Category Archives: Year in review

A look back at the cycling season that was.

2016 season in review: The year of Monument firsts

2016 was the year of Trump, Brexit, Zika, the Rio Olympics, Russians in Syria, terror in Brussles, terror in Nice, Climate change and nuclear deals, Pokemon Go, and Celebrities dying. It was also the year that Peter Sagan won his first monument and retained his world title, and Chris Froome ran up Mont Ventoux on his way to winning a third Tour de France.

I was in tough to pick a name for this years year in review. At first I was going to go with ‘the year of the Brits’. I mean, Froome won the Tour again, he was second at the Vuelta and he won an Olympic medal. The British track team dominated those games with some record breaking and historic moments. Geraint Thomas won the Paris-Nice and Team Sky got their first Monument win by way of a non-British rider. But it was the later that got me thinking of another kind of year this was: The year of first time Monument winners. And given that the majority of my focus is around road cycling, I figured that might be more apt.

Yes, all five monument winners were first time winners and there was some other firsts on top of that. Arnaud Demare won his first at Milan-San Remo. He became the first Frenchman to win a Monument since Laurent Jalabert took the 1997 Giro di Lombardia. Peter Sagan was next to break his Monument duct when he won at the Tour of Flanders. There had been even more pressure on him to win one than the whole of Team Sky and he delivered in style, wearing the rainbow jersey. A week later Matt Hayman got his first in superb fashion, at Paris-Roubaix.  Then, two weeks later, Team Sky finally got theirs when Wout Poels won Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He became the first Dutchman to win that race since Adri van der Poel in 1988. Following this, a summer of Grand Tour racing commenced in which the same old faces took home the spoils. Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana all proved victorious. The firsts came back  though at the fifth and final Monument: Il Lombardia. Esteban Chaves became the first Colombian to win a Monument and you don’t expect it will be their last. Likewise for Team Sky and Peter Sagan.

2016 was a monumental year for the world in lots of ways, though not always for good. There was controversy, political shake ups, and the continued threat of terror. The later even hit home to the cycling world with the events in Brussels and Paris. The attacks in Belgium came in the midst of the spring classics season. There was talk of cancelling the E3 Harelbeke as a mark of respect as well as for security reasons. But it went ahead and Michal Kwiatkowski won that day in a two-up sprint with Peter Sagan. Then there was the terrible attack in Nice while the Tour was taking place; hours after Froome was running up Ventoux. The threat and the fear was real and there was talk of cancelling the next days stage. But, cycling is the French sport; the Tour is their showpiece event and a window into the counties culture. By racing on the next day they showed that France itself would keep going.

So while the world was embroiled in political upheaval, the cycling season continued unabated. It wasn’t completely without scandal, of course. There was the Team Sky TUE issue that came off the back of the Fancy Bears hack. That had come in retaliation to the exposure of the depths of cheating within the Russian system…particularly in athletics. That then led to the timing of and type of TUE use by Bradley Wiggins and how that equated to Team Sky’s ethical stance. And from that to the mysterious jiffy bag and what was in it? Some questions remain unanswered and could drag into 2017. At worst Team Sky’s reputation took a dent. At best we got a reminder of how far cycling has come that this is what is now considered a major scandal in cycling.

Of course, there were some awful real and dark moments that hit cycling hard too. The Giant-Alpecin team were in Majorca when a car ploughed into their training ride. The incident injured six riders including John Degenkolb and Warren Barguil. Things got worse a few months later for the sport with the tragic deaths of Antoine Demoitié, 25, and Daan Myngheer, 22 on back-to-back days in March. Demoitié crashed and was then hit by a motorcycle at  Gent–Wevelgem. Myngheer had a heart attack during the first stage of the Critérium International. Then in May, during the Tour of Belgium, a crash caused by motorbikes brought down Stig Broekx. The Belgian suffered severe injuries and was placed into an induced coma. In June his Lotto Soudal team announced that Broeckx was in a vegetative state with severe brain damage. This past week it emerged that Broeckx had come out of his coma, but still faced a long road to recovery.

It was a rough time but the sport rallied around itself as it always does, and the racing continued. From those Monuments to the Grand Tours to the one week and other one day races, there was too much to mention here in any fair detail. As such what follows now are five moments of 2016 that stood out for me. They were the ones I thought of right away when I began to consider the season. So here they are, followed by several annual awards.

TOP 5 MEMORABLE MOMENTS

1. FROOME’S CHANGE OF TACTICS…INCLUDING RUNNING!
Before this past July, had you asked how Chris Froome might win the Tour, I would have resorted to the obvious. You know, attacking on the first summit finish, taking time in the time-trials, and marking his rivals the rest of the way. Froome did all that of course, but what you never would have thought to see was Froome attacking on a descent and attacking in the crossing winds. Then when his crisis moment came, and his Tour seemed in real trouble, we got the single best moment of the season. With his bike broke on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, Froome started running. It was an epic sight and one of the great images in the history of the great race. That picture of Froome running up Ventoux, swarmed by fans, was the moment of the 2016 season. It showed us the character of Froome and the determination that lies within him. At the 2016 Tour, Chris Froome looked less a robot than some perceive him. He attacked when his rivals least expected it and he chased every advantage he could. He animated what was an otherwise quiet Tour; made so, in some ways, by the strength of the team around him. In 2016 Froome became an opportunist as well as a three time Tour de France winner.

2. PETER SAGAN WINS AT FLANDERS
It had been coming. Near misses time after time…all those second places. But you got the feeling that with last years world championship win, Sagan had finally figured it out. You couldn’t imagine a rainbow curse with this man, and you felt 2016 might well belong to him. All that was missing from his already stacked palmares was a Monument. He placed well throughout the spring classics but his win at Gent-Wevelgem the week before hinted at peak form arriving at the perfect time. He rode strong through the race and on the final run up the Oude Kwaremont, he put the hammer down and blew away his final rival Sep Vanmarcke. That day he became a Monument man and you know it’s only the first.

3. THE FINAL WEEKEND OF THE GIRO
The Giro d’Italia looked won and done going into the final weekend. Steven Kruijswijk looked set to do what his fellow Dutchman, Tom Dumoulin fell a day shy of doing the previous September, and win a Grand Tour. He only had one weekend to see out. His nearest rival, Esteban Chaves was three minutes behind him. Pre-race favourite Vincenzo Nibali had been nowhere the whole race. But never count out the Shark, especially an Italian one who has won each Grand Tour before. On the cold, snow lined decent of the Colle dell’Angello, Nibali stepped up. He attacked the descent and on one fast corner, Kruijswijk ran wide and flew into the snow. He cracked completely in the ensuing chase and lost his pink jersey to Chaves as Nibali took the stage. The following day Nibali struck again. He didn’t win on the Sunday but he put time into his rivals and leapfrogged Chaves to take the race lead with a day to go. He had seized victory from the jaws of defeat. Chaves had to settled for second and Kruijswijk fell to forth behind Alejandro Valverde. It was a supreme comeback by Nibali.

4. MAT HAYMAN WINS PARIS-ROUBAIX
It was the race billed as the final showdown between Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. If anyone was to spoil the party, it was Peter Sagan. Nobody gave an Australian named Matt Hayman, two weeks shy of his 38th birthday, a second look. Even when he got into the decisive move, nobody considered him. Not when it also contained classic names like Boonen, Stannard, Vanmarcke and Boasson Hagen. Yet when those five exhausted men opened up their final sprint inside that fabled velodrome, it was Hayman who timed it to perfection. With a face of utter shock he took the biggest win of his career.

5. CANCELLARA GOES OUT A CHAMPION
For Fabian Cancelleara 2016 was to be a retirement tour. Not in the typical sense of coasting it and receiving the accolades, but in trying to go out on top. It looked good when he won the Strade Bianche at the beginning of the season in real Cancellara style, but then he began to miss out on targets. He failed to win any of his beloved spring classics, highlighted by his crash at Paris-Roubaix and failure to catch Peter Sagan at Flanders. And he failed to finish both the Giro and the Tour. At both it was others who took the time-trial glory. It seemed like it had been a year too far for the great Swiss rider when he showed up to his final event at the Rio Olympics. Given his time-trial form, the road race seemed his best chance, but write him off at your pearl. In that race of truth, names like Dumoulin, Dennis and Froome were favourites; expected to prevail above Fabian. But Fabian dug deep. He dragged out one last effort from a body that had served him so well over the years. He smashed the course and took the gold by 47 seconds over Dumoulin and 1min 2sec on Froome. It was a brilliant way to go out and into retirement, doing so in a way in which we will all remember him: A champion.

Honorable mentions:

There were other magical moments too. Remember Tyler Farrar borrowing a fans bike and shoes to complete a stage at the Tour Down Under? And who can forget both Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan each finally getting a day in the yellow jersey? And speaking of Cavendish…how about his return to the throne as peloton sprint king? What about Contador and Quintana putting the hammer down on Chris Froome at the Vuelta? Van Avermaet becoming an unlikely Olympic champion on a hilly course? And Peter Sagan retaining his world championship crown in the desert? No doubt some of those will stand out as the best memories to some, while others will have moments I have completely failed to acknowledge. Such is the health and beauty of this sport now in 2016.

AWARDS

Cyclist of the Year: CHRIS FROOME
Some will disagree with this given I’ve overlooked Peter Sagan. But let’s face it, Chris Froome won the Tour de France in dominant fashion, taking two stage wins along the way. He then left France for Rio and took a bronze medal in the individual time-trial with a 12th place finish in the road race. Days later he flew into Spain and started the Vuelta, winning two stages and finishing second overall. Of the six stage races Froome entered in 2016, two of them Grand Tours, he won three and was second in another. If it was in doubt before the season began, there was no doubt when it ended that Froome was the best stage racer on the planet.
Runners up: Peter Sagan, Romain Bardet, Esteban Chaves and Mark Cavendish.
Past winners: 2011 – Philippe Gilbert; 2012 – Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 – Vincenzo Nibali; 2014 – Vincenzo Nibali; 2015 – Peter Sagan.

