Friday Group Ride #52

Fabian Cancellara: RKP’s man of the year, in the move of the year.

Okay, so we couldn’t leave a whole week without a post. It’s been a year of stories often as fascinating as they are frustrating. Robot and I have picked our five most significant (if not favorite) story lines.

Robot

1) Fabian Cancellara’s Roubaix/ Flanders Double—Few riders are able to completely dominate their competition quite the way Fabian Cancellara can when he’s in top form. His astonishing attack on the Muur in the Ronde, while seated mind you, is a move I will never forget. Then his turn of speed at Roubaix, with main rival Tom Boonen momentarily asleep at the switch, was thrilling. To ride off the front of a group containing Boonen, Thor Hushovd, Juan Antonio Flecha and a select crew of Classics specialists, demonstrates a power and quality we seldom see. Those two wins made Cancellara’s April my top highlight of the 2010 season.

2) The Rise and Fall of Contador—The American press tried to make the 2010 Tour about the duel between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, but Armstrong never had a chance, crashing out of contention early and then fumbling along to the finish. The real match was between Contador and Andy Schleck and that story served up all the drama and controversy of the very best Tours, with Contador standing on the top step in Paris to confirm his inheritance of the Armstrong/Indurain/Hinault/Merckx/Anquetil/Coppi legacy.

Oh, but then soaring so close to the sun, waxen wings melting in the bright light, Contador tests positive for Clenbuterol. And with this positive test, confirmed with a B sample reading, and hurled into judicial purgatory for the rest of the year, we see an abrupt end to the building legend, an end that tarnishes the futures of both the rider and the race.

3) Thor Hushovd’s World Championship—Coming off a World Championship year that saw 2009 winner Cadel Evans represent the rainbow jersey with grit, bravery and aplomb, the talismanic championship seemed open to sprinters and roleurs alike. In the end, the sprintingest roleur won the race, riding a smart tactical race with a short-handed team, only flexing his considerable muscle when it mattered most. Hushovd’s win was big for a hard-working rider, but also big for the jersey itself, as we are now almost guaranteed a second consecutive year of class from the world champ.

4) The First Biological Passport Suspensions—The UCI might have taken a more expeditious path to this stage of the fight against doping, but despite their missteps and the blundering press comments of president Pat McQuaid, the biological passport program finally produced some results in 2010. It remains to be seen how its parameters and administration will evolve as tools against cheaters, but with the first suspensions, we are finally seeing an adjunct program to in-race testing that seeks to catch the dopers who slip through the first net. Love it or hate it, the Passport must have dishonest riders worried that they’re running out of options, and that is, unquestionably, a good thing.

5) The SaxoBank Exodus/Luxembourg Project—It is hard for me to fathom how so many riders (and managers) whose careers were built and fostered by Bjarne Riis would be so willing to jump off the SaxoBank ship to join a fledgling team, regardless of the pedigree of its component parts. That Riis can be prickly, stubborn and aloof is beyond argument, but the mutiny of nearly his entire team is an outcome I never foresaw. Heap on top that insult, the injury of Contador’s doping problems, and it becomes very hard to argue that the Dane will land on his race-winning feet in 2011.

Padraig:

1) Cancellara’s Flanders/Roubaix Double—I have to echo Robot here. Not only were Cancellara’s back-to-back victories the wins of the year for me, I have to say that Cancellara’s attack on the Muur de Grammont—seated and spinning the 25 while Boonen looked to be standing on a 21—was absolutely the attack of the year for me. Both rides had me standing up and cheering.

That anyone would accuse the four-time time trial World Champion of using an electric motor is like asking about Kobe Bryant’s rocket boots he uses to get his jump shot. We should ignore the birthers. They’ll go away faster this way. We have real problems to contend with, as evidenced by number two.

