power meter it’s wrong. It’s refreshing.
Other important notes for 2014
My man-crush on Bernhard Eisel (Sky) will continue. There’s just no way around it. If you know, you know.
Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma) will continue being a badass. That guy peaks for like six months. And he’s nice about it.
Rui Costa (Lampre) avoids the curse of the rainbow stripes and wins multiple bike races. I’m just not sure which ones.
Chris Horner wins the Vuelta. Don’t ask how, or for who. I go back to the “some things just are” theory. That inexplicable feeling that comes before I win, or usually lose, bets on sports. This is happening.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) will be as good this season as his hair. And that’s some damn good hair.
The worlds road race in Ponferrada, Spain, is too far out to call. But if you put a 10k raise to my head if I got it right, I’d say Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
And, finally, my mediocre cycling career will press on with zero fanfare. Fear not. No need to elaborate here. Some things just are. It’s guaranteed.