2011 - A Year In Review
Great races, stupid quotes, best rider of the year and more.
Great races, stupid quotes, best rider of the year and more.
It's the time of year when journalists turn the past year into a list of highlights - here's mine for 2011.
Toughest Grand Tour
There are three Grand Tours: Giro d' Italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España. Of the three the Giro d' Italia is the most beautiful, the Tour de France the most important and the Vuelta, well at least it's in Spain ...
Beneath the beauty the 2011 Giro route was widely considered the toughest in this generation of riders. The last week saw more peaks and valleys than an active cardiogram.
In years past the Giro d'Italia was considered a warm-up to the Tour de France. Not the case in 2011. In an effort to step out of its French cousin's shadow the 2011 Giro's course was brutal with seven mountain top finishes. The person who could win would undoubtedly be a climber. And in the end it was - Spaniard Alberto Contador.
It was expected that he would take the overall victory in the following Tour de France as well. However, the Giro (and perhaps the Damascus Sword of the ongoing clenbuterol scandal from the 2010 edition) weighed too much on him and the best he could do was finish fifth in France. Now wrap your head around this: in fourth place on GC was Thomas Voeckler! Be honest - did you ever think in your wildest dreams that Tommy V would finish a Grand Tour in front of Contador?
As mentioned, the fall out from the 2011 edition was the sacking of Zomegnan, but a more humane Giro for 2012. New race director Michele Acquarone has promised fewer transfers and that riders will be at their hotels by 8:00 PM after each stage. Also, the Giro has embraced social media and actively tweets in both English and Italian.
Best Stage Race
I know what you're going to say - I picked the Tour of Switzerland because American Levi Leipheimer of RadioShack won the overall. Believe me that's not the case. Each day was action packed. Maybe that was because the stages were shorter and there were only nine stages so everyone was fresher. But what I really loved was the nail biter of stage 9's individual time trial. Damiano Cunego held the leader's jersey. The tiny Italian had a one minute and 59 second advantage over Leipheimer going into the final stage's 32 kilometer time trial. Fabian Cancellara, to no one's surprise, took the stage win, but Leipheimer bested Cunego by four seconds taking the overall victory. That was the RadioShack rider's highlight of the season. He's moved on from the RadioShack merger/take over, which in my opinion was a wise decision as things started to get a bit frosty between him and Lance Armstrong. It was time to distance himself from the management behind it.
Best American Race
America has its own "Grand Tours" - Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The Tour of Utah was the toughest. Raced at altitude over steep mountain climbs, this race left riders humbled. And each year the organizers do a great job of slowly growing the event. I hope that they continue to pull in top talent and perhaps more marquee riders.
Speaking of marquee riders the Tour of Colorado ... I mean the USA Pro Cycling Challenge ... scored big with some of the best riders in the pro peloton. Tour de France champion - check. Huge crowds - check. The only dig I could take at this event was the social media was disjointed and the website a cluster. And of course there was the name of the race itself - a mouthful that means what exactly? Regardless, at the end of the day racers and fans had nothing but high praise and first year stumbles should be expected.
The Amgen Tour of California is our grande dame of stage races. With only six races in its history this event has secured an important spot on the professional racing calendar. Sure there was horrible weather in past editions and this year's stage 1 was canceled with stage 2 shortened, but it still managed to highlight the beauty of the Golden State. I just wish the racing had been more inspiring as it quickly turned into a Team RadioShack training ride. No one was able to mount a serious challenge to the Shackers as they rode some of the best climbers off their wheels on the ascent of Mt Baldy. As we know RadioShack's prowess or luck didn't hold in July.
Best One-Day Race
Paris-Roubaix was my favorite one-day race of the year. We had the usual favorites: Fabian Cancellara, Thor Hushovd, Juan Antonio Flecha and American favorite George Hincapie. In the end it was Johan Vansummeren of Team Garmin-Cervélo who entered the Roubaix velodrome alone, taking the win. I have to give credit where credit was due. The favorites were all looking at each other, or more exactly all the favorites were looking at Cancellara, and Vansummeren used that to his advantage to solo away.
This category has so many possibilities but the one quote that did the most damage was from the sport's own leader, UCI president Pat McQuaid. In a post-road race world championship press conference Mr. McQuaid said in reply to a question regarding a minimum salary in women's racing, "We have an agreement in men's sport, but women's cycling has not developed enough that we are at that level yet."
As expected McQuaid felt the wrath from some of the top women in the sport. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg called his statement complete "bullshit."
If the president of the sport feels this way you know that change for women racers is still a long way away. A word of advice for McQuaid, don't stand near the side of the road during a women's race. He's likely to have a water bottle hurled at him.
Wouter Weylandt killed in stage 3 of the Giro.
Rider of the Year
There are many possibilities in this category but you just have to go with Philippe Gilbert for racking up wins from the beginning to the end of the season. He started winning in February at the Volta ao Algarve, rampaged through the Classics, snagged a stage in the Tour de France, won his national time trial championships and then stomped mud holes on everyone in the G.P. de Quebec. Is it possible that he can transform himself into a Tour de France contender while with Team BMC Racing?