Rider updates: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan

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)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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)

Image courtesy of 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’:

And he’s also found new ways of blowing off steam when he’s not on his bike:

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

Previous updates: August 8thJune 20thApril 9thFebruary 20th

Rider profiles: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan

Websites: Mark CavendishPeter Sagan

Twitter: @MarkCavendish@marcelkittel

Vuelta a España preview: Teams and sponsors (part 2)

In advance of this Saturday’s start of the 2012 Vuelta a España, here’s the second part of VeloVoices’ overview of the 22 teams, their main protagonists and their eclectic mix of title sponsors! Only in cycling …

The final list of participants is subject to change in the last few days before the race, but these are accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing.


Sponsors: An Italian sheet steel manufacturer and a Ukrainian steel producer.

Overview: Il piccolo principe, Damiano Cunego, who finished sixth in the recent Giro d’Italia, will lead the team with a mixture of Eastern European and Italian support in the hopes that he will be able to improve on his best finish in this race – 16th in 2004. Cunego has typically used the race to find his form ahead of the World Championships but the Vuelta has recently been brought forward a week to encourage greater participation and completion. He’ll have the wonderfully named Colombian Winner Ancona for help on the steepest of climbs, but if Cunego falters, Lampre have enough Eastern European firepower to go for stage wins plus Morris Possoni can play his part in the sprints.


Sponsors: An Italian distributor of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and an American bicycle manufacturer.

Overview: The team will be riding in support of Eros Capecchi  – 21st in 2011 – who’s moving next season to Movistar with mountain-climbing goat Sylvester Szmyd. He too will have Colombian assistance in the mountains  [must-have high mountain accessory – Ed]  from Jose Sarmiento. Piste performer Elia Viviani will be looking to score points in the sprints and, with no news on a replacement sponsor, the rest of the lime-sherbet clad boys will be looking to animate the race, pad out their palmares and land a contract for next season.


Sponsors: The Belgian lottery and a Belgian window and door manufacturer.

Overview: Lotto-Belisol will be hoping Jurgen Van den Broeck, fourth-placed in the Tour, will be able to step onto the podium at the Vuelta. For the sprints – and breakaways –  they’ve got Gianni Meersman who’ll be led out by Adam Hansen, sadly been shorn of his twitter best-buddy Greg Henderson. You just know that the Vuelta’s not going to be as amusing as the Tour. [Is that a challenge? – Ed].


Sponsor: A Spanish mobile telecoms operator.

Overview: Alejandro Valverde will be playing best supporting rider to leading man and defending champ, Juan Jose Cobo, who looked to be finding some vestige of form towards the end of the Tour. They too have Colombian assistance in the form of Route du Sud winner Nairo Quintano. Basque Jonathan Castroviejo will add extra firepower in the team time-trial, and in the run into the foothills, while Jose Joaquin Rojas will be looking to try on the sprints jersey for size. We’re not convinced that Cobo will be firing on all cylinders, and neither are team management, hence former Vuelta winner Valverde as plan B.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step

Sponsors: A Belgian pharmaceutical company and a Belgian laminate flooring manufacturer.

Overview: OPQS don’t appear to have a GC contender in their squad, so therefore we assume that they’re looking for stage wins with time-trial world champion Tony Martin and sprinter Gert Steegmans. It’ll be interesting to see how cyclo-cross god Zdenek Stybar fares in a three-week Tour with tons of high mountains. It looks as thought the team selection has been made on the basis of anyone who hasn’t yet ridden or completed a Grand Tour: not exactly a recipe for success, but maybe they feel they’ve already won enough this season.


Sponsors: A conglomerate that provide chemicals and explosives for the mining industry and a wealthy Australian businessman.

Overview: The Aussie team will continue to hunt stage wins and maybe even the points jersey with its sprint-heavy squad: Simon Clarke, Allan Davis, Julian Dean. Also expect the team to perform well in the opening time-trial with their three former-piste boys Wesley Sulzberger and brothers Cameron and Travis Meyer. Eritrean Daniel Teklehaymanot may look to get into the mountains jersey in the early days but we suspect their shirts will be seen prominently at the front of a charging peloton in the final kilometres on those six flat stages.


Sponsor: A Dutch bank.

Overview: Robert Gesink will lead a team loaded with talent hoping to redress the disasters that befell him and his teammates at the Tour. He’ll be supported by Laurens Ten Dam, Bauke Mollema, third-placed in Vuelta a Pais Vasco, and Juan Manuel GarateLars Boom, fresh from his Eneco tour win, and Matti Breschel will have an eye on those flat stages but will also be responsible for driving the peloton to the foothills. You sense that team management is losing patience with Gesink and there’s plenty of talent awaiting in the wings.


Sponsors: A US electronics retailer and a Japanese automotive company.

Overview: Potentially, another team looking for new contracts so expect riders like Tiago Machado, Markel Irizar and Maxime Monfort to toe the party line, whatever that is, while Linus Gerdemann goes on the attack. They’re unlikely to win the team competition, like they did in the Tours of France and Utah, but they should shine in the team time-trial. Their sprinter Daniele Bennatwill be hoping for some victories and to figure in the race for the points jersey. We could be wrong but frankly the team selection doesn’t appear to have much rhyme or reason.

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank

Sponsors: A Danish and a Russian bank.

