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Last week we brought you 20 highlights from the 2013 pro racing season. But of course this season also had its fair share of moments that made us cringe, sigh or shake our heads in disappointment. Here are 10 of those moments.
1. Tom Boonen’s entire season
In 2012 Tom Boonen won just about every big race he was gunning for: the Tour of Qatar, Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke. This year, by contrast, he managed to win just one UCI-classified race — stage 2 of the Tour de Wallonie in July — and he was absent from virtually all of the Spring Classics.
To be fair to the four-time Paris-Roubaix winner he has had a shocking run with injury. In January he spent nearly a week in hospital with a serious infection in his elbow that nearly cost him his arm. He then crashed out of Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, the latter costing him a start at Paris-Roubaix.
He got the flu in July and then, in a case that still makes us cringe, developed a perineal cyst that refused to heal, forcing the Belgian to end his season as early as August.
So perhaps Boonen’s horrendous season wasn’t entirely his fault but it was still disappointing to see him feature in so few races. There’s no doubt the sport is better when he’s at his best, particularly around April.
2. Mustafa Sayer’s performance at the Tour of Turkey
When Mustafa Sayer won stage 6 of this year’s Tour of Turkey on the steep slopes to Selcuk more than a few people raised their eyebrows.
Marcel Kittel famously tweeted (then deleted): “I was not often in my life so angry about a result of someone else. And I see many people around me feeling the same. #TourofTurkey”. He had a point.
Here was a guy that had finished 160th overall in the 2012 edition of the race (from 162 riders), nearly two hours down on the overall leader, and merely a year later he was leaving all in his wake to win on a summit finish and take the Tour by the scruff of its neck.
Not only that, he rode for Torku Sekerspor, the same team as the 2012 winner Ivailo Gabrovski who tested positive for EPO later that year.
Sure enough, on July 15 of this year the UCI confirmed that Sayar had tested positive for EPO earlier in 2013 (at the Tour of Algeria) and was provisionally suspended as a result.
It was an announcement most people were expecting but it wasn’t any less disappointing when it finally arrived.
3. The Sagan Squeeze
While standing on the podium after a memorable edition of the Tour of Flanders in April, Peter Sagan grabbed the backside of podium girl Maya Leye, causing international outrage.
News outlets around the world — even those thoroughly disinterested in cycling — covered the incident with many commentators describing it as workplace sexual harassment.
Sagan appeared genuinely apologetic in the days and weeks afterwards, issuing a video apology to Maya and anyone that was offended by his actions. Sagan later presented Maya with flowers and publicly apologised while signing in at the start of Brabantse Pijl.
You’d have to imagine it’s the last time Peter Sagan will attempt a stunt like that again.
4. Santambrogio and Di Luca’s positive tests for EPO
If you had to pick two villains from the 2013 season Vini-Fantini pair Mauro Santambrogio and Danilo Di Luca would be at the top of the list.
The former won a memorable 14th stage at this year’s Giro d’Italia (see video below) when he emerged from the fog on a stage with virtually no TV coverage, to take the win. The victory would put “Santa” in fourth overall but in the following week he would fade badly and eventually finish 7th.
On June 3, a couple weeks after the Giro the UCI announced that Santambrogio had tested positive for EPO after stage 1 of the race. The Italian was promptly sacked by his Vini-Fantini squad.
Danilo Di Luca on the other hand was ejected from Vini-Fantini while still racing in the Giro, after the UCI reported an “adverse finding” from a test done at Di Luca’s home a month earlier.
It was the second time in his career that Di Luca had been caught using EPO (or a variant) and several other pieces of evidence suggest further indiscretions as well. If Santambrogio’s positive test was disappointing then Di Luca’s was borderline bizarre — how could he not have learnt?
5. The Orica-GreenEDGE Tour de France ‘bus incident’
While this post is about the forgettable moments of season 2013, this particular incident could be seen as forgettable or unforgettable depending on who you are.
The Orica-GreenEDGE bus driver who managed to get stuck under the finishing gantry on stage 1 of the Tour de France, for example, would probably rather forget this day. But for many of us, it was a dramatic and exhilarating start to what was a terrific race.
The tension at the finish line in Bastia that day was palpable and the moment the bus was released from the gantry a collective sigh of relief was breathed by race organisers and everyone at Orica-GreenEDGE alike.
In some ways it was quite a bizarre and funny moment but it also caused real havoc in the bike race.
The riders were mere kilometres from the finish while the bus was still stuck. The commissairs decided to end the race a few kilometres before the designated finish as a precaution and communicate the change to the riders. GC contenders started making their way towards the front (so they were out of trouble at the finish) and in doing so got in the way of the sprint trains. In the confusion and chaos many riders crashed heavily.
In the end the original finish line was reinstated and the dynamic of the race changed again. It’s fair to say some of the riders were less than impressed by the turn of the events but others remained oblivious — the message about the changed finish hadn’t reached them via race radio.
In the end it was lucky there wasn’t more carnage.
6. Cadel Evans’ Tour de France
After Tejay van Garderen won the Tour of California in May the cycling media (us included) went into overdrive discussing the potential leadership decision at Team BMC for Le Tour. Would Tejay be the protected rider? Or would the experience of Cadel prevail?
In the end Cadel got the nod (as he was probably always going to) and after being in the mix for the first week or so he quickly faded once the roads headed upward. Cadel appeared to be highly fatigued from his exertions at the Giro d’Italia in May (where he came third, mind you) and suffered as the race went on.
