The Best Stories of 2009

Our man of the year, Lance, caught in the shadow of his nemesis.

It’s been an interesting year in the world of cycling. There have been some duels for the ages between larger-than-life figures. I decided to ask each of RKP’s contributors to pick their three favorite stories of the year. Some of their answers may surprise you.—Padraig

Padraig—

Lance Armstrong. No other figure in cycling has ever made headlines worldwide the way Lance Armstrong does. Whether it’s his battle to rid the world of cancer, the birth of a new son, doping charges or his battle of wits with Alberto Contador, Armstrong is a headline wherever he goes, whatever he does. He is also significant because no other figure has half the ability to polarize a group of cyclists as Armstrong. To some, he is a virtually convicted doper, to others he is a champion and figure of hope. No matter what you think of him, he has the ability to keep cycling in the mainstream worldwide, which, ultimately, is good for cycling.

The conviction of Dr. Thompson. That Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson was even tried for one felony—let alone six—was a big success for cyclists everywhere. There were more opportunities for this case to go off the rails than can be counted, but some significant points were in the initial investigation, once the case was turned over to the district attorney and, of course, in Thompson’s cross examination. This case will be cited as a turning point in the recognition by the average person that cyclists are both vulnerable to the actions of malicious drivers and have a right to the road.

Doping. From Christian “cycling has changed” Prudhomme, to Danilo “the killer” DiLuca to the blood transfusion kits found among Astana’s medical supplies, one should draw the conclusion that some riders might be cleaner than in the past, but cycling, as a sport, has yet to shed the taint of doping. Prudhomme, the Tour de France director, made the ludicrous statement, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.” Astarloza’s positive proved his statement was both premature and dead wrong. If anyone should have been fired from the ASO, it shouldn’t have been Patrice Clerc, but rather Prudhomme for making such a reckless statement on behalf of such a storied institution.

Honorable mentions:

The fire sale of Iron Horse bicycles to Dorel. Iron Horse wasn’t a prestigious brand, but it was long known as being a good value for new cyclists. Its descent into bankruptcy was an ugly, backbiting mess full of recrimination and charges of shady deals involving owner Cliff Weidberg and his son, who owned Randall Scott Cycles, a significant debtor to Iron Horse. Dorel (the parent for Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Pacific, etc.) purchased Iron Horse for $5.2 million at auction, less than what Iron Horse’s three biggest secured creditors were owed, for a classic pennies-on-the-dollar deal. The sale left hanging dozens of unsecured creditors who were owed a combined $17 million as well as CIT Group for another $4 million, and made cycling’s biggest corporate colossus just a little bit bigger.

Lemond v. Trek. Just wait, the plus-size gal isn’t even on stage.

Da Robot—

Contador and Schleck denying Armstrong an 8th TdF. When the Lance returned, so much of the American cycloratti was hoping he’d return to his throne, but personally, I was ready to move on. As the hype ramped up and up and up, through LA’s collar bone break, through the Giro and into the initial stages of the Tour, I was really wishing for the sport to move on. Not to be ungrateful for contributions made, but I was ready for some new legends to emerge. And they did.

Philippe Gilbert’s end of season wins. What I love about Gilbert is his incredible tactical sense and timing. This is a guy who beats riders head and shoulders stronger than he is, by keeping his wits about him and playing them against one another. Not a weak rider, Gilbert shows what racing might be like in the absence of race radios, when smart riders win as much as strong ones.

The emergence of Edvald Boasson-Hagen. While everyone was talking about Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (myself included) another young rider was winning races (10) and taking the overall in smaller stage races like the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Britain. Boasson-Hagen is 22. He is exactly the sort of rider that today’s top guns should be wary of, because he’s going to get better.

Rick Vosper—

USA Bike industry ignores its mounting inventory crisis for an entire year (repercussions will impact retail pricing and corporate profits until 2012). If you ever had any doubts as to whether bike companies know what they’re doing, well, here’s your answer.

Lemond v Trek: no matter which way it ends up (short of an out-of-court-plus-gag-order settlement), this story still has the potential to become the biggest scandal in US cycling history. It’s also the #1 story the cycling press wishes would just go away: no matter how—or even if—they report it, it’s a lose-lose for them.

