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It’s difficult to pick out singular moments in a season packed full of race-defining tactics and attacks. No race is ever easy to win at the top of the elite men’s peloton, and 2014 seemed overflowing with thrills from January through October.
Every race has its drama, but a few electrifying flashes stand out. The elements magically aligned a few times in 2014, with the most important riders stamping their authority in the decisive moments of cycling’s most prestigious races. Be it in Paris-Roubaix, the world championships, or the Tour de France, this season was replete with great moments. It’s what makes bike racing so alluring, so maddening, and so compelling.
Here are five attacks that made the mark in 2014:
Contador drops Froome on Ancares
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was haunted during the winter of 2013-14 by the memories of the humiliation at the hands of Chris Froome (Sky) during the 2013 Tour de France. It was the first time in his Tour career that Contador was dropped in a race-breaking attack. Rather than surrender, Contador reinvented himself coming into 2014. He lost weight, worked on his top-end accelerations, and meticulously watched Froome and Sky’s tactics.
Unfortunately, both crashed out before a showdown in the high mountains, but fortunately for fans, the two squared off during the Vuelta a Espana. Admittedly, neither was in top shape coming into the Spanish tour, but both were gunning for victory by the third week.
In what must have tasted like sweet revenge, Contador left Froome gasping, riding away on the Os Ancares summit on the Vuelta’s penultimate stage to seal victory.
“Going up against a rider of Froome’s quality and palmares is really motivating,” Contador said during the Vuelta. “He’s one of the best riders in the world and it’s always really motivating to be up against him.”
That attack saw Contador reconfirm his status as one of the top grand tour riders of his generation, and set the stage for more battles going into 2015.
Nibali barrels over pavé
Looking back now, it’s almost unbelievable that many people were writing off Vincenzo Nibali’s chances going into the Tour de France. After a relatively quiet season, many believed the Astana captain was a step below winning form. He quickly reminded everyone he would be a factor, however, with a perfectly timed attack to claim victory, and the yellow jersey, in stage 2.
Three days later, across muddy and treacherous cobblestones, Nibali drove a stake into the heart of the race, finishing third at just 19 seconds behind winner Lars Boom (Belkin). Even more importantly, Froome crashed out, and Contador lost nearly three minutes.
“It was a tremendous stage. I nearly crashed three times, but I was able to stay in there, thanks to some skills and some luck,” Nibali said.
“The Shark” proved he could swim in any conditions, and his stellar bike handling skills set the stage for his dominant Tour victory in the most dramatic day of the race.
Quintana over the Stelvio
By far, the most contentious and controversial move of the season was set against the most dramatic of backdrops: the snowbound Stelvio. The Giro d’Italia descended into a sublime if maddening polemic after a botched handling of the quickly unfolding and chaotic events atop the Passo dello Stelvio, the highest point of the 2014 Giro. No one can agree exactly what happened.
Giro officials said they never officially neutralized the snowy and wet descent, but it seems like translators working on race radio miscued the translation into English and French. The majority of the peloton seemed to believe the descent was going to be neutralized, and riders calmly stopped at the top of the pass to put on warm clothes and rain capes. A half-dozen riders, however, were leaving nothing to chance.
Among that group was Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who slipped over the top with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and a few others. By the time they hit the bottom of the valley, Quintana had snatched away the maglia rosa from compatriot Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Riders and teams were in dismay at the ensuing chaos, and tried the next morning to erase time gaps until the UCI said it was too late.
Colombia had its first Giro winner with Quintana, who never flinched in a moment of doubt, and punched the pedal when the other dithered. Urán learned a cruel lesson: the race is always on, no matter what.
“I loved the stage over the Stelvio to Val Martello. It was spectacular, and it was a fair stage as well,” Quintana said. “There was a lot of controversy, and I thought it was all cleared up, but there are still a few doubts. I am calm because I know how I won, and I will say it to anyone who said I won by a trick or trap. No one in the peloton has said a thing to me. It’s more from people who do not understand what happened that day.”
Terpstra blasts Roubaix
By his own admission, Niki Terpstra was not the strongest last April across the pavé, but he was on the strongest team, and he had the race smarts to capitalize on it with the biggest win of his career.
On a sunny, windy afternoon, Omega Pharma-Quick Step dominated Paris-Roubaix, sending Tom Boonen on an early solo flier with more than 50km to go. When things regrouped, Omega Pharma had three warm bodies in a leading group of 10.
The Dutchman Terpstra didn’t hesitate for a second when he heard the call over the radio from his sport director for him and Zdenek Stybar to attack in the closing kilometers and save Boonen for the velodrome. Terpstra is no fool, and he immediately attacked off the back of the group with about 6km to go.
The move caught everyone by surprise and Terpstra quickly opened up a promising gap. The group hesitated for a touch too long, and Terpstra was gone.
“As soon as I heard that, I didn’t wait 20 seconds. I just went full gas, like I like to do,” Terpstra said. “I didn’t look back again, because you know they’re coming. I wasn’t sure I was going to win until reaching the velodrome.”
Kwiatkowski blitzes worlds
Perhaps the most sublime of all the winning moves of 2014 came near the end of the season. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma) dared when others calculated, and he came up spades with Poland’s first elite men’s world title.
The 24-year-old pounced midway through the final lap on a hilly, technical course in the hills of northern Spain and nursed a slender gap all the way to the rainbow jersey against the peloton’s strongest and most experienced riders.
“I felt so much pain on the last descent. I cannot describe what I felt,” Kwiatkowski said. “I saw the guys coming to me. I had a little bit of an advantage. It was all or nothing. I risked it all. I just didn’t know how I made it. It was a really risky attack.”
Kwiatkowski’s daring, risk-all aggression was proof that fortune favors the bold.