Lowlights of 2012

Lance Armstrong Tour de France

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.

Lance Armstrong

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”
-Rudiger Dornbusch

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.

Frank Schleck 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
Tour de France wiggins
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
Jacob Fuglsang
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.

43 thoughts on “Lowlights of 2012”

  1. I think the Armstrong case was a low and a high. Bad for the scandal, good to catch the cheats and maybe we get a better sport.

    Agree about the Tour. Some moments to watch last July but maybe not many times to watch again and again as the snow falls outside in winter.

    • Armstrong was the absolute highlight for me.

      1 – it (hopefully) signalled the beginning of the end of the endemic corruption in the sport. 2 – it was great watch the villain, a sociopathic liar, and his evil henchmen get their comeuppance. This doesn’t happen often enough in life, it’s something to celebrate when it does. And 3 – the case, Hamilton’s book and the associated press stories and avalanche of long covered up titbits read like an episode of The Wire. Enthralling stuff

  2. A personal low for me was the heavy crash of Wout Poels. He had a decent season with the youth classification in the Tirreno and a stage in Luxembourg. Poels is very talented and still young (and for example rode a great Vuelta in 2011), and it is a shame his career took a beating like this.

  3. Another low was Gabrovski (sp?) winning the Tour of Turkey, when even the commentators seemed to know he was cheating during the race, but everyone was powerless to stop him from riding, until he got popped. It marred what is an emerging race in a potentially excellent arena for cycling.

  4. Vino winning Olympic gold was a bit of a low for me. It gave him a validation I don’t think he really deserves. It left a bitter taste in the mouth.

    • Agreed. I was having coffee after a very rainy ride when I saw the news. All I could do was sit there and just hang my head. It really brings home the danger of this sport and how a rider is never safe be it in a race, training, or even going about daily business. It was also one of those moments that made me acknowledge my mortality. It reminds me of a saying in Basque: Gaur ni, bihar zu. Today me, tomorrow you.

    • Oh, these lowlights are just examples when things don’t work out, trivial comedy compared to the tragedies. When Wouter Weylandt died last year I included this in the lowlights piece at the end of 2011 but it didn’t sit well alongside the others, although my point then was that if he died, the longer term low was that there was next to no investigation into his death, not many lessons were learned.

  5. For me, another low – the fu!@ing tacks on the road. Who put them there??? There’s a special place in hell for these people, along with some distasteful people who also made cycling headlines this year.

    One of the beautiful aspects of racing is the FREE [without some overpriced ticket] intimacy between fan and rider on the road. To abuse that is well… low. Real low.

  6. April first was for me the saddest cycling day of the year. This day Fabian Cancellara broke his collarbone in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and it meant, besides the pain of FC, that the whole classical season lost a lot of excitement.
    And after what happened at the Olympics, I felt so sorry for the guy.
    I think that all what happened to RSNT (better say the old Leopard part) was a real downer this year and I really missed those guys at most of the races.

    • Totally agree. What an anti-climax to the classics season when Fabian crashed out. I was so miffed – and don’t recall any worse a feeling than that one in 2012. The Boonen – Cancellara bout that was finally going to be played out at Roubaix, and even Flanders never materialized. What a complete right off.
      Not to take anything away from the other riders riders who are i’m sure excellent in their own right but it’s just that..well..there will always be a question mark over Boonen’s brilliant spring campaign, to me at least.

    • Sucked 9 to the power of 14!
      And to add insult to the absence of Cancellara, a rider whose ‘potential’ I greatly admire, Pozatto, allowed Boonen, in my opinion, to win the Ronde Van Vlanderen! Puta!

      • And like a lot of people agree, the new Ronde route? Nope. Bring back the Muur please. Surely not having it in the race anymore just makes people realize what a special part of the race it was and hopefully will be in the not too distant future.

  7. Yep as a brit the tour was the dullest three weeks of racing I’ve seen, just sat watching, and falling asleep as opposed to screaming at the Vuelta which was just ace. It’s not a popular thing to say but Valverde is just an excellent rider and he forced so much racing in the Vuelta, fantastic.

  8. I’m guessing you are coming out with lowlights part 2. For me a lowlight is sponsors exiting the sport. Exergy was bad enough, and SpiderTech (different kind of exit) too, but I felt Rabobank more given their longevity and their connection to the U.S. with sponsorship of the Tour of California. It would have been great to see Robert Gesink return to Cali in 2013 in the same colors to defend. His win in 2012 was heartfelt given all he’s been through personally in the last couple of years.

  9. In the case of Euskaltel Euskadi, I do not see it as a death but as Basques being Basques. If you look to the history of the Basques, you will see that adapting has been their strong point. When the Romans came to the Iberian Peninsula, Basques for the most part decided to forge an economic relationship with Rome. When Spain gained a monarchy, Basques negotiated a tribute they would pay in exchange for the crown to honor their fortuak and to avoid conscription into the army. The image of the rebellious Basque is a recent one. Bringing in outsiders with different capabilities makes them more competitive, which could lead to more exposure and more sponsors. That in turn can lead to more Basque talent to develop in the coming years.

    Aupa Euskaltel Euskadi eta Gora Euskadi!

  10. The low-light of my year was the rise of people answering the own question they pose. I’ve seen this on Twitter very frequently, and a few times in published articles also.
    It’s a lazy way of phrasing things, no? I think it’s time for it to stop, yes? Isn’t this a trivial issue anyway, no?
    Perhaps it’s just me that it annoys.. Ok, so it’s definitely just me it annoys. Forget I mentioned it.

  11. Vino winning the Olympic RR was low of the decade. Felt sick for days (well, until Wiggo won the ITT) after.
    Personal low was crashing and breaking my elbow, spending the end of my summer hol in a French hospital rather than on my bike 🙁

  12. Am I really the only one here who enjoyed seeing the scrappy, wily, sneaky Kazakh rider win the Olympic Road Race? It still makes me chortle when I think about it. I’m not necessarily a Vinokourov fan but I do relish a good upset a lot more than a race where everything has been “planned for”.

    • Yes, pretty much you are the only one.

      Nothing like a proven drug cheat who buys prestigious wins….winning another prestigious event.

      Who could like that? Really?

    • I think I saw both sides. He’s a fighter but a cheat too, able to win by attacking and bold moves but, in the past for sure, because of heavy duty blood doping.

      He might have retired but still has plenty to explain and ongoing investigations in Italy could cause problems for him. One of the few figures in the peloton to have used both Ferrari and Fuentes.

    • You’re not alone Frogboy. I loved to watch Vino race in the same way I like to see the Green Bullet or even Il Pistolero, but tempered of course by their dodgy pasts. Not fans of ANY of these cheaters, but one must admit they do liven up races in a way guys like Wiggo can only do by making silly, obscene comments afterwards. Why are the swashbuckling, exciting attackers so often also the dopers?
      If so-called “clean” racing results in boring events like the 2012 Tour each year I might change my view of the current rules and their enforcers.
      Here’s a link to one of my favorite rants on the developments of the past year http://www.flandriacafe.com/2012/12/forget-racing-politics-stuff-is-way.html

    • No way. One of the few guys consistently willing to take risks and make audacious moves, he was one of the most exciting riders in the peleton for a long time.

      Not sure why all the ill will. The difference between Vino and most of the other riders is he got caught.

      Probably more fun to stand on the soapbox and preach, though, so can’t really blame the rabble.

Comments are closed.