They’re ranked in no particular order, but given the state of cycling right now, it’s impossible to avoid the recurring theme of doping related sentiments. In many ways, the fight against dope is the big story of the year – it will have a larger impact on the sport’s future than any single rider or race ever could. We’ve seen a few letters from fans who’ve simply given up on the sport… and turned their backs on the guys who ride clean. And sure, we’re as pissed as you are, but with each cheater caught and burned comes a stronger message to the rest to stay clean, or get clean – and that is good news for the future.
So without further delay – here’s what stood out for us:
Cadel: Mr. Can’t Buy A Win
From Richard Pestes – Try as he might, the ex-pro mtb racer just couldn’t win a big race this year, but starting with his 2nd place at the Dauphine Libere, he pretty much raced the rest of the season as a serious contender every time he lined up. His results speak for themselves, and harken back to the days before riders cherry picked events: Tour de France- 2nd, Vattenfall- 4th, Vuelta – 4th, Worlds – 5th, Lombardia – 6th. It’s a bit of a joke that he won the only competition no one really cares about, being awarded the consolation prize as ProTour winner after the UCI deemed DiLuca ineligible due to an ‘association’ with a nefarious doctor some years back. But regardless of results, you gotta love a guy who shows up to win as often as Cadel… that is inspiring.
And hey, looking back at the aftershocks of doping – Cadel will eventually get that elusive 2007 win after Alexandre Vinokourov’s Tour de France stage victory in the Albi TT is rescinded – and in his place will go Mr. One Win: Cadel Evans.
Rabobank: Righteousness Defined
From Richard Pestes – The Rabobank riders, team, sponsors and fans suffered arguably the greatest humiliation of all with the ousting of Michael Rasmussen while only days away from sure victory in Paris at this year’s Tour. The ASO did an admirable thing in not ‘accepting’ Rabo’s withdrawal from the Tour, (or whatever spin they put on booting disgraced teams from their race), but even more admirable was how the team pulled itself from the depths of disgrace after working tirelessly for a leader who deceived them all.
Michael Boogerd confessed to wanting to quit the Tour entirely, but kept going – making one of the later breaks and nearly pulling off the perfect swan song.
They soldiered on and rode into Paris with dignity and grace – and likely a stronger team bond than anyone else. And still more admirable is the commitment shown by the Dutch sponsors Rabobank who, unlike so many sponsors, have chosen to be part of the solution to clean up cycling by staying in the sport.
There was no doubting the Denis Menchov at the Vuelta. He went from a depressed worker for Rasmo to Vuelta champion in just over a month.
Bob Stapleton’s Grace Under Pressure
From Dr. Stephen Cheung – When Stapleton took over the T-Mobile squad, he had to have known he was going to be in for a rough ride. However, I don’t think anybody envisaged just how brutal things were, and you had to feel sorry for Stapleton as the entire T-Mobile structure toppled around him. Ironically, T-Mobile and Adidas dropping its sponsorship may be the best thing possible for the new Team High Road, as it completes the purging of the past and permits Stapleton’s vision to hopefully finally take hold. Having a classy American rider like Hincapie can’t hurt either!
From Dr. Stephen Cheung – What a season for the Swiss TT god. After a tuneup prologue and final-stage TT win at the Tour de Suisse, Fab takes the rainbow jersey for a smoking fast tour of downtown London en route to a magnificent prologue win at Le Tour. As if that wasn’t enough, he solos off the front of a charging peloton a few stages later and wins a stage wearing the maillot jaune.
Jered: Cancellara’s ‘sprint’ victory at the Tour counts as one of my top moments of the year for sure. Still unbelievable.
Oh yeah, plus a thorough stomping-over of the competition in Stuttgart for a repeat Worlds TT. It can’t be a coincidence that Cervelo and Zipp sales continue to go through the roof.
Untouchable again at Worlds.
