There’s no doubt what was the biggest story in 2012, I’m sure we can all agree on that. Lance Armstrong’s thumping fall from grace took up more column inches than just about any other story in the annals of sports writing.
Lance’s efforts were dubbed by Chicago Tribune sportswriter Phil Hersh as “the greatest fraud in the history of sports.” An overstatement? Not even close.
Marion Jones looks like an amateur next to Lance. The Texan may not have failed a single drug test in his career (unless you count the one at the Tour de Suisse, about which director Martial Saugy of the Swiss anti-doping laboratory that undertook the analysis informed federal authorities the results were “consistent with EPO use,” and after which Armstrong made a generous and timely donation to the UCI), but the evidence gathered by Travis Tygart of United States Anti-Doping Authority (USADA) was enough to see the American stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.
But how about the best race of 2012? Bradley Wiggins claiming the Tour? Ryder Hesjedal becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour at the Giro? Simon Gerrans winning his first Monument in San Remo?
Philippe Gilbert claiming the Rainbow Jersey with that magnificent attack in Limburg? Peter Sagan’s Green jersey win in the Tour? Each of those triumphs had their merits, no doubt, and they’re worth considering as ‘ride of the year’.
‘Wiggo’s’ win was special in that it was the culmination of so much effort, not only by himself but also his team of dedicated support staff, of whom Shane Sutton – the Australian head coach of British cycling – deserves a special mention.
They took a world class pursuiter and shaped him into a Grand Tour winner, claiming the Dauphine, Paris-Nice and the Tour of Romandie in the build-up to the triumph in Paris. Some say the 2012 Tour was lacking in highlights but it was probably the cleanest Tour in the past 20 or 30 years.
Wiggins also had to contend with the skittishness of his teammate Chris Froome, who rode a little naively at times, but in the end ‘the ModFather’ survived and was a deserved winner.
Then we have that Canadian guy whose name no one can pronounce, that Garmin dude who won the Giro – Ryder Hesjedal. A spectacular win? No. A special victory? In some ways, yes.
What was commendable about this win was that Ryder had to endure the negativity of the Italian press, who wrote him off right until the very end, and with indifferent fans along the road.
It was a measured and sturdy performance by the Canadian to win Pink, and, considering he is a rider who has so far been above any connections to doping and is considered clean by the majority of the peloton, it could be viewed as indicative of a turning point in the battle against doping.
That his team owner and several teammates have since been collared for cheating does take the shine off a little, however.
Simon Gerrans was the top Australian performer in the World Tour in 2012, winning the Milan-San Remo – what a classic Classic that was!
After six hours, 59 minutes and 24 seconds of racing, Gerrans hit the line against two of the top riders of this generation, outsprinting Fabian Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali. On the run in to San Remo, after Gerrans and ‘Spartacus’ had latched on to the Italian’s decisive attack, many a fan (non-Aussie, of course) would have had their money on the big Swiss, but more fool them.
Gerrans had been knocking on the door for a while and here was the proof that this highly-respected rider did indeed have the right stuff. A great win, and there should be more to come.
And on to Gilbert on the Cauberg. At the Worlds? He’s bound to win. He must win. Well two years ago, in 2011, you’d have agreed with that in a flash. So dominant was the Belgian in one day races that it seemed that the only rider that could beat him was himself. Indeed, it might be easier to list what he didn’t win, than what he did.
But 2012 was not so smooth for the BMC rider, who put his drop in form down to a change in training regime and a change of saddle. He picked things up a little at the Vuelta a Espana though, just before the World Champs, winning two stages, and then he got on the Cauberg for the final run in to the line, and, ably led out by a generous Tom Boonen, opened up his jets and took off.
“Chapeau!” They shouted afterwards. “Hats off to you sir!” It was a brilliant final fling to a poor season for a man who I’m sure will be a worthy World Champion.
Penultimately, we come to Peter Sagan, the kid they call the ‘next Eddy’. Many have had that moniker hoisted upon them, most recently Edvald Boasson Hagen, but Sagan looks to be the real deal.
It could be said that 2011 was his breakthrough year, but then his 2010 season was pretty impressive too, when in his first year as a pro he won the green jersey at Paris-Nice and the Tour of California.
2012 was one heck of a year for him though, with a stage and the points classification in Oman, the points and five stage wins in California, another points win and four stages at the Tour de Suisse and some great Classics rides.
But it was in the Tour that Sagan staked his claim to greatness, with three stages and the Green Jersey win. He scared the heck out of the climbers in the mountains on a couple of days, put Cavendish in his place and even pulled a wheelie on a summit finish.
His celebrations annoyed some but the detractors’ words couldn’t diminish from the power of his display. Wiggins may have dominated in Yellow through the year but the young Slovakian was close to being the most consistent performer in 2012. Damn, can this boy ride a bike.
However, great in their own way that each of these performances was, for me there was one ride this year, on one single day, that encapsulated all that is so mesmerising about this mad sport of cycling that I love so deeply – and so foolishly.
It was a performance of such dominance and brutality it might have been considered vulgar or even crude, were it not for the fact the rider responsible for the carnage married with it a brilliant elegance and a deep sense of the sublime that it had the watcher casting his or her mind back to the great rides of Eddie Merckx and Bernard Hinault, Francesco Moser and Roger De Vlaeminck.
It was, of course, Tom Boonen at Paris-Roubaix. The Times wrote that the Belgian “dominated” the race, which was nonsense – he was the race.
When Boonen dropped his companions with 55km to – and if anyone reading this has raced, at any level, you will know how insane that is – he became Paris-Roubaix, became before our eyes the true physical embodiment of the history of the race, its hardships and its joys, and of the greats who have conquered it.
I’ve watched it since with the sound off on the television and it is even more impressive without the commentary.
“But Cancellara wasn’t there!” some may holler, but it didn’t matter. The Belgian had been so dominant in the weeks and days before Roubaix that it was his to lose. That he would win in such a beautiful and forceful manner though was unexpected.
What a ride, and what a treat to witness. For me, it was beyond doubt the performance of the year.
And here we are again on the cusp of another season, with the Tour Down Under about to kick off very soon, and a fascinating year it promises to be.
The Classics will no doubt serve up their usual delights and intrigue and the Grand Tours promise to be fascinating too, with Alberto Contador back in July and Wiggins hinting at a defence of his title, with Froome, Andy and Frank Schleck, Nibali and Cadel Evans all keen to get stuck in too.
It will also be a critical year for the direction of the sport, with the UCI having to step up their game, as they face challenges from Change Cycling Now and disgruntled fans.
Catch all the news and best cycling writing right here on The Roar in 2013, and all the best for the New Year!
But in the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinions Roarers. What was the best World Tour ride of 2012 in your books?