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by Matt de Neef
December 18, 2019
The holiday season is just around the corner and all of us here at CyclingTips are looking forward to a relaxing break. Before we sign off for the year though, we thought we’d take a look back at the year that was.
Throughout 2019 we’ve published somewhere in the vicinity of 1,800 articles — that’s a whole lot of news, analysis, tech features, adventure stories, race coverage and more. Here are the 15 stories that got the most page views this year:
Looking at that list it’s pretty clear what y’all like to read. Tech features (including bike reviews) have always been popular and this year was no exception. Timely news and analysis features (particularly from the Tour de France) got a lot of attention as well. And the fact Iain Treloar’s excellent SpeedX feature was among our top stories of the year suggests that, thankfully, long-form isn’t dead.
As much as we want our stories to get plenty of reads, that’s not the only thing we’re interested in. We pride ourselves on having a lively, thriving and constructive comments section and we love seeing our stories generate plenty of discussion. In order, here are the 10 stories that generated the most commentary in 2019:
We’re very proud of the work that we do here at CyclingTips, and not just the pieces that “do well”. Sometimes we create something that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention but that still plays an valuable role. It might be an article with an important message; or a piece of adventure content that speaks to our motto, “The beauty of cycling”; or maybe it’s simply a piece of content that really resonated with whoever wrote it.
Here’s everyone from the CT editorial team (plus a couple others!) talking about the favourite thing they made in 2019:
Though Matt has asked that I pick one story to share here, I’ve picked two. Because together, I think, they are as close as I’ve personally come to capturing the best week in bike racing.
One is a story from the Tour of Flanders, of a winner few expected from a team that needed a win. It is relief. And joy. And camaraderie. And I feel privileged to have witnessed it, and written about it.
When Mamma di Pasta wins the Tour of Flanders, a whole team celebrates
The second is from Paris-Roubaix. We all know Roubaix is hard. We know it is hard in the same way we know knives are sharp. But still we test them on a finger, as if we don’t fully believe it until we’re shown.
Wout van Aert tested the knife for us, and found it sharp. He showed us how hard Roubaix is. For that, I think we should thank him.
At Paris-Roubaix, a once and future Wout Van Aert
This most certainly wasn’t something I had any joy in writing; in fact it was one of the toughest interviews I’ve ever had to do. The horror of losing a child, especially in the activity we all love, hit home hard for me. The fact that it was still so fresh with Michael Drapac made it even more difficult and raw. But I felt that it was important to do — as a record of Damion’s legacy and Michael’s emotions at the time. I could also tell from Michael’s willingness to do the interview that talking about his son on a wider platform was a part of his healing process.
Since I’m across both the commercial and editorial imperatives of the business, it’s deeply conflicting knowing that this story would “perform well” (i.e. generate lots of traffic), while also knowing that traffic is the currency we trade off. Fortunately we have the ability to turn ads off for stories like this so that we don’t indirectly profit from such a terrible event.
Michael Drapac on the loss of his son Damion, his philosophy of cycling, and life
While I still have painful memories of testing 45 mini pumps, it was chains that occupied my mind most this year. It’s not the first time I’ve dived deep into this topic, and I doubt it’ll be the last, but I’m pretty happy with how my recent “best chain” feature turned out. It was months of work in the making, and even came after a 5,000-word intro article about chain wear a few months before.
A bike is rather useless without a chain, and hopefully this content has allowed readers to gain efficiency and save some money in the process.
Finding the best bicycle chain: What over 3,000 hours of testing revealed
I’ve written a bunch of stuff I’m proud of this year: personal reflective essays, a feature about Rohan Dennis’ return to form for Worlds, a primer on the AusCycling initiative, and even a piece about the meaning we can take from cyclists’ Instagram accounts. But the work I’m probably most proud of came way back in January and February, during the Aussie summer of cycling.
For a few years now I’ve been trying to find a way to write stuff that’s more than just your average stage report, and in January and February I think I finally managed to do that.
I was happy with how I started the year, publishing this piece about Marco Haller’s return from a serious injury on January 1. I’m quite partial to this piece about Paddy Bevin’s surprise stage win at the Tour Down Under too. But if I had to pick one story, it would probably be the article I wrote about Richie Porte and Michael Woods’ feud at the Sun Tour. It was a tale about the two biggest riders in the race, arguing with each other out on the road, and the somewhat baffling (but explainable) chaos that ensued.
Sun Tour stand-off: Why Porte and Woods surrendered on stage 4
I’ve picked this video above all others purely because of the fun factor. We had a vague plan, a decent route, and a room booked for the night, and that was all we needed. Some video edits take forever and it feels like pulling teeth trying to make sense of everything. This one flowed together beautifully.
