Ten things we can't wait for in the 2016 cycling season

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Ten things we can’t wait for in the 2016 pro cycling season

World champions, the Tour de France, Olympic Games, final hurrahs and the Giant of Provence...

It’s four years now since the season which would ultimately change British cycle sport forever kicked off with the 2012 Tour Down Under in Adelaide.

That race in itself proved to be enthralling – former Team Sky man Simon Gerrans giving Orica-GreenEDGE a winning start to WorldTour racing by the smallest of margins from Alejandro Valverde.

Teams are in training and the new season will be soon be upon us (pic: Tinkoff Sports)

But it was what was to follow in the summer which propelled British cycling to the top of the world, with Bradley Wiggins’ winning the Tour de France and a wildly successful home Olympic Games – where Wiggins was again among the medallists.

So now, as we head into an Olympic year for the first time since, there is plenty to look forward to – from a Brit in the rainbow jersey (just like in 2012) and some intriguing racing in the offing this year.

It will be the end of an era for many too, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) looking to end illustrious careers on a high.

So what should you be looking out for this year, and which events should you simply not miss?

Here’s why we can’t wait for the 2016 season to begin…

London hosting the UCI Track World Championships

Four years ago, it was the London 2012 Olympic Games we were all looking forward to, and this time it will be London serving up an appertif to the Olympics.

The Lee Valley Velodrome will once again be welcoming the best of the best of the world’s track cyclists, including Sir Bradley Wiggins and possibly Mark Cavendish too.

Sir Bradley Wiggins will bid to lead Great Britain’s men to World Championship success in London (pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

We could see Cav up against one of his traditional road rivals, Team Sky’s Elia Viviani, if both compete in the omnium – the Italian looking to add the world title to his European crown.

Wiggins meanwhile will be hoping the British men’s team pursuit quartet can lay down a marker ahead of Rio 2016, where he hopes to bag a British record-breaking eighth Olympic medal.

There have also been suggestions – including from Wiggins himself – that he and Cavendish could reunite for the Madison, eight years on from their Worlds success.

And it’s not just the British men to look out for in London, either, with the women’s endurance squad looking to avenge defeat to Australia 12 months ago.

Laura Trott was also beaten to silver in the omnium by Australia’s Annette Edmondson, and Britain’s track queen will hope to get the gold rush flowing again on home soil.

Key date: UCI Track World Championships 2016 (London) – March 2 to March 6

Riders at new teams

The cycling transfer window threw up plenty of big stories this winter, with plenty of high-profile movers and shakers.

Mark Cavendish is on the move, and will debut with Team Dimension Data at the end of January, while chief rival Marcel Kittel has switched to Etixx-QuickStep to replace him.

Marcel Kittel models his new team, Etixx-QuickStep’s, new kit (pic: Etixx-QuickStep)

Team Sky will be devoid of Richie Porte’s services in 2016, too, with the Aussie off to BMC Racing where he hopes to enjoy Grand Tour leadership.

Daniel Martin’s also off to Etixx-QuickStep, but the Belgian super team have seen Michal Kwiatkowski depart for Team Sky – with both likely to go head-to-head in the Ardennes Classics.

Sky have been busy, as it happens, with Mikel Landa and Benat Intxausti also among their big-name signings, while Cannondale-Garmin will boast the services of Pierre Rolland and Rigoberto Uran this season.

It should all add up to interesting battles this year, though it’s going to take some getting used to seeing them all in their new team jerseys!

Key date: Tour Down Under – January 19 to 24

Lizzie Armitstead in the rainbow jersey

Talking of new jerseys, Great Britain’s queen of the road Lizzie Armitstead will be showcasing the rainbow bands of world champion in 2016.

The Yorkshirewoman will be taking on the inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour – having won the Women’s World Cup for the last two years – on the back of her world road race success in Richmond, USA, last autumn.

