Bradley Wiggins leading the Tour de France. AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET

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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?

Lee Rodgers
Lee Rodgers

Lee Rodgers is a former professional rider on the UCI Asia circuit. He is now a freelance journalist, cycling coach and runs the website www.crankpunk.com.

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The Crowd Says (17)

  • Columnist

    January 5th 2013 @ 9:00am
    Sean Lee said | January 5th 2013 @ 9:00am | ! Report

    Nailed it in one Lee. Gerrans was special, especially for us Aussies, but Boonen was brilliant. The way he just upped the tempo at Paris-Roubaix and left everyone in his wake was sublime. I loved watching Boonen this year, right from the Tour of Qatar (another race he owns). Will we ever see such domination of the cobbled classics again?

    • Columnist

      January 5th 2013 @ 4:19pm
      Lee Rodgers said | January 5th 2013 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

      Maybe from Sagan? if there’s one guy out there who has the tools, it’s him. Boonen though is a fascinating rider, who had to adapt his style as he lost his top-end sprinting speed – much like Hushovd, who demonstrated how to make that transition successfully when he won Green Jersey at the Tour de France in 2009, attacking on that mountain stage (19 if I remember) – brilliant stuff.

      It’s been great for the sport to see him come back from that rocky time a couple of years ago, with the positive for cocaine and then the injuries. I actually rode in the 2012 Tour of Qatar and he was just so much better than anyone else out there. Another there guy was Sagan – never seen a better bike handler in the peloton, so smooth.

      And though he’s been around for ages, Boonen is still only 32, so we should still see more of him for a few years yet. It will be interesting to see how Fabian Cancellara rides the Classics this year – hopefully it’ll be a Battle Royale at the Tour of Flander and Paris-Roubaix!

  • January 5th 2013 @ 9:01am
    liquor box said | January 5th 2013 @ 9:01am | ! Report

    I think I missed about 3 days of cycling for the whole season (damn work!) and I think the most decisive performance was Wiggins in an uphill TT on the last stage of Paris-Nice. He needed to win it and it was a good test of where he was in preparation for the TDF. http://www.steephill.tv/players/aso-profile/?race=paris-nice&stage=8&year=2012&src=http://www.grassyknolltv.com/2012/paris-nice/profile-8.gif&finish_src=http://www.grassyknolltv.com/2012/paris-nice/last-kms-8.gif It was a testing profile and he motored up it with a fast cadence and a lot of power. After this stage I managed to get money on Wiggins at 9/1 for the TDF as I was blown away with how he won and could see no reason why he would not be able to to do the same on the TDF.

    My favourite two stages for the season were uphill at extreme angles at the end. Stege 3 of the Giro del Trentino opened my eyes up to what type of roads it was possible to race on. It was a goat track that had tar put down on the last mountain Brenzone Punta Veleno was the end town and it looked like the hardest climb I had ever seen. The road was rediculously steep and narrpow and was a great victory by Domenico Pozzovivo. My other favourite stage was at the Vuelta, it had the slowest finnish to a race I have ever seen, the eurosport commentators were laughing as I think from memory the last 100m was at around 26% gradient and I honestly thought a couple of cyclists were going to get off their bike and walk the last few metres.

    My favourite ride was Thomas Voekler getting the polka dot jersey, not only because he is my favourite cyclist from one of my favourite teams but just the way he did it was great. I thought the polka dot jersey battle was the highlight of the TDF this year. It was a race that you thought could change everyday and I especially liked Voekler going old school and removing his radio and just riding to his ability and to what was happening around him.

    2012 was an awesome year and unfortunately I am now in a different job where I work normal working hours so my viewing habits will have to change. lets hope 2013 is a great year for cycling, and a great year for Aussie cycling

    • Columnist

      January 5th 2013 @ 4:23pm
      Lee Rodgers said | January 5th 2013 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

      Good choices there liquor box! i’d forgotten that King of the Mountains battle at the Tour actually! It was great to see that classification being so hard fought, as in recent years it’s been very much a forgotten side show, won by a chancer rather than by way of a real mountain duel. And I remember now Voeckler’s face on that day – he was a bag of facial and body ticks! Brilliant stuff.

