It’s been another highly eventful year in the cycling world. Highs, lows, drama, delight and tragedy have shaped the past twelve months.
Here, in no particular order, we take a look back at the biggest cycling stories of 2010.
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Contador, clenbuterol and a libelled Spanish cow
It was the news that no one expected, and the news that no one wanted: Alberto Contador, winner of this year’s Tour de France testing positive for a banned substance. As with any cyclist failing a dope test there was denial, absurd claims and intrigue. But even by cycling’s standards what followed the initial UCI press release in late September was to became ever more bizarre.
Contador was tested on July 21 on the Tour’s second rest day (in Pau). His sample was sent to the WADA accredited lab in Cologne, Germany where it was found to contain minute amounts of Clenbuterol, a steriod used in asthma inhalers, but also a drug that builds lean muscle and can assist someone in losing weight.
On August 24, the UCI informed Contador of the test result, but for some reason didn’t make it public. Normal procedures would see them announce the positive via a press release, but for reasons still unexplained they didn’t announce it until September 29th, seemingly giving Contador time to prepare his defence.
Not only that, but the UCI’s release contained missleading phrases suggesting the amount was below a permissible level. There is no permissible level – if Clenbuterol is in the system, it’s a positive. According to the WADA rules of strict liablity the rider is responsible for what is in their body, no matter how it got there.
Contador’s repost was to blame a steak he’d eaten that had been brought to the Tour by his friend Jose Luis Lopez Cerron, organiser of the Tour of Castille and Leon. His suggestion of contamination, apparently suggested to him by the UCI, immediately drew a response from Spanish beef producers. Clenbuterol is banned from cattle feed under strict EU regulations and Spanish farmers didn’t like their industry being besmirched for the sake of a cyclist. Tour winner or not.
With the Spanish Federation unsurprisingly dragging their heels, WADA stepped in and not only threatened to immediately bring in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but also investigated the number of cases of contaminated meat in Spain. They found none.
The case continues, but there seems to be no way out for Alberto.
Millar comes good
David Millar has pledged his allegaince to various different parites throughout his career, but as he enters his more matured golden era, he seems to have settled down and found a home. Albeit just a spiritual one.
Riding to Commonwealth gold in the colours of Scotland meant a lot to Millar, and to Scotland. It was the country’s first ever road race gold medal and assured Millar a place in their esteem that he will never find in Great Britain’s Olympic body.
His ride, that came just a week after a brilliant silver medal at the world time trial championships in Melbourne, was surprisingly exciting seeing as the route went up one side of a dead straight road, turned and then came back down the other.
A few weeks later he received a standing ovation at the Braveheart dinner in Kilmarnock. As the surprise guest he was the star of the show and brought the curtain down on what must be his most satisfying season in appropriate celebratory fashion.
Pellizotti beats the passport
Pioneering the biological passport was a bold move by the UCI, and one that was always going to have a few teething problems. It had been used to great affect when it came to target testing riders, but making a sanction stick purely on the basis of anomilies in a rider’s levels is proving much harder.
Even before Franco Pellizzoti had been aquited by the Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA) in October, Slovenian Tadej Valjavec had already wriggled out of his sanction for passport anomolies. All this after the UCI had told journalists, months before, that any case they bring due to passport data would be water tight.
Pellizzoti, winner of the King of the Mountains jersey in the 2009 Tour de France and one of the favourites for this year’s Giro had his CONI sanction overturned by arguing that the variation in levels could have been down to having spent time at altitude.
Big withdrawal from Saxo Bank
Before this year’s Tour de France had even started Bjarne Riis had done what every football manager dreads: he’d lost the dressing room. With a week still to go before the riders left the start house in Rotterdam all the talk was of Andy and Frank Schleck’s new Luxembourg based team.
Neither of the brothers would confirm they were leaving Saxo Bank for the new team being hastily set up by Riis’ former press man Brian Nygaard, but everyone knew what was going on.
Throughout the Tour barely a week went by without another Saxo Bank rider being linked with the Schleck’s team, and by the end of November eight Saxo Bank riders had been named in the new team, including the Schlecks, Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady – the riders who have made Riis’ team what it is.
It looked like Riis had saved his team when he announced Alberto Contador as his new signing on August third, but two months later that signing didn’t look so smart.
