It's been another season of memorable moments and captivating races; in Cyclingnews' six-part retrospective of 2010 we begin with the months of January and February, the events of which go to show that cycling is truly becoming a global sport that offers something for fans all year round.
After making his professional comeback in Australia during 2009, the Lance Armstrong circus kicked off the 2010 ProTour season at the Santos Tour Down Under in January, attracting millions of cycling fans eager to gain another glimpse of their hero in the flesh.
It was another coup for the organisers, who witnessed 5,000 people attend an 'open training ride' with Armstrong and Robbie McEwen, organised by the power of Twitter. When you have 2,675,555 followers (correct at time of publishing) there are a lot of folks you can ask to head out for a sunny spin.
Sunny shores host eager racers
On the racing front, the event saw the likes of then world champion Cadel Evans and 2009 Vuelta a España winner Alejandro Valverde attend, with great performances from each in some of the best action the Australian race has ever witnessed, particularly the penultimate stage to Willunga.
As Valverde was racing in Australia, wrangling continued over the Spaniard's future. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) heard submissions from his legal team, Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) prosecutor Ettore Torri and former Kelme team-mate Jesús Manzano as to the likelihood of upholding Valverde's two-year ban in Italy for alleged involvement in the Operación Puerto affair.
Meanwhile, over in Argentina, Vincenzo Nibali, Filippo Pozzato and Alexander Kolobnev were starting their season at the Tour de San Luis, riding alongside Michael Rasmussen, the Dane continuing his own comeback, albeit without the fanfare of Armstrong.
One bunch of blokes making a fair amount of fanfare was Team Sky, with team principal Dave Brailsford having secured the services of Bradley Wiggins after a protracted negotiation process, with the likes of Ben Swift, Simon Gerrans, Greg Henderson and Mathew Hayman part of the star-studded lineup.
A win in the squad's debut race at the Cancer Council Classic before the Santos Tour Down Under proved its expected potential and a victory in the final stage of the ProTour event indicated there was much to come from the men in black during 2010.
Dentistry dos and don't...
A tilt at defending his Milan-San Remo crown looked shaky for Mark Cavendish, who trained with his HTC-Columbia squad in Mallorca but was battling a dental infection, the complication a result of corrective surgery undertaken in South America earlier in the year.
The British star delayed the start of his season as teammate André Greipel took out a second Tour Down Under title; the two would engage in a war of words throughout 2010 that saw the German eventually move to Omega Pharma-Lotto for 2011 whilst Cavendish remained numero uno at Bob Stapleton's squad.
Getting all criss-'crossed
The European nations crowned their national cyclo-cross champions in January, with the powerhouse countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic celebrating the success of Sven Nys, Lars Boom and Zdenek Štybar respectively.
These three battled it out for world supremacy several weeks later in the Czech town of Tabor, with Štybar creating a fairytale ending to his season with victory on home turf to take the rainbow stripes.
Marianne Vos proved her amazing versatility with a second consecutive win in the women's event in Tabor, beating seasoned 'crossers such as Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel, countrywoman Daphny Van Den Brand and local lass Katerina Nash. She would go on to claim silver in the elite women's road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Geelong, Australia, in October.
Ladies and gentleman land in Qatar
The women's professional road season got underway in earnest with the Tour of Qatar, the overall title won by Cervélo's Kirsten Wild after a frenetic final sprint that saw the Dutchwoman beat Giorgia Bronzini and Lauren Tamayo.
It was her second crown in the desert after winning the inaugural edition in 2009. A mere four seconds separated her and the Italian, the flat stages favouring fast finishes and tight sprints.
In the men's event the unthinkable happened on the second stage: a breakaway managed to stay away until the finish, with Geert Steurs taking line honours and Vacansoleil's Wouter Mol opening a two-minute advantage on the sprinters
The gap would prove unassailable and consequently the Dutchman celebrated overall victory on the Doha Corniche four days later. Francesco Chicchi picked up a stage win but the biggest cheers were saved for Mol.
Oh my, the stars hit Oman
Organised by the company behind the Tour de France - Amaury Sport Organisation - the inaugural Tour of Oman promised to hit the ground running with a star-studded field, breathtaking scenery and an interesting mix of racing for an early-season event.
And so it proved, with Australian neo-pro Leigh Howard stunning the field with victory on a hectic fourth stage, Edvald Boasson Hagen twice taking line honours and Fabian Cancellara fending off the young Norwegian sensation to win the overall title.
There were also wins to French veteran Jimmy Casper and Belgian star Tom Boonen, a return to form for Italy's Daniele Bennati and shennanigans involving nature breaks and racing protocols, attacks and some professional rivalry surrounding new boys Team Sky.
The race's first edition was an undeniable success and while there were hills on the parcours, sprints still decided most of the stages. The inclusion of an individual time trial on the final day created intrigue, however - enough to keep interest high for next year's edition.
Don't disrespect the donkey
Team Sky recruit Juan Antonio Flecha got the win in the weekend's first event, beating the mercurial Heinrich Haussler and American sprinter Tyler Farrar to further enhance the British team's reputation as a force in its debut season.
Swedish rider Emma Johansson (Redsun Cycling Team) showed the ladies how it's done in the women's race, the diminuitive beating the powerful Cervélo trio of Regina Bruins, Sarah Düster and Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel.
In the weekend's second semi-classic on a day when only 26 riders finished the race from a field of just under 200, Bobbie Traksel won the donkey for Dutch Pro Continental outfit Vacansoleil in atrocious conditions ahead of Rabobank's Rick Flens and another Team Sky man, Ian Stallard.
Stay tuned for our look at the following months over coming weeks.
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