Tales from the peloton, January 1, 2008
After the most scandal hit Tour de France since 1998, cycling stumbles its way to the end of the summer, the Vuelta and the World's. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins looks back at the big races and top news stories in the last year in cycling.
Part IV: September - December
September begins with an announcement that Johan Bruyneel – who'd announced his retirement with the disbanding of the Discovery team – would take over the reins at Astana. Surely this must be the shortest retirement in history.
The women's World Cup and ProTour continue with the Grand Prix Plouay/Grand Prix Ouest-France double bill in Brittany. In what are often good races for sprinters, both go to breakaway soloists. Italian Noemi Cantele (Bigla) escapes a small group of favourites to take the win, and Nicole Cooke (Raleigh-Lifeforce-Creation) takes the sprint for second over Cantele's countrywoman Marta Bastianelli (Italian National Team). Marianne Vos (DSB Bank) – Cooke's only serious challenger in the season-long competition – can only manage seventh, so it looks like the Welshwoman may well have the title sewn up for another year.
Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), mindful that he's not done much since his days in yellow at the Tour in 2004, puts in an attack with less than 3km to go and wins by a couple of seconds. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) leads the bunch home, just pipping Danilo Di Luca who takes a few more points to strengthen his hold over the ProTour's white jersey.
The final Grand Tour of the year begins without last year's winner Alexander Vinokourov, as the Vuelta a España gets going in Vigo, north east Spain. Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) – who won the previous Grand Tour stage in Paris in July – takes the victory in a Sprint Royale that features most of the world's top fast men.
The opening week is dominated by the sprinters, most notably Oscar Freire (Rabobank) who takes three. Belgian Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) takes the golden jersey from Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) with a strong time trial, but loses it the next day as 2005 winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) manages to stick with Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) on the race's first real mountain stage to Estación de esquí Cerler.
More flat and transitional stages, including back-to-back victories for Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and one for Discovery's Jason McCartney are followed by a frightening yet memorable descent to stage victory by Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Sanchez wins again a few days later to put pressure on the general classification, especially Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) who's threatening the podium of his second Grand Tour this year. The next day, Sanchez wins the time trial stage around Villalba to push Evans off the podium.
The final stage into Madrid is won by Bennati, neatly topping and tailing the race. His third stage win sends a message to Italian coach Franco Ballerini who hasn't picked him for the worlds team. The overall is comfortably won by Menchov, who held the jersey since Stage 9, with Carlos Sastre (CSC) who was always in the action but never really threatened, and Sanchez.
As the Vuelta draws to a close, it is announced by UCI president Pat McQuaid that from next year the Grand Tours will no longer be part of the ProTour. This seems to be an acceptance of the demands of the races' organisers, but neither side seems to be very happy about much.
At the Tour of Britain, Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) takes a home win in the Crystal Palace Prologue in South London, and repeats with a stage victory into Southampton the following day. It's another young sprinter, in the form of Frenchman Romain Feillu (Agritubel) who takes the overall victory in Glasgow though. In the tightest finish to the race yet, Feillu wins by 0.49 of a second over Adrian Palomares (Fuerteventura-Canarias). Luke Roberts (CSC) takes third.
The ProTour's final stage race is the Tour of Poland where Johan Van Summeren (Predictor-Lotto) takes the overall victory by attacking with 20km of the final stage into Karpatz remaining. He takes the stage by 23 seconds over Rabobank's Robert Gesink and 32 over T-Mobile's Kim Kirchen, and that's how the final podium looks. This after the first stage team time trial is neutralised due to atrocious weather conditions, and the Liquigas team put its stamp on a race that begins with domination by the sprinters.
Speaking of sprinters, Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) takes a record breaking fourth win in Paris-Brussels. He beats Jeremy Hunt (Unibet) (now where have I seen that team before?) and Honorio Machado Perez (Tenax Salmilano) in what must be one of his favourite races by now.
At the Holland Ladies' Tour, Kristin Armstrong, riding for the US National Team, puts in a storming performance in the final stage time trial to take the overall victory from Judith Arndt (T-Mobile). Arndt's teammate Linda Villumsen takes third in the time trial and the overall in a race that's otherwise dominated by the sprinters.
The final round of the Women's World Cup is the Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt and carries double points toward the overall series. This means that Nicole Cooke's 80 point lead over Marianne Vos is not insurmountable. Unfortunately for the British champion, a recurrence of the knee injury that has plagued previous seasons prevents her from contesting the race properly and Vos' win over Ina Teutenberg (T-Mobile) and Regina Schleicher (Nürnberger Versicherung) gives the Dutch woman final victory in the competition that Cooke has led since Geelong, back in early March. A magnanimous Cooke ends her season here, and once again undergoes surgery on her troublesome knee.
