The year 2012 will surely go down in pro cycling history was one of the most bizarre. The last twelve months have brought so many strange, unexpected and sport-altering stories that it’s worth stepping back for a moment to take in the entire view. In no particular order …
The UCI sues an unemployed Irish journalist over his doping criticism and in short order two bloggers set up a defense fund that tops $95,000. Now funded, journalist counter-sues UCI and UCI backs down. Unprecedented.
Philippe Gilbert, a rider who dominated practically every race of 2011 turns invisible a year later. He’s ill, he’s can’t seem to recover well, he can’t adjust to his new bike and pedals. Gilbert falls to earth and looks merely mortal. Then in the World Championship Road Race he saves his entire season with a rainbow jersey. Medium strange.
A US Federal attorney in charge of the investigation of doping in Armstrong’s US Postal squad sudden decides to close the case, no charge filed. Betsey Andreu says the US justice system has failed us. Armstrong critics everywhere assume it’s over, the Boss escapes forever. Nope. Doing in three months what the Feds failed to do in two years, Travis Tygart brings down one of the most powerful sports legends in history and send shockwaves through the sport. Astonishing.
Disgraced doper Tyler Hamilton teams up with writer Daniel Coyle to pen The Secret Race and win the William Hill sports book of the year award. Hey, he lost his gold medal from the Olympics but now the man is a respected auteur.
The unrepentant doper Alexander Vinokourov stuns and disgusts at least half the cycling world with his victory in the Olympic Road Race. Sure, we all used to love his attacking style but the man was on the secret sauce. In the year of the biggest doping crisis in cycling, Vino takes gold.
The US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado kicks the Tour of California’s butt again. For drama and excitement, the first two years of the Colorado stage race have brought massive crowds and daring racing. California is now playing catch up — which given the wider range of geographical options, including a dazzling coastline, seems a little bizarre. Only Peter Sagan liked California.
Rabobank, a long time sponsor in pro cycling, takes a close read of the USADA Reasoned Decision and decides the UCI is incapable of safeguarding the sport from future doping scandals. The weirdness? They honor the 2013 contracts but pull their name of the team kit, leading to the wacky team name Blanco Pro. It’s like Rabobank took a huge bottle of white out and went to work. If you want an indictment of the UCI governance, a major sponsor erasing their name completely on everything the team wears is a shocker. Has this every happened in a sport before? Doubtful but that’s bike racing, UCI style.
An F-bomb dropping marketing guy from a compression wear company grows so disenchanted with the people running the sport that he launches an unprecedented lawsuit against them. Jamie Fuller later joins forces with Irish journalist Kimmage and goes to war. Again, find us a parallel in another sport.
So called Super-team RadioShack-Nissan Trek implodes, scattering debris over two continents. The merger of Leopard and RadioShack was so scary even Contador was a little worried. Andy Schleck was supposed to team up with grand tour genius Johan Bruyneel and the Belgian was going to make the kid a Tour winner. Johan failed to light a fire but he did help burn the team down. Andy Schleck never even got started and finished the year as a shell of his former second place self. Frank fails a doping test in Le Tour, Jakob Fuglsang spends most of the year in Bruyneel’s doghouse but still manages a few wins in week long stage races. Then Bruyneel is forced to exit when the USADA bomb denotes. You could write an entire book on this strange saga.
Lance Armstrong loses all seven Tour de France wins. Just read that sentence slowly and remind yourself of the staggering magnitude of that headline. A year ago who would have bet on that? Not even David Walsh would have put money on that outcome.
Greg Lemond, now the only American Tour de France winner, goes from outsider to hero and offers to be the interim president of the UCI while the organization is ripped apart and rebuilt with something resembling competence and integrity. This is another story that in any other sport would snap heads but in cycling, we just take bizarre for normal.
The year 2012 will also be remember for Juan Jose Cobo, the rider who won the previous Vuelta a Espana but who did exactly jack-squat this season. Returning to defend his crown, he finishes the 2012 Vuelta in a miserable 32nd place. His complete and utter failure raises the inevitable question of doping. Surely, Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde can set him up with better “preparation.”
The Movement For Credible Cycling goes from invisible, powerless fringe group to become the mandatory seal of approval for teams trying to present a “clean” image. The list of dodgey squads trying to suddenly gain admission is truly comical. Membership used to be limited to a few high minded French squads and Garmin but now Vino’s Astana, the Russians at Katusha and Androni Giacattoli — home of doper Franco Pellizotti — are begging for admission. In the post USADA world, the appearance of hygiene is everything.
The Truth & Reconciliation idea. This is the crazy cycling world we live in. Does soccer or football or basketball or golf or ping-pong talk about a Truth and Reconciliation commission to sweep clean a dark history of doping? Just the mention of the idea proves what a strange year is has been.
Team Sky and Zero Tolerance. You can agree or disagree with the approach, we’re just judging on the bizarre factor. Let’s pick NBA basketball for example. Imagine picking up the sports page and reading that the management of the world champion Miami Heat has called in superstars Lebron James, Duane Wade and even the ballboy to force them to sign a document stating they have never smoked marijuana or taken any recreational drugs. Lebron hesitates, the team psychologist senses he is lying and the Heat forces Lebron to retire because he has, huh, a heart problem or something. Later in the day Wade to traded to Cleveland because, well, the team can’t really say why.
Special mention: Andy Schleck, lost year. We like Andy — he is a sweet and fun-loving and down to earth guy but we expected a step up this year and instead got five steps back. Even top riders have off-years but it’s hard not to ask the fundamental question. Is he committed enough to win a grand tour ever? A bizarre year and jury still in heated debate.
Betsey Andreu, wife of retired Postal rider Frankie Andreu, is elevated to sainthood. Think how that feels for her. She starts the year with people hating her and Lance continuing to crush her and call her a shrew and a liar and a cancer lover and suddenly Travis Tygart gives her a new life. Now cycling journalists are stumbling over themselves to anoint her Saint Betsey.
You can classify 2012 as a truly crazy year just by asking who is the most powerful man in cycling. Because it’s not a star rider, influential team manager, rich-man sponsor or anybody at the UCI. The most powerful man in cycling this year is the CEO of the United States Doping Agency. Travis Tygart has set in motion and essentially forced a referendum on every issue in pro cycling. That is the power of fearless truth.
Bonus: Twisted Spoke turns four years old on January 1st. Yup, it’s strange to believe that most every day for four years I’ve cranked out something on this fantastic sport. A special thanks to my long time readers because hell, I’m aiming for five.
There is no question what a bizarre year it has been in pro cycling. What have I missed — let me know your pick for strange.