American public starts to figure out that bikes are actually a lot of fun (and practical transportation, too). This is THE biggest sea-change in public attitudes about cycling since That Skinny Blonde Kid won some race over in France 33 years ago … although sometimes I liked it better when we were just a bunch of geeks and outcasts instead of too-cool-for-school fashion mavens in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.

Bonus: Mavic’s parent company (Amer Sports) puts it up for sale, can’t find buyer, de-lists it, fires its own President. You know the economy’s bad when no one wants a highly regarded company with the lion’s share of a long-term lucrative market.

Bill McGann—

Contador’s Tour win as part of the Bizarro World of Team Astana. I know of no other time in cycling history when, after the designated team leader takes the Yellow Jersey, the team manager wanted to put on sackcloth and ashes. The psychological war Bruyneel and Armstrong waged against Contador remains about the oddest thing I ever saw in cycling.

The death duel between Di Luca and Menchov in the Giro. While I watched it, I tried to forget Di Luca’s past doping offenses (he made sure I was reminded later…) and watched 2 superb athletes fight until neither had a watt left. Menchov’s crash in the final time trial made even the race’s last moments exciting. His poor performance in the Tour showed he had gone truly deep in the Giro.

Grand Tour VAMs. Both the Giro and the Tour had some spectacularly high VAMs (average rate of vertical ascent in a climb). There was one day in the Tour that saw the Tour climbing speed record Bjarne Riis set on the Hautacam in 1996 eclipsed.

Bonus: And the UCI says they are getting a good handle on doping. I’ve got some good ocean-front land here in Arkansas for anyone who believes that. I believe we lost ground during 2009 in the hunt for a clean sport.

Souleur—

Contador wins second Tour de France. The lead up to the race was more drama than MTV’s “The Hill” leading up to prom night. Every day there were hints that all the indicators being tossed out by Astana that “all is well” and “we are all behind our leader” and “Contador is our GC leader.” It was something everyone who listened and watched knew was slick talk and that there was 2 GC riders on the team, neither submitting to the other in reality. To see the dynamics play out was something that kept us all tuned daily for the month of July. I personally cannot wait ‘til 2010′s TdF!!

Fabian Cancellara SMOKES TT world championship. Fabian is a statesman for cycling and in my opinion one of the peloton’s classiest riders. He can be many things, but his TT skills are phenomenal and his lead up to the World TT championship brought us to anticipate a performance, which he delivered in jaw-dropping fashion.

Devolder repeats at Tour of Flanders. I love all the Classics, but I love the Spring Classics especially. Seeing Cav win Milan San Remo was incredible, to see Boonen win Paris-Roubaix was great, to see Schleck win Leige was sweet as well, but to see the Belgian Devolder repeat his win at Tour of Flanders held a meaning that goes to the very core of this race, to his pedigree, which makes him a national hero yet again, and brings this one to the top for me.

Notables: Team Columbia HTC should have an honorable mention notably as they really pulled off greatness in light of adversity, despite the other teams riding senslessly against them at times (Hincapie’s maillot jaune loss in TdF), they stuck it out and perhaps had the team of the year.

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9 comments

  1. Craig

    Rick Vosper has not mentioned a cycling race or a cyclist in his ‘cycling moments of the year’ and Padraig has mentioned only one cyclist, and a cyclist who didn’t win anything significant at that (unless you count a few mountain bike races).

    I cannot agree with captioning Lance Armstrong as ‘man of the year’.

    For me, the first two moments mentioned by Soleur are the in my top four. Team politics aside, Contador showed that he is, at present, an insuperable stage racer. Cancellara at the World Championships showed the same thing for the ITT.

    Number three is Cadel Evans’ victory in the road race World Championships because it was a fitting end to a season of great drama and contrast for him, and because he finally performed in a major race in a way that demonstrates the level of his talent. My final moment from professional cycling is Heinrich Haussler’s stage victory. This was a truly epic breakaway and again, a breakthrough moment for a rider that has been so close so many times.