These shoots, while they sound fun on paper, can be quite stressful for the guy behind the camera. Focus, audio, “is it steady?”, chargers, cables, radiomics, gimble, drone (which broke), laptop, tripod, and everything else — it’s easy to forget where you are. But not this one; this one was rad.
Highlights include: Andy’s straight-out-of-acting-school fake phone call to the pub at 6:18; opening the wrong door when they finally made it to the pub at 13:24; and the creepy van pick-up during the credits 11:57. Thanks to Andy, Caley and photographer Tim for making it so seamless. Now what are you waiting for? Give it a watch!
I love riding bikes of all shapes and sizes, and I love a similarly broad assortment of bikes and gear. But I can’t pretend that any of us can enjoy those sorts of things if we don’t have someplace to ride them. I found the recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration road fatality statistics to be extremely unsettling, but that data only confirmed what many of us already feel, anyway — that drivers are increasingly inattentive, that vehicles are becoming increasingly big and heavy, and roads are becoming more dangerous for cyclists overall.
I owe my livelihood to cycling, not to mention my sanity, my community, and my happiness. I don’t do it for the exercise; I do it for the sheer joy of rolling across the earth, in whatever the form. But while my life revolves around cycling, I have no interest in giving my life to it. I don’t know when this madness will end, or when (or if) it’ll at least start to get better. But I do believe that the entities that created this problem — namely, the tech companies — also have the ability to solve it. I only hope they have the gumption to actually do so, and I, for one, am tired of waiting. You should be, too.
JRA with the Angry Asian: Enough already
I was pretty proud of this one. Different markets are always changing, but how do we react to that change? Where Have All the Women’s Bikes Gone? looked at one of those ever-changing markets: women’s bikes. Brands like Specialized, Trek, Scott, and more, are slowly evolving away from women’s specific bikes, and more towards unisex frames with women’s specific touch points.
Getting an inside look allowed us to share the trends we are seeing with both our road/gravel audience and our mountain bike audience (through sister-site Pinkbike), which also opened up some constructive discussion. It was a great way to get the consumer’s perception of this part of the industry, as well as that of the brands directly involved.
Where have all the women’s bikes gone? A look inside an ever-changing market
If there’s one defining story of 2019 for me, it’s my investigative feature into the collapse of Chinese bike brand SpeedX. Published back in June, it was the result of five months of increasingly delirious work, on and off, and went down a rabbit hole that took detours via the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Chinese secret police before arriving at 800,000 dumped bikes and the collapse of an entire industry. I set out to write a light and fluffy story, and ended up writing an elegy for all the dreams of a 500-person, multi-million dollar company.
The response to the article blew us away. In terms of page views, it’s one of our best-performing stories all year, and more significantly, it transcended our little cycling bubble by landing on various mainstream political and tech channels. It’s also the first CyclingTips piece to be Walkley Award-nominated, submitted for consideration in the business journalism and longform feature writing categories. We didn’t win, and we weren’t shortlisted, but I find it pretty cool that a little cycling website in Melbourne produced something that we felt was worth throwing in the mix.
(Sidenote: I know it’s a bit uncool to blow your own horn, but looking back, I’ve been really proud of my work this year. As a piece of straight sports journalism, I think this observational piece on Egan Bernal holds up nicely, even if it didn’t do huge numbers in the chaos of the Tour de France. And purely as a piece of writing, I think my best piece of 2019 was this, about the life and death of a bike pump.)
The birth and death of a bike company: What happened to SpeedX?
It would seem to be that the majority of my work this year has been over on the YouTube channel. Which, if I’m honest, I’m pretty pleased about. Putting the words that I scribble down up against those of others here on CT (I’m looking at you Iain and Matt) at times makes me feel like I should have read a few more of the classics in school and not the ‘graphic novels” that I managed to convince the teachers were, in fact, suitable for my English skills.
So it’s lucky that I can chat and waffle well, a side effect from spending far too many hours in the back of a bike shop drinking coffee and warming up for long cold rides.
I was going to throw a few The Bunch episodes in here. I was happy with them but man — they along with a few other factors nearly finished me off this year. Hopefully, we will get back to them, maybe not weekly though. So instead, my first choice would be my chat with Esteban Chaves at the Scott Addict launch. I was happy with what I managed to get out of him. He was open and, as ever, a happy fella.
My video review of the new Orbea OMX was a mini-experiment in mixing up what a review could include. My love for everything Basque swayed me to try and show not just the bike but what the region’s like too.
Lastly, I feel that the article I wrote after coming back from a few months out due to illness shows my rejuvenated love for a sport that’s given me so much. It also is pretty ridiculous. There are other bits and bobs I was happy with, but all these few pieces should while away a few moments over the festive period I hope.
