Let’s start with a correction. I was wrong in last week’s column by naming Les Earnest as the sole opponent of the Mike Plant’s rather nefarious “reform” initiative back in the day. Board Member Chuck Collins was the only member of the board who voted against the measure, albeit with input from Earnest, American cycling’s Diogenes, who unfortunately is still walking the wilderness in search of an honest man. My apologies to Chuck and to Les for the error. I will attribute the oversight to an aging brain, if you’ll let me get away with that lame explanation.
Now, on to the business at hand. Well, we’re here; the last weekend of 2012.
As you recall, in last week’s column I also asked for input regarding the highlights and low points of the year. Several of you posted comments directly below the story and scores of you sent emails to my personal address.
It’s been a huge year.
It started out with Simon Gerrans’ win at the Tour Down Under last January and ended, I don’t know, maybe last evening when Bradley Wiggins was knighted, a reward for winning Olympic gold on home turf and, of course, doing rather well in that three week jaunt around France earlier in the year.
In between, we saw some spectacular racing, a bit of controversy and some guy from Texas refusing to defend himself when he was accused of stealing seven yellow items of clothing.
I have to say that on many, many levels the past 12 months were much better than the preceding year. Here’s hoping we continue on an upward path.
So, what were the best parts? Who were the best people? The worst? Having read your comments and emails – some of which actually changed my mind when it came to my picks – here goes:
Which of the three was the best grand tour?
This one was easy. Hands down, it had to be the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Compared to the other two, this year’s Giro was the clear winner. We all have to admit that even if you are a fan of Brave, Brave Sir Wiggo, the 2012 Tour was something of a sleeper, with the outcome never really in doubt and the route not offering much in the way of excitement. Three mountain-top finishes? In the Tour de France? Come on.
The following month, the Vuelta more than made up for France’s shortfall by including ten of them, including a brutal finish atop Bola del Mundo on the penultimate stage. We saw a great battle between Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and an impressive Alejandro Valverde. After missing out on the Giro, Rodriguez appeared to be on his way to winning his first-ever grand tour, until his spectacular implosion on Stage 17 to Fuente Dé.
Along the way, we also got to see five terrific stage wins by Argos-Shimano’s sprint sensation, John Degenkolb and a really great effort by Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clark to win the KOM jersey.
In most years, the 2012 Vuelta would have rated as the best of the three … but for the Giro.
The racing was even more exciting than it was in the Vuelta a España, with the final GC determined on the last-stage time trial (I am a big fan of those, anyway). Again, it was Rodriguez who put up an impressive fight for the leader’s jersey. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, he came into that final time trial with a scant 31-second lead over Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal. Over the course of a flat 30-kilometer time trial, Hesjedal was clearly the favorite of the two. Most observers predicted that Rodriguez – not known for his TT prowess – would lose at least two or three minutes that. Remarkably, he ceded only 47 seconds, losing in the final standings by 16 seconds.
But in the end the Giro belonged to Hesjedal, one of the nicest, most selfless and hardest working riders in the professional ranks. It was a great finish and not one anyone would have predicted when the race started in Denmark three weeks earlier.
The Giro, too, offered up an answer to the question: Which was the greatest day of racing?
“Greatest” is such a subjective term, but I can’t think of anything better than that absolutely amazing ride put in by Matteo Rabottini on Stage 15. Admit it. You probably hadn’t heard of Rabottini until he slipped off the front early in the 166km ride from Busto Arsizio to a mountain-top finish at Lecco-Pian dei Resinelli on dreadfully wet day.
Rabottini went on to shed his companion and soldiered on through the rain – even crashing at one particularly dicey turn – for more than 120k. As is almost always the case with these suicidal attacks, Rabottini was caught on the final climb, by Rodriguez, who was intent upon putting time into Hesjedal, who had just taken the maglia rosa from him the day before.
If you haven’t seen this finish, you must:
To quote an old beer commercial, “it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Which was the best classics performance of the year?
For me, it’s tough to come up with a single-day race that’s better than Paris-Roubaix. I just love that race (well, watching it, at least).
This year, the cobbled roads to the Roubaix velodrome served as the stage for Tom Boonen’s spectacular spring. Oft written off, Boonen is a resilient character and started a spectacular three-week-run with a win at the E3 Herelbeke, then won Gent Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. On April 8, Boonen capped off his Classics performance with an impressive solo finish in Roubaix.
The Spring Classics, with Fabian Cancellara back in contention, should be spectacular in 2013.
What were the highlights? – What were the low points?
As he’s been able to do since his return to the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong pretty much stole the headlines when it came to cycling this year.
His spectacular fall from grace rates as both the highlight and the low point for the year 2012. For me, the release of USADA’s 200-page “reasoned decision” – with its 1000+ pages of supporting documents, was a highlight. Yeah, sure, I’ve never been a fan of the guy, and I did experience a bit of Schadenfreude when things finally came out, but that wasn’t why it rates as the highlight.
For me, it was the highlight of the year, largely because the people who have long rated as the heroes of the sport – people I long trusted and admired – were finally proven to be right. Again, it wasn’t for the simple pleasure of watching them (quite deservedly) say “I told you so.” What made it the highlight was the admiration I felt for Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Greg and Kathy LeMond, Emma O’Reilly, Filippo Simeoni, Christophe Bassons, Stephen Swart, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, Dr. Prentice Steffen and scores of others who simply refused to be bullied into submission. Sued, slandered, threatened and more, they stuck to their stories.
I tip my hat to all of them. Chapeau.
The villains of 2012?
Yeah, sure, Armstrong, Bruyneel, Ferrari, et al … the whole gang of them rate. Nonetheless, my vote goes to the dynamic duo of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid.
Somberly expressing disappointment at what they claimed to have learned in the USADA revelations, McQuaid and Verbruggen declared that Armstrong has “no place in cycling.”
Well, I hate to say it guys, but neither do you. The UCI’s record was abysmal throughout the fraud perpetrated on this sport by that feller from Texas. If they didn’t know, they should have known. As Agent Mulder would have said, “the truth was out there.” From all appearances, the management of cycling’s international governing body simply didn’t want to see it.
Nope, it took someone with a healthy I-don’t-give-a-sh#t attitude to dig through the evidence and make a compelling case. Travis Tygart is, therefore, my Person of the Year, but only because he did what the UCI could have and should have done years and years ago.
So, there you have it. Feel free to disagree. Post your comments or send me an email at [email protected].
Have a happy New Year and let’s hope against hope that the news from cycling won’t involve another scandal, but just damn good bike racing.