For saying March is a month that carries the optimism of spring, we cycling fans seem to like it brutal and gritty don’t we? There may not have been any ice-encrusted riders this year, but we had the usual instalments of will-crushing bad weather, climbs so steep you expect to see John Lithgow chasing Sly Stallone up them, dust, crashes, and of course, plenty of those Flandrian cobbles.
Yet somehow, in spite of all that, riders threw themselves into the burgeoning season with the vigour and enthusiasm of, erm, me in a Belgian brewery, and out of all that mayhem came some outstanding racing.
As is our usual custom, we’re going to try and pick out a rider who has thrilled us above all others over the course of the month, and first up to make their nomination is our Sheree.
Sheree: When Peter Sagan didn’t start the season with his trademark multiple stage wins, people were quick to write him off despite him stating that quality not quantity was his goal for 2014. But let’s look at what he’s achieved this month. He made the decisive attack in Strade Bianche, but was bested on the final ramp in Siena by Michal Kwiatkowski. He took the points jersey, a stage and three top five places in Tirreno-Adriatico. By his own admission, he was a disappointing tenth in Milan-San Remo.
He bounced back and was imperious in E3 Harelbeke, again thanks to going on the offensive and despite being at a numerical disadvantage to Omega Pharma-Quick Step in the final stretch. He finished on the podium in Gent-Wevelgem. And he’s currently lying second to Alberto Contador in the WorldTour rankings. Not a bad haul!
Ant: I’m going to nominate the guy who was pipped by Sagan in Harelbeke. It’s hard to stand out when you race for a team that boasts enough riches to make P Diddy look like he’s on his uppers, but Niki Terpstra has given it a good go this month.
Not deterred by the news that he was being lined up for my Fantasy Classics team, the Dutchman opened the month with a solid fifth place at Omloop het Nieuwsblad. He then went on to take a tactically perfect victory in Dwars door Vlaanderen, attacking on the Paterberg and soloing to the finish, holding off a chase from the in-form Alejandro Valverde in the process.
Just to prove this wasn’t a flash in the pan, he then put in a great showing in E3 Harelbeke, beaten only by a marauding Super Sagan in a fascinating sprint finale.
Kathi, who’s your choice for the month?
Kathi: Fresher than a fresh thing from Fresh Town is how I would describe my Rider of the Month – OPQS’s Michal Kwiatkowski. March saw him build on his Volta ao Algarve win in February and go pedal-to-pedal with Peter Sagan – and get the better of him – to win a glorious Strade Bianche. He was he only rider who could bridge to Sagan when he attacked and always the one who looked perkiest.
Add to that, his two days as GC leader at Tirreno-Adriatico and his valiant, never-say-die attitude when Contador turned the screws to take the jersey away and my KwiatKrush is a worthy nominee this month.
Ant: Ah, another rider who’s been duking it out with Sagan! Over to you next, Tim.
Tim: Yes indeed. It’s Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff for me, a man I’ve previously described as “the best sprinter most people have never heard of”. La Primavera is a notoriously difficult race to win – Kristoff was the seventh different winner in as many years – doubly so given the late-winter weather which has so heavily influenced the last two editions.
At the end of nearly 300 gruelling kilometres, while many of the other pure sprinters were hampered by the cold, the Norwegian had the speed to hold off the likes of Mark Cavendish and Ben Swift and the power to triumph over Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Zdenek Stybar.
Kristoff may not have been on many people’s radar before. He is now.
Ant: And finally, Jack, would you like to round things off?
Jack: I’m going to say Carlos Betancur for his great performance at Paris-Nice earlier in the month, winning a couple of stages, taking the overall and the young rider classification, and just missing out on the green jersey. For such a young rider, he completely dominated. Hopefully we’ll see him do the same at a grand tour.
Well, you’ve read what we’ve got to say, and just as we did last month, we’re turning it over to you guys to decide. It’s voting time! Voting will be open until Monday at 2100 GMT/200 BST, and I’ll be back next Thursday to reveal your winner, so to speak.