It wasn’t a light read, but I think the column I wrote about the intersection of pro cycling and basic human rights was the most important piece I wrote in 2019. Early season stage races held in repressive, police states have not excited pro cycling’s fanbase, and there’s little indication they’ve captured the attention of the local population. Yet the UCI, which has stated that making gender equality in cycling is a top priority, continues to sanction these evens, willingly contributing to the sport-washing of human rights violations.
As I wrote, it’s impossible to separate the sociocultural and political backdrop of these national tours from the events themselves. Boundaries that define national tours are, quite literally, geo-political, and amplifying these events in any way feels like a tacit endorsement of systemic injustice. When the pro peloton is thrust into the very land where adultery and blasphemy are punishable by imprisonment or death — inside the very borders where some inhabitants are prohibited from leaving — it takes on a new dimension. The UCI is trying to simultaneously call for gender equality while aligning itself with gross human-rights offenders. It runs against the values the UCI claims to prioritize in its own rulebook.
In October, Amaury Sport Organisation, owners of the Tour de France, announced that it will manage a new five-day stage race in Saudi Arabia. And while the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul caught the world’s attention, that incident was indicative of the climate of fear in which Saudi nationals exist. This new race will be held in a country where adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, obtain a passport, marry, or access healthcare; where women’s rights activists have been arrested and charged with treason, and where political dissidents face the death penalty.
The inaugural Saudi Tour will be held in February, utilized by the government to publicize Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination. As I wrote in February, I’d like to simply sit back and enjoy the racing, but like so many things in life, it’s not that simple.
The weekly spin: The intersection of pro cycling and basic human rights
Asking the pros to share their stories of misery on the bike turned out to be quite interesting, and also quite fun. For starters, they’re obviously made of tougher stuff than most, so it’s fascinating to find out at what point even the world’s best start to suffer.
On the other hand, there was a relatability to most of their stories. I may never race Milano-Sanremo or the Giro d’Italia, but apparently the likes of Tom Dumoulin and Brent Bookwalter can be as miserable in the cold as I am. Even national champions like Larry Warbasse can bonk in training rides.
Best of all was the way everyone I talked to recounted their woeful tales with a smile. The rides in the rain and those horrible hunger knocks probably aren’t the most fun thing at the time, but perhaps unsurprisingly most of the pros looked back on their miserable moments with fondness.
“I was on my hands and knees” — Pro riders’ most miserable days on a bike
A big part of what I do at CyclingTips is behind the scenes, particularly focusing on our membership program, VeloClub. Occassionally I get to write a piece for CT, or contribute some video content. The inner creative in me enjoys the process, however being surrounded by exceptionally talented writers everyday means that like you, my satifaction tends to come on the consumption side.
There have been so many excellent and varied pieces on CT this year, so picking just one to share was difficult. Whether it was content that educated, informed, showed a different perspective, explored old territory, discovered far-off places, introduced new characters, exposed new villians, made me laugh, smile, think, feel, and pine — they all shone a different light on this wonderful sport and told stories in a way that few currently do.
Rather than share something from myself, instead I would prefer to use a piece written by one of our VeloClub members, Lauren Giles. I selected Lauren’s retrospective on her experience at the Giro della Donna not only because it was beautifully written, but because, for me, it represented everything unique and special about the amazing community that surrounds these words on a screen. To think that a simple cycling publication can bring people together — whether online, on in real life — in a real, and meaningful way is powerful. Lauren’s writing style in this piece is certainly something to aspire to. Her message of loss is one that unfortunately most can relate to, but ultimately it’s a tale of a crew that has each other’s backs.
The lost and the saved
Of course CyclingTips is about more than what we publish here on the site. We’ve mentioned a few videos above but if you aren’t already subscribed to our YouTube channel, we’d certainly recommend you do so. Phil Golston and Dave Everett — with help from the rest of the team — have published some great stuff this year. Here’s a quick selection:
Speaking of other media formats, we started the year with one podcast and ended it with four (and we’ve got another one on the way). If you prefer your cycling content in audio form, Caley and the crew have got you covered:
And as for our best podcasts for the year, well, here’s what Caley recommends:
So, how did we do in 2019? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of? We’re always open to your feedback, so long as it’s constructive, of course!
It will be a little quieter here at CyclingTips over the holidays as we all take a break, but rest assured that we’ll be back and firing in the first week of the new year. Thanks for spending time with us throughout the year, however you chose to do so, and thanks in particular to our wonderful VeloClub members who help us to do what we do.
Happy holidays and we’ll see you in 2020!