Seven cyclists killed in Italy
Seven Cyclists were killed in Italy in a horrific accident that brought back memories of the Rhyl tragedy in 2007. The driver was believed to be smoking maurajuana when he hit the group in southern Italy.
Cavendish wins the wrong sprint jersey
The Vuelta’s green jersey may not have been the one Mark Cavendish had been targeting, but it was still a fitting last hurrah to his season.
Three stage wins and consistency throughout had landed the Manxman the points jersey 21 years after it was first won by a Brit; Malcolm Elliott. Pushed all the way by American Tyler Farrar, Cavendish had to work hard for the win, suffering through a bug in the race’s first week that forced team-mate Bernard Eisel to head home.
As good as the win was, it had of course been the Tour’s green jersey that Cavendish had really wanted. Once again he had been the fastest man in the race, this time taking five stages, but once again he was beaten to the prize he wants so badly.
The Manxman had suffered a terrible start to the year after picking up a tooth infection in Paraguay and winning just three races before the start of the Tour. He had deliberately targeted the latter half of 2011, but with the big races packed so densely into the first half of the season it’s all too easy to be written off – especially if you took 23 wins the year before.
As it was, Cavendish’s first few days at the Tour looked to follow the pattern of his early season as first he crashed and then he sat up. It wasn’t until stage five to Montargis that he hit his stride. He burst into tears on the podium and from then on in didn’t look back. If anyone was still stupid enough to doubt Cavendish’s sprinting prowess towards the end of the Tour, they only needed to look at the side view of the sprint on the Champs Elysées.
As his opponents were in full flight, unleashing their sprint for the line, the Manx missile came from nowhere to blast past and prove once again he is the fastest by some distance.
The end of Armstrong and le Tour
The higher you climb, the harder you fall; and so it was for Lance Armstrong in his last ever Tour de France. Seven years of untouchable domination when nothing went wrong suddenly counted for nothing as the American endured crashes and bad luck like never before.
There was, of course, little sympathy for the man who uttered the famous phrase ‘pas de cadeaux’ (no gifts) during his reign. But perhaps what was harder for Armstrong to take was not the initial twisting of the knife by some teams but the speed of his descent into insignificance.
His Tour started well in Rotterdam, with fourth place in the prologue, but the wheels started to come off on the cobbles of stage three. Five days later, on the road to Morzine Avoriaz, his GC hopes were over as he crashed twice and got held up by others crashing in front of him. Not even an escape on the roads to Pau on stage 16 could bring a final victory as he was easily outclassed in the sprint.
Once again Armstrong was heard talking of walking away from the sport as if it was a relief. But everyone knows he’ll be back at some point.
Valverde finally goes down
Cycling’s longest-running doping saga finally came to an end this Spring when Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was banned for two years. Valverde’s presence in the peloton had been a source of embarrassment since 2006 when he was first implicated in Operation Puerto.
As the Spanish authorities continued to drag their heels, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) stepped in.
They took a blood sample from Valverde when the Tour entered Italy in 2008, matched it to one of the bags of blood found in Madrid and finally banned him from racing in Italy for two years from May 2009.
Valverde appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but as soon as they ruled against him the UCI stepped in to make the ban worldwide. Eventually, it came down to CAS to turn his ban worldwide.
But just to add to the shambles the case had come, Valve.Piti’s ban was backdated five months to January 1, 2010, a period in which he won the Tour of the Mediterranean and Tour of Romandy.
Australia back on top at the track
Looking at the World Track Championship medal table in isolation would have made for some miserable reading for anyone other than an Australian. After the drubbing they received in Beijing, the Toshiba Cyclones are on their way back for London 2012, and on the evidence of the World Champs they’re going to take some beating.
Both Cameron Meyer and Anna Meares were in superb form, winning five golds between them as Australia took six titles in all. They were even more dominant in Delhi several months later at the Commonwealth Games, an event that the home nations had largely stayed away from.
But the gameplan has changed for the track nations. With a massively revised Olympic format, the British team has refocused its efforts and narrowed its priorities. At the World Champs, the British team won three golds in Olympic disciplines and medalled in five others.
Australia may have the upper hand, and a better medal collection from this year, but looking ahead to 2012, there’s very little in it.
Laurent Fignon remembered
I was always a Greg Lemond man myself, back then in 1989. My dad, inexplicably, was cheering for Laurent Fignon at the Tour de France that year – the ponytailed ‘Professeur’, frequently awarded the prix citron by the Tour-attending press thanks to his sour demeanour.
