Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2012: The Podium Review

 
As InTheGC.com moves into it's second year of existence and 2013 has officially begun, now is the time to look back at what was a remarkable 2012 season. This 'Podium Review' should be pretty self explanatory, it's what we have judged as the 2012 'top 3' over various categories. Here's to a final look at 2012 and the memories it gave us...
 
Best Single Day Race
1. Paris-Roubaix
2. Tour of Flanders
3. Womens Olympic Road Race
 
The cobbled classics make 1st and 2nd spot here which is a little predictable. However I know of many fans who class this week of racing as 'THE' week of racing, their season starts with Flanders and ends in Roubaix! The truth of the matter though is that, as a true spectacle of cycling, achievement and stamina nothing can really come close to the sheer brutal nature of the cobbled classics. Both races could have been even better if Fabian Cancellara hadn't missed them! A surprise choice makes the last step of the podium - the Womens Olympic Road Race, the complete opposite to the men's event this race had everything - bad weather, excitement, unpredictability, though we all suspected Marianne Vos would win she managed it in style fending off constant attacks and timing her move with perfection. A great display from Lizzie Armistead made the race even more exciting as she bagged herself a silver medal.
 
Best Week Long Stage Race
1. The Dauphine
2. Paris -Nice
3. Tour Of Britain
 
All much of a muchness, week long stage races can be a little predictable and well, boring. The winner here is the Dauphine - a great little Tour de France warm up race the scenery is good and when Bradley Wiggins crossed the line as winner in 2012 it was then that we, as a nation, began to believe that Wiggins was actually going to see out July as the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. Paris-Nice, also like a miniature Tour de France gave us an earlier insight into exactly what form Wiggins was getting in and finally the Tour of Britain makes third spot ahead of many bigger, more internationally renowned races, the reason? It featured some genuinely 'back to the old days' style riding and racing, it was a also a race that Sky struggled to dominate - even if the eventual winner will be in blue and black for 2013...
 
Best Grand Tour
1. Vuelta a Espana
2. The Tour de France
3. The Giro d'Italia
 
The Grand Tours this year have divided opinion in equal measures. Nobody likes to discount the Tour, after all it is 'The Tour' and it's the one that truly counts. Of course here in Britain the 2012 edition was many fans favourite because Bradley Wiggins won, but having a British Winner certainly doesn't mean the race was exciting or the course exceptional - the outcome was fantastic, the race itself was pretty drab as Sky fended off any notion of attacks with three weeks of Tempo riding, the race was ultimately affected by the big crash on stage 6, which so early on in the race was knocked back quite a few of the favourites. The Vuelta route was much tougher and the closely matched contenders made viewing really exciting. The race is often criticised for its second rate nature, predictability and the Spanish less than clean attitude to doping, ultimately some of the climbs and results became repetitive, but with the winning move coming out of the blue on a flattish day, nobody could argue that it was predictable. From a viewing perspective the Vuelta wins hands down only made slightly bittersweet by Valverde and Contador - as ex-dopers - winning all the plaudits. The Giro was entertaining too this year and again closely matched, had the importance of the Tour not been so great the Giro could well have finished second here.
 
Most Exciting Moments
1. Iljo Keisse Drops His Chain
2. Boonen Goes Solo
3. Contador Makes His Move
 
Who would have thought that my most exciting moment in 2012 would arise in the 'Tour of Turkey'? Not me, but when Iljo Kiesse made a solo move for victory before dropping his chain only metres from the finish, the peloton bearing down on him, it was his cool, calm, collected manner of reassembling his drivechain before eventually pedalling like a lunatic to take the stage win that I remember more than any other win in 2012. It bought Keisse and his amazingly touching back-story to the fore of cycling and made him a firm fan favourite. Talking to anybody, anywhere who watched that race that day, they all said the same: They were stood up in their front rooms, screaming at the television for this rider they had never even heard of to win, it was a truly heart in mouth moment. If you missed it, click play on the video below! Second in line is Tom Boonens astonishing Solo victory in Paris-Roubaix. His audacious attack an astounding 50kms from the finish line made for a nail biting conclusion to a fantastic race, it was a real show of strength and dominance not seen in similar fashion for many, many years. In third place was one of the most masterful, tactically brilliant moves to come in at least the last decade of cycling. The Vuelta a Espana looked like it belong to Rodriguez, he was beating Alberto Contador hands down on every single uphill finish and the result looked a forgone conclusion. If there is one thing we know about Alberto Contador though, it's that he will never give up. On a relatively innocuous stage, Contador called in every favour from ever rider he's ever been owed and made the pace incredibly quick from the off before isolating Joaquim Rodriguez from his teammates and attacking him on a relatively flat part of the course, using his Time Trialling ability to solo to victory of not only the stage, but the entire Grand Tour in a fashion more reminiscent of the days of Bernard Hinault and before...
 
