Lowlights of 2013

After the highlights, the lowlights. Sport is meant to have its drama but pro cycling often crosses the line from pantomime villainy to worse. As well as drama there’s

We’ll start with Katusha’s inclusion in the World Tour. The team was excluded by the UCI at the end of 2012 but won its place back in pro cycling’s top flight thanks to an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Winning the case wasn’t a lowlight, it was the verdict that exposed a dysfunctional licensing scheme at the UCI. In short the UCI tries to outsource the process to a committee who, amongst other things, subject teams to an ethical review. So far so good but the test was subjective and it needed the CAS verdict for outsiders to glimpse what is required.

If Katusha was just one problem with the UCI, we saw fundamental concerns with the race to become President. Everything changed when Brian Cookson announced he would challenge Pat McQuaid. We got a spat over nominations as the McQuaid camp got creative with the constitution. The fight got increasingly bitter with both sides playing “press release tennis” as they lobbed accusations back and forth over the (inter)net. In the end Brian Cookson used a classic race tactic and just when everyone was tired, frustrated and getting hungry he launched a bold move on the conference floor.

There’s now a lot of goodwill behind Brian Cookson but he needs it. Calendar reform is a euphemism for shaking up the sport, in the same way being “de-resourced” is a way to avoid saying “you’re fired”. The leaked plans don’t inspire. They make sense as business plan drafted by management consultants and always remember the sport has been about business, the Tour de France was a promo stunt to sell newspapers. But Henri Desgrange created the Tour to make money by promoting an unimaginably exciting challenge, he was selling dreams and nightmares rather than ad yields and audience demographics.

From tragedy to farce. Satire’s long been a good way to poke fun at authority and it worked with the UCI Overlord. Maybe not every joke was a roaring laugh but nobody was *chuckling* when when $64,000 donated in charity to help Paul Kimmage went missing. I understand there’s still a dispute and donors have yet to be refunded.

The Giro saw a classics drugs bust… or did it? Danilo di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio joined the Vini Fantini team this year and had a great Giro. Well at least until the final week when Di Luca was it was reported Di Luca had an “Adverse Analytical Finding” for EPO in a pre-race out of competition test and he was thrown out of the race. Then came a similar of Mauro Santambrogio only after the race had finished. It took six months to conclude Di Luca’s case and at the time of writing (early December) there is no news on “Santa” because it seems the test is based on EPO microdosing and both fiddly and expensive. Santambrogio’s case resurfaced in October with a tweet hinting at suicide but his public cry was answered with a lot of support from the Italian cycling community. A reminder that real life is bigger than a sporting sanction but all the same these two have damaged their team and the consequences are real.

No talk of doping would be complete with Lance Armstrong. His saga just drags on. We’ll see what any “truth and reconciliation” brings and my worry is that it is becomes transactional, that Armstrong is seeking a reduction in his ban in return for supplying information. Such quid pro quo is the opposite of an enquiry into the truth, no? Oprah confessionals led to book confessions and Michael Rasmussen’s tale flushed out Ryder Hesjedal. You can admire what Jonathan Vaughters is trying to do but the risk is that the project is taken for Team Garmin-Rehab. Interestingly nobody’s bothered about holding Astana or Katusha to account but if people lose patience with a team that’s supposedly exploring the right way then what hope is there for the others?

Scandal is one thing but sometimes suspicion is the worse. There’s a gripping French film called Le Corbeau that deals with accusations and gossip, it not the evil act that drives the characters wild but the suspicion, the uncertainty. When Nibali won the Giro Andrew Hood wrote a piece about suspicion but this went up a gear chainring in July with Chris Froome. For a team famous for planning Sky seemed taken aback by the questioning, odd given Wiggins had to do the same a year ago. This continued in the Vuelta with Chris Horner’s surprise win. Given the past a default position of skepticism can be safe but never mind cycling fans and geeky power-weight calculations, this was not a niche deal. Instead Froome was asked live on French TV if he was doping – what could he say; what would Di Luca say? – and the mainstream media in France was building up the suspicion.

Scandal and suspicion might not help the sport but wider problems are causing races to vanish. A recession has led to belt-tightening across Europe and many races have been reliant on public subsidy to keep them going. Some races have gone and pressing “delete” on the calendar page was always a sad moment. An event goes but behind it you lose history, the hard work of the organising committee, sponsors leave and more. Worse once a race is dropped resuscitating it in later years always proves hard if not impossible.

