Lowlights of 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011

Having covered some of the highlights of 2011, a quick look at the other moments from the year where there was less pleasure or enjoyment.

Ciao Wouter

The most sorry moment was obviously the loss of Wouter Weylandt during the Giro d’Italia. Any words about tragedy and loss just aren’t enough, there is little I can add. Except to say that the sport needs to look into safety and death in competition. Without wishing to be polemic, perhaps every death is rare and the circumstances individual but perhaps this should require a formal investigation. Certainly the UCI, Italian cycling and race organiser RCS have looked into Weylandt’s death but as far as I know there has been no formal investigation. In the same year Xavier Tondo passed away in an accident at home, Carla Swart too and many other cyclists were lost. RIP.

Other low points of the season don’t compare but here are a five more:

  • Vanishing sponsors: seeing the Highroad team fold after HTC left was a blow for the sport as a whole because this was a well-run team with prolific success. If they couldn’t get a sponsor, who could? Sadly several other sponsors are leaving the sport.
  • The Contador saga: this has dragged on and on. Everyone body wants due process but each party involved has played for time.
  • Leopard-Trek was a big flop or perhaps a big flip flop given the way it went from being launched in front of royalty to a rescue merger, all in the space of months. Few riders lost their jobs but other staff have and it is the contrast with the big budget talk and the demise months later than is worrying.
  • Race radio bickering: the spring classics were great but the rumbling arguments over the use of race radios ironically showed the breakdown in communication between the teams, riders and UCI. Whilst some team owners pushed the UCI, some riders were upset about safety and the whole subject became toxic.
  • Tour of Beijing: yes to new races and taking the sport to new audiences. But the way the UCI took sides is setting the sport up for trouble, the governing body should govern instead of promote races. Otherwise it will soon find race promoters want to start governing the sport.

Finally a positive note. It’s been a vintage year for racing with many exciting races. Sometimes races aren’t great to watch, sometimes the sport can throw up plenty of bad news. But 2011 has been a grand vintage and a year to remember and celebrate for many good reasons. We’ve not had a major doping scandal this year either.

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{ 23 comments }

dahveedone December 16, 2011 at 9:29 am

A low point for me was Mauricio Soler’s career ending crash during stage 6 of the Tour de Suisse. One of my favorite grimpeurs, winner of Stage 9 and the polka-dot jersey in his first Tour de France (2007), I will miss watching him climb next season.

Larry T. December 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

I would add the Monte Crostis fiasco at this year’s Giro to this list. There’s enough blame to go around to most everyone involved in this mess and deservedly so. With the corruption, dodgy reputation for doping and the exit-stage-left moves by the team sponsors you’d think all these folks would have more to deal with than the pissing contest that led up to this stage being hacked up seemingly while underway. Shame on all of them!
As to Weylandt, I don’t know what you actually investigate, nobody tried to kill the guy. He wasn’t involved in ratting out any dopers – unlike Tondo. Now THERE’S a situation which seems very strange to me, was that investigated thoroughly? The Weylandt crash was pretty much a case of “shit happens” when a moment of inattention met up with a technical section of the race course. I’ve been on that road myself and there’s NOTHING especially dangerous there when compared to hundreds (probably thousands) of kilometers of paved roads all over Italy (and elsewhere). Same situation as with Fabio Casartelli at LeTour back in 1995, if memory serves me correctly.

Jeff December 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I suppose we could add more troubles like Geox and the on-off Italian Mantova investigation.

Regarding Wouter Weylandt I see it was just a random accident too but I’d feel a whole lot better if this was confirmed in writing after a couple of experts reviewed it. Maybe not for public reading though?

Jesse Fergie December 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

@Larry T, please provide some links that show of Xavier Tondo ratting out dopers. I haven’t heard of him doing so, and if so this obviously changes things quite a bit. I do not believe in anything other than a horribly unfortunate accident occurring, but for the sake of keeping an open mind would like to see where your view is formed from.

Regarding Wouter Weylandt, I was on holiday in the UK, and a friend of mine (who’s brother is racing the Giro) messaged me if I had watch that stage. Receiving this text, I hurriedly looked up the results on the net (assuming her brother made a break, maybe even a podium) and seeing the race report my heart just sank, compounded by finding out his wife was pregnant. I have never felt so bad after what should have been “another bike race”.

