July 3, 2015 – Over the next three weeks, I... Read more →
So much happens every year in cycling that all the heroics, the controversies, the victories and the memories become a blur in our minds. Some of these memories will always remains: Chris Froome donning the 100th Tour de France yellow jersey at twilight on a Champs-Élysées made even more spectacular than usual by a sensational sound-and-light show at the Arc de Triomphe; another Christopher, Horner, dueling with Vincenzo Nibali up the stair-steep Alto de L’Angliru to win the Vuelta a España at 41, the oldest Grand Tour champion in history; and Fabian Cancellara pulling off a Vlaanderen-Roubaix double in totally dominant fashion…. But there were also many other diverse accomplishments, surprises, disappointments, and upsets worthy of recording. Here are a few of them:
A for Armstrong: From the moment he decided to confess to his years of doping on Oprah in January, through to his battery of “redemption” meetings and “excuse” interviews in December, Lance Armstrong was never out of the news. Falling into a miasma of continuing scandals, his enormous, larger-than-life celebrity sent shock waves into every corner of the sport. Froome had to defending his clean reputation after “doing a Lance” on the Ventoux at the Tour; Armstrong’s anti-UCI accusations doomed its Irish president Pat McQuaid to election defeat; and the guilty-by-association mindset continues to taint everyone involved in pro cycling through the EPO era. Armstrong has lost his hero’s reputation, he’s lost all his sponsors, he gave up the executive jet, he was ditched by Livestrong, and he couldn’t even take part in a master’s swim race. And yet, whatever USADA decided, whatever was revealed in “The Armstrong Lie” documentary film or the damning “Wheelmen” book, the Texan’s notoriety lives on.
B for Berhane: He had to wait for the not-unexpected EPO-disqualification of homeboy Mustafa Sayer, but Eritrean Natnael Berhane of the French team, Europcar, could finally celebrate his victory at the Tour of Turkey as the first black African to win a UCI hors-catégorie stage race.
C for Costa: They said he was lucky to win the rainbow jersey in Florence ahead of Spanish teammates Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde, but Portugal’s Rui Costa already had enjoyed an amazing year. He had a repeat victory at Tour de Suisse, he was third overall at the Tour de Romandie, and he took two mountain stage wins at the Tour de France. And as he switches teams from Movistar to Lampre-Merida he’s capable of even bigger results in 2014.
D for Degenkolb: He may have been overshadowed on the Argos-Shimano team by fellow German sprinter Martin Kittel, but John Degenkolb had a pretty good year himself, with victory in two one-day classics, Paris-Tours and Hamburg’s Vattenfall Cyclassics, and a last-(kilometer)-gasp stage win at the Giro d’Italia.
E for EPO: Most people thought that the EPO era was over, but several individuals were still dumb enough to use the blood-boosting drug (and get caught using it!). The highest-profile culprits were one-time Giro winner Danilo Di Luca, who tested positive at a pre-Giro test and was subsequently banned for life, and his Vini Fantini-Selle Italia teammate Mauro Santambrogio, whose use of EPO was detected in a test after stage 1 of the Giro.
F for Froome: Born to English ex-pats living in Kenya, schooled in South Africa, now a resident of Monaco and holder of a British passport, Chris Froome is the sport’s most eclectic Tour de France champion. He won it as leader of British super-squad Team Sky, following in the footsteps of fellow Brit Brad Wiggins by winning the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné as preparation for his victory in the Tour—where his mountaintop stage wins at Ax 3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux left everyone shaking their heads in wonder.
G for Gesink: Gangly Dutch climber Robert Gesink has repeatedly failed to live up to his “big white hope” image in the Rabobank (now Belkin) team. But his inherent talent again revealed itself in 2013 with an opportunistic victory at the Grand Prix de Québec —three years after he pulled off a similar success in the other Canadian UCI WorldTour race, the GP de Montréal.
H for Horner: What looked like being a most disappointing season (because of a knee injury) turned into the most brilliant year yet for Chris Horner. His Vuelta a España victory at age 41 can’t be dismissed as a lucky success. He not only won two stages on mountaintop finishes but also came back from a heavy time-trial-stage loss to defeat Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali with brilliant climbing performance throughout the final week. The American veteran’s success made him the oldest-ever Grand Tour winner, but also perhaps made him regret spending his best years as a super-domestique for the likes of Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Armstrong.
I for Injuries: Though Horner recovered from his early-season knee injury to emerge with some of the best form of his career, others had their year wrecked by crashes and injuries. At the top of this list was Tom Boonen, who began the year with an infected elbow injury, crashed out of both Ghent-Wevelgem and the Ronde der Vlaanderen with a badly bruised hip and knee, and a later-diagnosed fractured rib. And had his season ended in August when a perineum cyst forced him to stop riding, let alone racing.
J for Johansson: Virtually all the talk in women’s cycling for the past couple of years has focused (correctly) on Marianne Vos, but not many race followers realized that the world No. 1-ranked female road racer at the end of this year is Emma Johansson. The 30-year-old Swedish champion had a phenomenal first season with Australia’s Orica-AIS team. In the eight single-day races that make up the UCI World Cup, she was never out of the top five, including three second places; in stage racing, she won Spain’s Emakumeen Euskal Bira and Germany’s Thüringen Rundfahrt, and was second at the Route de France; and in the world road race championship in Florence she was second to Vos.
K for Kittel: At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, German sprinter Marcel Kittel had a breakthrough year. He chalked up 16 wins (third best in 2013 behind Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish), highlighted by his four stage wins at the Tour—including the most prestigious one for sprinters: on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
L for Liège: In the spirit of fellow Irishman Sean Kelly, who twice won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Team Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin scored his most brilliant victory yet in the monumental Belgian classic. His instinctive uphill acceleration to drop Joaquim Rodríguez at the top of the final climb, after Canadian teammate Ryder Hesjedal set up the winning breakaway, was worthy of Kelly himself. Martin also won Spain’s Volta a Catalunya stage race and a mountain stage of the Tour de France that confirmed the Irish rider’s all-around abilities.
M for Mohoric: Not many people had heard of Matej Mohoric before he soloed away from the field to win the world under-23 road championship, but at age 19, he was the first rider to win the U23 title only a year after he did the same in the junior ranks. We’ll hear a lot more from the Slovenian, who’s a phenomenal climber, when he turns pro in 2014 with the Cannondale team alongside that other east-European prodigy, Peter Sagan.
Part 2 of this 2013 A to Z will begin with N for Nibali, and highlight the many other riders and races that contributed to a memorable year for cycling.
You can follow John on twitter.com @johnwilcockson
July 3, 2015 – Over the next three weeks, I... Read more →