Lizzie Armitstead will ride the inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour in the rainbow jersey (pic: Sirotti)

Her season is set to kick off at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, where she won last year, and Armitstead will also be bidding for Olympic success later in the summer, where she’ll swap the rainbow bands for the British jersey.

It all amounts to a busy year ahead for the 27-year-old, with fit-again rival Marianne Vos among the riders set to do battle with the world champ.

With the Aviva Women’s Tour and Prudential RideLondon GP both included on the Women’s WorldTour, looking out for Armitstead, in the rainbow jersey, honing her form on home soil too.

Key date: Aviva Women’s Tour 2016 – June 15 to June 19

Fabian Cancellara’s final Spring Classics campaign

One of the finest bike racers of this generation has announced this year will be his final one in the pro peloton, and Fabian Cancellara will hope to finish on a high at the Spring Classics.

Spartacus, as well as wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France more times than any other rider not to have won overall, boasts a hugely impressive CV on the cobbles.

Fabian Cancellara will hope to sign off with more success on the cobbles (Pic: Sirotti)

Three victories apiece at Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and E3 Harelbeke mark him alongside Tom Boonen as a master of Northern Europe’s unforgiving pave.

And Cancellara and Boonen will go head-to-head for the final time this year, bringing an end to one of the most enthralling duels of the last decade.

Cancellara will also face one of his other longstanding rivals – the man who has vied with him for time trial supremacy, Tony Martin, after Der Panzerwagen announced he would be joining Boonen in Etixx-QuickStep’s spring line-up.

Add world champion Peter Sagan to the mix, and last year’s Monument winners Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb and we are set for a hugely exciting spring.

Key dates: Milan-San Remo – March 19; E3 Harelbeke – March 25; Gent-Wevelgem – March 27; Tour of Flanders – April 3; Paris-Roubaix – April 10

ONE Pro Cycling at UCI ProContinental level

Team Sky remain British cycle sport’s only team at the top tier of professional men’s road cycling, but ONE Pro Cycling can now lay claim to being Britain’s ‘second team’.

After a successful debut season, the team – backed by Ashes-winning cricketer Matt Prior – have made the step up to UCI ProContinental level, the first British team to do so.

ONE Pro Cycling will ride in some of the biggest races in 2016 (pic: Alex Broadway/SWpix.com)

And after a summer of heavy recruitment, including leading British domestic riders Kristian House and Richard Handley, alongside Aussie stars Steele von Hoff and Matt Goss it could be an exciting year ahead for the team.

With Yanto Barker and Polish time trial champion Marcin Bialoblocki already on board too, it gives us the chance to see how some of the best domestic riders in the country fare on the bigger stage.

Their race calendar currently includes the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Dubai Tour, Herald Sun Tour and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad so there will be plenty of opportunity to see the team and their striking new Factor One race bikes.

Key date: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – February 27

Alberto Contador’s final hurrah

Another of this generation’s biggest stars is set to call time on his career after the 2016 season, namely Alberto Contador.

While his two-year doping ban for clenbuterol means he will always have his detractors, seven Grand Tour wins (and two struck from the record) show he is unparalleled in this era when it comes to the three-week races.

Alberto Contador will ride his final Tour de France in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

Contador will bid to take his tally, including the two removed from the record, to at least ten this year, with the Tour de France his top priority.

Defending champion Chris Froome and last year’s runner-up Nairo Quintana will both have plenty to say about that, but the course definitely suits Contador if he can recapture the form that won him the 2014 Vuelta a Espana and last year’s Giro.

El Pistolero is also touted for a final shot at the Vuelta, having won all three of his career appearances in his home Grand Tour and while he does polarise opinions, few can deny that Contador at his brilliant best will be a sight sorely missed when he quits racing.

Key date: Tour de France – July 2 to July 24

Mark Cavendish vs Marcel Kittel (and Andre Greipel and Alexander Kristoff)

After switching teams in the winter, a new chapter in Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel’s rivalry will begin this year.