Andy Raff December 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

The TV car crash on Stage 9 with Flecha hitting the deck and Hoogerland being turned in to a human sieve is a moment which cannot be filed as highlight or lowlight.
But a memory none the less…

Patrick December 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I think Kolobnev at the tour counts as a pretty big scandal…

Melted Tarmac December 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm

A bizarre lowlight is the number of master riders in the US who test positive. Last one I think was 63 y.o.

Anonymous December 16, 2011 at 3:26 pm

patrick beat me to it…. uci has had to appeal the russian decision to only slap him on the wrists with a fine (not a good year for kolobnev with the emails about 2010 liege coming into the press too)

my personal lowpoint of the year is the ammount of big names that have taken to almost entirely defensive riding… i’m not a fan of contador by any means, but i respect the guy because he at least is one of the few out there who will try launch up the road, repeatedly, if everybody goes the grinding defensive ways of basso or wiggins cycling will not grow like everyone wants as a spectator sport (aso’s tour short spint mountain stage idea is a VERY smart marketing move to combat this)

Gavin December 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Let’s hope that in retrospect the lack of doping scandals is something to celebrate! :) There’s a lot of rhetoric from riders and teams that suggests a cleaner peloton

Jennifer December 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

For Jessie – here’s the link for the cyclingnews story re Tondo tipping off police and the Girona doping ring.

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/tondo-tips-off-police-in-girona-doping-investigation

Q December 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Let’s not forget Soler’s crash in the Tour de Suisse, which could very easily have been fatal (and most definitely would have been in the pre-helmet days). Given the form he was obviously in, I was looking forward to see what he could do in the Tour. I hope he is able to compete again.

gilbert December 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

as addition:
- the default of bio passport.
Only announced new cases until Pellizzotti and Valijavec. Ok, the trials were ok , but it seems that they cost so much (suisse francs and argouments) that any other cases are probably impossible to get start.
Agree with car crash @tour st 9 and crostis fiasco.

bikecellar December 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

For me, for sure, the lowpoint was indeed the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt. In the Review of the Year issue 159 of Procycling magazine there is a photograph of the stretch of road where the accident occured, it is to be noted that there is a sunken manhole cover on this stretch of road, perhaps he hit this while glancing behind ? pure speculation of course. Take care.

MadPat December 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm

my top 4
1. pat mcquaid is still in charge
2. no real progress on the breakaway leaque
3. allegations of vino paying for his LBL victory
4. bmc hoarding every good rider.. excepth the ones that can help cadel
and obvioulsly the demise of HTC but INRNG covered that

Larry T. December 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm

https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=woulter+weylandts+crash+scene+photos
Shows some scenes of the crash site. I’ve been there on a bike and remember how technical it was, but again, no more technical than say, the descent off the Mortirolo or Fauniera or Sampeyre for example. We’ve driven and ridden over hundreds of kilometers of roads used for the Giro and they are generally in excellent shape. Alex Zulle commented on this years ago, he probably didn’t realize how many of them get fresh pavement just before La Corsa Rosa arrives. We had to wait once while fresh asphalt was spread and rolled on the Fauniera just days before the race was to arrive. Thanks for posting the Tondo link Jennifer, you beat me to it.

Rod Diaz December 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

@inrng – Love your last comment RE: Beijing. There’s only so much pushing that people will take before shoving back.

bikecellar December 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm

@Larry T. Thanks Larry, those links give a different perspective, the low wall seems to be what he hit first, I remember now it being mentioned, clipping a pedal on a wall. Sad so sad. I fervently hope we do not revisit this scenario in 2012 and that all our heroes stay safe.

Louis December 17, 2011 at 1:48 am

Although the Weylandt tragedy may have simply been an unfortunate accident or “perfect storm” of events, an investigation would still be worthwhile. In fact, a routine analysis of race incidents with severe injury could lead to valuable changes in race setup or rules. In the medical community, sentinel events are investigated with a root cause analysis. All contributing factors are analyzed in an effort to identify things that contribute to the bad outcome with an emphasis on things that could be changed to prevent a similar event. Over time, common factors are identified across investigations and are recognized as risks. Routine examination of race incidents could identify risk factors to be avoided making races safer in the long run.

C Grade Cyclist December 17, 2011 at 3:28 am

For me, this year the UCI seems to have taken a massive step forward (backward?) as an organisation – focus seems to have suddenly swung to a politically driven group, with their energy all on controlling the sport at all costs, and ‘silencing’ dissenters to their propaganda.

