2013 Season Review

As the 2013 road cycling season ambles its way towards a conclusion and news tidbits start to dry up it feels like a good time to review the season; and what a season it has been both on and off the bike. Whilst the crashing fall of a certain Mr Armstrong has overawed the majority of the season,the racing and politics of the sport continues to provoke excitement and angst in equal measure.

 Two new Grand Tour winners, two new classic winners, some biblical weather and a change in the top tier of the sport all point to that fact that it wasn’t a bad year after all!

 

Grand Tour Deja-Vu?

American bike rider defies all the odds to win one of cycling’s biggest races for the first time. No we haven’t been transported back to the drug riddled late 1990’s; its Christopher Horner (at 41 – the oldest Grand Tour winner ever) triumphing in the Vuelta a Espana. The impossibly gaunt and skinny rider from Oregon scrawled yet another chapter in the sports chaotic relationship with drugs and rumour.

Climbing for impossibly extended moments out of the saddle, the American arguably rode the perfect race to despatch Vincenzo Nibali. Herein lies perhaps the most important motif of that Vuelta – it remains a stiff task to be competitive in more than one grand tour during the year. Ultimately this has to be a positive thing for the sustainability of the sport.

That brings us to a certain Mr Nibbles.  Safely despatching his opponents despite some biblical weather and some shortened stages – he certainly has to be classed as one of the top 3 grand tour riders at present. Admittedly a tentative Wiggins, an ageing Evans, an off colour Hesjedal and an improving Uran didn’t provide much of a challenge.

Again the Tour de France was strangled by a Sky armada, albeit in a less comprehensive fashion than 12 months previously. A precession from stage 8 for Mr Froome wouldn’t have been so enjoyable if it wasn’t for the 100th Tour which included a double ascension of Alpe D’Huez, Mount Ventoux and a dusk finish in Paris. Marcel Kittel also emerged as the top sprinter we all knew he would be, throwing down a challenge to Monseiur Cavendish. He’s certainly come a long way in a very short time since finishing third at the 2010 World Time Trial championship! Oh and who can forget the Australian bus incident!

Dan Martin powers away from an unlikely opponent

Dan Martin powers away from an unlikely opponent

 

An Irish Panda

Let’s hope MTN Quebeka’s win at Milan San Remo inspires a generation (to pinch a well-known phrase) of African cyclists. Yet, history may well remember the ice crusted helmets, blue faces, mid stage bus ride and a tottering Sky rider instead.

Whilst Fabian Cancellara doubled up at Roubaix and Flanders and Rodriguez did the double at Il Lombardia, Dan Martin ensured Irish eyes were smiling again when triumphing at thoroughly enjoyable edition of Liege Bastogne Liege with the current fall guy of cycling Hesjedal teeing his Garmin teammate to perfection.

With Messers Boonen and Cancellara nearing the epoch of their careers and the timely proliferation of a number of new classic stars, 2014 may well see a new paradigm in one day races. Certainly, Zdenk Stybar can count himself extremely unlucky this year.

Cookson comes to the fore

Arguably the most important moment of the year came when the defiant Pat McQuaid was finally wrestled from his position of UCI president by Brian Cookson. Only time will tell whether the much publicised change Cookson has promised comes to fruition. With calendar alterations a foot for 2015, next year this maybe the last season we enjoy procycling in its current format.

Below are my rider and race or stage of the year. Who or what is yours?

 

My rider of the Year – Joaquim Rodriguez

Race of the year – Stage 6 of Tirreno Adriatico

A Quick Peek at the Ultimate Domestique

 

Team Time Trial--2009 Tour de France Image ©Copyright AFP

 
Who are these riders who give their all in support of the team and its superstar cyclists? Who are the domestiques?

Let’s make no mistake here, all pro-peloton domestiques are super talented riders. They’ve won races throughout their careers and show great promise.

Of course, they have to be that good. If they weren’t great cyclists, they’d never come anywhere close to being considered for a Pro-Tour team. Nor would they be part of that chosen few who support the team in the big races, the Giro, Vuelta, the Tour de France. It’s the pinnacle, the place where all great cyclist aspire to be.

On Cycling Shorts I’d like to spotlight these riders, look at some history of how domestiques and tactics have developed, and profile current and retired domestique riders. In the meantime, maybe we can also get a few to talk about their experiences as professional riders and domestiques.

First though, I really want to start with an ideal, a model of what I think has evolved into the Ultimate Domestique. This is the rider with exceptional, star talent who choses to ride in support of the team instead of inflating his own palmarès.

Yes, it is true. Most of cycling’s superstars started their careers as domestiques-carrying water bottles, blocking the wind, protecting the star rider, then they developed. Lance did, Boonen did, even Contador did, and some of today’s top riders still play both roles, in a sort of super domestique way: stars in some races, support in others.

But occasionally, through circumstances of team or timing, a rider will fulfill the supreme supporting role; that of the Ultimate Domestique. An outstanding rider, one who could easily be a superstar on a different, lesser team, yet he is someone who choses to be part of something bigger. The Ultimate Domestique is that star cyclist who choses to ride and give his all in support of another and help the team win a major Tour!

So, who is my choice? Which rider epitomizes that role of the Ultimate Domestique? Hands down, it’s Andreas Klöden.

 

Photo Courtesy of Team RadioShack

An outstanding rider in his own right, Kloden’s individual talents on the bike are really pretty darn impressive. Twice he’s finished second at the Tour de France (2004, 2006), won at Paris-Nice (2000), and brought home a Bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Yet, he’s chosen time and time again to spend his career with the some of the world’s best teams (Team Telekom/T-Mobile, Astana) riding in support of the most heralded superstars of this generation–Ullrich, Armstrong, and Contador. And much to the frustration of those covetous Team Directors who would love to pay him to come be the big star on their teams.

Klöden has used his talent and stamina to support his team leader through the mountains, in the time trials, and through the grueling weeks of a Grand Tours with the focus on the Tour win for the team. Once again it looks like Klöden will quietly operate away from the intense glare of the spotlight and continue to play his role as the ultimate domestique, this year with his new Team RadioShack.

Having seemingly been dropped from the media’s tentacles, Klöden rarely gives an interview anymore–which is a shame, because among other things he seems like he’d be a pretty fun guy to get to know. Instead he allows his performance on the bike to speak for itself, but that probably says more than dozens of interviews ever could.

So, while I think we may get lucky and see a few more individual accolades before Klöden retires from professional cycling, one thing appears to be certain, he’s discovered his place and he seems happy. Andreas Klöden has found his cycling balance as the ultimate team player — the Ultimate Domestique.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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