Everyone Else Has a Top 10 List

I am feeling somewhat motivated right now, given it is the last day of my slacking, overeating, binge drinking end-of-the-year. Tomorrow I start on a massive training program that will either kill me or make me stronger (I’m not convinced which one it’ll be, looking at the first month’s training…).

But that’s tomorrow. Today I will dig into the memory banks and try and come up with a Top 3 List worthy of my comrades in the blogosphere. Here they are, my Top 3 Cycling Stories of 2012. 

3. Tom Boonen’s Great Escape

Boonen has always been a favorite of mine, so it was with great pleasure that I witnessed him totally dominate the Spring Classics season. He did a few other things this year, like win – along with a few other Belgians – the World TTT Championships, a 3rd Tour of Flanders, as well as a handful of ‘Semi-Classics’ (see below), but the best of Tom Boonen this year for me was, undoubtedly, the last hour of Paris-Roubaix, THE cobbled Monument of the spring.

Basically, he pulled a Cancellara and just rode away on the cobbles from a furiously chasing peloton, somehow staying away, entirely alone, for over 50km to win his record-tying 4th Hell of the North. I could watch the following video daily and still get goosebumps after a month, I’m sure.

2. Alberto Contador’s Cajones

Contador, after serving his 2-year suspension (which was really only 6 months) for doping, came back with a vengeance in the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) in August. Just one problem though: a guy named Joaquim Rodriguez, a ‘puncheur’ who was having the season of his career. On every single mountain stage (and there were 7 of them this year) Contador attacked again and again and Rodriguez always had an answer, beating him to the line every time.

Even without what came next, those 7 stages of relentless attacks would have made my list, simply because I have never seen anyone want to win so badly in my decade or so of watching cycling. Then, on a ‘flat’ stage (there were a few climbs, including one long, gentle one to finish), and nearly at the end of the 3-week tour, all hell broke loose and Contador attacked Rodriguez again, this time creating a gap and making it stick.

What happened from then on was magic and super-interesting. Contador, now in a group of 6 or 7 riders and still ahead of the group of Rodriguez, attacked again. Only one rider from the group he was in followed; Paolo Tiralongo from a rival team – Astana.  Tiralongo immediately proceeded to pull Contador up the road, allowing him to take a turn or two at the front, but clearly working for him. There was no practical reason to do this from a strategic perspective because they were now in front of everyone and Tiralongo could only hope for a stage win. Contador, however, was racing for the whole tour and therefore, should, by rights, have to do all the work himself, allowing Tiralongo to sit on his wheel, then, probably being out-sprint by him for the stage victory.

But this is the fascinating thing about cycling. In 2011, when Tiralongo and Contador were both riding for Astana, Contador gifted the Stage 19 win (his first and only in a Grand Tour) to him. Tiralongo never forgot this (or maybe Contador reminded him!) and, on Stage 17 of the Tour of Spain, paid him back. He buried himself for a rider who he had no reason to assist, helping Contador conserve the precious energy he’d need to finish the stage.

This went on for some kilometers, before Tiralongo just gave up the ghost and couldn’t pull anymore. Contador continued on alone, with a fast-approaching group of chasers, including 3rd overall Alexandro Valverde (Rodriguez was far behind, with no helpers left to him on the road). Contador time-trialed his way to a narrow victory, taking the overall leadership with him – as one commentator said, ‘like a champion of old.’

Here is a badly-commentated video of the final hour or so.

1. Lance Armstrong’s Roosting Chickens

I’ve already had my say on the story of 2012, so I won’t add anything else. The revelations of this year do shine a new, ironic light on one the best Nike commercials ever made.

8 thoughts on “Everyone Else Has a Top 10 List

  1. There’s a blog post about sport and culture somewhere in the Cantador story. The concept of intentially throwing a race because you “owe somebody” for a favor done years ago when you were teammates is difficult for me to wrap my head around. This doesn’t make much sense to me or most Americans, I suspect. That doesn’t make me right and Cantador wrong (at least in this instance!) but it does illuminate how different cultures view sports etiquette.

    • I’m not sure it’s a culture thing, Steve – at least not if we’re talking about nations. This example is slightly different, but in 2000 Lance Armstrong gifted a win on top of Ventoux to Marco Pantani, probably out of respect for a great champion on his way down. To win on Ventoux is one of the most memorable things a rider can do (and Armstrong never did, it turned out), so it was a great sacrifice for him to let Pantani win, I imagine. Cycling has some strange etiquette! http://youtu.be/FXPXHK7I1iQ

  2. Good list!
    I’m with Rob about the 100 year old rider. Very inspiring.
    If I were to make a list, it would probably also include something from the Tour. Maybe the emergence of the young riders (Froome, Van Garderen). Also I might give a slot to Jens for winning a stage in the US Pro Cycling Challenge and taking KOM, but that one is closer to my heart because I had climbed many of the same roads a couple weeks prior.

    • Good choices, Aaron. I thought about going with a young rider, too, but if I had it would definitely be Peter Sagan, who ripped everyone to shreds the whole year long.

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