Slipstream on the Rise
From Dr. Stephen Cheung – Apart from argyle as a fashion statement, what’s not to love about the Slipstream project? An unabashedly new approach to the development and management of a cycling squad that may just shepherd in a new era in pro cycling. Not trying to grow too fast or buy their way into the big leagues, and not placing ridiculous pressure on their riders (hello Oleg Tinkov and Michael Ball!), Vaughters has instead chosen to build an enormous support base for his team while providing full transparency in health monitoring and drug testing. It may take a few more years, but this is cycling’s future and hopefully salvation.
Magnus Backstedt and David Millar will be two of the top riders headlining the Tour hopeful Slipstream squad in 2008.
The New Generation
After each Tour ‘dynasty’ comes few years of sorting out as we await the emergence of a new patron of le grand boucle. 2006 is a result many fans would prefer to forget, the same can be said for 2007, which in a way puts more hope and pressure on this year’s winner Alberto Contador. Marked by many insiders as the next Tour great one, at least he’s gone on record claiming he’s clean, which is a good stand to take in these troubled times. Let’s hope he’s for real. As half heartedly enthusiastic as that sounds, given the duping we’ve been handed by the dopers over the years, many fans have no choice but to expect riders to prove the innocence first.
Cavendish Coming On
From Nick O’Brien – We’ve got to celebrate Mark Cavendish laying waste to the peloton in his first full pro season – to score just 4 wins behind Ale-Jet and ahead of Boonen, McEwen & co was hyper impressive. Robbie McEwen’s face when Cav streaked past to win the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen was a real “What the f***?!” picture. Wouldn’t we all like to be a fly on the wall when he re-negotiates his next contract?
Linus Gerdemann Arrives
From Guy Wilson-Roberts – Winning stage 7 of the Tour and taking over the yellow jersey in his first Tour appearance. Gerdemann’s ride was just one of many great performances seen by young riders this season, across all the races during the year. There’s a new generation coming, and these guys are talented, exciting riders and – crucially – they are outspoken against drugs.
For Nick O’Brien it’s the emergence of Ricardo Ricco at the top level. “I saw him a few years ago at a local race to me in Italy as U23 national champ and he looked pure quality back then, so no major surprise with a Giro Stage win. However the fact that he’s been attacking all season – from San Remo (with Gilbert on the Poggio) through to Lombardia (2nd to Cunego) is for me what it’s all about – season long strength and the petulance of youth, see him step up again next year.
There have been a lot of positive developments (pardon the pun) in the battle against doping this year, from better UCI testing under Anne Gripper, to the formation of the ‘Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crйdible (MPCC)’ led by the French teams, and more teams adopting internal, longitudinal testing programmes. While changes need to happen at all levels, including the necessity of better testing and judicial processes, it will ultimately come down to the riders themselves to catch the new wave of dope-free competition. In a few years, youngsters like Gerdemann and others will not only be the future champions, but they will be team leaders and respected riders in the peloton. Their example will be the example for everyone else to follow.
From Charles Manantan – My man of the year is the collective of cyclists that don’t earn six figures… I’ve had enough of the top guys claiming heroics and claiming to be clean while not offering a blood sample… I’ve had enough of guys who suddenly become grand tour stars and also happen to have questionable doctors. Here’s to the guys who have to live in terror knowing that they and their families could be left hungry because a team leader lands them in such hot water that their paycheck pulls the plug. Here’s to the men that carry not only the bottles but the burden of fear that the sport will leave them and they don’t have a few hundred grand to coast on till the next big pick up.
I would have loved to call even one top name cyclist a hero this year, but like the last several, the top guys don’t care enough about the men slogging their guts out to support them to stand together and create a GENUINE Pro Cyclists Union instead of the farce of a riders rep now run buy guys who are in the pockets of the old boys club running the sport and afraid to stand up when either stars or water carriers are banished on accusation or when WADA or the UCI decide to make up the rules as they go along…
I’m not pro dope. I don’t give any rider credit that won’t put up a DNA sample instead of just another hollow claim of clean. But I believe that a strong riders union can help force the absolute joke of a governing body to clean up it’s act, solidify it’s rules and bring the sport forward. The team’s have a union that can create a “do not hire” regulation that is absolute Horse shit. Not because dirty riders should expect a job, but because it takes teams to need to have the rule at all… And I don’t like the precedent of a rider getting blackballed. What’s next? Blackballing riders that ask for health insurance? Collusion of wages?