Cavendish has set himself the triple target of the Tour de France yellow jersey on stage one, the Olympics and the world road race for 2016.

Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish will renew their rivalry in 2016, but both riding for new teams (Pic: Bruno Bade/ASO)

And as far as the former goes, it will be Kittel – the man who denied him in both 2013 and 2014 – who stands between him and the only Grand Tour leader’s jersey he is yet to pull on.

Cav has taken lead-out man Mark Renshaw across to Dimension Data with him, while Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg are all options for his lead-out train, alongside new signing from Team Sky Bernie Eisel.

Kittel meanwhile, will slot in where Cav has left at Etixx-QuickStep, backed by the firepower of compatriot Tony Martin and rising sprint star Fernado Gaviria as he looks to bounce back from his injury-ravaged 2015 season.

And let’s not forget last year’s four-time Tour de France stage winner Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff, who bagged 20 victories in 2015.

It’s all set to be another sprinting battle royale this year.

Key date: Tour de France – July 2 to July 24

Mont Ventoux at the Tour de France

Another highlight of this year’s Tour de France will come on stage 12, which just so happens to take place on Bastille Day.

Rewind to 2013, and Chris Froome blasted to victory on Bastille Day with a stunning ride on Mont Ventoux and the Giant of Provence returns to the Tour route this year.

Mont Ventoux returns to the Tour de France route in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

Likely to be a defining stage of this year’s race, Froome will battle with the likes of Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and former team-mate Richie Porte on the famous climb.

It will be the tenth time a Tour de France stage has finished on Ventoux, and no man has ever won twice at its summit.

It is also worth noting that the man in the yellow jersey at the end of those nine previous stages has always gone on to at least finish in the top three overall.

Key date: Tour de France stage 12 (Montpellier to Mont Ventoux) – July 14

Rio 2016 Olympic Games

While the Tour de France remains the main event of the season, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games should offer up a fantastic dessert this summer.

Great Britain’s success on home soil in 2012 has set the precedent, and Sir Bradley Wiggins’ bid for an eighth career Olympic medal will be among the highlights on the cycling front this time out.

Sir Bradley Wiggins is targeting a British record eighth Olympic medal in Rio (pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

 

Laura Trott has two gold medals to defend, meanwhile, in the team pursuit and the omnium, and it will be interesting to see if Mark Cavendish makes the cut for the men’s omnium.

Britain’s sprinters have been out of touch in recent years, with Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton proving to be too big shoes to fill, but anything can happen at an Olympic Games.

And it’s not just the track events we have to look forward to either, with an intriguing course set out for the road races.

Cobbles – though not the sort we’re used to in Europe – feature on the route, as do four ascents of the category-one climb if Vista Chinesa (8.5kms at 5.7%). Geraint Thomas will be among the Brits bidding for success against the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Spain).

Key date: Rio 2016 Olympic Games – August 5 to August 21

UCI Road World Championships in Qatar

OK, so the prospect of pan-flat desert racing may not get the pulse racing but the UCI Road World Championships should be an interesting spectacle this year.

For a start, as the Tour of Qatar so often proves, the road can be as flat as you like in the Qatari desert but that means nothing if the wind starts whipping up.

Lizzie Armitstead knows what it takes to win in Qatar (pic: Bruno Bade/ASO)

And secondly, from a British point of view, we boast two riders who have enjoyed plenty of success in Qatar in the past.

Defending women’s world champion Lizzie Armitstead won the Ladies Tour of Qatar last year, while 2011 world champ, Mark Cavendish, has won eight stages and the overall prize in the men’s edition during his career.

Could we enjoy a double British success at the worlds this year? Well, there will be plenty of riders out to stop them – such a sprinter-friendly World Championships doesn’t come around often so it’s an important opportunity for many.

Nevertheless, the prospect of both Cav and Queen Lizzie claiming a second rainbow jersey each should be enough to keep us interested in October.

Key date: UCI Road World Championships 2016 (Qatar) – October 9 to October 16

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