Sprinter: MARK CAVENDISH
The majority of experts had written Cavendish off. Sure people felt he could win a race or two here and there, but his days of sprint dominance, especially at the Tour, were over. But Cavendish always believed. He had turned his training to the track ahead of the Olympics and it appeared to help him find his pure speed again. He won the opening stage of the Tour, at last, to pull on his first yellow jersey and went on to win four stages in all. He won across the season, got an Olympic medal on the track and also took the GC at the Tour of Qatar.
Past winners: 2011 – Mark Cavendish; 2012 – Mark Cavendish; 2013 – Marcel Kittel; 2014 – Marcel Kittel; 2015 – Andre Greipel.

Climber: CHRIS FROOME
I thought hard about this one. I looked back at results because I couldn’t remember anyone completely dominating the mountain stages. And so it proved to be. Quintana was brilliant at the Vuelta, but invisible at the Tour. Froome was untouchable in France but vulnerable at the Vuelta. Niabli only showed up on the final weekend of the Giro and Contador is a shadow of his former climbing self. Esteban Chaves was consistent without being dominant. So who to pick? As push has now come to shove, I’ve gone with Froome. He was above and beyond the rest at Le Tour and was only edged at the Vuelta. Indeed, but for that calamity day when he lost his team as Contador and Quintana stole a march on him, he might well have won that race too despite tired legs.
Past winners: 2011 – David Moncoutie; 2012 – Joaqium Rodriguez; 2013 – Chris Froome; 2014 – Nairo Quintana; 2015 – Chris Froome.

Time-trialist: CHRIS FROOME
This was also a tough one. Nobody dominated the time-trials this season either. Different men won at the Tour, at the Olympics and the World Championships. So I’ve gone with Froome for that reason. The pure time-trialists failed to dominate and Froome even got in on the mix in their races. He won a time-trial at the Tour, the Vuelta and placed third at the Olympics.
Past winners: 2011 – Cadel Evans; 2012 – Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 – Tony Martin; 2014 – Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2015 – Rohan Dennis.

Most complete rider: PETER SAGAN
This one required the least thought of all. How could it not be? He won in spring on the cobbles, he won at the Tour and he retained his world championship. In any race that didn’t involve high mountains he was in the mix. He won yet another green jersey at the Tour including three stages with ten top ten finishes along the way. He was brilliant to watch. He is money in the bank.
Past winners: 2014 – Alejandro Valverde; 2015 – Peter Sagan.

Team: IAM CYCLING
This may seem so bizarre given they finished second last in the UCI World Tour team rankings and announced their withdrawal from the sport. But sod those rankings. They’re not well structured as far as I’m concerned. They factor in riders positions in general classifications rather than individual stage results. And the fact they announced their departure from the sport with more than half the season still to go only solidifies my decision. It would have been so easy for moral to sink and heads to drop, yet on they raced and they won stages at each of the three Grand Tours. Few teams achieved that feat. They worked hard and they got involved in races and we will miss them.
Past winners: 2012 – British Olympic track team; 2013 – Orica GreenEdge; 2014 – Tinkoff-Saxo; 2015 – Team Sky.

Hard man: PIERRE ROLLAND
Eyebrows raised when Pierre Rolland moved to Cannondale last winter. Moving away from the comfort of a French team was a brave decision. But the Frenchman wanted to reward his new team for showing faith in him and he wanted to do so at the Tour. But fate wasn’t on his side. He crashed a couple of times, once in a bad way and ought to have abandoned. Indeed speaking recently his team manager Jonathan Vaughters expected him to do so. Yet, on he went and the next day there he was in the break. He crashed again later in the Tour and never got the win he deserved but still came in 16th on GC.
Past winners: 2011 – Johnny Hoogerland; 2012 – Johan Van Summeren; 2013 – Geraint Thomas; 2014 – Alberto Contador; 2015 – Adam Hansen.

Domestique: WOUT POELS
An easy choice as far as I could see. Poels is a fine rider in his own right, highlighted by his victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but he bent himself over backwards for Froome at the Tour. People complain about the dominance of the Sky team and their ability to control mountain stages, but like that or not, you have to admire Poels. He was always the last man with Froome and was never more crucial that on stage 19 when Froome crashed. It was Poels who guided him home that day ensuring a third Tour win would be Froome’s.
Past winners: 2013 – Adam Hansen; 2014 – Tony Martin; 2015 – Geraint Thomas.

King of Spring: PETER SAGAN
Throughout the spring classics season I ran a competition to find the best overall rider. Usaing the 14 major spring clasic races from Omloop through to Liège, including the 4 Monuments, the points format took on that of Formula One with 25pts for 1st down to 1pt for 10th) and each race was equal regardless of status. Needless to say, Sagan walked it with 104 points. Cancellara was second on 67 points and Enrico Gasparotto third on 53 points.
Past winners: 2012 – Tom Boonen; 2013 – Peter Sagan; 2014 – Niki Terpstra; 2015 – Alexander Kristoff.

Retiring: GOOD BYE TO…
Fabian Cancellara, Joaqium Rodriguez, Ryder Hesjedal, Frank Schleck, Johan Vansummeren, and JC Peraud, among others.

Have a happy Christmas and a merry new year. I’ll be back then and within a few weeks of 2017 getting under way, so too will a new cycling season at the Tour Down Under.

2015 season in review: The year of motorbikes knocking over cyclists

2015 was the year terror struck Paris, twice; a Syrian child refugee washed up dead on a Turkish beach; the VW emissions scandal hit; an Iranian nuclear deal was struck; a new Canadian Prime Minister was elected; and Marty & Doc arrived in the future. But it was also the year that John Degenkolb done a Kelly; Contador, Froome and Aru won Grand Tours; Tom Dumoulin became a GC rider; and Mr. Everything, Peter Sagan, shook up the Worlds.

It was a busy year for me, reflected by the fact I wrote so little. Virtually nothing before the Tour, a little on the Vuelta, and a report of my trip to watch the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. Not a word was typed on the Giro, and even the World Championships and Peter Sagan’s stunning victory came and went without note. Such is life. But that didn’t mean I didn’t watch as much as I could, though I didn’t watch the Giro and was left resorting to live minute-by-minute text updates. Still I seen enough to know it was a fine year of cycling and while it’s much too late to go back now and rehash it all race by un-documented race, what would the end of one season and the start of another be if I didn’t pause briefly to look back in broad terms at the year that was so I can at least get something about it down on record…and hand out some awards.

There were some memorable moments in 2015, as there are in every cycling season, I suppose, and those deserve a mention. Consider for a moment the following magical moments in rough chronological order, just to remind yourself how much you seen, heard, took in, and enjoyed: Riders refusing to race at the Tour of Oman; the wind at Ghent-Wevelgem; Wiggins attacking at Paris-Roubaix; John Degenkolb winning Paris-Rouabix; Alex Dowsett’s Hour Record pre-Wiggins; Richie Porte recieving a time penalty for taking a wheel from Simon Clarke at the Giro; Contador blitzing Aru across the Mortirolo; Romain Bardet’s descent at the Dauphine; that huge crash at the Tour which all but eliminated Cancellara in Yellow, days before Tony Martin also crashed out in Yellow; Tony Martin winning the cobble stage at the Tour and taking the Yellow jersey after so many near misses; Chris Froome on the Col de Soudet; Chris Froome having piss thrown at him and then defending himself against former French professionals; Peter Sagan descending off the Col de Manse; Vincenzo Nibali holding onto his team car and getting DQ’d at the Vuelta; Tom Dumoulin fighting to retain Red at the Vuelta, but falling short; Fabio Aru redeeming his 2nd at the Giro with his first GT win at the Vuelta; Vincenzo Nibali redeeming himself by winning Il Lombardia solo in front of his adoring home fans; and motorbikes running into riders countless times.

An unbelievable year in the sport, so many talking points, and not a single doping scandal (though there was the release of the CIRC report back in early March). And yet I’ve left five other special moments off that long list. Those five are the ones that, for me at least, rose above the rest and jumped to my mind first when I initially cast my mind back on the cycling year that was. Here are those, followed thereafter by a number of other awards…

TOP 5 MEMORABLE MOMENTS

1. ENTIRE FIRST WEEK OF THE TOUR
I grew up watching a Tour in which a flat and simple first week belonged to the sprinters while the overall contenders stayed out of the way and out of trouble. Not so in 2015. What the race organisers laid down was, I believe, the most difficult and chaotic first week in memory. We had a record breaking time-trial, cross-winds, muurs, cobbles, crashes, men riding wounded, panic, time splits, multiple changes in Yellow, multiple Yellow abandonments, a team-time-trial, riders exhausted and some teams severely depleated. It was a week that the likes of Vincenzo Nibali was expected to shine and Chris Froome to struggle, and yet by the time it was all said and done, with the high mountains still to come, it was Froome in Yellow with his rivals lagging behind. If the Tour had finished after that first week rather than simply entering its first rest day, we couldn’t have said we were sold short.

2. SAGAN WINS THE WORLD ROAD RACE CHAMPIONSHIP
It was something special, wasn’t it? And it was almost inevitable, despite the many second place finishes he had throughout the season. We barely seen him the entire race, his small national team not expected to do the work expected of the big nations, and while others took their turn to go up the road and the laps ticked down, you just got this feeling that Sagan had finally learned from all the mistakes that had cost him so many additional wins before, and that this time he was going to get it right. And there he was on the last run up that sharp little climb, kicking hard, not giving the rest a chance, opening a gap of maybe ten metres by the top. Not enough by anyones ability, anyone that is beyond the unlimited talents of Sagan. There was a descent to come with some tight corners, and that was what he was banking on. He swept through them and the gap grew. And then he was gone. He began to fade near the end but by then it was too late for the rest, and he even had time to sit up and naunclantly take in the moment as he rolled across the line, celebrating the biggest win of his career in a manor that only Sagan can. And everyone in the cycling world to a man was delighted.

