2013 cycling preview
After 2012 delivered countless thrills, 2013 has a lot to live up to. Cycling reporter Matt Westby previews the year ahead
By Follow @MattSkyCycling
Last Updated: 11/01/13 4:33pm
And while there may not be an Olympic Games to look forward to, the next 12 months still have plenty in store to keep cycling fans enthralled and entertained.
Here, we preview the campaign to come...
Winter training rides marred by driving winds and lashing rain will melt into distant memories as the peloton heads off to the Australian summer for the UCI WorldTour season-opening Tour Down Under (January 22-27). Mark Cavendish has opted out of race, but his successor as world champion, Philippe Gilbert, will be on the starting line for BMC, while home favourite Simon Gerrans will be hoping to defend the title he won 12 months ago.
There is another chance for the road riders to top up the tans as they head to the Middle East for the Tour of Qatar (February 3-8) and Tour of Oman (February 12-17). All eyes will be on Tom Boonen in Qatar as the Belgian looks to win the race for a fifth time and add to his huge haul of 19 stage victories.
However, the road takes a back seat to the boards at the end of the month as the UCI Track Cycling World Championships (February 20-24) are held in Minsk, Belarus. Laura Trott will no doubt be looking to defend the team pursuit and omnium titles she won in Melbourne 11 months previously, while Jess Varnish and Becky James get the chance to test themselves against the world's best for the first time as Britain's post-Victoria Pendleton team sprint pairing. Also bank on Jason Kenny going all out to win back the individual sprint crown he claimed in 2011 but lost to Gregory Bauge last year.
Back on the road, the spring Classics season gets into full flow with Milan-San Remo (March 17), Ghent-Wevelgem (March 24) and the Tour of Flanders (March 31). Boonen bossed the Classics last year, winning three races, but compatriot Gilbert will be keen to reassert his dominance over the one-day scene now that he is racing in the world champion's rainbow jersey. Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara has also expressed his desire to add more Classics victories to his palmares and will be a major threat.
Preparations for the Grand Tours also begin in earnest, with Paris-Nice (March 3-10) and Tirreno-Adriatico (March 6-12). Bradley Wiggins won Paris-Nice in the build-up to his Tour de France triumph this year, but is likely to head for Tirreno-Adriatico in 2013 as he prepares for the Giro d'Italia. Italy's Vincenzo Nibali has to decide whether he wants to defend his Tirreno-Adriatico crown or opt for the Race to the Sun instead.
The Classics season goes into overdrive with Paris-Roubaix (April 7), Amstel Gold Race (April 14), La Fleche Wallonne (April 17) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 21) all within the space of a breath-taking fortnight. Keep an eye out for Joaquim Rodriguez aiming to add to his two Classics victories from last year, and don't be surprised if the frighteningly talented Peter Sagan clinches his maiden Classics win.
Preparations for the Giro d'Italia are cranked up at the Giro del Trentino (April 16-19), where Italian super-climber Domenico Pozzovivo will be among the favourites after obliterating the opposition at last year's edition. The build-up to the Tour de France also continues as the yellow jersey hopefuls head to Switzerland for the Tour of Romandie (April 23-28). The winner of this event has gone on to win the Tour in each of the last two years, so it can once again be expected to be an accurate barometer of form.
Road cycling basks in the drama of its first Grand Tour of the year at the Giro d'Italia (May 4-26). The favourite for victory is likely to be Wiggins courtesy of the fact that the 2013 race sees brutal climbs replaced by more than 90km of time trials, the Briton's speciality.
However, the slightly easier-than-normal route offers up the possibility of the Giro-Tour double in 2013, so don't be surprised to see the likes of Alberto Contador joining Wiggins on the start line. And also don't forget last year's winner, Ryder Hesjedal, who slipped off the radar somewhat after clinching victory in Milan last May but will be keen to retain his hard-won title.
With the Giro done and dusted, full focus turns to the Tour de France. First is the Criterium du Dauphine (June 2-9) - the Tour's traditional final warm-up race. Wiggins is the reigning champion but almost certainly won't defend his crown given that the Giro ends only seven days earlier. In his absence, the likes of Chris Froome, Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck will all be looking to claim victory and show that they are the man to beat at the Tour.
The Tour de Suisse (June 8-16) keeps the pot boiling, with Portugal's Rui Costa being the defending champion, before it is time for the Grand Depart of the 100th Tour de France (June 29-July 21) in Corsica.
After three days in Corsica, the Tour hops over the Mediterranean and back into France - and 2013's race has all the makings of a classic. Not only has an epic route containing a summit finish on Mont Ventoux and two ascents of Alpe d'Huez in a single day been laid out, but all of the best Grand Tour racers in the world are expected to be on the start line. Contador and Schleck both return after missing last year's race; Froome moves into a leadership role at Team Sky after finishing runner-up in 2012; Evans has his eyes on a repeat of his 2011 victory; Vincenzo Nibali has moved to Astana in a bid to improve his chances of victory; and even Rodriguez has thrown his hat into the ring after two Grand Tour podium finishes in 2012. And that isn't even mentioning Wiggins, who has hinted he may yet want to vie for back-to-back victories.
Just as intriguing as the battle for the yellow jersey will be the fight for the green. Cavendish will once again be surrounded by a team dedicated to helping him secure stage wins having joined Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, but will no doubt face stiff competition from Sagan, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel.
Road cycling takes a bit of a breather after the Tour, but then bursts back into life for the final Grand Tour of the year, the Vuelta a Espana (August 24-September 15). The 2012 edition produced one of the finest three-week races in recent times as Contador emerged victorious after a pulsating battle with Rodriguez and a third Spaniard, Alejandro Valverde, over a mountainous yet compelling route.
With most Grand Tour contenders putting all their emphasis on the Tour, the door could be left open for a surprise package to make their mark in Spain. Canada's Hesjedal might see it as the ideal opportunity to add to his 2012 Giro triumph, while the United States' Tejay van Garderen could fancy himself for victory after proving his Grand Tour credentials with a fifth-place finish at the 2012 Tour.
The Vuelta continues to dominate the agenda for the first half of the month, but then home focus turns to the Tour of Britain (September 15-22). Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was the surprise winner of the 2012 edition but, having moved to Team Sky in the aftermath of that victory, it remains to be seen whether he will be back to defend his title. Even if he isn't, the race will no doubt be once again greeted with huge support from British crowds.
The spotlight will then move to Florence, Italy, for the UCI Road World Championships (September 21-29). Philippe Gilbert and Marianne Vos are the reigning senior men's and women's road race champions, while British teenager Lucy Garner will look for a third consecutive crown after back-to-back junior road race titles in 2011 and 2012. The men's route is regarded as the one of the hardest in a generation at the worlds, so should make for a riveting race.
The European campaign draws to a conclusion with the final monument of the year, the Giro di Lombardia (October 6), and then Paris-Tours (October 13). Joaquim Rodriguez won last year's Il Lombardia courtesy of a devastating lone attack on the way into Lecco, while Marco Marcato is the defending Paris-Tours champion.
The peloton then heads to China for the season-ending Tour of Beijing (October 16-20), where Germany's Tony Martin will be looking to make it three victories in a row.