It feels a bit strange having just picked my first fantasy squad for the 2013 season and then writing about the previous season but I wanted to give myself a bit of reflection time and see what I thought of it looking back. I mentioned last January that for the first time in a long time I was going to follow the season closely, or as closely as I could and not just dip in an out for the odd big race. My time was richly rewarded (even if I did find myself tuning in to belgian TV sometimes !) as the (soap) drama that is the pro cycling world unfolded across the season. My first port of call each day is to The Inner Ring blog which in my view is peerless across the sporting world in it’s coverage of the sport and the stories behind it.
Initially this was going to be a long post breaking the season down and looking at the stories and races that made most impact on me (Boonen in the Classics, Cancellara’s bad luck, Wiggins of course and many more) but instead I’ve tried to pick one moment that encapsulated the whole season which in a way is futile but here goes.
For me it’s this photo of Joaquim Rodriguez winning the final classic of the season Il Lombardia in astonishingly bad conditions. The elation on his face and release of emotion following a hairy fast descent in the wet says one thing but there is more going on for me. Rodriquez also here is vindicated, the first Spanish rider to win Lombardia and a win that ensured he would finish the rider ranked number one in the world (not Wiggins) following attacking rides throughout the year both in winning La Fleche Wallonne and finished runner up in both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta with scorching attacking rides in the mountains in both races. He should have won both of those Grand Tours but either tactical naivety, lack of team support, taking opponents for granted (Ryder Hesjedal) or a combination of all of these things meant that he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in both races. Not to be denied though he continued his attacking approach storming to victory in the rain in Italy. I admire him hugely and love to watch him race, yes he may not always make it but he always tries and he is the living embodiment of Panache even trying to hand his glasses to the motorbike outriders on the way down rather than simply throw them away. The photo also brings out the soap opera and controversy of the season, as I write this no one knows if he will race in 2013 as his team Katusha have been denied a license to enter the World Tour for reasons that I for one cannot get to the bottom of. This is where things get murky, what is going on with the team and the governing body? what politicking is going on with the powerful oligarch Igor Markorov who runs Katusha but also is a power broker at governing body level. Does all this have to do with Oleg Tinkoff ? who knows but it shines a light into the lack of transparency and governance of the sport. Katusha also do not necessarily have a reputation as the cleanest team in the peloton and yet Rodriquez has been one of the few Spanish riders to be openly critical of doping and of the whole Lance Armstrong affair.
So there you have it the season in one photo, triumph, failure, controversy, panache, vindication and above all sporting theatre and drama like no other sport. 2013 season kicks off tomorrow and I for one can’t wait.