Highlights of 2012 – Part V

Boonen Roubaix

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.

20 thoughts on “Highlights of 2012 – Part V”

  1. Am I wrong?: Hesjedal didn’t take the Maglia Rosa with the TTT stage win. I thought he was tied for 4th, at less than 20″ down on his teammate Ramunas Navardauskas.
    That’s when I got excited knowing that he had such a great shot at winning the Giro, with a good gap to the other contenders.

  2. Yeah what an interesting year : UK riders storming by the Tour & the Olympics, a Canadian winning the Giro, US top-riders confess use of EPO + wonderboy dismissed, irish UCI president accused of covering, bunch of americans, aussies, irish etc.. meet in London to change cycling while an independent anglo-australian commission is investigating.
    No matter why Sagan is encouraged to learn english ! If he wants to exist in anglo-saxon dominated cycling these days that’s a must do.

    • I’ve noticed this, too. In 25 years the English speakers of the peloton have gone from the outsiders to the establishment. Small national and regional teams that speak one language have been marginalized and most of the top teams are international.

  3. I agree with all your highlights.

    As a Canuck, I couldn’t be happier watching Ryder take pink on the last day. Amazing. Canadian and Grand Tour Winner are words that will seldom be used in cycling sentences for generations.

    The Vuelta was amazing entertainment. I was pretty much done with spectating after London, but I couldn’t help but watch the combat on tarmac in September. Wow. Hopefully 2013 brings just as much fun.

    Sagan will be a force for years to come. Has anyone seen his RedBull MTN bike vid?

    He reminds me of a stereotypical punk kid – drinking RedBull, making stunt clips for welebrity status, avoiding school work. But – is he stereotypical? No. He was the JR national champ already kicking @ss in supermarket bikes – and losers like me think about the marginal differences between Ultegra and Dura-Ace. Tsk tsk. Time to train…

  4. For me it was Stage 20 of the Giro and Rodriguez, Ryder & Scarponi all sweating bullets when de Gendt came within a pretty small whisker of the lead as he won on the Stelvio. THAT was bike racing. Do that some more! Take chances, blow the field to smithereens.

  5. To me, it’s always the long solos and the bold moves that make the best races. The ‘is he going to pull this off’ suspense.
    Boonen riding his sole breakaway companion and teammate off his wheel with 50k to go certainly was a highlight, as well as de Gendt’s unexpected coup attempt on the Stelvio, and Contador’s winning move in the Vuelta. One of my highlights that nobody mentioned yet was Rabottini’s stage win in the Giro. Even if Rodriguez didn’t really contest him in the sprint I certainly hadn’t expected he’d manage to keep Purito’s wheel after that huge effort.

  6. Nice piece, thanks. I was fortunate to see two of your highlighted events in-person, Paris-Roubaix and the Cervinia and Montecatini stages of the Giro. I’m hoping the Ronde (where I’ll be in-person) and Il Giro are equally exciting in 2013 – but that will be a tough order I think. Will the Wiggo vs Nibali battle live up to the hype? Can Boonen triumph on the Flanders cobbles yet again?

  7. Don’t stop here! have been loving your highlights of 2012… and what a cracking year 2012 has been… this ‘catch all’ Part V just shows that right from the get go, with Boonen and the cobbled classics dominance through to Hesjedal in the Giro (with cameo performances by Christian VdV… ok, and Thomas de Gendt… on the Stelvio) then Wiggo… and THEN the Vuelta… awesome.

    Glad you picked out Sagan. Comedy surrealist moment of the year was watching the Tour de France on TV through July and following @TweeterSagan his alter ego on Twitter… the juxtaposition of fact with fiction in a Brett Easton Ellis / Lunar Park-esque way was truly comic: “Race Director says we will enter Nancy at 4:30. Should this really go out before the watershed? Does she have any friends?”

    What a talent (Peter Sagan, not TweeterSagan)… bet Boonen is glad that he’s got his 4 P-Rs, as I have a sneaking suspicion that this kid is going to mop up everything for the next few years. Eddie who?

  8. I was reflecting the other day that 2012 was the season that wasn’t for Cancellara. He looked incredibly strong winning the Strade Bianche, then was pipped by Gerrans determination despite being the strongest rider at Milan San Remo. He looked set for a battle royale with Boonen on the cobbles before his crash in the feed zone ended Ronde and Paris Roubaix for him.

    After taking the prologue at the tour it looked like the second half of the season would open up for him. He rode the Olympic road race in anonymity but made the break, and the second he came to the front I felt certain he was going to make a classic winning move. One second after that he was on the floor again, with medal hopes in both the road race and the time trial in the dirt.

    With a different set of cards he may have converted favourite status to wins at Flanders, Roubaix and Richmond with an opportunely added gold on the mall and we would be talking about one of the greatest seasons ever. Poor bloke.

  9. You do Sagan a dis-service – his no-handed wheelie has to trump a one handed one any day!

    @inrng – hope you/you’ve are enjoying/enjoyed your break – it’s well deserved. thank you for all of your hard work in 2012….

  10. Procycling mag did an in-depth interview with Sagan last year which gave some insights into his character! Not too complex a guy! Simply has a deep, rich love for speed and winning! I see a new ‘Cannibal’ in the works!

  11. One of the biggest highlights for me in 2012 was the beautiful win of Maxim Iglinksy at Liege-Bastogne-Liege! He always rides cool, calm and collected! This time it paid off! Timing his solo perfectly, and as he caught up with Nibali and saw how tired he was he simply dropped him like a dead weight and continued his own race up through Liege to the finish line! Can watch the video on youtube over and over!

  12. Sagan’s win at stage 1 in the Tour of California was one of the most impressive races, I’ve ever seen. Watch it!
    He punctures with about 7 or 8 km to go and then quickly returns to the bunch – mostly without team support or at least without the need for it. Then Michael Matthews crashes, Sagan’s nearest teammate crashes right in front of Sagan, and even though he has to smash his hands to the brakes and gets stuck even further back, he keeps cool and tries to find his next teammate’s wheel. When he finally gets into the top 10 places in the last kilometer, Daniel Oss simply BLOWS past the Orica-GreenEdge leadout train and to the front. And even though he pulls off early, Sagan has no problem outsprinting his competitors and give a pose before the line. Even though the sprint competition may not have been overwhelming for Sagan, I have NEVER seen anything like it. I can watch it again and again and still be amazed. And then I see the last km for stage 2 to watch Sagan’s impressive swing technique – opens up a gap of several meters and cruises home for the win. He is just so incredibly impressive.

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