3. STEVE CUMMINGS OUTDUELS FRENCH DUO TO WIN STAGE 14 OF THE TOUR FOR AN AFRICAN TEAM ON MANDELA DAY
It was an amazing come from behind victory by the British rider, against two French favourites, while riding for an African team on Mandela Day. Cummings was part of a large break that reached the final short but steep climb, the Côte de la Croix Neuve, well ahead of the peloton, and while the young French hopes of Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot went on the attack, Cummings went into time-trial mode and switched off from the rest. By the summit he was still close, and as the Frenchmen began to play a game of cat and mouse to see who would lead out the sprint, the lion Cummings put his head down and moved in for the kill. He built up speed and, to the shock of the cautious French pair looking st one another, roared past and immediately opened a gap; a gap they wouldn’t close. The French cannot have enjoyed watcing the British dominate their race in recent years, from Wiggo to Froome to Cav, and this one must have stung more than most, but who could complain, for like Jalabert winning for the French on Bastille Day 1995 at the same finish, Cummings won for his African team on Mandela Day. It was a beautiful ride full of courage, grit and determination.

4. IAN STANNARD OUTDUELS ETTIX TRIO TO WIN 2ND OMLOOP
The theory of it may sound much like the moment above; it even contained a British rider, but the difference lay in the fact that Ian Stannard couldn’t take advantage of the element of surprise. In this one, he came into the final kilometres surrounded by three Ettix Quick Step riders, Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra. The odds were stacked against him, especially given the experience of the opposition, but still, towards the run in, Stannard sat in while the Ettix boys tried to keep a chasing Stijn Vandenbergh at bay, so by the time the duel for the win began, Stannard had relitively fresh legs. When the first Ettix attack came, by their sprinter, Boonen—the first mistake—Stannard didn’t panic and slowly reeled him in. When the next attack came, this time by Terpstra, it lacked power and it was an Ettix rider that bright him back—the second mistake. That moment of uncertainty among his rivals signalled an opportunity for Stannard; he kicked hard and broke the back of Boonen and Vandenbergh leaving only Terpstra as his remaining competition. The final Ettix mistake came when Terpstra opted to lead out the sprint and the big man Stannard roared around him inside the final few hundred metres to win his secont Omloop on the trot. Ettix were rightly criticised post-race, but Stannard deserved the praise for such a gutsy ride.

5. WIGGINS SETS NEW WORLD HOUR STANDARD
I watched this on my phone in a pub near my house with a friend who was over from the UK visiting. He wasn’t a big cycling fan and so I explained the relavance of the World Hour record within the sport, the history, and the respect with which it is afforded, and how a tweaking to the rules in the past year had seen several riders go for, and break, the standard. Wiggins however was a different kattle of fish, and he was expected to set a distance that would put the record out of reach and end these quick succession attempts by others. While the atmospheric conditions weren’t entirely favourable, Wiggins still lived up to expectations with a distance of 54.526. His track craft was obvious, his position flawless—you know, that steady position that makes you believe you could place a full glass of wine on his back and not spill a drop—and nodody has since tried to better it, and may not for some time.

AWARDS

Cyclist of the Year: PETER SAGAN
In the early season, Peter Sagan couldn’t buy himself a big victory as the likes of John Degenklob became the first man since Sean Kelly to win the Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in the same year and Alexander Kristoff won 5 races in the first 9 days of April including the Tour of Flanders. Even into the Tour Sagan struggled to pick up an actual victory, but then there was the remarkable fact that he finished in the top five in 11 of 21 stages in that Tour to go with top results in a number of the spring classics. He was always on the attack in France, featuring on all kinds of terrain and cementing his forth straight Green jersey prize. And while others faded as the season went on, Sagan got stronger. There was that superb overall victory at the Tour of Califnoria with his climb up Mt. Baldy, and then finally, he put those big-race second place finishes behind him once and for all at the Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia with a memorable solo win. Sagan proved himself beyond doubt to be the most versatile, aggressive and charasmatic rider in the sport.
Runners up: John Degenklob, Alexander Kristoff, Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin.
Past winners: 2011 Philippe Gilbert; 2012 Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 Vincenzo Nibali; 2014 Vincenzo Nibali.

Sprinter: ANDRE GREIPEL
Hard to look beyond his four stage wins at the Tour de France to go with his 15 total race wins for the season. He got the better of Cavendish more than anyone thought he could and with Marcel Kittle having an off season he took full advantage. He even pressed Peter Sagan further than anyone felt possible for the Green jersey before finally relenting when the Slovak turned on the style on the hilly roads. Can he repeat in 2016 or will Kittel and Cavendish, both on new teams, bounce back?
Past winners: 2011 Mark Cavendish; 2012 Mark Cavendish; 2013 Marcel Kittel; 2014 Marcel Kittel.

Climber: CHRIS FROOME
Say what you like about the climbing style of Nairo Quintana and the punishment he laid out on a sick Chris Froome on Alpe d’Huez, the fact remains when push came to shove on that first big climb of the Tour on stage 10 it was Froome who threw down the gauntlet and left his rivals for dead. Only illness on those final few stages exposed a weakness that Quintana tried to take advantage of but when all was said and done and all mountains were passed, it was still Froome who rolled into Paris not just in Yellow, but also as the winner of the King of the Mountains competition. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get to see how either would do in a head-to-head at the Vuelta, as both left early, against a Fabio Aru who had his work cut out against the impressive, but unhearlded, Tom Dumoulin.
Past winners: 2011 David Moncoutie; 2012 Joaqium Rodriguez; 2013 Chris Froome; 2014 Nairo Quintana.

Time-trialist: ROHAN DENNIS
It was Vasil Kiryienka who won the World Championship time-trial and Tom Dumoulin who almost used the time-trial to his advantage to win the Vuelta, but the sit-up-and-take-note time-trial of 2015 was Rohan Dennis on stage 1 of the Tour. It was only 13.8km in length, but in it he set down the fastest time-trial in Tour history at 55.446km/h, beating the record set by Chris Boardman at the 1994 Tour, in a prologue. It was a time-trial that also came at the start of the Tour when everyone was fresh and prepared and it featured heavy hitters like Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara and Dumoulin. Dennis beat them all.
Past winners: 2011 Cadel Evans; 2012 Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 Tony Martin; 2014 Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Classics rider: JOHN DEGENKOLB
This was a tough one to pick. Alejandro Valverde won both the La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the space of four days, but there was something magical about seeing John Degenkolb become the first man since Sean Kelly in 1986 and Eddy Merckx before him, to win the Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in the same year. It’s set a new standard by which we will now judge Degenkolb but he’s a class act both on and off the bike and there’s no reason he cannot be at the forefront to win one, or both, of those races again.
Past winners: 2011 Philippe Gilbert; 2012 Tom Boonen; 2013 Fabian Cancellara; 2014 Simon Gerrans.

Most complete rider: PETER SAGAN
Hard to argue this. He can sprint (evident by his forth Green jersey title), he can climb (see the Tour of California and efforts on various degrees of hills at the Tour), he can time-trial (see again the Tour of California), he can descend (see him drop off the Col de Manse at the Tour) and his ability to handle a bike is beyond anyone else in the peloton. And now he is World Champion. All that remains is for him to start adding monument glories to his palmares and you get the feeling that the World Championship win might just see him move to another level still in terms of results, fulfilling a talent that seems almost boundless.
Past winners: 2014 Alejandro Valverde.

Team: SKY
Sky were consistant throughout 2015. Geraint Thomas won the Volta ao Algarve, Richie Porte won Paris-Nice, Lars Petter Nordhaug won the Tour of Yorkshire and Chris Froome the Critérium du Dauphiné, all before the Tour. In the classics Ian Stannard won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Thomas the E3 Harelbeke. And there were other stage wins too, including multiple wins by Elia Viviani, a Nicolas Roche stage win at the Vuelta, and Bradley Wiggins’ final victory for the team in a stage at the Three Days of De Panne. Then at the Tour, Froome took a stage win on his way to winning the Yellow jersey and the King of the Mountains, while as a collective they took home the team prize. And yet, for me, the standout performance of them as a team was their ability to control the race through that brutal first week of the Tour and then to continue protecting Froome in the mountains. The balance was superb and managed with perfection.
Past winners: 2012 British Olympic track team; 2013 Orica GreenEdge; 2014 Tinkoff-Saxo.

Breakthrough young rider: JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE
A fine spring for the young Frenchman who was 2nd at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 2nd at La Flèche Wallonne and 7th at the Amstel Gold. In short Tours he had three top 5 stage finishes at the Tour de Romandie while at the Tour of California he had a stage win and was 2nd overall to Peter Sagan while taking the young rider classification. His season was quieter over the summer but we can’t be surprised given he’s only 23. Big things will be expected of him in spring 2016.
Past winners: 2011 Pierre Rolland; 2012 Peter Sagan; 2013 Nairo Quintana; 2014 Fabio Aru.

Hard man: ADAM HANSEN
Michael Matthews could stake a claim for this award meaning that the Aussies were without doubt the toughest nation on the professional tour, but I’ve gone with Hansen for his wounded ride through the Tour de France. Not only was the Tour Hansens 12th Grand Tour in a row (the streak since extended to 13 when he completed the Vuelta, a new all-time record), but he did so in abject agony. A big crash on just the second stage left Hansen with a badly dislocated shoulder and that night he took to Twitter to say the following: “AC dislocation. Same shoulder as three weeks ago. Was told its going to be the most painful three weeks four me. I eat pain for breakfast. Bring it on!” It would have been easier to walk away and accept his consecutive Grand Tour completion streak was over but, with that surely in the back of his mind, as well as the desire to help his team, Hansen soldiered on in pain. There is no doubt that Adam Hansen is a hard man and, like all those who factor in this category, he is one of the sports most likeable characters.
Past winners: 2011 Johnny Hoogerland; 2012 Johan Van Summeren; 2013 Geraint Thomas; 2014 Alberto Contador.

