The end of the year always brings a number of retirements, and the list this year features both major stars and treasured domestiques. In the first of a two-part series, Cyclingnews takes a look at some of those who are hanging their bikes on a nail in 2012, from Olympics winner Alexandre Vinokourov to Rabobank veteran Grischa Niermann.
Vinokourov went out in a blaze of glory, winning the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympic road race in one of his trademark attacks. The Astana rider had previously announced his retirement a number of times, such as after breaking his femur in a dramatic crash at the 2011 Tour de France, and after being suspended for blood doping in 2007.
The Kazakh turned pro in 1998, and throughout his career rode for Casino-Ag2r, Telekom, Liberty Seguros-Würth, and Astana. He won the Vuelta a Espana in 2006, and had a total of four stage wins in the Spanish race, as well as an equal tally of stage wins in the Tour de France. He also won the Criterium du Dauphine Libere, Paris-Nice (twice), Tour de Suisse and Deutschland Tour. Perhaps his biggest successes were in one-day races, winning not only the Olympic road race, but also Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (twice).
George Hincapie's retirement was surely not the way he had planned, as he goes out with a six-month suspension for past doping. He, too, has a long career behind him, as he turned pro with Motorola in 1994, followed by stints at USPS, Highroad and BMC. After having his palmares trimmed by the USADA, he comes up with top wins of a team time trial stage win at the Tour de France in 2002, the overall title in the Tour of Missouri, Gent-Wevelgem in 2001, and three national road titles.
Hincapie announced in June that he would retire, and did so after the US Pro Challenge in August. He did so knowing what was upcoming: he was named in the USADA's action against Lance Armstrong, and confessed to having used doping products during the early part of his career. Hincapie said that he had ridden clean since 2006.
Mauricio Soler's retirement was an acknowledgement that injuries suffered in a crash at the 2011 Tour de Suisse were not to be overcome. The Colombian, riding for Movistar Team, suffered serious head injuries in the crash. He rode professionally from 2006 to 2011, with his major successes being a stage win and the King of the Mountains jersey at the 2007 Tour de France.
Robbie McEwen, the Australian “pocket rocket”, changed over from a rider with Orica-GreenEdge to the team's technical advisor in May, after the Amgen Tour of California. He racked up countless sprint victories in his 17-year career, riding along the way for Rabobank, Domo-Farm Frites, Lotto-Adecco, Katusha, RadioShack and GreenEdge.
He would claim three green jerseys at the Tour de France, and 12 stages, winning an equal number of stages at the Giro d'Italia. Other major wins include two stages at Paris-Nice, 12 stages at the Tour Down Under, five victories in Paris-Brussels (including four consecutive wins from 2005 to 2008), Vattenfalls Cyclassic, Dwars door Vlaanderen and two national road titles.
Grischa Niermann may not be as well-known to the public as many of the other retirees, but he was highly regarded by his team and within the peloton. The German joined Dutch team Rabobank in 2000, and rode the Tour de France nine times, the Giro d'Italia four times and the Vuelta a Espana five times. He never won much but was a hard-working team member.
Jeremy Hunt retired from Team Sky at the end of the season, after a career spanning 17 years and eight teams. His 43 wins include two national road titles and the GP Ouest France – Plouay. Along the way he moved from being a sprinter to help set up sprints, and was part of the British team which delivered Mark Cavendish to the road Worlds title in 2011.