Here at Velo Voices we love to talk about cycling, and nothing delights us more than the opportunity to talk to each other and to fellow fans about the sport. In the last of our four-part series to kick off 2012, we take a look at our favourite riders and teams.
Riders and teams to watch in 2012
Which riders do we expect to see dominating in the big races this year?
Jack: In the classics, I think that it’s going to be Philippe Gilbert once more dominating, as he did last year. As for the Grand Tours, it really is anyone’s guess if Alberto Contador isn’t permitted to race. I think that if he is allowed to participate, we can expect to see him not make the same mistake he made last year of riding the Giro, and I imagine that he’ll be back to winning ways in the Tour.
If he isn’t allowed to race, then it really is wide open. Of course the Schlecks are the obvious choice, but other veterans such as Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali can’t be ruled out, as well as the young guns such as Rein Taaramae and Pierre Rolland. It really would be wide open.
Tim: For sure, so much depends on the fate of Contador. If he is cleared he will win wherever he rides, but no way will he attempt the Giro-Tour double again. If he is banned, I agree we will see the most open competition at the Grand Tours since the pre-Armstrong era.
Phil Gil is definitely the obvious tip for the spring classics, but I expect Cancellara to push hard too. I have a sneaky feeling Tyler Farrar may focus more on the less hilly classics this year. And let’s see if Tom Boonen can bounce back too.
I think the sprints will be much more open too. Sure, Cavendish and Greipel will be right up there as usual, but look out for Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and, of course, Cav’s former teammates Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw.
Sheree: In 2011, seven of the eight monuments and Grand Tours were won by first-timers, a trend I’d like to see continue in 2012. Obviously, those that shone last year will continue to do so this year but I hope the young guns are going to make it a bit trickier for them.
Kathi: Philippe Gilbert. He’s just going to try to gobble up the road in every race he’s in and be successful in the vast majority of them. I love him for that – he’s someone who rides with joy and guts and just that hint of madness. It’ll be fun to watch him this year.
Which up and coming riders should we be watching out for this year?
Tim: There is a clutch of up-and-coming sprint talent who will all feature this year, such as the German pairing of Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, but I’m looking for breakthrough seasons by two young Rabobank riders: Bauke Mollema (25) and Steven Kruijswijk (24). Both are talented climbers who recorded top ten finishes at a Grand Tour last year (Kruijswijk was ninth at the Giro, Mollema fourth at the Vuelta).
Kathi: I’m starting to get a bit of a crush on Marcel Kittel so I’ll be keeping an eye on him.
Sheree: I’m going to be keeping an eye on a number of different riders who have shown promise. I’ll be hoping that 2012 is going to be their breakthrough year. We’re talking Romain Sicard at Euskaltel, Rafael Valls at Vacansoleil and Tony Gallopin at Radioshack-Nissan.
Jack: I agree with Tim, Marcel Kittel really looks the part in the sprints. As for the Grand Tours, I think that the aforementioned Taaramae and Rolland are very exciting, as well as Saur-Sojasun’s French prospect Jerome Coppel.
Tim: Taaramae’s a good shout, Jack. He particularly caught my eye at the Criterium International where he put in a great all-round performance, and at 24 he is only going to get better.
Which riders will we each be following and writing about, and why?
Tim: I’ll be following a trio of sprinters throughout the 2012 season: world champion and Tour de France green jersey Mark Cavendish, Liquigas’ Peter Sagan (a triple stage-winner at the Vuelta) and 1t4i’s Marcel Kittel (who won 18 races last year, a record for a neo-pro). Kittel may not challenge consistently at the highest level, but I suspect Sagan will surprise a few people by taking some major scalps.
Sheree: I’ll be following a rider who polarises opinion. Love him or hate him, he’s an exciting rider to watch and he generates plenty of column inches. It’s Astana’s own Alexandre Vinokourov riding it what might, or might not, be his last season.
Kathi: Sheree, I’m on the love side for Vinokourov …
Sheree: Providing he’s exonerated, I’ll be following newly-wed Alberto Contador to more Grand Tour glory. If he isn’t, I’ll be keeping tabs on the returning Alejandro Valverde: he of the dimpled chin and no longer receding hairline.
My third rider is AG2R’s Nico Roche. After, rescuing a disappointing season with a stage win in the Tour of Beijing, will this be the year when he reaches the upper echelons of the sport and confounds his critics? I sincerely hope so.
Kathi: Do I have to say his name? Spartacus. [Fabian Cancellara – Ed] Why? Because he’s just a locomotive of a rider, so strong, so hungry for victory, so selfless in the Tour when he and Jens are tearing the peloton apart for the Schlecks. He wears his success lightly, he feels the defeats deeply but understands that, hey, that’s sport. Sometimes you lose. A gracious, classy rider with a killer instinct.