Domestique: GERAINT THOMAS
Super domestique Geraint Thomas came into his own in 2015, especially in aid of his team-leader, Chris Froome, at the Tour de France. He won the E3 Harelbeke and was competitive in numerous other races throughout the spring and then showed up at the Tour as one of the key men guiding Froome across the cobbles and keeping him near the front in the cross winds only to keep him form high in the high mountains as he maintained a top five place overall until the final few days. But for so much work in that first week, who knows how high he could have soared, and no doubt he now has that question in the back of his mind. What that changes in his approach to the 2016 Tour remains to be seen, but in 2015 there’s little doubt this was the best man for any team leader to have by their side on almost any terrain.
Past winners: 2013 Adam Hansen; 2014 Tony Martin.

Retiring: GOODBYE TO
Ivan Basso, Thomas Dekker, Cadel Evans, Gert Steegmans, John Gadret, Ted King, Alexander Kolobnev, Brett Lancaster and Alessandro Petacci, among others.

It’s on this line I should be saying have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year, but that has all come and gone now, so with the old season in the history books and the new one just days away, let’s turn to 2016 and enjoy what will surely be another brilliant cycling season full of stories, talking points and memorable moments.

2014 season in review: The year of crashing out of Grand Tours

2014 was the year of Ebola, ISIS, Malaysian airliners, Crimea, Ukraine, Scotland staying in Britian, the Sochi Olympics, Germany winning the World Cup in Brazil, Robin Williams’ death and the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. But it was also the year that the Giro came to Belfast, the Tour came to Britain, and the World Hour record became popular again.

When I think back quickly on the 2014 cycling season without allowing myself anytime to think in depth, three moments spring to mind: The first is Vincenzo Nibali bouncing across the cobbles of northern France in his mud stained yellow jersey. The second is riders crashing out of Grand Tours — from Dan Martin at the Giro (in Belfast in front of huge crowds); Mark Cavendish (in England in front of massive crowds), Chris Froome (before the cobbles!) and Alberto Contador (before the mountains) at the Tour de France; and Nairo Quintana (in a time-trial) at the Vuelta — and I may have missed someone. The third was Jens Voigt riding into retirement by breaking the historic world hour record.

It was a heck of a season in which a variety of riders stepped up to win at various stages of the season. In reality the cycling season can be split into four mini-seasons within one: The early-season week-long stage races, the spring classics, the Grand Tours, and the fall classics/World Championships. But even within the mini-seasons, no rider came forward to dominate and as result we had unpredictable racing that generated some great action.

Those early-season week-long stage races provided a variety of winners from specialists targeting them to others using them as form builders ahead of the Grand Tours.

The spring classics seen four different men win the four spring Monuments, though Fabian Cancellara still come close to a superb spring by finishing second at Milan-San Remo and third at Paris-Roubaix to go with his obligatory Tour of Flanders win.

In the Grand Tours we had three different winners; not unusual in itself but perhaps highlighted when various contenders crashed out of each, removing those head-to-head battles we had been hoping for…especially at the Tour when Froome and Contador abandoned. And those first two Grand Tours will especially be remembered fondly for the big crowds that watched the Giro in Belfast and the Tour in Yorkshire. It was fantastic to see; as a Northern Irishman, I never thought I’d see a Grand Tour in Belfast.

By the time of the fall classics there was a lot of tired legs. Simon Gerrans (one of few who won in early season, in the spring and then again in fall) became the first to do the Montreal-Quebec double, Dan Martin rebounded from his LBL and Giro crashes to win the years final Monument, the Giro di Lombardia, and Michal Kwiatkowski took the World Championships. It left us with a lot of riders (none at Sky though, I would imagine) that must have finished the season satisfied with how their respective years went.

One man whose 2014 season was his last, was Jens Voigt. A stalwart of the peloton for 17 years, Voigt announced his retirement before the season began and went about trying to make it a memorable one. Every race he entered he was on the attack and on the first stage of the Tour in England he got away long enough to pull on the polka-dot jersey for the first time since his first Tour in 1998. Voigt had come full circle, but he didn’t leave it there. On 18 September he took a run at the World Hour record after the UCI announced regulation changes to try and modernise the record. He was the first to do it in nine years, and he set a new standard in what became his retirement ride (what a way to go out!) and ignited a new love-affair with the challenge. 42 days later, Matthias Brandle broke Voigt’s record and early reports suggest as many as seven men will try for it in 2015.

Everyone will have different memories of different moments that stood out to them and different riders that impressed them the most, but below are some of mine, though I hope at the very least you’ll agree with why I’ve gone with what I have, and who I have. So without further ado, here’s The Cycle Seen’s best moments and awards for the 2014 road cycling season.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

1. Stage five of the Tour; on the cobbles
The image was brutal and beautiful all at once: Vincenzo Nibali on the drops, in his dirty yellow jersey, pushing it at the front of a select group of cycling s hardest men in the driving rain through the mud of a cobbled lane with grass down the middle in northern France. A ride for the ages that surely lays the foundations for his bid to win the Tour de France. READ MORE>>

2. Quintana attacks on the Stelvio Descent
Nairo Quintana, pre-Giro favorite who looked to be in a little trouble just a few days ago, pulled out what will surely go down as one of the great rides in the history of this great race to win stage 16 and turn a 2 minutes, 40 seconds deficit to fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran into a 1 minute, 41 seconds lead in this race in one of the most difficult, yet brilliant, stages of cycling you’re ever likely to see. READ MORE>>

3. Voigt breaks the world hour record
It’s been so long since this last happened that a whole generation of cycling fans have come into the sport and grew to love it but without ever having seen one of cycling’s greatest records get broken and so how good it was to see the likable and ever hard suffering Jens Voigt bring down the curtain on a long and illustrious career by setting a new benchmark for the World Hour for a new era of cycling. READ MORE>>

4. Dan Martin crashes out of the Giro in Belfast
You know that theory that you cannot win a Grand Tour on the opening days time-trial but you can lose it? Well, never before has that been so evident as it was today in Belfast for the team-time-trial to start this years Giro d’Italia. A dramatic day of edge-of-your-seat action surrounded by an amazing turn out of fans generating a 21.7 kilometre wall of noise despite the changeable conditions that seen the race play into the hands of some, already begin to slip away from others, and totally vanish for Dan Martin. READ MORE>>

5. Contador returns from a fractured leg to win the Vuelta
On 14 July, Alberto Contador crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken Tibia. On 23 August, he took to the start line of the Vuelta a Espana. Few thought he would make it that far; fewer thought he’d have the form to compete. But he did both. He won two stages, overcame rival Chris Froome and came away with the overall win – his sixth Grand Tour victory (eight if you count the two he was stripped of) – by 1’10” over Froome.

AWARDS

Cyclist of the Year: VINCENZO NIBALI
This wasn’t easy. Not because Nibali isn’t a worthy winner having had a fine season, but because nobody jumped out right away and dominated the season; that at various points in the season different riders came to the fore in their own brilliant ways. In the spring the results were spread, at the Giro it was the brilliant Quintana, at the Vuelta it was the Contador show, and in the fall there was Michal Kwiatkowski’s superb ride at the Worlds. And so, I’ve looked at how different riders dominated certain points of the season and tried to pick who done it best. With that in mind, I couldn’t only go for Nibali for the way in which he won the Tour de France. He took four road stage wins in all (the most since Eddy Merckx in 1974): On the rolling roads of England, in the Vouges mountains, in the high Alps, and the Pyrenees. He won on all those terrains, and then there was the cobbles of Northern France. He didn’t win there, but he smashed his rivals and laid the foundations for his Tour win. It was a command performance and when the dust had settled on it, Nibali had won his first Tour (becoming just the sixth man to complete the Grand Tour career triple crown) by a staggering 7 minutes, 37 seconds; the largest since Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Runners up: Alberto Contador, Michal Kwiatkowski, Nairo Quintana and Simon Gerrans.
Past winners: 2011 – Philippe Gilbert; 2012 – Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 – Vincenzo Nibali.

Sprinter: MARCEL KITTEL
He won the first two road stages of the Giro, in Belfast and Dublin, before retiring with an illness from a race he looked set to dominate and then turned up at the Tour de France and won four stages including the first stage in England which, like last year, netted him the yellow jersey for a day. His biggest rival, Mark Cavendish, didn’t ride the Giro and only lasted one day at the Tour so we never truly got to see them go head-to-head, but even with that, there is little doubt now that Kittel is the fastest man in the world today. Beyond the Grand Tours, Kittel won two stages at the Tour of Britain and three at the Dubai tour.
Past winners: 2011 – Mark Cavendish; 2012 – Mark Cavendish; 2013 – Marcel Kittel.

Climber: NAIRO QUINTANA
He skipped the Tour, but his display at the Giro was more than enough to win this award. Every time the road pointed upwards he looked a threat and only got stronger as the race went on. Yes he attacked on the descent of the Stelvio on stage 16, but when it came to the final assent to Val Martello he only extended the time gap he had at the foot of the climb right up to the top. Then on stage 19’s mountain time-trial, he destroyed the opposition to confirm his Giro win. He only took 17 seconds out of the impressive Fabio Aru (see breakthrough rider award), but beat Rigoberto Uran by 1’26” and Pierre Rolland by 1’57”. It was such a shame that we never got to see the best of him at the Vuelta before he crashed out.
Past winners: 2011 – David Moncoutie; 2012 – Joaqium Rodriguez; 2013 – Chris Froome.

Time-trialist: SIR BRADLEY WIGGINS
I know Tony Martin won time-trials at the Giro and the Tour, but Brad Wiggins wasn’t present for either and so to judge the best we could only go on when they went head-to-head and where better than at the World Championships were Wiggins ended Martain’s run of four straight titles by beat him by 26 seconds over the 47.1km course for an average speed of 50km/h. Beyond that Wiggins won his national time-trial title and the time-trials at the Tour of California (where he also won the overall) and at the Tour of Britain. Next year he’ll go for the World Hour record and it’s hard to believe he won’t smash it.
Past winners: 2011 – Cadel Evans; 2012 – Brad Wiggins; 2013 – Tony Martin.