2) The Contador Doping Case—From a standpoint of rules, I don’t see how Contador will escape a suspension due to his positive test for Clenbuterol. American rider Scott Moninger went to incredible lengths to demonstrate that what he tested positive for was as a result of supplements tainted by sloppy manufacturing. He purchased stock made in the same lot as the supplements he took and submitted sealed containers for testing. His defense was rigorously scientific … and he still got a one-year suspension due to strict liability. Contador’s defense has been far less methodical, which makes me far less sympathetic. His claims have, for me, smacked of the ‘dog ate my homework’ variety.

However, the bigger question on my mind has to do with testing for plasticizers. The detection of plasticizers in Contador’s sample suggests that officials may soon be able to prosecute riders more effectively for autologous blood transfusions. This seems to have been the preferred doping method for GC hopefuls for more than five years, but catching these riders has been less than successful. I don’t care who the rider is, if they’re transfusing, I want them caught and suspended as a result of a rigorously scientific prosecution.

3) The UCI’s Technical Criteria for Bike Approval—Bike companies have been screwed like an Ikea entertainment center by the UCI’s technical commission. Cinelli was nearly bankrupted due to the Spinacci fiasco. Their implementation of rules ahead of schedule sparked a seething rant from me that I ultimately deemed too angry to publish. I’m glad that a procedure to approve bicycles is in place. Unfortunately, the fee schedule to get a bike approved is expensive enough that some companies might think twice before submitting a design. Viewed within the larger expense of sponsoring a ProTeam team, it’s not so bad, but for companies that stretch to sponsor a Continental team, this could be a deal killer; after all, $12k is the cost of some riders. Leave it to the UCI to create a system that would scare bike companies from sponsoring a racing team. While this story will make more waves in 2011 than it did in 2010, that the criteria were decided and announced is huge. It’s an important step in the right direction.

4) The SaxoBank Exodus—Once Fabian Cancellara announced that he, too, would depart SaxoBank, I had a Sixth Sense moment. If you recall the Bruce Willis thriller, when you reach the end of the film and realize that he is the dead guy, you must reanalyze the entire picture—better yet, just watch it again. I began to wonder if all the praise riders had heaped upon Bjarne Riis was all Hollywood kiss-kiss, “Love ya, babe.” Presented with a viable option every rider worth anything jumped like passengers from the Titanic. It’s little surprise Richie Porte stayed behind; there’s nothing like watching the heirs apparent abdicate. ‘You say I’m king?! Cool!’

I can’t help but wonder what skeletons rattle in Riis’ closet.

5) The Fall of Lance Armstrong—Long before investigator Jeff Novitzky became interested in Tailwind Sports and Lance Armstrong, many cycling fans rebuked him like a banana republic reformer-cum-dictator. Allegations of doping swirled around him, proven sufficiently to some, while others simply saw the allegations as typical efforts to besmirch a hard-working athlete. Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France seems to have been more than disenfranchised Floyd Landis could bear. My read is that Landis believes he played by the same set of rules Armstrong did, won, and got a very different result. Forgetting for a moment how Landis has conducted himself (the most conclusive thing I can say is that some of his choices seem to have been based on fuzzy logic), it doesn’t seem hard to see how a man who has lost everything he worked for—wife, home, stepchild, a father-in-law, savings—decides he’ll burn the rest down. History is replete with examples of figures who refuse to go down alone, people who want others in the boat with them when the gunwales swamp.

Armstrong’s story has a lot of unfolding left to do. We knew the comeback would be a fresh chapter in the athlete’s career, but no one expected this turn. Novitzky’s reputation indicates that if he tires of his work as an investigator he could teach graduate seminars in tenacity. Armstrong is anything but convicted, but the allegations all point to a conclusion that will change the world’s opinion of him, and probably his foundation. The tragedy is that if he is convicted of charges associated with doping, most casual followers of cycling will think of Armstrong as a dirty athlete in a dirty sport and simply write off cycling as a force for good. Lost will be the story of an athlete who returned from the grave, played by the standard of the day and won the Tour de France … again and again and again and again and again and again.

