"Riders to watch in 2014", how right and how wrong I was

I've never been very good at predictions. In fact, the first time I ever watched Rocky IV (and I say "the first time", because who amongst us has not revisited that masterpiece time and time again?), I really thought Rocky was going down, and that Ivan Drago would be triumphant. I also thought Crystal Pepsi was a great idea, and would surely be around for centuries. So when I make predictions, take them with a grain (or ten pounds) of salt.

Because I know this about myself, earlier this year, I wrote two posts that listed Colombian riders to watch out for (willingly excluding obvious ones like Quintana, Uran etc) I made no predictions, but merely posed questions about riders, and what their performances could mean. Now that the year is coming to a close, let's revisit my list in light of their performances in 2014.

1. Esteban Chaves

What I said:

"Chaves comes into the 2014 season as an untested rider at the top level of the sport, but his talent and drive are undeniable. He’s spoken openly about needing time to adapt back to riding in the bunch [after a bad crash and injury that sidelined him for almost the entire 2013 season], and slowly wanting to test his fitness."

I spoke with Esteban at the start of 2014, mostly about his accident, surgery and subsequent recovery (doctors originally said he'd never ride a bike again). His take on 2014 was that he needed time to get back to racing shape, and that Orica-Green Edge were being extremely understanding, and there was absolutely no pressure to get results this year. I'm sure that both the team and Esteban felt strongly about that, but he still managed to put up impressive results, which are in line with his highly touted abilities.

Stage win at the Tour of California
Stage win at the Tour de Suisse
Fourth at the Tour de Langkawi
Third at the Tour of Beijing
White jersey at the Tour of Beijing
Third in Stage 1 of the Vuelta a España (ITT)

Keeping in mind that Esteban was coming back from a terrible injury, and that this was his first year at the top of the sport, he had a great season, and likely learned lots too. For example, he competed in his first grand tour this year (the Vuelta). The third week proved difficult for him, something that Orica-Green Edge will no doubt be helping him with next time around.

Esteban and Orica will pass on the Tour de San Luis for 2015, choosing instead to do a team camp in January, at which time his race schedule will be set. Chaves insists that he's taking the 2015 season one day at a time, and doesn't want to get ahead of himself. He does, however, hope for stronger form after a year back on the bike, and specifically said he's like to target a two to three month span of peak shape during the season, and would like to target races in that time span.

2. Isaac Bolivar

What I said:

"Aside from being a strong climber, Bolivar is also a solid time trialist (by Colombian standards, but this is worth noting nevertheless). He's Colombia’s current U23 champion in that discipline. He was also second in the Panamerican road race, and third in the Panamerican time trial.

As United Healthcare’s international profile rises this season, look for Bolivar to make the most of any opportunity he gets to show his climbing abilities, particularly in races outside the United States, were he’ll find longer climbs that suit his style of riding."

Bolivar came into the 2014 season as a bit of a question mark. The truth is that some teams may be thinking that a Colombian rider (generically speaking) is the answer to their questions in terms of climbing and GC talent. But Bolivar's results in Colombia were mixed, and he may need time to develop. Having said that, my assessment was largely correct. Bolivar did best in races outside the US (third in the GC at the Tour of Langkawi), where longer climbs suited him, and struggled racing at altitude in the US (he didn't make the time cut in stage four in Colorado, and was DNF in Gila). At first, this may seem counterintuitive. Aren't Colombians good at altitude? Don't they live and train at altitude? You'd think so, but the realities of racing abroad put a damper on things. It's certainly possible that Bolivar was simply struggling with his form during those races, but his lack of performance could also be attributed to something I've discussed with several Colombian riders who race or will be racing in the US. Simply put, some of them don't make enough money to go back home to train. They also don't end up living at altitude in the US due to financial reasons, or because they live with a kind teammate who will put them up, or friends and family who often live in places like Florida, southern California or the Carolinas. With that, some of the benefits of "being Colombian" dissipate over time at altitude.

By and large, Bolivar's talents remain untested at UHC, but he'll no doubt try to make up for it in 2015. His first race of the year with UHC will be the Tour de San Luis.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts, as I review the other riders that I called attention to, and look ahead at what their 2015 season.

Also, and excuse me for repeating myself, Alps & Andes is now on Instagram, if you're into that type of thing.