Classics rider: SIMON GERRANS
He didn’t dominate the classics by any means, but then again nobody did really, though as mentioned above,  Mr. Classics himself Fabian Cancellara, sure came close, but that win at Flanders was his only classic victory and we didn’t see much of him the rest of the year. Gerrans on the other hand was good from the start to the end of the season. Before the classics began he won a stage and the overall at the Tour Down Under, and then in Belgium, won the Monument classic Liège–Bastogne–Liège after Dan Martin (yes him again) crashed at the final corner. But he showed up again in the fall, and won back-to-back races in three days at the Cycliste de Quebec and Cycliste de Montreal, in Canada. Neither are a Monument, but both are World Tour races and extremely challenging to say the least, and many use them as World Championship preparation. Speaking of which, Gerrans finished second.
Past winners: 2011 – Philippe Gilbert; 2012 – Tom Boonen; 2013 – Fabian Cancellara.

Most complete rider: ALEJANDRO VALVERDE
Say what you like about his past, but he’s served his time and this is about the 2014 season. A season in which Valverde showed just what a complete talent he is. He could easily have been my choice for cyclist of the year (Nibali beat him well at the Tour) and he could easily have won the best classics rider also (Gerrans got a Monument to his name) but came up a little short despite being supremely consistent at the front end of so many races. Valverde won the UCI World Tour, which you might think would automatically make him the most complete riders, but that’s not always the case. This time though, it is. He won eleven races on the season including the Roma Maxima, GP Miguel Indurain, La Flèche Wallonne, Clásica de San Sebastián, and two stages of the Vuelta; finished second at Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Giro di Lombardia; third at the World Championship and Strade Bianche; fourth at Amstel Gold; and was third overall at the Vuelta and fourth overall at the Tour de France. He’s one of the few who can be in the mix for the Grand Tours in the summer, but also compete to win the spring and fall classics.
Past winners: N/A

Team: TINKOFF-SAXO
From top to bottom this is one powerful line-up, especially when it comes to the Grand Tours were they won multiple stages in all three this year including the overall at the Vuelta via Alberto Contador. At the Giro it was Michael Rogers who carried the can, taking two stage wins in a season that really was becoming a throwback year for the 34 year old Australian. And then at the Tour, when Contador crashed out and all seemed lost, it was Rogers doing his big to rescue things with a stage win to go with two stage wins by Rafal Majka, who also won the King of the Mountains crown. It was facinating to see the differences in how both Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky reacted upon losing their team-leaders. When Froome crashed out, Sky went into their shell and were barely seen again whereas Tinkoff-Saxo picked up the pieces and got the best out of others. At the Vuelta it was the Contador show, with two stage wins and the overall, to cap a season in which the team won stages throughout. Next year Peter Sagan arrives so they’ll also be strong in the classics and don’t rule out the rare possibility of them winning all three major jersey’s at next years Tour with Contador going for yellow, Sagan for green and Majka for the King of the Mountains.
Past winners: 2012 – British Olympic track team; 2013 – Orica GreenEdge.

Breakthrough young rider: FABIO ARU
Cycling is drenched with young talent breaking through right now. Rafal Majka, Wilko Kelderman, Romain Bardet, Michal Kwiatkowski, Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil, to name but a few. Sure there is also Quintana but despite his youth, he’s already knocked down that door to stardom, highlighted by his Giro victory. As such, and for all those names, it was Fabio Aru that leapt out at me this year. Third in the Giro with a stage win and fifth in the Vuelta with two stage wins marked him out as Italy’s great hope for the future and one who will surely push to win a Grand Tour in the coming years. Indeed, next year he will lead his teams bid to win the Giro.
Past winners: 2011 – Pierre Rolland; 2012 – Peter Sagan; 2013 – Nairo Quintana.

Hard man: ALBERTO CONTADOR
Stage ten at the Tour de France and on the descent of the Col du Platzerwasel, Alberto Contador crashed at high speeds. When the cameras picked him up, it was clear he was in pain, limping well behind a charging peloton and his Tour was slipping away. Vincenzo Nibali couldn’t wait on him as a rival in Michal Kwiatkowski was further up the road on the attack (see Domestique award), though at the time many felt Contador may be able to limit his losses, he was still riding after all. But it was only later, after he had eventually climbed off and retired from the Tour, that we found out just how badly injured he was. A broken Tibia, and he had ploughed on for some 20 kilometres trying in vein, but with great courage, to regain contact with the peloton. It was mightily impressive, and not least the fact he returned to the Vuelta just 40 days later to win two stages and the overall.
Past winners: 2011 – Johnny Hoogerland; 2012 – Johan Van Summeren; 2013 – Geraint Thomas.

Domistique: TONY MARTIN
Most people think of Tony Martin as a time-trialist specialist, which he is of course, but it would be wrong to say that he’s a one trick pony and that this is all he offers his team and that was never highlighted better than on stages nine and ten at this years Tour. On stage nine from Gérardmer to Mulhouse, Martin got into a break, went into time-trial mode and won the first road race stage of his Tour career by almost three minutes. It was a superb solo ride and no doubt he was exhausted. Nobody could have blamed him for hiding up in the peloton until the only individual time-trial of the Tour on stage 20. But that’s not the Martin’s way…the very next day he got into the break with his team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski who was trying to recover time he had lost on previous stages and get himself back into contention for a podium position. Martin went to the front and went into time-trial mode once more, pushing himself to the limit on climbs as Kwiatkowski’s time built so much that at one stage, he was provisional yellow on the road. When. with 20km to go and a 2’17” lead over Nibali, Martin couldn’t go any further, he swung to the side and almost came to a standstill. Kwiatkowski couldn’t reward him with the stage win, Nibali overhauled him on the final climb, and Martin limped home 16 minutes after Nibali. But it was a heroic effort nonetheless.
Past winners: 2013 – Adam Hansen.

Book read: ETAPE by RICHARD MOORE
Etape was a fantastic read for anyone into their cycling history looking across some of the great stages in the Tour de France. It doesn’t shy away from stages now known to be tainted, and while putting everything into perspective it focuses particularly on the racing aspect and what happened on the road on that given day, and I found that refreshing.
Other books I read (and would recommend): Inside Team Sky by David Walsh, RIIS by Bjarne Riis, A Clean Break by Christophe Bassons and Shadows on the Road by Michael Barry.
Past winners: 2012 – The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton; 2013 – Domestique by Charlie Wegelius.

So there we have it. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The 2015 season promises to be epic and known as the year of the hour record!

2013 season in review: The year of first times and speculating wattages

2013 was the year that Nelson Mandella and Margaret Thatcher died, a Royal baby was born, a Pope resigned, Typhoon Haiyan devistated the Philappines, the Syrian chemical attack and the Boston marathon bombings. But it was also the year that Fabian Cancellara did the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, that Daryl Impey became the first African born rider to wear the Yellow jersey and Chris Froome the first African born rider to win the Tour de France, that Vincenzo Nibali rode through the snow at Tre Cime di Lavaredo to cement his first Giro d’Italia victory, that Chris Horner became the first cyclist over 40 to win a Grand Tour, that Portugal got its first World Road Race Champion in the guise of Rui Costa, and that Peter Sagan became the first rider to win virtually every other race on the calender … or so its sometimes seemed.

The year in review

The year began not at a race, but on the sofa of Oprah Winfrey’s television show. Lance Armstrong sat before us and confessed to what we had known for some time, that yes, he had taken drugs throughout his career and that yes, he was sorry he got caught. All of that madness fueled old media and social media alike for weeks on end as bad press of cycling’s days of yore were heaped upon the sport once again and fans were left crying out for the start of some actual racing and the chance to put the over-abused subject of doping in the sport on the back burner for a while.

Some couldn’t let it go, of course, but for the rest of us that welcomed the sight of a race, one arrived later in January with the Tour Down Under in Australia in which the little known Tom-Jelte Slagter prevailed. At Paris-Nice and Tirreno–Adriatico, Richie Porte and Vincenzo Nibali triumphed respectively before the Spring Classics finally reached us. Cycling was back.

Billed as the battle between Cancellara and Sagan, it was the Swissman who won by taking two Monument victories at Flanders and Roubaix to Sagan’s none. Sagan was consistent however, finishing second at Milan-San Remo behind Gerald Ciolek, second to Cancellara at Flanders, and winning the non-Monument classic, Gent-Wevelgem. The other Monument classic won in the Spring was that of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège by Ireland’s Dan Martin. He became the first Irish winner of a Monument since Sean Kelly at the Milan-San Remo in 1992.

As spring progressed and summer began to roll in, the attention turned to the Grand Tours … though try telling the competitors at this years Giro that they rode in conditions comparable to spring or summer when one stage was snowed out and several others seen horrendous conditions. Chris Froome stayed away, preparing for the Tour de France by winning Romandie and the Dauphiné, leaving it to Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali to win on home turf ahead of Rigoberto Urán and Cadel Evans. This Giro win was the high point in what was a superb year for Nibali who on top of winning his home Tour, took a second place at the Vuelta and came forth at the World Championships despite crashing late on in the race. Nibali left many of us wondering what might have been had he targeted the Tour and gone head-to-head with Froome. It’s something we might get to see in 2014.

As a result July belonged to Froome. He came in as a joint favourite for the Tour de France with Alberto Contador but left everyone in his wake the moment the race went uphill. The Tour, celebrating it’s 100th edition, visited the island of Corsica for the first time for the opening three stages and the first week belonged to the Australian Orica GreenEdge team. They got their bus stuck under the finish line of stage 1, seen Simon Gerrans win stage 3 and pull on the yellow jersey, collectively won the team-time-trial in Nice on stage 4, then had Gerrans pass the jersey over to team-mate Darryl Impey on stage 6 as he, not the favored Chris Froome, became the first African born rider to pull on the maillot jaune, beating Froome to the achievement by two days.