  • January 5th 2013 @ 10:33am
    Cicero said | January 5th 2013 @ 10:33am | ! Report

    I wouldn’t have read this article last year but after watching the TDF on telly I was inspired. I bought a bike and now pedal up and down The Fearnley Track in Newcastle dreaming of stage victories and taking the yellow. It’s a great sport and I love it. For an old novice like me it’s a brand new learning curve and I never realised how complex it is, from strategic and tactical considerations when watching the pro’s or how simple it can be when you’re rolling down the hill with the wind in your face and enjoying the view. Thanks for the article. Please, can someone tell me about gearing and cadence. I still don’t understand whether it’s better to strain a bit on a tougher gear or pedal more smoothly on an easier one. Thanks again

    • Columnist

      January 5th 2013 @ 4:27pm
      Lee Rodgers said | January 5th 2013 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

      Cicero, I do exactly the same thing, no matter how long you’ve ridden or how much you race, seems it never ends! I also practise my victory salutes on deserted country roads, which can get very embarrassing when a car suddenly flies around the corner…

      And thank you for the request on gearing and cadence, we’ll get to work on that this week. If you, or indeed any other of The Roar’s readers have any requests for articles. please feel free to let me know!

  • Roar Guru

    January 5th 2013 @ 12:44pm
    Bones506 said | January 5th 2013 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

    Boonen at PR had my vote. It was the most exciting ride to watch. I read the power outputs he produced over the final 55 and they are huge. He smashed the cobbles at over 450w and rode a smooth tempo on the roads. He was putting time into the bunch.

    • Columnist

      January 5th 2013 @ 4:31pm
      Lee Rodgers said | January 5th 2013 @ 4:31pm | ! Report

      Yeah, it was just jaw-dropping. I’ve done that too… for about 24 seconds! Seriously though, I remember watching it at a coffee shop with other cycling fans, and there was a kind of ‘wow’ as he went away, then after 5 minutes a feeling that he couldn’t possibly sustain it, then after 15 minutes a hushed shock that he was actually increasing the gap. From then on in it was just awe. I’m gonna have to download it again now…!

  • January 5th 2013 @ 7:19pm
    Tony said | January 5th 2013 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

    nice article, paris-roubaix was indeed ride of the year. closely second was alberto’s bid for vulta win on that stage

  • January 6th 2013 @ 5:14pm
    Brendon said | January 6th 2013 @ 5:14pm | ! Report

    I’m glad Wiggins won the tour, I do however prefer the tours that are more mountain based rather than being decided by time trials. Will be interesting to see how Contador goes this year when duelling with Froome who for me will go in with big expectations, who’s your pick for the tour this year Lee?

    • Columnist

      January 7th 2013 @ 12:04pm
      Lee Rodgers said | January 7th 2013 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

      Hi Brendon, well it’s a more mountainous route this year, and though Andy Schleck, Chris Froome, Pierre Rolland and Cadel will all be working hard to get in top shape, it’s very difficult to see beyond Alberto Contador. I’m not his biggest fan but he is the outstanding climber of his generation and one of the best Grand Tour riders ever. On his day – and even off it – he’s almost impossible to beat thanks to those surging attacks he can put in.

      There are some young guns like Rolland and Tejay Van Garderen who may challenge in the next couple of years, but I think this one is Conty’s to lose…

      • Roar Guru

        January 7th 2013 @ 1:17pm
        Bones506 said | January 7th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        Conty is a one man wrecking ball in the mountains and with Sorrenson and Rogers in his team he will be well supported so I think he is the man to beat.

        Throw in Tejay, who will be a much better rider in 2013 and the race will certainly not be as one sided as what it was in 2012.

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