With the final racing of the season taking place last weekend, the VeloVoices team is taking a look back at the performances of our selected riders to watch in 2012. I’ve been following three of the sport’s fastest men: 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish, Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan. It’s been a relatively quiet end to noteworthy years for all three of them, so here’s a quick run-down of what they have been up to since the Olympics.
Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Results: Won Ninove criterium, Lac Audejos criterium, Profonde van Surhuisterveen and Oslo GP. Won one stage of Post Danmark Rundt. Won three stages of Tour of Britain. Did not finish World Championships road race.
WorldTour ranking: 40th, 128 points.
Following the disappointment of the Olympic road race and with his impending departure from Sky an open secret, the outgoing world champion could have rested on his laurels and allowed the season to peter out. But Mark Cavendish is nothing if not a proud and fierce competitor, and instead made proverbial hay, racking up four wins on the criterium circuit and a stage at the Post Danmark Rundt before lighting up the Tour of Britain with three dominating sprint victories and one day in the leader’s jersey.
One year on from his historic day in Copenhagen on a hilly Valkenburg road race course ill-suited to the pure sprinters, Cavendish did everything he could in support of Britain’s protected rider, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. He set the tempo on the front of the peloton in pursuit of the breakaway and even completed four ascents of the Cauberg before finally climbing off, with the cheers of an appreciative crowd still ringing in his ears. He finished the season with 15 out of Sky’s total of 50 ‘official’ wins (19 in total), including three each at the Giro and Tour, as well as the spring semi-Classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Not bad for a season in which his ambitions had largely played second fiddle to teammate Bradley Wiggins.
As expected, the confirmation of his departure for Omega Pharma-Quick Step followed at season’s end. The Belgian squad will feel like a home away from home, as he will be reunited with former HTC-Highroad teammates Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch and the Velits brothers. Cavendish will share team captaincy with Martin and Tom Boonen, with a clear delineation in focus between the three across Grand Tours, time trials/stage races and the Classics respectively.
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)
Results: Won Omloop van het Houtland. Won two stages of Circuit Franco-Belge. Won Munsterland Giro.
WorldTour ranking: N/A. 6th in UCI Europe Tour rankings, 399 points.
Despite a relatively light late-season racing schedule, the young German sprinter showed that he had recovered from the stomach problems which scuppered his Tour de France campaign by adding four wins – including two of the four stages of the Circuit Franco-Belge – to take his 2012 win total to a more than respectable 13. While this fell short of his blistering 2011 season, where he set a new record mark for wins by a first-year pro of 18, he has proven this year that he can mix it with the big names. In addition to winning in the wet at the semi-Classic Scheldeprijs in the spring, he also beat strong fields in sprints at the Tour of Oman and the Enceo Tour.
The next milestone in his development will be targeting a stage at either the Giro or Tour (he won once at the 2011 Vuelta). Meanwhile the challenge for his Argos-Shimano management for 2013 will be how they juggle the ambitions of both Kittel and his compatriot, multi-Vuelta stage winner John Degenkolb. Expect great things from both Kittel and the team next year.
Kittel, a sporadic but always amusing presence on Twitter, has clearly found ways to occupy himself during his late-season taper-down. He’s been brushing up on his reading, commenting on USADA’s ‘reasoned decision’:
Just read some of these USADA files. It felt like reading a script of an action thriller. Can’t see the happy end there!! It’s a shame…
— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) October 11, 2012
And he’s also found new ways of blowing off steam when he’s not on his bike:
— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) October 18, 2012
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Results: Won Lommel criteriumand Bavikhove criterium. 2nd in Profonde van Surhuisterveen, Oslo GP and Veenendaal-Veenendaal. 26th in GP de Quebec. 12th in GP de Montreal. 14th in World Championships road race.
WorldTour ranking: 8th, 351 points.
Like Cavendish, Peter Sagan put his Olympic disappointment behind him with a busy criterium schedule ahead of the Worlds. He finished behind the Manxman in Ninove, Surhuisterveen and at the Oslo GP, but exacted a measure of revenge by beating the outgoing rainbow jersey in Bavikhove. He also took a further victory at Lommel.
His final preparation for Valkenburg came at the Canadian WorldTour double-header. A late attempt to bridge across to the winning attack in Quebec was unsuccessful, and he was never really in the running in the finale in Montreal. In the Worlds road race he was always there or thereabouts, but missed Philippe Gilbert’s winning move and finished in the middle of the 26-man chase group five seconds behind the new world champion.
It was a subdued end to a brilliant season in which he more than fulfilled his promise by taking 21 victories, second only to Andre Greipel. This included a perfectly timed mid-season purple patch which saw him claim five stages at the Tour of California and a further four at the Tour de Suisse, before nabbing three stages and dominating the green jersey competition at the Tour de France, while amusing us all with his off-beat victory celebrations.
Still only 22, 2012 was the year in which the Slovak Fastvak truly came of age and established himself as a major player for years to come. Having registered a second, third, fourth and fifth place in this year’s spring Classics (at Gent-Wevelgem, Amstel Gold, Milan-San Remo and Flanders respectively), expect him to make a victory in one (or more) of these a priority for 2013.