Once Froome did pull it on he didn’t take it off, dominating the mountains and winning the first time-trial for three stage wins in total to take his first Tour de France victory. Peter Sagan’s all-round ability seen him win the green jersey at a canter, while new climbing sensation and potential future Tour winner, Nairo Quintana took the king of the mountains. Another surprise in this years tour was the sprinter of the tour: Marcel Kittel. The German knocked Cavendish off his perch by winning four stages to Cav’s two.

The next Grand Tour was the Vuelta and if the Tour de France had some historic moments, then we hadn’t seen anything yet. Prior to this race the oldest man to win a Grand Tour was Fermin Lambot at age 36 some 91 years ago. Cadel Evans had won the Tour de France in 2011 aged 34, but his recent drop off in form had been put down to his age, something that tends to bite all professional cyclists in their mid-30’s. Not so Chris Horner who at one month shy of his 42nd birthday turned up in Spain and won the Vuelta, beating Nibali into second. Now it could be argued that Nibali was tired after his Giro win, but what Horner did was remarkable. In any other sport this effort would be universally celebrated and lauded, but cycling fans often tend to be a cynical lot and it left many suspicious over the achievement. Still, in winning a Grand Tour aged almost 42, Chris Horner showed me that just as I thought my best days had gone before me, I suddenly still had a good ten years left yet.

With the Grand Tours won and done the professionals attention turned either to their winter break or to the World Championships to be held in Florence, Italy towards the end of September. In preparation for what was billed as a tough course, a number of contenders showed up in Québec and Montréal to prepare. Montréal especially had a resemblance to the course in Florence, with a short but tough climb on the short circuit. I siezed the opportunity of such a high ranking professional race coming so close to home and took the train from Toronto up to Montréal to watch. Robert Gesink had won in Québec on the Friday, leaving it to Sagan to put on a show of strength on the Sunday. The Slovakian attacked with 5 kilometres to go from a group of big-name riders to win solo in Montréal setting himself up as a favorite for the World Championships.

A week later the faces of the sport arrived in Florence for those World Championships. The Omega Pharma Quickstep lads won the World team-time-trial title and, as expected, Tony Martin won the individual time-trial, beating Bradley Wiggins and Cancellara into second and third respectively. In the men’s road race, Sagan didn’t feature after all. The climb on the course proved a bit too much and in atrocious conditions it was Portuguese talent, Rui Costa who emerged from a final select group of himself, Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Joaqium Rodriguez to take his countries first World road title.

The final major race of the year and the final Monument of the year was the Giro di Lombardia and it was Joaqium Rodriguez who fittingly took the win. Rodriguez, feeling let down by his countryman Valverde, had come second in the Worlds a few weeks before but exacted revenge by beating Valverde into second at Lombardia. The result confirmed him as the World number one ranked cyclist for 2013.

On a more grim side, 2013 was also the year of speculating wattages.

It started early and it started fast and it continued relentlessly throughout the 2013 season. What watts is so-and-so — usually Chris Froome — putting out on such-and-such a climb? Is it worse than Lance Armstrong in his pomp? Is it within the threshold of normal? Normal being what a professional could put out without the need for drugs, but still beyond the normal for you and I. Nobody really knew for sure but a fair few began to speculate and so a wave of wattage began to grow and grow, sucking more and more onto it until it swept over the 2013 cycling season, threatening to take away the enjoyment many are supposed to be experiencing when watching a bicycle race.

Now don’t get me wrong. Wattage has its place in cycling … it helped Sir Bradley of Wiggins win his first and only Tour de France. It is the power output of a cyclist through their pedals at any given time … divided by the riders weight in kilograms, you are left with a figure that determines a riders watts-per-kilogram. The one with the highest number over a stretch of road — often fantasised about on climbs — is the one who goes the fastest. It’s a new(ish) technology, an expensive technology, and one that is in widespread use on the computers of cyclists throughout the professional peloton. If you know your maximum wattage at your present weight you know when you’re at your limit and how best to judge a ride. It goes against the purists dream of riding by feel, but technology is a fact of life in the 21st century.

What we found in the year that was 2013 however was that the guessing game of these figures has went beyond what is fact on the riders computer into what is fiction among speculating fans.

Without access to the UCI’s biological passport, without access to the data on a riders computer, and without access to the results of anti-doping samples, some fans found that this might be their best window into the likelihood of drug use still in the peloton and a few ‘experts’ were happy to feed their need to know.

The whole thing kicked into high gear at this years Tour de France when Chris Froome raced away from his rivals to win in spectacular fashion. Keyboards were mashed from basements across the globe and figures produced and often figures that led some so believe Froome was not winning clean. someone would start their stop watch at an arbitrary point on a climb and stop it at the top then use that time along with the distance and the weight of the rider to formulate a watts per kilogram number. These varied wildly at times and normally came to the fore on the days in which Froome did well or his number was high. His time up the climb was then compared against the likes of Lance Armstrong on the same climb years before by watching video for Armstrong to pass the same reference points.

It sounded good in hindsight, but it doesn’t really work. The timing charts were interesting as a rough guide, but were shown to have a decent degree of inaccuracy by others who felt it impossible to measure the exact starting point the same for every rider what with cameras often cutting away at different times.

The home-made calculations of wattage as any kind of reference was even more inaccurate:

Simply taking a riders speed up a climb and factoring that against his weight was ridiculous. Elements such as the following were not factored in: Wind direction, wind speed, humidity, temperature, road conditions, bike equipment, was the stage early in the tour or later in the tour, did it follow several hard days or several easy days or a rest day, did the climb in question come after a bunch of other climbs or a relatively flat climb, was the pace leading onto that climb high due to attacks or steady due to everyone waiting for that climb, was the GC battle tight putting more pressure on the Yellow jersey to push it on that climb, was a rival up the road forcing the race from the lower slopes, or did the attacks come later making the lower slopes that more steady?

All those elements would have to be factored in and until they were (impossible unless the data came straight off the riders computer), then common sense would suggest you take these numbers with a silo-sized grain of salt.

When such arguments were put forth, the attention turned to pressuring the teams, namely Sky, to release the power data of their riders, namely Froome. The issue with this is that releasing it to the public would also release it to the rest of the peloton. If a rival of Froomes new definitively what his watts per kilo output was he would know what the standard required was to drop Froome. He would know when Froome was riding beyond himself at a pace he could not sustain and adjust his own effort accordingly. You would never see a Formula One team release their telemetry data to the public, and thus their rival teams, so why on earth would we expect Froome and Sky to do the same? To appease the doubters simply isn’t reason enough.

Common sense could not prevail in the war against wattage speculation however and it continued throughout the year. Thankfully it didn’t overshadow and nor will it be what the season is remembered for. But it was still there, lurking in the corner of the season, desperate to receive credence among the every day fan. And it will be back again next year with a vengeance. We may be shifting into a cleaner era of cycling but with it comes a natural doubt. People desperate for the new era to be real, others desperate for the drug scandals to continue. The likes of Froome can thank their predecessors for that in part but a point has to come when you let the cyclists do the entertaining, let the testers do the catching, and let yourself do the enjoying.

For some that point has yet to arrive and so don’t expect the watt calculators to go away anytime soon.

Awards & Gongs

The Cycle Seen’s cyclist of the year: VINCENZO NIBALI

Many would jump for Chris Froome on this given the manor of his Tour de France victory but for me, over the course of the season, it was Nibali. He was brilliant at the Giro in, at times, terrible conditions where he won on home soil for the first time to take his second career Grand Tour. He understandably skipped the Tour, but showed up at the Vuelta where he wore the red jersey on three occasions before running out of steam late in the third week, finishing 2nd overall. At the World Championships in Florence he overcame a late crash in awful conditions to fight back and finish 4th in a race that no British or Irish riders managed to finish. His targets for 2014 are unknown as of yet but on his game he looks the only one capable of really challenging Chris Froome in France. Here’s hoping we get such a showdown.

Runners up: Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, Rui Costa.

Past winners 2011: Philippe Gilbert; 2012: Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Other prizes

Sprinter: MARCEL KITTEL (Dethroned Cav at Le Tour)
Climber: CHRIS FROOME (Untouched when it mattered)
Time-trialist TONY MARTIN (Untouched at any time)
Classics rider: FABIAN CANCELLARA (Flanders/Roubaix double; enough said!)
Team: ORICA GREEN EDGE (For that first week of the Tour alone!)
Young rider: NAIRO QUINTANA (2nd at the Tour and won the KOM)
Hard man: GERAINT THOMAS (Rode the Tour with a broken Pelvis)
Domistique: ADAM HANSEN (Completed all 3 Grand Tours; won stage of the Giro)
Book: ‘DOMESTIQUE’ BY CHARLY WEGELIUS (A good, non-drugs, cycling story)
Best cyclist on Twitter: JENS VOIGT (Insight on and off the bike)
Best non-cyclist on Twitter: UK CYCLING EXPERT (Serious humour)

Moment of the year

VINCENZO NIBALI WINNING ON TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO

The conditions were awful, it was the penultimate stage, the Queen stage, set to finish on top of one of the most iconic climbs in the sport, the day before had been cancelled due to the weather, it was snowing … loads, Nibali was already in pink and looked good to win the Giro, yet he had something still to prove having won his only stage of the Giro against the clock two days before. In the falling snow and thick clouds on Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, Nibali turned on the style. He attacked hard on the hardest part of the climb and nobody could react. He rode away from his rivals and as he approached the finish the camera caught a glimmer of pink followed by the appearance of a man on the bike. The full image only came into full focus as he hit the line, arm in the air, Giro champion, in the pink leaders jersey, an Italian winner, alone, on this epic mountain.

 

2012 season in review: The year a Canadian won the Giro and a Brit won the Tour

It was the year of the Queens diamond jubilee, that Facebook went public, of Euro 2012, the London Olympics, a jump from the edge of space, Hurricane Sandy, and more mass shootings in the USA. But it was also the year of Boonen dominating the spring classics, Wiggins dominating every stage race he entered, and, of course, the rise of Peter Sagan and the downfall of one Lance Armstrong.

