The trouble with lists is that you leave out more than you include. It’s been a good year for racing and so picking just five moments feels like defining the year by this selection when in fact the cycling season is never quite a series of stand-alone moments but instead a story full of chapters, plots and sub-plots. Put it another way, I can’t pick a fifth highlight, there are too many to chose from so here’s a look at a few more more moments from the year…
Tom Boonen’s spring campaign was impressive. We might read the cycling history books and see black and white images and sometimes struggle to relate to the past with its old bikes. But Boonen’s real and modern, people will look back at his 2012 season for years to come. He started with a win in the Tour de San Luis in Argentina and then took the Tour of Qatar before a stage of Paris-Nice. Then he took the Flemish cobblestone quadruple E3 Harelbeke, Gent–Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, and Paris–Roubaix in the same year, with his fourth Roubaix win equalling the record of Roger De Vlaeminck and he’s the only rider to do Flanders-Roubaix double twice in their career.
I even enjoyed his defeat in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, he seemed to be using the race as training with his trademark attack on the Taaienberg but it was a pleasure to watch Sep Vanmarcke outfox him. Plus the manner of the wins impressed, whether by sprinting or giant solo breakaways. Perhaps Fabian Cancellara might have challenged him if he hadn’t crashed but that’s sport, no? It’ll be interesting to see how Boonen manages the arrival of Cavendish for 2013. They can be complementary in the classics but it’s hard to imagine Boonen wanting anything else than top dog status in April.
The Giro was a great race. This year I kept wondering how long Ryder Hesjedal could last, first after taking the maglia rosa after the team time trial stage win, and then especially as the race went into the final week in the Alps and Dolomites. He seemed to big and too much of a diesel to cope with Joaquim Rodriguez’s pirate-style attacks and his raids on the time bonuses. But if Hesjedal had to pace himself at times he never cracked and his ride to Cervinia was instrumental as he rode away from the others on the climb to the ski station. In other words we had suspense for the overall lead right to the end and the same too with the points jersey where Cavendish lost out on the penultimate day.
The Olympics were another highlight, both for individual moments as discussed in the past highlight but also in the totality. If the women’s race was great, every road event impressed due to the vast roadside crowds, rural England looked as crowded as an Alpine summit in July, no doubt many were curious to see the free show on their doorstep but others were getting the “cycling virus” after Wiggins’ win in the Tour. Much of the track racing was impressive. The omnium was hard to follow but the rest was a rush and Chris Hoy’s keirin win topped everything, the way he went so early but nobody could pass.
The Vuelta has to be another pick. At the start of the race the question was the size of Contador’s winning margin by the time the race got to Madrid but it was only thanks to an ambush-style attack at the end of the race that he won the 2012 race. We had plenty of excitement along the way, even John Degenkolb’s five stage wins were exciting thanks to his bobbing style
The consistency of Bradley Wiggins on the bike was another highlight. He’s not everyone’s cup of Earl Grey but the Briton’s riding during the year was impressive, winning stage race after stage race and even helping Richie Porte to win the Volta ao Algarve along the way. Off the bike he’s the opposite, saying one thing one day and another the next; one minute all smiles with the media, the next he’s having a rant. I rather like this as he often has something to say. But it was the riding that was interesting and “has he peaked too soon?” became an amusing game. I’d picked him to win the Tour as early as October 2011 and placed him as a real contender after Paris-Nice and the odds on victory in July started to fall fast. Even if you’re not a Wiggins fan then take comfort in the fact that he’s been winning since the early season, it should encourage others to race to win throughout the year rather than appear in July, albeit in targeted races.
Finally what about Peter Sagan? He’s had a quieter second half of the year but don’t forget only André Greipel scored more wins than Sagan in 2012 but the Slovak arguably had more style and certainly more versatility even if Greipel can climb better than many imagine. Fourth in Milan-Sanremo, second in Gent-Wevelgem, fifth on the Tour of Flanders and third in the Amstel Gold Race yet by many counts his spring campaign was said to be a failure but he’s still only 22 years old.
He went to the Tour of California and won five stages and then won four stages in the Tour de Suisse, including the prologue after a wild descent. Then came the Tour de France and three stage wins plus the points jersey. But there was so much more like the outrageous victory salutes, the one-handed wheelie on top of the Planche des Belles Filles climb… and that autograph:
You wonder how Sagan’s career will go. Winning seems so easy he can kick back with his friends and discuss what type of amusing victory salute to pull out in the Tour de France and if he gets any better what will there be left for him to win in years to come? Or will success come too easily?
He seems well-managed and if he enjoys himself on and off the bike he’s intelligent too, learning English to be more media-friendly when in times past a rider might have expected the media to speak Italian or even learn Slovak. Indeed I’d like to see him interviewed by a good Slovak journalist because for now we still know little about Sagan and his motivations.