He finished well outside the top 10 on all the major mountain stages, including 80th on the stage that featured two ascents of Alpe d’Huez. In the end he finished 39th overall, more than an hour and a half behind Tour winner Chris Froome.
(Tejay van Garderen meanwhile finished 45th overall and apart from a brilliant breakaway on that Double-Alpe stage that almost succeeded, he was largely inconspicuous).
We’re inclined to forgive Cadel for his forgettable performance at this year’s Tour de France given he performed so well at the Giro. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing how he goes next year when he focuses on just one Grand Tour rather than two.
7. The air of suspicion around Chris Froome’s Tour de France performance
One thing we learnt from this year’s Tour de France is that Chris Froome is an incredibly patient man. From the day he won on stage 8 and slipped into the maillot jaune the Team Sky rider faced near-constant questions about his performance with many journalists asking him why we should believe he was racing clean. He handled himself with great aplomb.
We get it — we’ve all been duped before and no-one wants to be duped again. But there’s a point where healthy scepticism turns into something far uglier that’s frankly harmful to the sport.
The difference between Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome is that with Armstrong there were clues littered throughout his past to make those questions worthwhile (and important). With Froome there’s no suspicion about a Tour de Suisse positive test, or suggestions of a backdated cortisone prescription.
The only thing to suggest that Froome could have been doping was his terrific performances. If we start questioning every terrific performance then surely some of the magic of this great sport is lost.
(As a side note, you could probably argue that the suspicion around Chris Horner’s Vuelta performance was also disappointing, but by our reckoning the constant negativity at the Tour de France about Froome was far worse.)
8. Stuart O’Grady’s fall from grace
On July 24 this year we learned that Stuart O’Grady, Aussie fan favourite and winner of the 2007 Paris-Roubaix, had taken EPO prior to the 1998 Tour de France. O’Grady’s admission came the same day he was implicated in a French Senate report into doping at the 1998 Tour de France.
Many people weren’t so concerned about the fact ‘Freckles’ had doped 15 years ago — after all, the vast majority of the peloton probably did — but the timing of the announcement was cause for concern. O’Grady had clearly only come clean because the truth was about to be revealed anyway. Worse, O’Grady was adamant that he only used EPO once, in the lead up to the 1998 Tour de France.
It’s a conclusion that seems somewhat unlikely. He won stage 14 of the Tour and wore the maillot jaune for three days while on performance-enhancing drugs. Why stop there?
But perhaps most galling for O’Grady fans was the fact that Stuey had been such a vocal anti-doping advocate, once saying of Lance Armstrong:
“Lance deceived everybody on the planet, us included. Obviously we all wanted to believe also he was winning the Tours clean. We are all athletes suffering through the mountains and you’d like to think that he was just training harder and working harder than we all were. But now it’s all come out, (I am) deceived, annoyed, frustrated.”
9. Safety concerns at top women’s races
Female pros face enough challenges as it is thanks to low wages, poor media coverage and minimal attention from big sponsors. Last-minute race cancellations and unsafe riding conditions simply add insult to injury.
Never been so petrified racing my bike as I was this week. Happy to make a united stance on race safety today…. #giroditoscana
— rachel neylan (@rachneylan) September 15, 2013
Back in May the Tour of Languedoc-Roussillon was cancelled after the riders had arrived at the start, some of them having travelled for as much as two days to get there. The issue? Insufficient funds to run the race, hotel rooms that likely hadn’t been booked and more.
The race was later pushed back by a couple of days but by that time several of the big teams had left in protest. World Champion Marianne Vos later tweeted:
— Marianne Vos (@marianne_vos) May 17, 2013
More recently, in September’s Giro della Toscana, more than half the riders in the race withdrew before the final stage citing safety concerns. Riders faced traffic out on the course on several stages and local police refused to offer the riders protection in negotiating that traffic.
Several riders were given wrong directions by course marshals and on stage 2 Australian rider Chloe Hosking crashed into a badly-positioned photographer after crossing the finish line.
This wasn’t some tiny race either. The Giro della Toscana was the only HC rated race on the UCI Elite Women’s calendar in 2013 and it was being raced by the biggest teams in the women’s peloton. At this stage the race doesn’t appear to be going ahead in 2014 and you’d have to think that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
10. The McQuaid vs. Cookson UCI presidency circus
Admittedly we did get a little wrapped up in this story and there was some kind of sadistic pleasure to be had in watching the whole thing unfold. But the moves now-former-UCI-president Pat McQuaid made in an attempt to cling desperately to the leadership were, well, desperate.
We saw his nominations from the Irish and Swiss federations fall apart and in response a group of three national federations proposed changes to the UCI constitution specifically to allow McQuaid to run for a third term. It was all a little bit sketchy.
Even at the UCI Congress itself, where the vote for the next president was set to take place, McQuaid and his supporters were calling for votes to alter the UCI constitution there and then; a clear breach of the constitution.
The whole thing turned into a bit of a circus and it was left to Brian Cookson to say “you know what, let’s just vote as if McQuaid had been nominated”. It was the circuit breaker than everyone needed and Cookson’s gamble paid off, winning the vote and taking the top job.
More than anything we’re just glad the election is over and the UCI can get on with improving the sport.
So, what do you think were the most forgettable moments of this season? Have we missed any? For a positive counterpoint, check out this article featuring 20 highlights from this season.