Almost every year cycling reaches peak interest at the end of July with the culmination of the Tour de France, but 2013 was the year in which Lance Armstrong ensured mid-January saw the sport’s defining moment. Armstrong took to the US airwaves to finally admit what everyone already knew, that he had been a drugs cheat throughout his career. Accepting an invitation from the queen of chat-show hosts Oprah Winfrey, whose inexperience as an investigative reporter, or perhaps due to contractual obligations, made for a rather shallow and unrevealing admission, Armstrong began the quest to rebuild his reputation by coming clean.
He admitted to have taken doping products, notably the blood-booster EPO, throughout all seven of his record number of Tour de France successes, of which he had already been stripped by the US Anti-Doping agency (USADA). But he stopped a long way short of lifting the lid on the hows, whys and who were involved of his sordid past, leaving many viewers feeling a sense of frustration at having been told no more than was already widely suspected. But the end of that long-running saga, which had seen Armstrong relentlessly pursued by journalists aiming to uncover his dodgy dealings throughout his career, and then by a subsequent federal inquiry followed by a USADA investigation, promised to cast a shadow over the entire season. And so it proved as Briton Chris Froome’s excellence and domination of the greatest race of them all was accompanied by a steady stream of unsavory speculation.
Time and again Froome was forced to answer questions about doping, about whether he was involved and about whether cycling could emerge from its tainted past into a bright new, and clean, future. Froome himself was majestic, winning the Grand Boucle by more than four minutes from talented Colombian climber Nairo Quintana. And he also did so without the dominance from Team Sky that his teammate and predecessor Bradley Wiggins had enjoyed the previous year.
He had crashed in the neutral zone on the very first stage in Corsica, effectively lost two team-mates to crashes early on in the race and was left isolated on stage nine, the day after his imperious victory up Ax 3 Domaines had put him in yellow. Only gritty determination ensured he lost no time to the relentless attacks launched by a particularly sprightly Movistar team, whose leader Alejandro Valverde would eventually be eclipsed by younger statesman Quintana. Froome’s super-domestique Richie Porte had cracked that day but he came back to form in the final week to help his leader extend his lead with victory on Mont Ventoux. It capped a fine year for Froome in which he won the Tour of Oman, Criterium International, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine, while finishing second in the Tirreno-Adriatico.
It was a polar opposite year for Wiggins, who had decided to take on the Giro d’Italia only to be forced to withdraw after stage 12 following a miserable race in which a crash and puncture had lost him time before he then lost his bottle on wet descents and eventually caught a cold to boot. He pulled out of his Tour de France defense due to injury and refocussed on the World Championships time-trial, but although he was dominant in that discipline the previous year, winning Olympic gold, this time he finished second to Tony Martin, who won for the third year in a row.
There was a shock in the road race in dire conditions with Rui Costa, of Movistar, triumphing ahead of a tearful Joaquim Rodriguez. Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro d’Italia on home soil but came up short in his quest for a second Vuelta a España when American veteran Chris Horner, at the age of 41, stunned the whole field in achieving the greatest result of his life. For Rodriguez, who finished third at the Tour and fourth in the Vuelta, there was the consolation of finishing top of the overall UCI World Tour standings.