But Fignon mellowed in later years. In 1998, nine years after what will arguably forever be the greatest ever Tour, I was thrilled to be on hand to see Lemond and Fignon emerge, together, unannounced, from a car to start the now defunct Classic Haribo near Uzès in the south of France. I genuinely couldn’t believe that the two of them were there, together, laughing and joking with each other. I’d just assumed that as rivals they didn’t particularly like each other. But that was never the case at all.
More recently, I was lucky enough to chat to Fignon again a couple of times, and he was as far from being sour as it was possible to be. His expert analysis and commentary on French television channel France 2 was a joy to listen to, despite a croaky voice as a result of his advancing cancer.
We will always have the race footage of his riding career, which – as he made sure to remind people – included two Tour victories and a Giro win. But he very much saw riding as a professional as just a period in his life: he also organised Paris-Nice for a time after his retirement, wrote an illuminating autobiography – We Were Young and Carefree – and had clearly found a niche for himself in cycling punditry for television before his death.
What Fignon would have gone on to do next, we will unfortunately never know. But whatever it would have been, we can be sure that, as with his previous career choices, he would have done it with just as much enthusiasm, care and passion, and, who knows, perhaps even an ever-increasing cheeriness.
First UK EPO positive
EPO was just what those cheating European pros took. OK, Britain’s David Millar admitted using it, but he never actually tested positive, and was going through a bit of a French phase at the time.
No – the shores of Britain could never be tainted by this most foreign form of doping – not the domestic scene.
But on July 29, British Cycling confirmed that Dan Staite had tested positive for EPO and an aromatase inhibitor at the Roy Thame Cup – a National B event – in March. Just like any other rider, Staite was handed a two-year ban from competition, and didn’t dispute his punishment.
Suddenly, though, it meant that British riders were looking at their team-mates at their local club TT with new eyes. Were hobby cyclists not even immune to the temptation of doping?
Unfortunately Staite probably won’t have been the last British rider to test positive for EPO. The next step, however, is to ensure that young British riders don’t feel that they have to resort to doping to perform at the domestic level.
Storey competes at Commonwealth Games, takes aim at 2012 Olympics
Sarah Storey has her heart set on riding the team pursuit and the road time trial at London 2012. It is a dream like any other top cyclist’s, but she’d better be ready for a long block of racing if she also wants to defend her road time trial title and individual pursuit title at the Paralympic Games a month later, too.
A five-time Paralympic gold-medal winner in swimming, Storey switched to cycling in 2005 and hasn’t looked back since – other than to see the carnage she has wreaked behind her on the way to another world or national title.
Storey, whose left hand is not properly developed, became the first disabled cyclist to represent England on an able-bodied team at the Commonwealth Games, but hopes to become the first cyclist to ride at both the Paralympics and the Olympics come 2012.
At the Commonwealth Games, she took a respectable sixth place in the individual pursuit – but not coming home from India with a medal has only fired her up further to achieve her goals.
Hot to Trott: Laura storms the podium
Anyone concerned that the GB team’s dominance in track racing at the Beijing Olympics will be difficult to replicate on home turf in 2012 need only look to the current crop of juniors to be persuaded otherwise.
While Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton promise to be firing on all cylinders again, able back-up is likely to come from the younger generation – led by the more-than-promising 2010 results of 18-year-old Laura Trott.
Trott came away from the World Junior Track Championships in Montichiara, Italy, in August with a rainbow jersey as winner of the omnium on the final day to add to the silver medals won in the points race and individual pursuit. The results came on the back of fourth place in the road time trial at the junior road Worlds the week before to cap an exceptional month for the youngster.
Laura’s older sister, Emma, is also a talented cyclist, riding for the GB Academy. The British female equivalent of the Schleck brothers, anyone?
Bradley Wiggins: back to basics
Team Sky had talked the talk. They’d even walked the walk a not inconsiderable distance by winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad through Juan Antonio Flecha, and with their star man, Bradley Wiggins winning the Giro prologue.
And Wiggins himself, he has recently admitted, had lived like a monk in his build-up to the Tour de France in July, steering clear of alcohol, readying himself in a new-school environment of psychologists, nutritionists and posh buses.