Overview: The team will all be riding in support of their recently returned leader, Alberto Contador, who is surrounded by his faithful cohorts Benjamin Noval, Jesus Hernandez, Sergio Paulinho and Dani Navarro. It’s not the strongest of sides but the recent influx of Russian rubles will facilitate bolstering their effectiveness and, more importantly, their points for next season. It’s hard to know how Contador will perform after six months on the sidelines and we gained no clues from the recent Eneco Tour where he was content to remain safely in the bunch. However, at VeloVoices Towers, we wouldn’t bet against him taking his second Vuelta victory.


Sponsor: A satellite television broadcaster.

Overview: Sky will be fielding a stellar team in support of  the runner-up from last year’s Vuelta and this year’s Tour, Chris Froome, a rider with a point to prove. Ever wanting to outdo other teams, Sky has not one, but two Colombians: Sergio Henao and Olympic silver medallist Rigoberto Uran to support Froome. Also in the squad are hardmen Ian Stannard and Juan Antonio Flecha and they come loaded with additional firepower in the mountains with Tasmanian Richie Porte. It’s going to be a fascinating contest.


Sponsors: A European organiser of luxury camping holidays and a Belgian farm supply company.

Overview: Vacansoleil’s Tour didn’t go according to plan in any way, shape or form. They’ll be looking to put matters right at the Vuelta, where once again they’ll be seeking exposure for their sponsors in the form of stage wins and breakaways. Invisible at the Tour, we’ll all be hoping that Johnny Hoogerland is back on form, while Thomas De Gendt will be looking for opportunities to repeat his Paris-Nice type escape to victory. Frankly, after their bad luck at the Tour, this Grand Tour can only get better.

Tomorrow we’ll preview the five key stages of this year’s race.

VeloVoices Vuelta a Espana previews

Teams and sponsors (part 1)

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website

Rider updates: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan

With the Tour de France now a fading memory, the Olympic programme complete and the Vuelta a Espana fast approaching on the horizon, the VeloVoices team is again reviewing the performances of our selected riders to watch in 2012. I’m following three of the sport’s fastest men: reigning world champion Mark Cavendish, Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan. They have experienced differing fortunes since we last checked in on them pre-Tour, so here’s a quick run-down of how they have been doing over the past few weeks.

Mark Cavendish (Sky)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Results: Won three stages at the Tour de France, fourth in points classification. 29th in Olympics road race.

WorldTour ranking: 27th, 128 points.

By his high standards, July proved to be a disappointing month for the world champion. An early sprint victory on stage two at the Tour de France demonstrated his ability to win without a dedicated train, but also underlined the fact that for the first time in his career he was not his team’s top priority, as Sky focussed on delivering Bradley Wiggins to overall victory. There then followed a 15-stage drought – the longest of Cavendish’s Tour career – before a bravura will-he-won’t-he chase-down of a disintegrating break saw him taste victory again in Brive on stage 18.

Victory on the Champs-Élysées on the final stage for the fourth consecutive year was no surprise, but the manner of victory – a long solo sprint from 350 metres out – was. He now has 23 Tour stage wins, putting him fourth on the all-time list. [Okay, okay, you can stop drooling now – Ed.]

The real target for July, though, was a gold medal in the road race at his ‘home’ Olympics in London. However, GB’s five-man team could not control the race on their own and a large breakaway got away and stayed away, leaving a disappointed Cavendish to finish in the main field, a distant 29th.

Since then, he has taken out his disappointment on the road, winning three criterium races before joining the BBC TV team to provide analysis on their track cycling coverage. However, the big topic of conversation surrounding Cavendish at the moment is who he will ride for next season. Sky was a useful (and lucrative) marriage of convenience to help him prepare for the Olympics, but could he perhaps be sporting the colours of Omega Pharma-Quick Step next season? We shall see.

Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)

Image courtesy of Argos-Shimano

Results: Withdrew on stage five of the Tour de France with stomach problems. Currently racing at the Eneco Tour – one stage win so far.

WorldTour ranking: N/A. 10th in UCI Europe Tour rankings, 267 points.

It has been a quiet couple of months for the young German sprinter, who entered the Tour de France with high hopes of securing a sprint victory which would announce himself on cycling’s biggest stage. However he never figured in the action after being laid low with stomach problems which – how shall we describe it? – left him wishing he was wearing AG2R’s brown shorts.

Or, as he put it:

He spent much of the first few days taking suppositories, downing as much water as his body could hold and constantly limping home off the back of the bunch before finally admitting defeat and climbing off early on stage five.

Kittel has returned to WorldTour action this week at the Eneco Tour where, fully recovered, he took victory at a canter in the bunch sprint at the end of Monday’s opening stage.

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Results: Won three stages at the Tour de France, first in points classification. 34th in Olympics road race.

WorldTour ranking: 5th, 351 points.

Everybody’s favourite Slovak Fastvak successfully parlayed his blistering Tour of California and Tour de Suisse form into his debut Tour de France, where he justified his status as the favourite for the green jersey by winning three of the first six road stages, including the difficult uphill finishes of stages one and three.

A hat-trick of subsequent second places and some impressive climbing to secure intermediate points in the mountains were more than enough to deliver a commanding and richly deserved victory in the points competition.

Like Cavendish, Sagan was one of the big favourites for the Olympics road race, but never figured at the sharp end of the action and eventually finished 34th in the main bunch, not far behind Mark Cavendish and several other frustrated sprinters.

Previous updates: June 20thApril 9thFebruary 20th

Rider profiles: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan

Websites: Mark CavendishPeter Sagan

Twitter: @MarkCavendish@marcelkittel