2014 Tour of California: The GC vacuum.
This is no slight on 2014 Tour of California winner Bradley Wiggins of Sky.
He destroyed his rivals in the 20k time trial around Folsom, defended his jersey on the stage up Mount Diablo (despite being isolated in the final 8k) then sealed the overall with a strong front-group ride up to the Mountain High Resort (with a strong support performance from young Joe Dombrowski.)
It was an impressive return to form and focus and Wiggins reminded everyone that he’s a massive talent capable of a Tour win, Olympic time trial gold, track cycling dominance, a top ten on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and now his impressive win at the Tour of California.
When Wiggins truly commits to a goal, he’s extremely difficult to beat.
The only asterisk on the performance was a relative vacuum when it came to GC rivals. While the race drew an impressive number of top sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb, the riders challenging Wiggins were simply not close to his level.
As second placed finisher Rohan Dennis of Garmin-Sharp noted, Wiggins was head and shoulders above everyone and “on another planet.”
Consider the rest of the podium and you see two talented but very young guns. Dennis, at age 23, has yet to finish a grand tour — he hopes to accomplish that this summer. He said after the time trial in Folsom that he didn’t expect to win the test against the clock but that could just as well have summed up his chances for the overall.
On the third step was an even younger Lawson Craddock with rode the Tour of California a year ago on the Bontrager-Trek development squad run by Axel Merckx. The kid displays the deep confidence and poise of a future champion but nobody had the crazy idea that either Craddock or Dennis were a match for Wiggins’ big engine and grand tour power reserves.
Other pretenders to the throne included the likes of Tiago Machado (Net-App) who has never finished higher than 19th in a grand tour (the 2011 Giro d’Italia) and Laurens Ten Dam of Belkin. Strong riders but not the kind to threaten a talent of Wiggins’ caliber.
Wiggins began the Tour of California the overwhelming favorite and finished the overwhelming winner.
Those who might have given him a fight were defending champion Tejay van Garderen of BMC (away training for the Tour de France), the ageless Chris Horner of Lampre (recovering from serious injuries), 2012 winner Robert Gesink (returning from a heart operation) and 2013 runner-up Michael Rogers of Tinkoff-Saxo (just reinstated after a positive doping test).
Former winner Levi Leipheimer and podium guy Dave Zabriskie are both retired and thus unable to give Wiggins a demanding workout. Meanwhile, in the absence of van Garderen, Peter Stetina of BMC was taking his first lessons in how to be a team captain. He fared pretty well but an on-the-job trainee isn’t going to beat Sir Brad.
Even with a Sky squad with one neopro (Nathan Earle) and two Americans in their second year, the team had enough strength to handle the scatter-gun attacks from Garmin-Sharp. And in truth, once Wiggins went to the front and set his demanding rhythm, he didn’t need much back-up.
The 2014 Tour of California was tailor-made for Wiggins: wide, smooth roads, steady power-meter climbs that favored his tempo, an abundance of sunshine and an absence of dangerous rivals.
As we said upfront, Dennis and Craddock are both impressive young talents who are learning the ropes in stage races. They’re going to win big races and sooner rather than later — along with Sky’s Joe Dombrowski. That said and to quote wise man Jens Voigt, Wiggins was “the only sir in the race.”
Unlike his disastrous and painful experience in last years’ wet and freezing Giro d’Italia, all the good fortune was in his side in California. No stage race is ever easy to win but the outcome was never in doubt.