But on stage 14, the first day in the Pyrenees, Wiggins admitted what everyone had been suspecting since the start of the race in Rotterdam when the Briton was almost as far away from repeating his win in that prologue stage at the Giro when he could only finish 77th: that he just didn’t have it in 2010.
“I just feel consistently mediocre,” he told journalists after he finished the stage, which left him 11-and-a-half minutes behind then-leader Andy Schleck on the general classification. “Not brilliant, not shit, just mediocre.”
Hoping that Wiggins could have improved on his fourth place overall at the 2009 Tour, while riding for Garmin, had been over-ambitious, he and his Sky team had to later admit. It now means that team manager Dave Brailsford will change much of the ethos of the set-up for 2011. No longer will it be about “one rider, one race” Brailsford said at the team’s get-together in Windsor last month, referring to Wiggins at the Tour.
“We’re going to turn it all on its head, and look at key races right the way through the season,” said Brailsford. “We’ve strengthened the team, and I think we have a greater depth now. With the guys we’ve brought in, we’ve identified the key races where we want to go for the win.”
Next year’s Tour route does not suit Wiggins’s strengths, either, prompting directeur sportif Sean Yates to state that a top 10 finish is a far more realistic goal for the team’s leader. Not that anyone’s giving up yet; the plan is for Wiggins to miss next year’s Giro so that he comes to the Tour less tired, with emphasis instead put on training at altitude in readiness for the Tour’s climbs.
And for his part, Wiggins is hoping for a somewhat less intense to next summer’s race. Expect a more relaxed Team Sky, and an even more relaxed Bradley Wiggins, for 2011.
Thor Hushovd thunders to world champs win
If you had to choose a world champion that no one would begrudge, then Norway’s Thor Hushovd was probably it. While the forums debated Mark Cavendish’s chances on the Geelong, Australia, course – the tough climb put paid to his bid; the Briton went for an early bath – Hushovd kept his head down and his mind focused.
The race threatened to splinter apart permanently, but regrouped on the final lap to set things up for a bunch sprint – albeit a 25-man one after 260 tough kilometres – with Hushovd taking gold from Denmark’s Matti Breschel and Australian Allan Davis.
Hushovd will wear his rainbow jersey as part of the Garmin-Cervélo team in 2011 – a team which includes previous sprint rival Tyler Farrar.
Hushovd, though, has demonstrated his likeability again by claiming that it won’t be a problem: he says he’ll try to help Farrar overcome Cavendish in the sprints at the Tour to win the green jersey, while he himself concentrates on the Classics and the tougher Tour stages. A deserving world champion indeed.
Basso’s Giro win: a certain certainty?
The most excting grand tour for years – this year’s Giro – was dampened by just two things. The awful weather, some would argue, actually made it even better, but Ivan Basso’s victory wasn’t welcomed in every quarter.
Most had to concede, though, that the Italian probably had won it clean, only eventually wresting the pink leader’s jersey from a stubborn David Arroyo on stage 19, just two days from the finish in Verona, having ridden an intelligent final week in the mountains.
Of course, Basso won his home tour back in 2006, but for some a question mark still hovers over that victory – even though Basso maintains that he has never doped, and only thought about it: a thought that landed him a two-year ban.
Basso, 32, will now take both his sporting and life experiences with him as he attempts to crack the race that has so far eluded him: the Tour de France. He showed ‘before’ that he could compete there; Basso mark II will be hoping to show that he’s still that good.
Few had taken too much notice of Saxo Bank neo pro Richie Porte before May 19 – stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia. They certainly couldn’t miss him when he was standing atop of the podium in the pink leader’s jersey by tea time that day, however, having ridden into the race lead as part of a breakaway that put more than 12 minutes into the race favourites.
The young Australian was already clad in the white jersey as best young rider having put in a fine prologue time trial performance. And the young Australian subsequently lost the jersey to Caisse d’Epargne’s David Arroyo three days later, but held on to the white jersey all the way to the finish in Verona, having gained valuable experience in leading a grand tour – his first. It was rare to these days see anyone ride with such intelligence and maturity in their first major tour.
But what is also rare is the sheer amount of expectation now being heaped on the Tasmanian’s young shoulders. If his new Saxo Bank team-mate Alberto Contador is banned in 2011, then Porte will have to assume a huge amount of responsibility. A repeat of last year’s impressive riding should keep the sponsors happy, though. But is he capable of more?