And so we put the question to you: What were the biggest stories of the year in your eyes?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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15 comments

  1. Champs

    As a bicycle or component manufacturer, I would absolutely not spend a dime on UCI certification. Will €10k (if I recall) really be enough to stop them from another mid-season reversal like the Shiv

    Never mind the surprise reorganization of upper level teams from ProTour to ProTeam…

  2. Doug P

    Those racers who are, at this moment, withdrawing blood for use later this year will avoid clen, and keep their blood stored safely “under glass”. I offer no solutions, just observations.

  3. Lachlan

    Cancellara’s rides are stand out as far as riders performances go. By a long way for me. Pure class in every respect.

    Followed by the battles at the tour – it was really rather a good one with all manner of exciting rides and off the bike suspense…. including of course the Contador story that now drags on.

    However I’ve realised that the only reason that’s such a big story is because its the tour and he’s the champion. It’s not really about clem, or contador. There are other doping stories,in many sports I don’t even hear about, nor care about, because they are not to do with the tour. Which just confirms for me that the tour is the real “star”, as riders come and go, due to age or dope, I still end up with the same enthusiasm and love for July with its baking time trial,s high mountains and suffering. There will always be new riders to replace the cheaters, the arrogant but exciting to watch Texan’s, or the boring ones. Which is just as well these days…

  4. Marco Placero

    Clouds of Clenbuterol currently obscure clean rays emanating from sectors of cycling on a refreshing trajectory. I’m looking for hope in precedent set by a now lost leader– Aldo Sassi. I want to hope there’s a dynasty of hard working clean scientifically trained riders fighting it out against the darker forces. I’ll watch Ricco, Porte, Nibali with hope that a ray of sunshine will melt my frown.
    After the horrendous 2010, both in professional cycling and in much of the ‘normal’ world, hope and resolution rule. They have to.

  5. Scott

    Cancellara, Evans, Husvold and others stand out as exemplars of cycling and ones that all who love cycling can look to for examples of cycling worthiness – skill, cycling-brains, tenacity, ability and the integrity and honesty to be proud ambassadors for the sport.

    Lance Armstrong’s achievements, works for good and publicity machine may yet help counterbalance any proven adverse implications of a flaw in his career, a saving grace where others so accused have not measured as well on any scale. Just as many of the cycling immortals don’t all bear to much investigatory scrutiny, his record however will likely stand and possibly justifiably in the context of common practices of the time. Unfortunately, so also will Contador’s previous TdF wins and a gentlemen of the sport will still be the one who came but so close!

  6. randomactsofcycling

    I am yet to decide whether it is fortunate or unfortunate but the Floyd Landis allegations and subsequent Investigation are my story of the year. If they uncover half of what happened in the BALCO investigation there will be some serious re-designing of the cycling record books. Not only could the entire drug testing procedures be reviewed, again, but the UCI as an organisation that is responsible for the growth of cycling could be in serious trouble. If there ever was a place that resembled a house made of wax, the UCI is it. How soon before we see a ‘Premier League’ style break-away from the UCI?

    The other of the Cycling year has been Red Kite Prayer. I am finding that Cycling both at a Professional level and just ordinary Commuting, is more and more in the mainstream news. A forum that is not sensationalised but provides avenue for intelligent comment and insight is difficult to find regardless of the passion you support.

  7. Michael

    I choose to ignore the doping stories as being anywhere near the stories of the year – they are the final culling of the herd towards clean, ethical sport which is what I believe the story really should be reported as.

    Cycling media as a whole has some soul searching to do to enforce more rigorous journalistic and editorial standards. Right now the majority act more like the gang at TMz and the National Enquirer than as real media (this comment can be extended to a few major mass media outlets as well).

    Ok enough diatribe, I’ll come down off my soap box to answer the questions at hand;

    1 – Rider of the year – Philippe Gilbert – Cancellara was impressive, but rally from start to finish of en entire season I think that Gilbert’s body of work was deeper and his victories no less meaningful. Cancellara did everything in a 3 week form window with the blip being his WC in the TT. The fact that he simply gave up the ghost during the road race and didn’t bother to finish nullifies his TT victory for me. gilbert sparkled in the spring, summer and fall and was a major protagonist in just about every meaningful race he entered. Chapeau Philippe, vous avez mon admiration.