Lastly we see Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM end. Some say pro cycling should move towards more identifiable teams with a regional base in order to create a fanbase but Euskaltel was just that and it’s stopped. But nothing is forever. Dutch team Vacansoleil-DCM had a good run and always seemed a cheerful lot despite few wins and the foolish plans to hire Riccardo Riccò and Ezequiel Mosquera. But even these signings were a response to the UCI’s incentive system, the team needed points on the cheap.

20 thoughts on “Lowlights of 2013”

  1. All good points. Essentially, if the UCI could do their job competently, and riders no longer doped, the season wouldn’t had too many lowlights.

    The lowlights would’ve centred on injuries, like Boonen crashing out of Ronde and some unfortunate weather stopping a couple of stages of the Giro. So that said, the same ordinary weather produced classics in Milan – San Remo and the World’s RR.

  2. I don’t see the lowlights as being all that bad, almost routine at this point. A couple doping positives, dopers from the past catching some attention, a team or two folds, and the winners of the grand tours heavily questioned. That’s not to imply compliance with negative events in our sport, only that lowlights could have included things like the UCI standing fast on bike weight or canceled stages at the Giro. Of course I’m not the one puttin in the effort to compile a list for publication, so it’s certainly not for me to decide or deride.

  3. We seems to have hit a low point in the enthusiasm of team sponsors, as some of the more creditable have dropped off the back on purpose.

  4. katusha’s case was something between the attempt to strenght anidop and the necessity of a clear organised and with right time sistem of selecting pro teams. double farce. how weights the ethical criterium? was it an investors attracting event?
    the same for the rest: business and dopage. the points’ system (sport criterium of hiring wordteams) is something to be changed now. it’s a vicious spyral. it’d would be better consider less riders to carry points for team’s sum, just to begin.
    then italy (santa -danilo and some other stories…) . it’s curious that if almost every italian bike hero (last thirty) had been caught or had trials or was put on enquiries with dop (after the business..) we didn’t have an armstrong effect like in other parts of the world, public confession on thanking drugs, should be another judge or a doctor? last, in theme of lowlights satire and scandals 2013 was the puerto year.

  5. Regarding vanishing races, this is part of the UCI’s plan to shrink the calendar by raising costs associated with keeping a high-ranking race alive.

    IMHO, it’s a terrible strategy to create single, world-wide events and force all others events off the calendar. But, that’s me.

  6. Horner and the Vuelta

    Either it was an amazing ride that broke records and set new benchmarks but was not viewed as such because of widespread suspicion and cynicism, or a Grand Tour was yet again won by a lying cheating doper who was just taking the piss. Either way, lowlight of the year

  7. I have to say the L’Equipe front page is brilliant. The pun resides in the picture of the mineral water bottle “Vittel” in the background behind the Fraudster. The saying goes in France that if you are riding clean, you are riding on “clear water”. Ha!

    What a farce sky team is. And Froome is a colossal fraud. But we know that, we just choose to pretend we don’t. Cycling is about denial. As a practitioner of the sport you have to ride as though the the pain is not there, as a spectator you watch as though there is no doping. But with Sky and Froome its getting a little too obvious… Yes, Team Sky, their are limits to our credulity even coming from you. Please cover it up. To paraphrase Moliere: “Cachez ces seringes que je ne saurais voir!”

    • Insightful comment there Oliver.

      Of course, since you are adamant they Froome/Sky are doping, your comment *might* even be considered as meaningful if you can supply the proof they are doping.

      Otherwise, your comment is nothing more than an opinion. So come on, please tell me how they are beating the system? What drugs are they on? EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

      Oh, thanks for helping us understand the pun on the front page of L’Equipe. As a non French person I would never have got it!

      Comment vous dites “rouleau vous des yeux d’une manière sarcastique” en français ne?

      • So, Oliver’s blind assertion that Froome is doping is somehow worse than your blind assertion that he isn’t? And how many of us had absolute proof that any of the legions of riders were doping in recent years? And if he can’t provide this proof you demand………that means he’s categorically wrong?

        Everyone is certainly entitled to their beliefs, but let’s not be naïve.

  8. The Ryder revelation was my lowlight of season, sad. Vaughters back pedaling and interviews about it were annoying as well.

    Completely forgot about the Katusha affair.

  9. Regarding the Katusha affair–does anyone know if it was ever determined whether or not the travel expenses number was accurate? I seem to remember at the time some believed it had to be a typo due to the outrageous amount, but I never saw confirmation one way or the other.

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