Off the road, the arbitrators close the Landis case, the world expects a verdict 'imminently'. After a short delay, the world is finally put out of its misery as the panel votes two to one against Landis' appeal and he receives a two-year ban from the sport. Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is proclaimed the winner of the 2006 Tour de France.
The city of Stuttgart – organisers of the World Championships – decide that they don't want anyone to take part who's involved in any ongoing drugs investigation. To this end they manage to prevent Danilo Di Luca from taking part as he's still subject to CONI's Oil for Drugs investigation that has been going on since 2004.
In an unprecedented result, the rainbow jerseys in both men's events go to last year's winners – and both of last year's women's champions get silver. An incredible display of time trialing power from Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara gives him victory by almost a minute over perennial medallist Laszlo Bodrogi of Hungary, and a surprise bronze medallist in the shape of Dutchman Stef Clement.
Paolo Bettini's Italian team once again rides a perfect race for their capitano in the men's road race. By being part of the early attacks, they manage to blunt the speed of the other favourites' teams and their attack in the final laps by Davide Rebellin gives Bettini the luxury of being carried along by the others. A small group arrives at the finish together, but none have the kick to challenge Bettini, who aims a shot at his critics as he crosses the line. Alexandr Kolobnev of Russia takes silver and Germany's Stefan Schumacher – who comes from very near Stuttgart – takes bronze.
In the only race to be taken by the home team, former world cyclo-cross champion Hanka Kupfernagel takes gold in the women's time trial ahead of the 2006 winner Kristin Armstrong (USA). German-born Austrian Christiane Soeder takes her country's first ever women's world cycling medal with a bronze.
The women's road race turns into a tactical battle which is once again dominated by the Italians. Unsecured barricades fall into the field late in the race, taking many of the favourites out of the running including German Judith Arndt and Edita Pucinskaite. A last lap attack by Marta Bastianelli in the service of her sprinter captain Giorgia Bronzini proves powerful enough to keep her away for an unexpected victory. Behind her last year's champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) beats Bronzini in the battle for silver.
In the absence of the Züri Metzgete, the next race for the ProTour is Paris-Tours. The sprinters' classic goes to one of the classic sprinters in the shape of Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), but not before a lost pedal from Robbie McEwen almost causes chaos in the last hundred metres. Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) beats Oscar Freire for second place.
The Oil for Drugs investigation that has been rumbling on since 2004 is finally closed and the outcome is that Giro d'Italia winner and current ProTour leader Danilo Di Luca gets a 3-month ban. Effectively, it just means that he misses the Giro di Lombardia, but it also opens the door to Cadel Evans to take victory from him in the season long ProTour competition.
In the event, Lombardia turns out to be one of the best editions in recent years. 2004 winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) takes a two-up sprint victory over Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir). The pair escapes a strong breakaway group on the final climb to San Fermo della Battaglia to finish ten seconds ahead of a charging Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Cadel? He gets sixth place, and with Freire on the DNF list, he gets to claim the ProTour title without worry.
In the absence of the promised race in the USA, the Cyclo-cross World Cup races kick off in Kalmthout, Belgium. A surprise occurs when emerging Czech rider Zdenek Stybar (Fidea) bests the local favourites to take victory. Everyone's expected winner: Sven Nys (Rabobank) comes in alone to take second ahead of French champion Francis Mourey (Française des Jeux). The women's race is taken by Dutchwoman Daphne Van Den Brand (ZZPR.nl) from Katie Compton (Spike Shooter) and Christelle Ferrier-Bruneau (Pruneaux d'Agen).
The next weekend, the men's World Cup race is in Tabor, Czech Republic and the Belgians turn the tables. Order is restored as Sven Nys takes his usual lone victory ahead of compatriot Klaas Vantornout (Fidea) and Dutch champion Lars Boom (Rabobank).
Meanwhile, Floyd Landis launches his expected appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, mostly based on the split verdict of the US arbitration panel and the flaws identified in the testing procedures. While this is happening, the UCI announces that all riders will be required to have biological passports next season.
Most of the defunct Discovery Channel team signs with Johan Bruyneel's new look Astana team, including a great many members of the back up staff. Levi Leipheimer signs quickly, while Tour champion Alberto Contador flirts for a while before putting pen to paper.
On the subject of Contador, he's pleased as the 2008 Tour route is launched; it contains far fewer time trial kilometres than this year, giving him a bit of an advantage.
