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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to say where the urge to write develops. There are probably as many motivations as there are writers. In the beginning there is a desire to connect with an audience. That currency, the connection any writer forges with his audience, is the paycheck that gets him started. It certainly did for me.
No matter what the subject matter is, sharing something true with another person is a powerful experience. Initially, when I began writing for myself, I wrote songs. I soon moved to poetry when I saw the incredible power of the confessional poets and the surreal majesty and heart-rending tragedy of poets like James Tate and Mark Strand. When I saw what could be achieved in such tightly wound passages I was hooked.
And while seeing someone’s reaction to my work was good enough to get me started, for any writer who persists, there comes a point when the doing is the paycheck. It’s no different than with cycling. We all want to win races, and the image of us thrusting our arms Godward can infect dreams lit by sun or moon. However, at some point you either learn to love the training itself, or you move on to poker or golf or whatever.
Writing, like cycling, is a love of the craft itself.
But writing has an advantage to bike racing. When I post a new piece, it’s like hitting the final kilometer and each positive comment is like a spot on the podium. I can’t say how many positive notes constitute a win, but at some point I feel as if I threw my bike at just the right moment.
The funny thing is that while the reinforcement that comes from a positive comment spurs me to want to write more and to repeat the experience, the comments of the naysayers, those who think I am a chain minus a master link, are the ones that spur me. Those comments have the power to make me dig deeper into my thoughts.
That I’ve found in cycling a vein rich enough to continue to mine year after year amazes me more than I can describe. In this regard, I must acknowledge Radio Freddy and Belgium Knee Warmers. It was in writing for BKW that I discovered an opportunity to take a magazine form—the column—and use it as a vehicle for analyzing my own thoughts on everything from doping to the well of motivation that keeps us riding day after day.
Radio Freddy gave me a very long leash on which to roam. Leaving BKW was a tough choice, but by the time I made that choice, I had developed my own vision for what a cycling blog could do and what I had to offer.
BKW celebrates three years today with a new skin and a renewed commitment by Radio Freddy. It’s great to see and it’s nice to know that RKP will have a sister site out there doing great work. We’ve discussed some cross-pollination. Watch for some joint posts in the future.
As I mentioned, leaving BKW wasn’t easy, but I had ideas of my own, and it’s not cool to take a bike out for a test ride and come back 100 miles later. I agonized about being the only voice in RKP. Fortunately, I got a lot of encouragement from some smart people.
Bill McGann, formerly of Torelli and these days of Bike Race Info, said to me, “You only need one good voice. You’ve got a good voice.” And while I trust Bill like I trust handmade tubulars in a corner (which is to say “all in”), I made the decision to actively court contributors. I’m pleased to call Da Robot a regular contributor. And with contributions from Bill and Rick Vosper (both of whom were working in the industry while I was still in grade school) I can say I’m both lucky and honored.
But that’s the point here; I’m lucky to have a passionate readership, even if sometimes you think I’m Amy Winehouse-crazy. In my mind, the only way you’ll keep coming back is if I give my very best and that, in part, means giving you more than just me.
A lot has happened since I wrote the last Thanksgiving post, but the two big ones are launching this blog and the birth of my son. I’m incredibly grateful for him and the love he has brought my wife and me.
You, the readers have played a special part in this. It’s because of your consistent reading that I have advertisers and those advertisers help me to be able to work from home and care for him during the day. It’s a delicate balance, but one that I anticipate will get a little easier as I become more experienced as a father.
So I am writing now to declare my thanks for you, dear readers. You give me the freedom to follow my many whims as a writer and the ability to share more time with my son than I’d manage in any other working situation.