    Trumping all of this was at 5:14am on the 5th of June on an empty road at the top of a mountain west of Tokyo. Coming over the top of that mountain and a warm, windless morning and seeing the sun rise over the city was one of the greatest moments ever on a bike. This, I think, is the point: if you enjoy this sport because of the goings-on of the industry or because you are a Lance Armstrong fan boy, you are probably in the sport for the wrong reasons.

  2. bramhall

    RV – Explain the USA bicycle inventory crisis a little more, please. I follow the news pretty well and work inside the industry, and I’ve only heard the very surface of this. I saw it first-hand before the crash last year when every bike with a retail under $1k was sold out in 51-58cm. It seems to me, though, that the majors (Trek, Specialized specifically) were able to weather that storm and have come through with lean inventories and swifter manufacturing turnaround.

    The last km of Milan-San Remo was my favorite race to watch this year. Haussler’s stage victory wouldn’t have been as sweet without that heartbreak.

    Last, I really wish Dorel didn’t own Cannondale. That way we couldn’t refer to Dorel as an entity involved in cycling just like we don’t refer to most of Dorel’s outlets as bike shops.

  3. chasey

    I’m surprised that the fact that some of these high profile doping stories escapes the big question I’ve had on my mind since Kenny Williams tested positive. Tyler Hamilton’s positive, followed by KW (after setting a world record), and very recently, Zirbel, for allegedly taking a testosterone precursor sold over the counter (DHEA).

    I’m not racing anymore but I follow the sport. I find it very curious that both Tyler Hamilton (known doper) and KW both tested positive for an “unnamed anabolic agent” this year and both confessed to taking DHEA, which is available over the counter and is reputed not to be a performance enhancer; yet Hamilton wins the Pro Nationals last year and KW sets a world record in pursuit this year. Something is rotten in Denmark, methinks.

  4. Trev

    I hate Lance and the whole Lance phenomenon. I know Contador is going to leave Lance in his wake again next summer. He has to . Karma would dictate nothing less.

  5. velomonkey

    Good write up – some thoughts and ideas on areas of improvement.

    What’s up with Garmin – to me Garmin has always been a story that has yet to be told. JV has made numerous allusions to what really goes on in the sport, but no one has him talking. See his IM messages with Frankie, or his interview where he said he got ragged on for the bee sting. Look at the talent that moved to Garmin and goes down a step or two – least of Dave Z. There is a big story here and no one ever pursues it. Perhaps Garmin is the most French team out there besides the actual French teams.

    Dr. T – justice was served. However, before we pat ourselves on the back, let’s hope the same justice is reached on the all-too-many similar incidents that happen outside of LA and without the same media coverage. Bottom line – most DAs never touch cases that are 100% identical. In this case, though, A+ all around.

    Lance – the American cycling media is killing itself by focusing only on this guy. Good immediate returns, I promise it will be bad long term. If the guy is ever found to be doping it will be as big as Tiger and his other hobbies and will damage the sport big time.

    Giro v tour – yea the tour is/was bigger and the racing had soap opera drama via twitter. As for race drama, the giro was way, way better. DeLuca is a cheat, but most likely no more or less than most if not all of the tour contenders and he races aggressively and the race came down to the wire. Much, much better than the tour.

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  7. roomservicetaco

    Surprised there was only a passing mention of Cav at Milan-San Remo, one of the most exciting finishes of the year

    Ditto for how good the Giro was from a racing standpoint, in particular the shootout between Menchov and DiLuca and the ITT in Cinque Terra.

    Perhaps this goes along with the comments about Lance and his return, but the enormous crowds at the TOC were impressive and hopefully brings long term prestige to the race and American interest in bike racing.

  8. Mike

    I have also had more than my fill of Lance. If he had finally retired and left cycling that would have been my favorite news story of 2009.

    Hopefully Contador et al. can push Lance completely off the TDF podium this year – that should make the “best of” short list for 2010.

  9. jza

    The hillS. With an ‘S’. And they’re out of high school now. For the record. You’re thinking of Laguna Beach. Which is so 2004.

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