What follows is a review of the year in cycling with stories that were making the headlines at the time and a song that was topping the charts. Then it’s the The Cycle Seen awards for the year … from the Cycle Seens cyclist of the year to the innagural Lance Armstrong award for biggest downfall of the year, it’s all here.

A MONTH BY MONTH REVIEW OF THE YEAR THAT WAS

January Simon Gerrans wins the Tour Down Under to open the UCI season. Sprinter Andre Greipel wins three of the six stages while Alejandro Valverde marks his comeback from a ban with a stage win of his own. Also: The Costa Concordia cruise ship sinks killing at least 11 as the ships Captain is arrested for abandoning ship. Novak Djokovic defeats Rafael Nadal to win the Australian Open Tennis championship; Victoria Azarenka beats Maria Sharapova in the woman’s title.
Song: “We Found Love” by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris

February Tom Boonen wins the Tour of Qatar. Jose Serpa wins the Tour de Langkawi. Federal prosecutors in the US suspend the criminal investigation into Lance Armstrong without filing charges. Also: The Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. The New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots 21-17 to win the Super Bowl. Whitney Houston dies age 48. Adele wins six Grammy awards.
Song: “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

March Bradley Wiggins opens his season account by winning the Paris-Nice. Vincenzo wins the Tirreno-Adriatico. Simon Gerrans takes the first ‘Monument’ of the year at the Milan-San Remo. Michael Albasini wins the Volta a Catalunya. Cadel Evans wins the Criterium International. Sylvain Chavanel takes the Three Days of De Panne. Tom Boonen takes control of classics winning the H3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem in the space of one weekend. Also: Wales win the Six-Nations title. Bruce Springsteen releases Wrecking Ball album.
Song: “Part of Me” by Katy Perry

April Tom Boonen wins his third straight UCI World Tour race at the Tour of Flanders. Samuel Sanchez takes the Tour of the Basque Country. Tom Boonen strikes back winning  the Paris-Roubaix. Enrico Gasparotto wins the Amstel Gold. Joaquim Rodriguez wins La Fleche Wallonne. Maxim Iglinsky wins the Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de Romandie. Also: Bubba Watson wins The Masters. Neptune Collonges wins the Grand National. The 15th marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of The Titanic.
Song: “We Are Young” by Fun featuring Janelle Monáe

May Canadian The Giro d’Italia which started in Denmark and finished, as ever, in Milan was won by Canadian, Ryder Hesjedal by just 16 seconds over Joaquim Rodriguez after trading the jersey back and forth for three weeks. Thomas De Gendt was third. In the Tour of California it’s Robert Gesink who wins overall but the story of the Tour is the rise of Peter Sagan who wins five of the eight stages including the first four in-a-row. Also: Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 to win the F.A. Cup final. I’ll Have Another wins the Kentucky Derby. Facebook go public. Manchester City score late to win the Premier League title ahead of city rivals, Man United. Chelsea beat Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to win the Champions League.
Song: “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra

June In the two big Tour de France build-up events, Bradley Wiggins wins at the Criterium du Dauphine for his third stage race win in as many starts, while Rui Costa takes the Tour of Switzerland. At the Tour of Switzerland, Peter Sagan wins another three individual stages. USADA charge Lance Armstrong and five associates with a doping conspiracy. Also: Euro 2012 gets underway in the Ukraine and Poland. Webb Simpson wins the U.S. Open. Novak Djokovic defeats Rafal Nadal to win the French Open; Maria Sarapova beats Sara Errani in the woman’s final. The L.A. Kings defeat the New Jersey Devils in six games to win the Stanley Cup. The Miami Heat defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to win the NBA title; LeBron James is finals MVP.
Song: “Payphone” by Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa

July Lance Armstrong sues USADA in federal court, claiming violation of due process rights. Bradley Wiggins becomes the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France, with another Brit, Chris Froome, in second. Vincenzo Nibali was third while Peter Sagan who won three stages picked up the Green jersey and Thomas Voeckler, winner of two stages, took the mountains classification. For pure sprinting it was Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish who shared the spoils with three stage wins each. The Tour belonged to Britain though for on top of the one-two overall four Brittons won seven stages in all. Meanwhile, the tour for those not at Le Tour — The Tour of Poland — is won by Moreno Moser. Alexander Vinokourov wins the men’s road race at the London Olympics while Marianne Vos wins the woman’s race. Also: Spain thump Italy 4-0 to win Euro 2012. CERN discover new Higgs Boson particle. 12 people are killed and 58 injured in a mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. Roger Federer defeats Andy Murray to win Wimbledon; Serena Williams wins the woman’s title. Ernie Els wins The Open Championship of Golf. The Olympics get underway in London with a fantastic opening ceremony.
Song: “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry

August Bradley Wiggins wins Gold at the Olympic Games individual time-trial; Kristin Armstrong wins the woman’s event. Great Britain take seven of the ten Gold medals available on the track at the London Olympics. Meanwhile in London, Jaroslav Kulhavy and Julie Bresset win Gold medals in the men’s and woman’s mountain bike race respectivly. Lars Boom wins the Eneco Tour. Luis Leon Sanchez takes the Clasica San Sebastian. Arnaud Demare wins the Vattenfall Cyclassics. Edvald Boasson Hagen wins the GP Ouest-France.  Federal judge Sam Sparks dismisses Armstrong’s suit while Armstrong himself announces he won’t fight USADA’s charges. Also: Curiosity Rover lands on Mars. Rory McIlroy wins the PGA Championship. The London Olympics — branded a huge success — come to a close with Britain winning 29 Gold medals on home soil. The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, dies.
Song: “Whistle” by Flo Rida

September Alberto Contador wins the Vuelta a España ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez for an all Spanish podium. In Canada the GP de Quebec is won by Simon Gerrans and the GP de Montreal by Lars Petter Nordhaug. Philippe Gilbert wins the World Road Championships ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alejandro Valverde. Tony Martin wins the time-trial title, while Omega Pharma-Quick Step wins the team-time-trial title. Joaquim Rodriguez wins the Giro di Lombardia. Tyler Hamilton and co-author Daniel Coyle publish “The Secret Race”. Also: Europe retain the Ryder Cup 14.5-13.5 over the USA after being down 10-6 with a day to play. Andy Murray defeats Roger Federer to win the US Open; Serena Williams wins the woman’s title. The NHL lockout begins. Ryan Hunter-Reay wins the Indy Car championship. Muse release the album The 2nd Law.
Song: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift

October USADA release their “reasoned decision” explaining why they stripped Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles and banning him from future competitions for life; the UCI back the findings. The Tour of Beijing is won by Tony Martin. Mark Cavendish leaves Sky and joins Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Also: Felix Baumgartner jumps from the edge of space. The San Francisco Giants sweep the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series. Hurricane Sandy devastates the east coast of the USA including New York City.
Song: “Gagnam Style” by Psy

November Bradley Wiggins is knocked off his bike by a driver near his home town while out on his mountain bike. Also: Barak Obama is re-elected as President of the United States. Israel launch attack on Gaza in response to rocket attacks by Hamas into Israel. Sebastian Vettel wins his third straight Formula One World Championship. Lionel Messi scores his 82nd goal to move ahead of Gerd Müller for the most goals scored in a calendar year.
Song: “Diamonds” by Rihanna

December Katusha lose their World Tour license. Lance Armstrong is nominated for Texan of the year with a Dallas newspaper describing him as “a fighter, a survivor and a cunning, steely-eyed liar.” Bradley Wiggins and Dave Brailsford are knighted in British New Year honours list; Wiggins will become the first ‘Sir’ to race the Tour! Also: A gunman kills 28, including himself, in Newtown school shooting. Mayan long count calendar completes its cycle — the world doesn’t end!
Song: “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars

AWARDS AND GONGS

The gong for The Cycle Seen’s most outstanding cyclist of the year
Bradley Wiggins. Hard to look past Wiggo for 2013. He won the overall in virtually every race he entered including, of course, the Tour de France when he became the first British athlete to win cyclings greatest prize. He followed it up just days later by winning the individual time-trial at the London Olympics sparking a Gold haul by British athletes. His achievements were duly recognised at the end of the year when he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Knighted by the Queen in the end of year honours list. Being named The Cycle Seen‘s most outstanding cyclist of the year must surely be the icing on his cake!.

The Steve Bauer Canadian cyclist of the year award
Ryder Hesjedal. Second year in-a-row winning this prize and given that it was a year that was even better than his last, it was never really in doubt. Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour when he took the Giro d’Italia in May. His ride was a brilliant one and it made a house hold name of him in Canada.

The Sean Yates British cyclist of the year award
Bradley Wiggins. See the most outstanding cyslist of the year award above for more…

The US Postal team of the year award
British Olympic track team. Ok, the title is an ironic one, but there’s no subtle message to be read between the title of the award and the winners. The British track team were one of moral fortitude, no doubt, and deserved every acolade that came their way. They absolutely dominated the Olympics and were no doubt the core of the British success at the Olympics. By the time all was said and done they had won seven of the ten available Golds on the track.

The ‘I swear it was a bad dose of meat’ award for best excuse
Frank Schleck. On July 17, 2012, Schleck tested positive for Xipamide and was removed from the Tour de France. His excuse that he was poisoned by an unknown person was laughable at best. It might have flown twenty years ago in cycling … it might still fly in some sports, but it was never going to wash in cycling circa 2012.

The innagural ‘the next Eddy Merckx‘ award (previous winner had I thought to do it last year might have included Philippe Gilbert or Edvald Boasson Hagen)
Peter Sagan. Stole the show in the first week of the Tour de France and walked the Green Jersey award. A powerful young 22-year old, he can sprint, he can get into a break, he has the makings of a monuments classics winner, he can climb when he has to, and if he dedicated himself to it, there’s a belief he could even one day win a Grand Tour. It’ll be facinating to watch him progress in 2013.

The innagural Peter Sagan award for celebration of the year award
Peter Sagan, Stage three, Tour de France: The running man.

