With the Tour Down Under about to get under way in Australia, Blazin' Saddles makes his predictions for the coming season.
Last year, Saddles got pretty much everything wrong - except when it came to Bradley Wiggins, whom your erstwhile cycling blogger predicted would crash out of the Giro d'Italia before saving his season with victory in the Tour of Britain.
To be fair, Lance Armstrong discovering a loophole to make a comeback with the Bruyneel Bacon team was always a bit of a long shot - as was the little-known Riccardo Riccotta winning Paris-Camembert ahead of Portugal's Thiago Manchego.
Perhaps the crystal ball gazing will yield more success in 2014?
JANUARY: It's all change as Andre Greipel misses out to compatriot Marcel Kittel in the first race of the season, the Down Under Classic in Adelaide. In the Tour itself, Richie Porte emerges victorious despite being pipped by Kenny Elissonde on Old Willunga Hill. In his victory speech, Porte thanks everyone on Team Sky's books - but there's no mention of Chris Froome, prompting the British tabloids to suggest the former close friends had a falling out over the winter Ashes series.
FEBRUARY: It's back to business for the Cavendish-Renshaw bromance in Qatar with the Australian leading out his old friend to four stage wins and the overall classification for Omega Pharma-Quick Step. In Oman, Team Sky's Chris Froome edges team-mate Porte in the GC by a matter of seconds. In the press conference afterwards, Froome says, enigmatically: 'It's now 1-1 for me and Richie this season. May the best man win. End of story.'
MARCH: Manxman Peter Kennaugh is the surprise winner of Paris-Nice after his Sky colleagues Froome and Porte take a spill in the feedzone of the penultimate stage and are forced to abandon the race. Afterwards, chippy youngster Kennaugh says: 'It's actually 1-1-1 now so all evens for us Sky riders in the bus sweepstake.' Kennaugh then throws his name into the ring for team leadership during the Tour. 'I'm feeling good - perhaps it's my time to shine?'
There's drama at Tirreno-Adriatico when the whole field is forced to retire in stage four after race organisers insist on a triple ascent of a brutal 30 per cent mule path through the Appenines. Fans and riders call for the return of Michele Aquarone, renowned for his more lenient approach to course design. 'The route was much easier in Aquarone's time,' says Peter Sagan, the de facto winner.
Forecasts of foul weather coupled with the new undulating finale means all the main sprinters give Milan-San Remo a miss, with team's instead sending climber-heavy rosters for the la Classica di Primavera. It's a tactic that backfires when Team Europcar's Bryan Coquard coasts to victory ahead of team-mate Yohan Gene. Manager Rene Bernaudeau dedicates the win to the development of cycling in Africa.
APRIL: History is made in the Tour of Flanders with the first dead-heat ever seen, the spoils shared by Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. Runner-up Peter Sagan gets himself into a sticky situation after appearing to do a Walter Planckaert on the podium when allowing his cheeks to be kissed by two Flandrian floozies.
Sagan is the bridesmaid again a week later in the Roubaix velodrome, but is reduced to sprinting for second place after Bradley Wiggins solos to an historic win in spectacular spring sunshine. Sky team-mate Ian Stannard takes third despite lending his wheel to Wiggo in the Arenberg. 'Piece of p***, really. The wheel helped, for sure, but I was always in control,' says Wiggins. 'It's not often you see a Tour winner win here in Roubaix so put that in your pipe and smoke it - then pass the pipe over to me and let me have the last few drags.'
After the Adriatico-Tirreno debacle, Aquerone is reinstated at the helm of the Giro. Meanwhile, in Turkey, a Turkish chap of dubious provenance wins the Presidential Tour.
MAY: Nairo Quintana surprises everyone by taking to the start of the Giro d'Italia, only to be beaten in the race for pink by Richie Porte. The Tasmanian talks himself up after the race, claiming he's "done enough to warrant leadership of Sky for the Tour now".
There are accusations of a stitch up after Irish riders Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche take victories in Belfast and Dublin. Frenchman Warren Barguil is the star of the mountain stages, with three victories for GiantShimano, to go alongside Marcel Kittel's red jersey and four sprint scalps. The French press immediately make Barguil a favourite for the Tour. The 22-year-old is offered all of Thibaut Pinot's merchandising deals and becomes the face of popular yogurt drink Yop.
Snubbed by the French food industry, Pinot makes a controversial sideways move into advertising Burgundy wine - in particular, vintages made from the region's famous Pinot Noir grape, with the tagline: 'It goes down way better than me.'
JUNE: Although sitting out the Tour de France, Cadel Evans wins the Criterium du Dauphine after more internecine tussling between Froome and Porte at Sky. 'Finishing 65th in the Giro was a big shock but I knew I still had one more solid performance to give on French soil,' says Evans. 'My aim now is to ride in support of Philippe Gilbert in the Vuelta - hopefully we can secure him a first win of the season.'
