Having covered the highlights of year over the past few days, time to reflect on what went wrong. There’s less to celebrate but more to learn. Here are five of the lows, again a personal selection.
“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”
Dornbusch’s quote was helpful for the financial crisis. People could see banks going wild or risky real estate deals but predicting when it would go pop was the hard bit, but once it happens things run so fast. The same was true for Lance Armstrong, nobody knew when his past would catch up with him but when USADA published their decision everything happened so quickly. His sponsors fled, the Tour wins were stripped and cartoons likened his fall from grace to Felix Baumgartner, the space parachutist.
It’s not all been bad, finally the case has ended and long-standing stories have reached a conclusion and several people have been removed from sport. But we saw the UCI confused over its own rulebook, at point seemingly using lines provided by Armstrong’s lawyers and spat with WADA and sucked into a vortex of enquiry, suspicion and commissions. Although the more questions about the UCI governance the better as they could encourage change, especially the weak anti-conflict of interest protections.
Once the reasoned decision came we saw Rabobank exit the sport and more bad news, whether in the details of David Zabriskie’s statements or fresh revelations about Michele Ferrari and his client in Italy. A few large consumer goods companies are said to be interested in sponsoring cycling but keep back because of these scandals.
The Tour Drugs Busts
Rémy Di Gregorio’s apparent use of a strange doctor was stupid and in breach of the team rules. But it happened in the Tour de France and the sight of police raiding the Cofidis team was another low. The police and media probably overreacted here, feasting on the scandal. If Di Gregorio’s found to have broken the rules he deserves a hefty punishment but the story was one of his idiocy and not the team’s fault nor even the Tour de France.
If Di Gregorio was a small fish, the bust of Frank Schleck for a diuretic in the Tour de France was a serious story. I can still remember the evening when it happened. But as bad as the scenes of photographers laying siege to the Radioshack team were, the case has dragged on far in excess of the time allowed by the UCI. But the governing body is not to blame as the case was handled by the Luxembourg Anti-Doping Agency who don’t have to sign up to the UCI rules.
The Tour de France
It’s a great race but the 2012 edition wasn’t a vintage edition for casual fans. Having celebrated Wiggins’ consistency as a highlight of the year, this doesn’t mean it was all entertaining. Sky’s grip on the yellow jersey was impressively strong… but this meant there was no contest. The tempo riding tactic is very effective and could well thwart Alberto Contador in 2013, but it’s power ahead of panache. Wiggins likes his music and at times the Tour was like a long drum solo during a concert: you admire the technical precision, you sense the power and the rhythm is hypnotic but after a while the crowd wants the band to get back to the classic tunes.
Once the excitement of the Planches des Belles Filles climb was over we saw the race locked down and the longer the race went on the more we got polemics over whether Froome should support Wiggins but it was a false battle, at times waged by proxy by wives and girlfriends. At whilst it was all happening Sky didn’t seem to be enjoying it much, with talk of “we’ve planned for this” and “taking it once day at a time” dampening any joy and pride at wearing the yellow jersey; more so since Wiggins is character who can express himself well but it seemed he was restrained by what he called “all that performance crap.”
Similarly the green jersey competition was stitched up fast. I still enjoyed the race but outside Britain (and Slovakia) I sense sales of the DVD highlights might not be too strong. A lowlight not because the race was so bad, just that the biggest race of the year was probably outshone by the Giro and Vuelta so casual viewrs who tune in during July didn’t get compelling stories and drama, that’s all.
Jakob Fuglsang’s Case
The Dane racked up 64 days of racing this year but still saw himself apparently blocked from racing once word got out that he was leaving Radioshack to join Astana. He wasn’t alone here, many teams won’t pick riders who sign for another team because they don’t want them to score points for a rival. I looked into the issue during the summer but away from the structural problem is the simple worry of riders seeing their careers put on hold because they change employers. It’s just one of many of the unintended consequences of cycling’s points system. The subject can be boring but careers are at stake, especially as cycling often requires riders log races in one season to build for the following year. If it’s bad enough seeing riders messed around with, worse the system isn’t going to change fast.
The Death of Euskadi
The team lives on, the orange warriors remain and we should all celebrate this. But in recruiting German sprinters and Greek rouleurs, something special has been lost on the sport. We follow sport for escapism and amusement and when the most attacking and random team starts using a spreadsheet then it shows how old traditions are swept away.