The Graham Obree award for best time-trial of the year
Bradley Wiggins at the Olympic Games. Britain had won their first Gold just a few hours before,  but going into the day the country was still waiting to kick-start the games with a Gold and all hopes rested on the shoulders of Wiggins. He was odds on favorite and the minute you seen him roll down the ramp, you knew it would never be in doubt. He blew the field away and one of the great sights of those games for me will be seeing him charge up towards the finish with the streets lined by fans with Union Jacks cheering him on. Britain had embraced cycling.

The Jens Voigt hard man of the year award
Johan Van Summeren. He came down hard in a crash on stage six of the Tour de France as it seemed did almost all his Garmin team-mates. Van Summeren was ripped to pieces though yet got back on his bike and rode alone into the finish at Metz. He came in last that day over sixteen minutes behind stage winner Peter Sagan, and though he abandoned the next day he proved just how tough the the professional cyclist can be.

The mud, the blood, the guts and the pavé award for spring classics rider
Tom Boonen. The Belgian had a spring for the ages. Every time you watched a classics race you expected him to be in the mix such was his hot form. Aside from winning two stages and the GC at the Tour of Qatar, Boonen won at the Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, the Gent-Wevelgem, the E3 Harelbeke, the Paris-Brussels and a stage at the Paris-Nice.

Most disappointing win award
Alexander Vinokourov at the London Olympics road race. Sorry, but he never fully admitted his past drug use yet has come back into the sport like nothing ever happened. It was a fine win on the day but even if it was clean, it was hard to watch and left me asking the same old questions. Vino collected his medal and promptly retired from the sport.

The bonehead of the year award
Spanish cyclists Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde, Samuel Sanchez and Miguel Indurain for all continuing to back Lance Armstrong despite overwhelming evidence to the contraray. It was Contador who said, “At certain times and places Lance is not being treated with any respect.”

The non-cyclist suit-wearing bonehead of the year award
Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen. Could you really be bothered to have me going over why this duo have won the award? Suffice to say their actions played a big part for the reason the whole Armstrong affair and the doping stories from that era in general only came to a head this year when it should have been years before. And it’s likely one or both will win this award in twelve months time again unless there is a dramatic overhaul, which is highly unlikely.

Crash of the year
Roberto Ferrari on Mark Cavendish. When the Italian brought the World Champion down in the final dash for the line during a stage of the Giro d’Italia, Cavdendish took to Twitter after the race to vent his anger saying: “Ouch! Crashing at 75kph isn’t nice! Nor is seeing Roberto Ferrari’s manoeuvre. [He] should be ashamed to take out Pink, Red & World Champ jerseys.” He added: “Is the team of Roberto Ferrari or the UCI going to do the right thing? Other riders, including myself, have been sent home for much less.”

The Bradley Wiggins [2009 Tour] gong for coming from nowhere to be a contender award
Tejay van Garderen. So he wasn’t quite a ‘contender’ in that he finished 11-04 behind Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France but he came in expected to be a super-domestique for Cadel Evans only to ride away from his leader when it became clear the Australian was not up to the task of beating Wiggins in the mountains. He finished ahead of Evans overall in fifth place and won the White jersey and marked himself out as a potential future winner of the Tour.

Book of the year
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. It is the most indepth, dramatic and honest protrayal of drugs in cycling ever written. A lot of it you might already have known or even suspected, but reading it really brought it home how dirty things in cycling had gotten. You won’t feel especially sorry for Hamilton but that’s becasue he’s brutally honest and it’s what makes it such a good book. I do hope it’s the last of it’s kind, at least I hope there’s no more like it from future generations. Read a full review here.

The most tedious story of the year award
Lance-gate. Yes it needed to come out and yes we should be better for it … at least future generations of cyclists should be, but there’s no doubting that it began to get a little tedius after a while and some cycling fans, media and bloggers on social media have talked of little else for months on end. Yes it’s better to have had it unfold during the cycling off-season where it didn’t take away from the actual races but I couldn’t help but wish there was a good race to watch instead every now and then. Books have been written about it and more will be written, and while the whole shambles cannot be forgotten if only so it isn’t allowed to happen again, I do hope it doesn’t become the main talking point through 2013.

The Lance Armstrong memorial award for refusing to just admit it
Johan Bruyneel. After years of denial even Lance Armstrong decided not to conest USADA’s findings against him once he realised there was little point. Whether that can be taken as a sign of his own acceptance or just his lack of interest anymore is still up for debate because his decision not to contest is still a far cry from an admission, but Bruyneel still maintains his absolute innocence and because of it the case against him will likely surface sometime in the new year. The evidence against him is overwhelming so seeing whether he has a joker card up his sleeve or is simply deluded will be interesting to watch.

The Lance Armstrong tribute award for the biggest fall from grace
Lance Armstrong. Not a lot needs added here.

The ‘This guy is the new generation and has to be a clean cyclist’ award (A prestigeous award with such past winners (if I’d been doing this in the past) as Richard Virenque, Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador and Riccardo Ricco)
Peter Sagan. How much I hope this guy ends up being out of place with the ‘past winners’ on this list when hindsight looks back on it ad that he truly is the ‘new generation’. Looking at him right now he’s the best young talent in cycling, he’s spoke out against doping in the past and he’s brilliant to watch. It’ll be facinating to see where he goes.

The Cedric Vasseur memorial award for best loan attack of the year
Thomas Voeckler. For his ride on stage 16 of the Tour de France over four major mountains — including the Hors cateogories Col d’Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet — to a solo victory into Bagnères-de-Luchon. He went away in a large group after just 25 kilometers before eventually riding off on his own. He crossed all four big climbs in first though it wasn’t quite a monumental solo ride in that he only shook his final rival — Brice Feillu — with two climbs to go, but he hung on to win the stage by 1-40 over Chris Anker Sorensen. The stage win set him up to eventually win the King of the Mountains jersey.

The Mario Cippolini award for best sprinter — and he knows it, award
Mark Cavendish, again. Of course.

The Djamalodine Abdoujaparov award for dangerous sprint of the year
Roberto Ferrari. The one on Mark Cavendish … see crash of the year above!

The mountain goat climber of the year award
Joaquim Rodriguez. He was second in the Giro and third in the Vuelta and was right in the mix to win both races. He won two stages at the Giro and three at the Vuelta in the mountains and was always willing to put in an attack to keep the races on a knife edge to seal this award.

The holywood script writters story of the year award
Lance-gate. Books have been written, books are probably being written and certainly more books will be written. Someone will make one of them into a movie, surely. The only question is who will play Armstrong?

The Cycle Seen’s best result of the year
Ryder Hesjedal winning the Giro. As a British citizen living in Canada I was torn on whether to go with Wiggins or Hesjedal on this one and their respective Grand Tour wins. Wiggins’s win was monumental because it was the Tour de France and it’s the race I have watched annually for two decades and at one time seeing a Brit win a stage was a big deal nevermind even competing for a Grand Tour. But Hesjedal takes it because of how close it was … because of the drama, the edge of the seat action, the back and forth for the GC and how it all came down to the final day time-trial for a Canadian to win it all. Hesjedal was brilliant to watch and it was the first time I watched a Grand Tour win in so long that I just knew was being ridden clean.

The Cycle Seen’s moment of the year
The final time-trial at the Giro d’Italia. As mentioned briefly above: Hesjedal came into that final stage in Milan 31 seconds behind Joaquim Rodriguez having traded the Pink jersey with him back and forth for three weeks. Hesjedal was a big favorite to overcome the time gap, but we all know what riding in a leaders jersey can do for a rider and it was far from a given that Rodriguez would lose it. And so it proved to be at the time checks … Hesjedal was pulling back time, but it was going to be very close. When Hesjedal finished it looked good and when Rodriguez crossed the line minutes later it only then became official. Hesjedal had done enough … by just 16 seconds overall.

2011 season in review: The year of an Australian winning the Tour

I had hoped to get this site up and live around the turn of the new year but unfortunately time, among other things, conspired against me and so we find ourselves into the middle of the first month of the new year, but before the year of twenty-hundred and eleven disappears too far into our rear view, let’s hand out some awards for the year that was…

Awards and Gongs

Cyclist of the Year: PHILIPPE GILBERT
Philippe Gilbert. Was there ever anyone who truly came close? The Belgian dominated the spring classic’s season before taking a stage win in the Tour de France. He even rode high up the overall well into the big mountains before finally succumbing to the little men. There’s a belief that if Gilbert trained for it he could win a Grand Tour and while that would be something to see, it’s still fun to enjoy the aggressive riding style he current entertains us with.

Canadian rider of the year: RYDER HESJEDAL
A fitting name for the title! Not quite at the level of 2010 but still Canada’s biggest hope.

Sprinter: MARK CAVENDISH
Who else?

Climber: DAVID MONCOUTIE
David Moncoutie for winning his forth mountains classification title in the Vuelta a Espana.

Time-trialist: CADEL EVANS
Cadel Evans to overcome the Schleck’s and secure the Tour de France crown.

Classics rider: PHILIPPE GILBERT
He dominated the spring. He appeared unbeatable.

Breakthrough young rider: PIERRE ROLLAND
An award with such past winners (if I’d been doing this in the past) as Richard Virenque, Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador and Riccardo Ricco, goes to Pierre Rolland. He won a-top of Alpe d’Huez and scooped the young riders prize at Le Tour. The French are all hoping he’s for real and we’re all hoping that unlikely those I just named when they broke in, that this kid represents a new generation.

Hard-man: JOHNNY HOOGERLAND
It’s an award that should be named the Jens Voigt prize, but not even Jens could win it, and how could anyone else other than Johnny Hoogerland for being knocked off the road by a car and into a barbed wire fence. It was a horrific crash and the injuries only confirmed it. How he got up and continued I will never know.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR

VOECKLER’S ATTEMPT TO DEFEND YELLOW
The grimmace on the face of Thomas Voeckler as he fought tooth and nail to hang onto his Yellow Jersey. When people say ‘the yellow jersey brings that little bit extra out of you and makes you go that little bit further’ I consider it a bit of a cliche, but men like Voeckler put weight behind such cliches.