David Brailsford CBE (and MP for Derbyshire South) puts out a mysterious statement that suggests that neither Froome nor Porte will be leading Sky in the Tour. Peter Kennaugh then tweets a single word: 'Bingo.'
JULY: Team Sky parade their new kit at the Tour de France launch in Leeds - a minimalist number that's not much more than a black thong and negligée. 'You wanted more transparency so we gave it to you,' says Brailsford, whose team includes warring duo Froome and Porte, free spirit Bradley Wiggins and unexpected team leader Kennaugh.
The race gets off to a superb start for Great Britain, with victories for Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings and Adam Blythe in Harrogate, Sheffield and London respectively. But it's disaster for Sky when Wiggins crashes on the cobbles in stage five, taking out both Porte and defending champion Froome. All three are forced to retire from the race, but Brailsford promises to 'reassess, recalculate and come back tomorrow refreshed'.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland takes his quest for the polka dot jersey to a whole new level of absurdity by intentionally contracting chicken pox ahead of the Alps. Rolland's Europcar team-mate Thomas Voeckler becomes the first sportsman in history to sell advertising space on his tongue after agreeing a deal with Carling lager.
Tony Martin launches a fierce tirade against the Tour organisers for including only one time trial on the route. 'Usually I can go home to Germany after victory in the time trial but this time I have to wait until stage 20 before I can quit. But what's the point? I may as well hang around and help Cav on the Champs Elysees,' he laments.
A breakaway manages to stick on the Champs, with Bryan Coquard taking France's first stage of the race. Jens Voigt vows to ride on for another year 'because Andy's 22nd place on GC shows that he's almost back to his best and I find that an inspiration'. The winner of the race is Kennaugh, who signs a new five-year deal with Sky. He finishes ahead of team-mates Geraint Thomas and Vasil Kiryienka on the podium.
'You wait so long for a British victory and then three come along at once,' says Brailsford. 'Although, technically, they have been wins for Belgium, Kenya and the Isle of Man. But still. I'm the mastermind behind it all - and I'm a knight of the realm.'
AUGUST: Having spent the entire season training in the US, Chris Horner is offered a lifeline by Pro Continental outfit CCC Polsat Polkowice meaning the American veteran can defend his crown in the Vuelta. Taking a leaf out of Voeckler's books, Horner makes up for the fact that his salary is a mere $750,000 pro rata by selling advertising space on the back of his thighs. During a series of out-of-the-saddle attacks by Horner, sales of Nivea Anti-Ageing Cream go through the roof.
SEPTEMBER: Horner cannot maintain his stellar form of 2013 and rides the second phase of the race in support of team-mate Davide Rebellin, a surprise candidate for the red jersey. Trailing Rebellin by 30 seconds on GC going into the last week, Vincenzo Nibali says his rival "doesn't just have another gear than the rest of us, he has a whole new motor". Still looking for his first win of the season, world champion Rui Costa finishes behind record-breaking winner Rebellin and Nibali on the podium.
Meanwhile, Ryder Hesjedal admits to having worn double denim back in Canada while he was an aspiring mountain biker. A contrite Hesjedal promises he made the sartorial mistake only once and apologises for the "unfortunate situation" which came to light following the publication of Svein Turf's slow-burning autobiography 'Maple Leaf Viking'.
Peter Sagan out-sprints Matt Goss and Jose Rojas to take the world championships road race in Ponferrada. He celebrates by ripping off his jersey and throwing it over the face of the podium girl. Asked why he did this in an interview afterwards, the Slovak tyro simply says: 'Pot of gold at end of rainbow.'
OCTOBER: Having failed to deliver a Grand Tour victory once again, Joaquim Rodriguez goes back to what he's best at and wins the Giro di Lombardia for a third consecutive time. In heavy rain, Rodriguez beats a spirited Thomas Voeckler, allowing journalists to copy and paste their reports from the previous two years before making the few necessary tweaks.
Still under investigation for his positive test for Clenbuterol in 2013, Australian Mick Rogers leads an entirely vegan Tinkoff-Tinkoff outfit to glory in the Tour of Beijing.
NOVEMBER: Lance Armstrong wins over the hearts of the British masses with an unexpected appearance in the TV show I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Sestriere. After winning a closely fought final between Paul Reubens (the actor best known for his portrayal of Pee-wee Herman) and Susan Boyle, Armstrong announces his pending engagement to Emma O'Reilly.
DECEMBER: Wiggins breaks the hour record in the Velodrome at Manchester before retiring from road cycling. 'Well, there's not much left for me to prove on the road,' he tells the BBC. 'I might as well bugger off and become the next Doctor Who before starting my track training for Rio.'
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- Bradley Wiggins
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- Richie Porte
- Peter Sagan
- Lance Armstrong
- Tour de France