It started as a paragraph on a French website, just a rumour and a ridiculous one at that. It was alleged that motorised bikes had been used in the peloton. Within days, Fabian Cancellara’s crushing dominance at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix were under intense scrutiny. Well, they were extraordinary performances.
The rumours spawned dozens of homemade conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. Television footage was slowed down, zoomed in on, annotated. Cancellara’s numerous bike changes during the Tour of Flanders were said to be evidence that he was using a bike with a motor in the bottom bracket. He swapped bikes because the battery was running down, or something. And his jaw-dropping acceleration at Paris-Roubaix was homed in on as definitive proof that something was up.
The fact that Tom Boonen and the rest of the lead group had slowed to little more than a crawl was conveniently overlooked.
Then the professionals got involved. Davide Cassani in Italy and Jacky Durand in France, compiled packages for their respective television stations showing how it could be done. The motor was in the bottom bracket. It stored energy and could be activated with a flick of a switch. The battery was hidden in the downtube or a water bottle.
The story was proof of how the sport’s credibility had been damaged by successive doping scandals. Were people really taking this seriously?
The UCI was. The governing body announced it would be scanning bikes before the prologue at the Tour de France. Cancellara’s bike was one that was x-rayed. There was no motor. Cancellara crushed the rest.
“Fabian has two motors – his left leg and his right leg,” said his boss, the Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis.
And so the rumours and YouTube videos were scotched and the story was shown to be complete nonsense. Wasn’t it?
A suspiciously keen cyclist
An MI6 agent who was found dead in a sports bag left in the bath of his London flat was Gareth Williams, a keen cyclist who rode for Cheltenham and County Cycling Club.
The national newspapers seized on descriptions of the 31 year old’s personality. He was quiet, shy and kept himself to himself. He didn’t talk about his job much, which is not surprising given his line of work. Williams was reported to be a codebreaker who was working for the Secret Intelligence Service on secondment from GCHQ in Cheltenham.
In the absence of an explanation for his death, the newspapers – particularly the tabloids – delved into the realm of lurid speculation.
And the coverage began to take on a pejorative tone. Williams was described as ‘a loner’ who liked to go off on gruelling, long bike rides. It didn’t fit the James Bond stereotype the tabloids love to induge in simply to explain that Williams did a complex job and perhaps sought to switch off by enjoying his hobby.
However, the circumstances that led to his death remain unexplained and his killers are still at large.
World champ bows out in style
A fortnight after clinching the Premier Calendar title for the third time, Chris Newton announced he was to retire.
The 36-year-old former world champion and medal-winner at three Olympics decided to take up an opportunity to join British Cycling’s coaching staff. His decision was, in part, influenced by the UCI’s decision to remove his preferred event, the points race, from the Olympic Games schedule for 2012.
But Newton bowed out on a high note. The Rapha-Condor-Sharp rider sealed a crushing 200-point victory over Simon Richardson in the country’s road race series.
He won three of the eight rounds – the Tour Doon Hame, the Lincoln Grand Prix and the Beaumont Trophy – and finished in the top six at three other events.
Newton’s win in Lincoln was particularly impressive and came a decade after his first victory there.
A long and varied career saw Newton play a key part in the evolution and improvement of the Great Britain team pursuit quartet. He was part of the group that finally broke through the glass ceiling and delivered Britain’s first World Championship gold in the discipline, at Los Angeles in 2005.
Britain’s time-trialling royalty
Michael Hutchinson and Julia Shaw continue to reign as the king and queen of British time trialling. They both won the big four domestic crowns – the 10, 25, 50 and 100-mile title races – in imperious fashion.
Hutchinson won the 100-mile event by a staggering 16 minutes, missing Kevin Dawson’s competition record by only 18 seconds. Shaw, whose dominance earned her a well-deserved place in the England Commonwealth Games team when it appeared she might have been overlooked, did break the competition record in the 100.
Hutchinson did break Graeme Obree’s 50-mile record by six seconds, a mark which has stood since 1993. Shaw lowered her own 50-mile record by three seconds.
They were toppled when it came to the National Time Trial Championships – Hutchinson missed out on a medal as Team Sky took the top three places and Shaw was pushed into second by Emma Pooley – but they stand head and shoulders above the domestic opposition.
Hutchinson is 35 and Shaw is ten years older, and they show no signs of letting that supremacy slip.