The other rider is Robbie McEwen. I’ve always loved him – he just comes out of nowhere to steal sprints and he has a swagger and humour that’s fun. Also, because he’s going to be retiring mid-way through the season, I’m interested in his transition from rider to management at GreenEdge.
Jack: The first rider which I will be following is Philippe Gilbert. He’s the best rider in the world at the moment, and being a massive classics fan he’s always there or thereabouts at the business end. Also, the fact that he’s moving to BMC and faces stiff competition from other classics riders such as Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet add to the intrigue.
The second rider who I will be following is Koldo Fernandez. Like Sheree, I’m a big Euskaltel-Euskadi fan, and not many of their Basque riders leave the outfit, and if they do, it’s usually to another Spanish team such as Movistar. That’s why I’ve found the switch of sprinter Fernandez to Garmin so interesting, and I look forward to seeing how he performs on a bigger stage.
The third rider is Yoann Offredo. Not only does he ride for my favourite team (FDJ), but he’s also a very talented young classics rider. He finished 4th at last year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and 7th in Milan-San Remo. Tragically he had to withdraw from participating in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix with a foot injury. Let’s hope he regains that form ahead of those races this time around! [This was written before the news of Offredo’s possible suspension for three violations of the whereabouts rules. It remains to be seen whether he will be handed a suspension. Our suspicion is that he will have one of his three strikes written off and will be permitted to race – Ed.]
Which team(s) will we each be following, and why?
Tim: It’s GreenEDGE for me. Partly because Australia is my adopted second country ever since I married a half-Aussie. And partly because I will always have a soft spot for the pugnacious Robbie McEwen. For a brand new team, they have a strong Australian-dominated roster full of tremendous potential. And Matt Goss, who may just turn out to be the biggest threat to Cav’s pre-eminence.
Sheree: They’re a bit of an anachronism, they’ve got a small budget, everyone on the team weighs less than me, they’re the longest surviving ProTour team, Sammy Sanchez rides for them, orange is my favourite colour for accessories and, according to the Pantone Color Institute, Tangerine Tango is the colour of 2012. Yes, I’m following the Carrots [Euskaltel-Euskadi – Ed] and will be spending hours ploughing through articles written in Basque to bring you the latest news.
Kathi: BMC – Gilbert, Hushovd, Evans … I’ll be interested in the dynamics particularly between Gilbert and Hushovd and then how Evans works with all of them as well, as I reckon all three will be in the Tour. It’ll be fascinating …
Jack: The team I’ll be following in 2012 is FDJ. Aside from their lovely jersey, they’re back in the WorldTour after a year out. I love how the French underdogs are constantly attacking, and quite frequently manage the odd stage win here and there. With the likes of Jeremy Roy and Yoann Offredo racing, 2012 promises much for this team, and I look forward to seeing how they perform against the big boys.
Any other personal favourite teams or riders?
Sheree: This is a tricky one. I find it difficult to restrict myself to just one rider or team. Call me greedy but it’s like letting a kid loose in a candy shop. It’s all those bright colours. Let’s just say that my favourite riders are those that weigh more than me. It’s a select group, although growing in number. However, there’s some riders who are just never going to become members. We’re talking Joaquim Rodriguez, Jose Rujano, Amets Txurruka. Sorry guys!
Jack: I’m like Sheree, I honestly like most riders in the peloton. Aside from Roy, Offredo and Gilbert, I like Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel and, of course, fan favourites Thomas Voeckler and Jens Voigt. As for the Grand Tours, I’m afraid I’m really boring and cheer on Alberto Contador. I love his attacking style, and how he never fails to animate a race. I still remember his incredible rise to prominence in winning the 2007 Tour, and I’ve been a fan since then. I sincerely hope that he’s not found guilty of doping, or I’ll have to find a new GC favourite – probably Frank Schleck or Vincenzo Nibali.
Tim: Aside from the usual suspects – Jens, Tommy, Thor Hushovd – I’m really keen to see how Sky’s young sprinter Ben Swift develops. I also have a soft spot for Matt Goss, who I first saw in the flesh winning a stage of the Tour of Britain in Newbury in 2008.
Kathi: I’ll be watching Geraint Thomas – I think he’s a brilliant rider and one who can develop into being one of the big men of the peloton. He just has that fierce joy for riding that Jens Voigt has – he looks like he loves every minute of it and wants to go berserk every chance he gets. It’s a shame he’s on Team Sky as I just can’t stand that team so I’m conflicted about my love for Thomas. I hope they let him loose to race for himself on a couple of stages in the Giro. In fact, I’m going to make him the third rider I’ll follow.
Tim: I think that’s covered everything. We’ll have to do a review at the end of the year to see how bad our predictions were! In the meantime, I’ll see you all on the blog and at the next round-table. Assuming I’m organised enough to arrange it, that is!
If you would like to add your voice to the discussion, please feel free to add a comment below. And look out for more round-table discussions over the course of the season.