It’s time for a strong riders union. Cadel, Boonen, Levi, Dennis, Berto, Danilo, Leonardo, Damiano, Fabian… It’s time to say enough is enough and stand together with the guys making less in a career than you will this season. In fact Paolo Bettini should love this as he’ was ready to quit the sport in support if riders rights rather than submit to a DNA profile…
To the guys who would be kings, the sport and your lives will benefit from the UCI and teams needing to consider how to better run cycling instead of how better to simply toss you under the bus and then use it to hype their own cleanliness. It’s time everyone was accountable for the total system and we can’t have that if the riders remain selfishly divided.
Le Tour’s Grand Depart in London
From Nick O’Brien – Massive crowds; huge publicity; great racing and big-name winners. You know things are getting better for the sport when the organizers rope in one of the UK’s more attractive newsreaders for the rider intros at the launch!
The Passing of Ryan Cox in August
From Gord Cameron – I met the former South African champion a couple of times, and a more gentlemanly bike racer you’d be hard pushed to meet. No picture request was too much trouble; no question went unanswered. Coxy … we’ll miss you.
For our man in Spain Alastair Hamilton: “three of the worst/best things that happened this year where, as usual, in the Tour de France. The catching and ejection of Vinokourov and the lies and ejection of Rasmussen have to be the worst occasions of this year. Vinokourov had been sailing a bit close to the wind for a while and the UCI had been watching.
Rasmussen, on the other hand, was allowed to start the Tour, take the yellow jersey and then be thrown out. The non-Tour good thing had to be Bettini’s ride in the Worlds, after all the problems of the organization not wanting him and then coming back to win for a second time in a row, we all know who he was shooting, awesome!
And our final 3 stories from Dave Aldersebaes
Doping – Like it or not, the doping specter not only raised it’s head once again, it hung around, drank beers, and took pictures. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting another doping story this year, each one coming about as crazier than the last. Coitus Interuptus, eluding authorities, non-existent lavish Mexican vacations, cow blood in show boxes, vampire stories, you name it. It seems like an eternity since VDB’s dog story, but the plot’s overtones still ring true. The “new generation” of teams like High Road and Slipstream should prove interesting as they pioneer the physical and perceived fight against doping in 2008. It seems as though all the hell and high water have come to an impasse and 2008 takes on the mantle of a “do or die” year in trying to restore the integrity of the sport.
Discovery’s End of an Era- You had to have raised your eyebrow when the US Postal/Discovery team structure closed up shop. A bundle of Tour titles littered amongst a truckload of dominating performances couldn’t lure a big dollar sponsor to come in and cover the bills, and in turn a huge void has been left in the American professional cycling portrait. In its stead, we’ll see if bigger and improved American teams like Slipstream and Rock and Republic can make some noise at home (Rock) and abroad (Slipstream). Meanwhile, the bionic Bruyneel takes his show to Borat land, and as Astana, rises as the Postal phoenix.
Saul Raisin – In a sense, an epic victory on par with the greatest ever. Far and away the best human interest story and sporting comeback of 2007 is that of Saul Raisin. The kid from Georgia came from eating his meals through a straw after a horrific head injury to competing in the National Time Trial Championship. The bitter note is that Saul’s injuries are insurmountable in the sense that he cannot race at the top level anymore, but the sweetest note is that he basically rose from the dead to toe a start line again. I’ve got two words for that kid: brass balls. Taking on the hardest fight of his life, the kid came back and proved to everyone that’s faced adversity that you can do anything.
Thanks for reading everyone – and have a safe and happy 2008!
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