 
Best Sprinter
1. Andre Greipel
2. Mark Cavendish
3. John Degenkol
 
The statistics do tell a story here. We are of course all aware that Mark Cavendish IS the greatest sprinter on earth but having been somewhat frozen out of the Sky camp and playing second fiddle at the Tour, it meant he didn't quite rack up as many wins as usual. The most prolific sprinter this year was Andre Greipel and though best and prolific are not the same, it's only fair that Greipel gets his dues. There were other sprinters more prolific than Degenkolb this year too, but with a domineering display and 5 stage wins in the Vuelta, the German had to make the list.
 
Best Cobbled Classics Rider
1. Tom Boonen
2. Allessandro Ballan
3. Pippo Pozzato
 
There can only be one winner here, because there was only really one winner of the cobbled classics this year. Had Fabian Cancellara not broken his collarbone things could of course have been entirely different but that's not Tom Boonens fault. He completely annihilated the rest of the players this year in a show of dominance we havn't seen from Boonen in recent years. His top end sprint may be on its way out, but king of the classics? Certainly. Allessandro Ballan makes the list because he finished third at both Flanders and Rubaix - he will miss the classics in 2013 thanks to a horrific winter training accident, but the return of Cancellara will cover those losses. Pippo makes third just for the sheer audacity of riding the classics only weeks after breaking his Collarbone - cobbles are not the most comfortable riding at the best of times, to finish second at Flanders was some achievement.
 
Best GC Rider
1. Bradley Wiggins
2. Joaquim Rodriguez
3. Alberto Contador
 
Statistically Joaquim Rodriguez finished the year with the most points and therefor as World Number 1, however we don't feel that a bunch of podium places can possibly compare with Victory at Paris-Nice, Romandy, The Dauphine and of course the Tour de France. It was written in the stars for Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and from the seasons beginning right through to the World Road Race there was only one man to be watching. Every race Wiggins took to the start with the ambition of winning, he won. That's all any rider can do, and in 2012 Wiggins did it with gracious ease and true style. Alberto Contador comes in third, love him or hate him the man missed nearly a full season, came back strong at the Eneco Tour and with a truly remarkable tactical move tore the Vuelta a Espana from Rodriguez hands. Some riders only want to win, and Alberto Contador is one of those riders.
 
Most Dissapointing Rider
1. Phillipe Gilbert
2. Thor Hushovd
3. Cadel Evans/Andy Schleck
 
After a stellar 2011 season we all expected 2012 to be much the same for Gilbert. He had different ideas. After suffering with illness and a dental abscess early in the year, Gilberts form was unremarkable and unpredictable. He struggled to string together any good periods of racing without suffering another set-back. His performances seemed to get better towards the end of the Ardennes classics but ultimately he went into the summer without a victory. Strange then it is that in 2013 Gilbert will be wearing the World Champion rainbow stripes which just goes to show, one good performance in one important race really can make a season. Thor Hushovd, Gilberts BMC teammate was in pretty much the same situation - a viral infection kept the ageing god of thunder well and truly under the weather and under form. The third step of the podium is divided, on one side is yet another BMC rider and arguably their biggest - Cadel Evans. Early season prep looked to be going ok, though some argued that he looked off the pace - whilst Wiggins was winning everything there was to win, Cadel Evans wasn't placing highly in a single race, but then it was just 'build up' to the Tour de France. Unfortunately Cadel Evans looked fatigued and broken as the Tour entered its third week he was way off the pace and being beaten by his understudy Taylor Phinney and of course everybody else. On the other half of the step - Andy Schleck - there is not much to say here, except that lack of motivation and infighting at Radioshack meant that the first half of his season was extremely poor, he didn't even look as if he could be arsed. A broken femur in the Dauphine put him out of tour contention and the entire second half of the season.
 
Best Team
1. Sky
2. OPQS
3. Liquigas
 
Purely a matter of statistics. Sky and Omega Pharma-Quickstep finished the year ranked joint first in the team points category. Sky obviously had Wiggins, Cavendish and their sheer amount of victories to thanks for this. Likewise, Tom Boonens dominance during the spring made it a pretty successfully season for OPQS. Liquigas saw out the year in third spot, with thanks to GC man Vincenzo Nibali and all-round amazing talent Peter Sagan.
 
Biggest Scandal
1. USADA
2. Frank Schleck
3. Katusha Out
 
There was plenty to talk about on the road in 2012, but it would be difficult to talk 2012 and not mention Lance Armstrong and the USADA doping investigation which saw the sport turned on it's head with a whole host of shocking revelations, new admissions and finally, as we all hoped, a step forward in the right direction. Lance being stripped of his 7 Tour de France wins would dominate much of the years cycling press, but there was still time for the 'standard' Tour de France positive test and this year it was the turn of Frank Schleck who tested positive for a banned diuretic and subsequently retired from the Tour amidst one of the worst years riding in both he and his brother Andy's career. The season saw them both struggle on the road and off as domestic disputes reach boiling point at Radioshack Nissan-Trek. A late podium entry goes to Katusha who looked guaranteed a WorldTour licence for 2013 until at the final hour the UCI stripped it from them and demoted them to Pro-Continental level, seemingly thanks to their poor stance on anti-doping and all round dodgy back-room staff and riders. Their incredibility in the doping stakes meant that Saxobank-Tinkoff bank picked up a licence instead, though with the likes of Bjarne Riis and Alberto Contador heading up the team and management it leads to yet more questions. Caught in the middle though was World Number 1 rider Joaquim Rodriguez - it looks highly unlikely he will be riding for any team hovering in the second division...
 