Never seen it this bad before – definitely one of my lowlights…

Simon December 17, 2011 at 8:27 am

Re the crostis fiasco, I seem to remember reading an awful lot of “he said, she said” at the time, where certain riders and directeurs kicked up a stink while others said there was nothing wrong with the stage, and indeed pointed to pretty extensive safety work that had been carried out, all against the backdrop of a giro that so many people said was too hard – extra rest day, anyone? I’m not sure who to believe on this one, especially after the happenings of the year before at the tour where a certain Swiss rider bullied everyone else into submission going through the Ardennes and cheapened a great ride by Chavanel in the process – subsequent to a great deal of whinging by the Schlecks about what they felt should and shouldn’t be in a grand tour. I don’t think it’s black and white, for sure.

Second, third and fourth all the other comments about the UCI: what I find so disheartening is not so much Uncle Pat’s remaining in charge, rather the carrying on exactly like they have done before, with no hint that they might actually be taking any criticism on board, whatsoever. I can’t wait for pro cycling to divorce itself from the UCI – although I’m not convinced that the conversations about TV revenue sharing are the way to go either – smacks a bit too much of “once-you’re-in-the-club, you’re-in” to me – Cafe de Columbia just couldn’t happen in such a system, and I have too many fond memories of Herrera dishing it out to forswear hope of such a thing happening again.

TotheBillyoh December 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

Not coming back alive at the end of the day is, to me, unacceptable in any job or sporting activity. Yet many people clearly do not share this view.

The Tourist Trophy races on the Isle of Man claim something like an average of two and a half lives every year, the motorcycle riders seemingly accept this risk rate as reasonable. One cannot watch the TT without the knowledge of it’s dangers; perhaps for some, potential death adds to it’s attraction?

Is it the same in our sport? Fast descents often seem crazy risk-taking exercises, but do they titillate the spectator with the prospect of an imminent death? The outpouring of grief for Wouter Weylandt from the media and the general public seemed to me to be somewhat hypocritical. His fellow riders who risk the same fate every single day on training rides and in races have, on the other hand, every reason to mourn.

I am conflicted. Knowing that it is dangerous makes it inherently more interesting. But I never wish to see anyone injured or worse. The media mythologise deaths, elevating the victims to an exalted status: Simpson, Casartelli. Yet it seems to me this is almost all about them and their sales, not the victim.

I was six when local hero Russell Mockridge was killed competing in the Tour of Gippsland, 21 when my best friend was killed racing motorcycles. I know of the pain of sporting death at close hand. It should not be a media circus but a private matter for the family, friends and fellow participants.

Larry T. December 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm

So what do we do? Cave in to the Schlecks and neutralize any descent? I thought it was RACING, which means down just as much as up or on the flats. I have a maybe odd perspective on this as an ex-pro motorcycle roadracer (which has been debated here in the past) but there’s always some risk in sport, whether it’s injury, death or simply finding out you’re not as good as the next man/woman. What’s left if there’s no risk? As to the investigation of Weylandt’s death, what’s going to be investigated? And what would change as a result? As I’ve noted over and over there’s NOTHING particularly dangerous or unique about the place he crashed, just as the place where Casartelli lost his life. LeTour’s been on that same road many times since…but nobody else has been killed there to my knowledge. The only rule one could make about Weylandt’s death is “rider must pay attention at all times while descending.”…but shouldn’t they a) pay attention ALL the time b) already know this? This was clearly a “shit happens” incident and all the investigations in the world are not going to change that fact. Same with Marco Simoncelli of MOTOGP…guy slides out, avoids highside, but falls inward and gets trapped under his bike as it goes off to the inside of the race course, then is hit by riders coming from behind. What rule would you make, “don’t follow too closely” or perhaps “don’t fall off your moto?” Nobody wants to see riders injured or killed but nobody wants to see cycling stripped of challenge and risk to where they might as well be riding trainers recording who cranks out the most watts while thumbing a video game. A further tragedy here (not to minimize the loss of life) might be the insane atmosphere following this unfortunate incident reaching it’s climax at Crostis, that poisoned the Giro and led to the loss of someone who was one of the creative forces behind the return of La Corsa Rosa to the top of cycling. Zomegnan will be missed. He was arguably the greatest thing to happen to the Giro since Vincenzo Torriani in my mind.

bikecellar December 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm

@TotheBillyoh ” Is it the same in our sport?”
No, I don’t think so, all the crowds are on the climbs not the descents.

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