    2 – Attack of the year – Cancellara at the E3. Way more interesting to me than his Flanders attack which was strictly brute horsepower. He combined his horsepower with course knowledge and really caught both Flecha and Boonen out of sorts on that left hander. Brilliant timing.

    3 – Ride of the year – David Millar’s TT worlds 2nd place. The overused expression “turned himself inside out” is most applicable to his ride. Cancellara looked like an automaton who didn’t even break a sweat seemingly. Millar was CLEARLY working over his limit for the entire 2nd half of the race and his collapse at the finish showcased a rider who dug deeper than anyone thought possible. It was beautiful to watch.

    Honorable mention – Ryder Hesjedal on Stage 3 of the tour on the cobbles. I was hoping he’d hang on for the stage win, but the fact that he did not get dropped by the chase and lead out the sprint to the line was a gift to racing fans. Panache my friends, panache

  8. todd k

    +x on Cancellara. He had one heck of a run this spring and did so in convincing fashion. The WC in the time trial was icing.

    I will add that if you are a fan of Classics style one day racing, 2010 was a treat. We were provided with quite an entertaining year. There were some great stories out there in addition to Cancellara. Friere gets a third MSR and a Paris-Tours, Gilbert nabs an Amstel, Cadel captures La Flecha Wallone. Vino’s controversy stirring LBL victory. Gilbert repeats Lombardia. Thor’s WC. Even the grand tours had some stages that had a nice Classics appeal to them (I’m thinking Cadel’s stage win in the Giro as an example.) My opinion.

    Most over rated story of the year: So called “chaingate”.

  9. KB

    lost in all of the Cancellara, Luxembourg, Contador ramblings is that Basso stood on the top step at the Giro after serving his time which is a noteworthy achievement…Cancellara’s April is still tops though!

  10. Cross is boss

    My favorite ride of the year happened on American soil: Ben King soloing to the national championship. While the older generation of American cyclists were dragged around in the dirt with the doping allegations some young Americans were really shining. And it seems like they are doing it without doping. I really hope that they are doing it without doping!

  11. MattyVT

    Cancellara had several legendary rides this season, and indeed his fourth TT world title is amazing, but at times the dialog seems to center entirely around him as if few other riders put forth noteworthy performances. In some ways watching his virtuoso performances in the classics was like watching Armstrong at his Tour winning apex- dominant, awe inspiring, but also somewhat formulaic.

    I’m a Cancellara fan for sure, but for me the race of the year was the Giro. Seeing Cadel Evans claw back time on the other GC favorites with a strong, mud-spattered ride on the Strade Bianche is the capstone. Watching a real battle ensue among the contenders with no clear winner emerging until the end is really what grand tour racing should be all about.

  12. Michael

    I get a lump in my throat every time I see the vid of Cancellara’s attack in Flanders. This is what bike racing is about. The big attack is the stuff of legend.

  13. TV@VT

    Basso’s win at the Giro rates up there, too. The Giro this year was a great race – lots of great stages and leader changes, huge time gaps won and lost, and a seemingly clean redeemed champ.

    Great rides in the classics all year – where would we be without the Classics? Friere’s come from nowhere win at MSR, Cancellara’s double, Evans at FW (or was it Amstel?), Vino’s very controversial LBL win, plus Gilbert’s surgical mastery of Lombardy for the second year in a row… Deserving winners in well fought races. Definitely a highlight of the whole year. And not a doping positive among them.

    The American-ization of the Euro team bikes – Specialized, Trek, SRAM, even Zipp. No Colnago, LOOK marginalized, Campy marginalized, etc.

  14. P. Poppenjay

    My choice,clearly,is total agreement with randomactsofcycling’s second paragraph. This man understands excellence!

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