Most Miles
1. Mikhail Ignatiev
2. Adam Hansen
3. Lloyd Mondory
 
Again this is statistics based. Some riders like to pick and chose their races in the calendar and rest and train in preparation for specific goals - for long suffering domestiques though this isn't possible. If they are told to ride, they ride. Mikhail Ignatiev rode 16,257km over 104 days of racing - an astonishing achievement and display of endurance and loyalty. Adam Hansen came in with 103 days of racing and 16,025km's - he rode all three Grand Tours in 2012 and joined a small elite group of riders who have achieved such a feat.
 
 Hardest Bastards
1. Wout Poels
2. Chris Anker Sorenson
3. Pippo Pozato
 
I bang on about 'cycling hardmen' a fair bit on here, but most of it is justifiable. All pro-cyclists are hard, it's a hard, hard sport, but some are just that little bit harder than most and in at number one is the remarkable Wout Poels. During the infamous stage 6 crash at last years Tour which changed the entire course of the race Wout Poels found himself amongst the injured at the roadside, but as cyclists do, he got back on his bike and rode a further 10km's before finally stepping off the bike and calling it a day. Why so remarkable? Well because he rode those final 10kms with a ruptured spleen and kidney, bruised lungs and three broken ribs. HARD. In second is Chris Anker Sorenson who on Stage 17 of the Tour having worked hard to get into the days breakaway arrived at the mid-way point of the stage as newspapers were being handed to riders (they are used as an aid on long, mountainous descents to keep the wind from the riders chests by inserting them down the front of their jerseys) some stray pages found themselves entangled within Sorensen's wheel. Travelling at high speed the Dane leant down in an effort to remove the pages only to catch his fingers in the spokes of the wheel which had much the same effect as putting fingers on an industrial sander. You can see from the amount of blood that it was a particularly nasty incident. So what did Chris Anker do? Did he stop, get off his bike and call it a day in a fit of agony? Actually no, he stayed seated, dropped back to the medical car, received some bandaging to his hand and continued to ride the remaining 80 kilometres of the race. Third Spot is Pippo Pozzato. A little over two weeks after breaking his right collarbone in the fifth stage of the Tour of Qatar, Filippo Pozzato lined up at the start of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Italian Classics specialist had both collarbones operated on February 12th - to attach a plate to the broken right side, and to remove an earlier plate from a previous injury on the left - three days after his crash, and rode 130km of the Trofeo Laigueglia on February 18th, just six days later.
 
Up And Coming
1. Thibaut Pinot
2. Moreno Moser
3. Peter Sagan
 
Finally, a nod to those riders who are just starting out on their pro-cycling journeys but who are already making waves. The French are currently undergoing a bit of a resurgence with the likes of Pierre Rollan amongst others and first on the podium this year is fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot. At 22 he was the youngest entrant in the Tour de France in 2012 and on stage 8 showed just exactly what kind of rider he was, taking a memorable solo victory (thanks to team boss Marc Madiot and his screaming from the support car for Thibaut to win) over a stage that had 7 categorised climbs. He also finished his first Tour in a remarkable 10th place in the General Classification. At 22 years and 54 days, he became the youngest rider to finish in the top 10 since Raymond Impanis in 1947, who was then 21 years and 8 months old. Moreno Moser, of Liquigas, finishes in second place and if his name seems memorable it may be because he is from one of the most notorious cycling families in the sports history - his uncle is the great Francesco Moser. He shone as a neo-pro but made his name with becoming the overall victor of the Tour of Poland last year. It's not what he's won though, but how he's won - riding with aggression and panache, and making it look extremely easy. On the bottom step is Peter Sagan, which seems a little ridiculous. Peter Sagan isn't up and coming? He's been knocking around a few years and is pretty much a world beater, winning with style, beating the sprinters and even the climbers (The look on LL Sanchez face as Sagan climbed to his wheel on a very steep ascent said it all: Is there anything this man can't do?) and pulling wheelies up categorised climbs for fun. It's easy to forget though that Sagan is only 22 years old. Scary stuff. There is talk of him losing weight and becoming a GC rider, a Tour winner. Will it happen? With Peter Sagan, anything can happen.
 
So there it is, 2012 in all it's glory but lets not dwell on the past. This is 2013, in 21 days the season kicks off in Australia and a new chapter begins...

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