Nys has an off day at the World Cup race in Pijnacker, Netherlands, as local boy Lars Boom betters his third place of two weeks ago. Belgian champion Bart Wellens (Fidea) and teammate Klaas Vantornout complete the podium. Katie Compton turns the tables on Daphne Van Den Brand and wins the women's race (and her first World Cup event) by almost a minute. Van Den Brand's ZZZPR.nl teammate Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn takes third.
A week later, at Koksijde, Sven Nys cannibalises everyone to take his third duinencross in a row. World Champion Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) finally sees his form start to come through as he finishes second, and Lars Boom – the only man to really lay down a challenge to the Belgians this season – takes third. The women's race is once again a battle between Daphne Van den Brand and Katie Compton with the Dutchwoman coming out on top. World Champion Maryline Salvetat (VSLL Castres) who, like Vervecken is finally seeing some results, comes third.
German cycling takes a real hammering as disgraced former T-Mobile rider Patrik Sinkewitz starts spilling beans all over the place about the nefarious practices that went on at T-Mobile in the old days. All this fuels speculation that T-Mobile may be pulling out. Eventually, the scandals over the goings on at the team (previous to Bob Stapleton's tenure) prove too much for T-Mobile's parent company Deutsche Telekom, and they drop out of the sport. A deal appears to have been struck though, as there appears to be enough money to fund the team which continues under the name of Stapleton's management company as Team High Road for the next two years.
Danish cycling takes its fair share of battering too as former rider Bo Hamburger admits using EPO in his new book – but not at the time he tested positive for it obviously. Finally Michael Rasmussen admits lying to the UCI, saying he deliberately misled them over his whereabouts before the Tour de France – but for personal reasons, not because he was doping – obviously! An independent committee on the Rasmussen case doesn't entirely absolve the Rabobank team, but puts most of the blame for the situation this summer on the Dane.
Bad news also for young American rider Saul Raisin (Credit Agricole) whose comeback dreams are shattered as neurological tests mean that his team decides that it would be too dangerous for him to race again.
Delays are reported in getting the results of the 'B' test analysis of Iban Mayo's Tour de France sample. For some reason the test, which was put on a rush order and sent to Gent, Belgium while the French were on holiday, comes back inconclusive, so the remainder of the sample is sent back to Châtenay-Malabry in France for re-testing, igniting fury in Spain.
The 2007/08 Track World Cup season begins at the end of the month with Round 1 in Sydney. Unsurprisingly there are some great performances by southern hemisphere riders with Australians leading the way. Many events go to their respective world champions, as Anna Meares (Australia) takes the 500m gold, Victoria Pendleton (Science in Sport) and Chris Hoy (Great Britain) take the women's and men's keirins respectively, and the Great Britain team takes the team pursuit. The Russian team beats the women's team to take the first ever women's team pursuit race.
The Men's Cyclo-cross World Cup race in Igorre, Spain goes true to form with Sven Nys taking victory over Bart Wellens and Klaas Vantornout. While the Women's race in Milan, Italy once again goes to Daphne Van Den Brand as she continues to dominate the women's sport. British Champion Helen Wyman (Global Racing) takes a best ever second place ahead of Christelle Ferrier-Bruneau.
As the World Cup races return north to Hofstade, Belgium, Sven Nys once again gets the better of big rival Wellens and teammate Lars Boom. Women's world champion Salvetat finally gets her big race of the year over ZZZPR.nl pair Van Den Brand and Hormes-Ravenstijn.
Round 2 of the Track World Cup takes place in Beijing in what is a test event for next year's Olympic Games. The big story on day one is the successful transition to the boards of former world road race and cyclo-cross champion Marianne Vos (DSB Bank) as she takes victory in the scratch race. Many of the events are won by the same riders as a week ago in Sydney, but more importantly the event is deemed a success on the track that will be used in the forthcoming Olympic Games.
This month's doping news sees jaws drop around the world as Alexander Vinokourov gets just one year's suspension for blood doping during this year's Tour de France. Despite being pretty lenient, the suspension effectively means the end of his career, but he retires anyway.
This month also see the routes of next year's Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España launched. The Vuelta sides with the Tour in releasing a route for the climbers, while the Giro bucks the trend and increases the number of time trial kilometres.
So, as 2007 draws to a close, our sport drags itself into the New Year. We've ridden a few storms, and seen some real scandal, but, as we hope our review has shown, there's been some real racing quality and some genuine new talent has emerged. Hopefully, the scandals and suspensions endured this year will finally start to make a difference and we can look forward to a 2008 where the headlines are made on the road, rather than off it.
Happy New Year to all our readers from everyone at Cyclingnews!
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