On the whole, 2014 proved to be another successful year. I gained more podiums, rode bigger races and became a stronger and better rider.
I started the season in good shape, and after 2 camps in Mallorca, I felt ready to tackle the infamous Tour of Qatar. The race lived up to all the crazy stories and was a really big learning curve for crosswind racing. I was happy to see the race through, do a good job to support Sam (Bennett), and gain a lot of experience for future years. Riding around on my limit at 60kmh in Qatar gave me incredible form for the Classics. My programme was a good balance of the major Classics and smaller Classic style races which gave me the opportunity to get results, learn the roads and get an idea of what it takes to be in the selection for the big Classics. All in all, the Classic season went well. I narrowly missed out on my first pro victory (a goal for the season) in Ronde van Drenthe where I was beaten in a 4 man sprint by the in-form Kenny de Haes. After that I took a good 6th at Nokere Koerse and despite a nasty crash in Gent-Wevelgem, I finished the Tour of Flanders, still being in the race until 40km to go.
After the Classics, it was all about the Tour de France starting in my hometown, Leeds. Whilst it was a great experience and it raised my profile by being a local cyclist in with a shout at riding the race, it was always going to be a big ask to follow a full Classics programme with riding my first Grand Tour. In hindsight, I should have taken a break after the Classics and built back up for the summer races, but I knew that I had to prove my stage racing ability, so instead I went straight into the hilly stage races. Although I lost some weight and improved my climbing, I was feeling tired and run down. It lead to me becoming ill at the start of the Tour of California and losing my punch and explosiveness. I was very disappointed with this period because there were alot of races such as California and the Nationals, where I wanted to perform well.
As I narrowly missed out on making the Tour de France team, I focused on the last part of the season; the Commonwealth Games and Tour of Britain. After my illness, I took a bit of time off the bike to recover, then went to Mallorca to put in a big block of training. When I returned, I was fresh and in great shape. The Commonwealth Games was a brutal race but the conditions were perfect for me. I rode a good race to take the Bronze medal, matching 2 of the strongest guys in the race both of whom were coming off the back of the Tour de France. However it was not just getting a medal that pleased me, but the way in which I rode the race, and this gave me confidence for the rest of the season. I carried this momentum into my next couple of races, getting in the winning split at the London Classic, helping Sam to 6th, and taking a 5th place in a stage in Arctic Race of Norway.
The last big race of the year was the Tour of Britain. I was in good shape and confident of picking up a result on one of the tough, rolling stages. However I had a nasty crash on stage 4 (whilst sprinting for 6th position), causing my helmet to brake into 3 pieces and also injured my ribs and back. Following this crash, my body was slow to recover and it was pretty much season over. I continued to race and support the team but my body was ready for a rest.
Next year, I'll be riding in new colours as the team changes name to incorporate new sponsors "Bora Argon 18". Lots of pre-season training blocks before now and then...looking forward to it!