With the 2010 pro cycling season proving to have been packed with incident both on and off the bike, it’s amazing to think that its less than 12 months since we sat in on Team Sky’s launch in London.
Each season of course has its fair share of thrills, spills and drama, but 2010 seems to have had more than most, from the ‘Chaingate’ incident that helped rip much of the suspense from the Tour de France to doping allegations surrounding some of the sport’s biggest names and of course some incredible racing.
For British fans, Team Sky’s arrival on the pro scene failed to live up to the hype, and while Mark Cavendish’s points win in the Vuelta made him only the third rider from these shores to pick up a jersey in a Grand Tour, he missed out on his pre-season goals of the green jersey in the Tour de France and the rainbow jersey in the World Championship.
But there was plenty to celebrate during the year at the top level of the sport with some thrilling racing and truly dramatic moments and here, in no particular order, is our pick of the big moments of 2010.
Feel free to argue or disagree with our choices, it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list – for instance we’ve left out Liquigas’s double win in the Giro and Vuelta through, respectively, Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali – and suggest some of your own, in the comments below.
We’ve also left out what for we know for many of you provided some of the high spots of the racing year – our very own road.cc Fantasy Tour de France and Vuelta games.
But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean they’ve been forgotten – they’ll be back in 2011 together with one for the Giro d’Italia and a special, season-long competition, details of which we’ll announce very soon!
Chaingate woes hit Schleck Jr
When Andy Schleck’s chain slipped on the way up the Port de Balès, it proved to be the pivotal moment of the 2010 Tour de France and not only gave rise to one of the year’s most heated debates – should Contador have waited for the stricken yellow jersey, or was he within his rights to head off up the road? – but also had ramifications that absolutely no-one could have foreseen at the time.
Had Schleck kept the yellow jersey on that stage and retained it the following day, then he, not Contador, would have been tested on the Tour’s second rest day as race leader and there’s a fairly good chance we wouldn’t have spent the last three months dissecting the finer points of the presence (or otherwise) of clenbuterol in Spanish beef cattle. Food (sorry) for thought.
The Tour hits the cobbles - and so does Schleck Sr
Two weeks earlier, one of the more memorable Tour de France stages for many a year had seen the peloton battle it out over sections of pavé more familiar from Paris-Roubaix. With riders bruised and battered from a nerve-shredding, slippery descent of the Stockeu the previous day, leading Fabian Cancellara to assume the role of patron and effectively neutralise the race, Stage 3 saw little let-up with another punishing day in the saddle.
It proved too much for Fränk Schleck, who crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone on one stretch of cobbles, and the hold-up caused by that accident allowed a very strong group of riders to get away at the front of the race – Cancellara, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Thor Hushovd and Team Sky’s own Geraint Thomas, proudly wearing the British national champion’s jersey he’d won at Pendle a couple of weeks earlier, the group catching earlier escapee Ryder Hesjedal to set up a finale in which Hushovd held off Thomas to claim the stage win.
Cancellara motors to Classics domination
Cancellara may have held off contesting victory in that stage due to his performing a supporting role for team leader Andy Schleck, but earlier in the season it had been a very different story as he powered his way to victory in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, although he was dogged by rumours that he might be benefiting from some assistance in the form of a hidden motor, leading the UCI to start scanning frames for evidence of such devices.
Mechanically assisted or not – certainly, the Italian ex-pro turned TV pundit Davide Cassini thought something was amiss in a report widely viewed on YouTube – Cancellara left Quick Step’s Tom Boonen for dead on the Kapelmuur to time trial his way to victory in Flanders in one of the year’s most stunning individual rides. A week later, he followed that up with an attack 40km away from the finish to leave his rivals in his wake and win Paris-Roubaix for the second time.
The Strade Bianche lose their sparkle but enhance their myth
If Stage 3 of the Tour de France stage merited the description ‘epic,’ it was nothing compared to Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia which took the riders over Tuscany’s fabled white-gravelled strade bianche, turned greyish-brown as rain churned the roads up. The result was a scene from a bygone era – you half-expected to see a pair of aluminium bidons strapped to the handlebars and spare tyres wrapped around the riders’ shoulders as the race headed to the finish in Montalcino.
It was a day for hard men, and none proved harder than world champion Cadel Evans, who did the rainbow jersey proud, as he had done the previous month when winning the Flèche Wallonne with a stunning late attack. Pictures of mud-caked riders on an afternoon that defied the stereotypical picture-postcard look of the Tuscan countryside are among the most memorable images of the year.
Thor puts the hammer down
As the season wore on, speculation built over just how realistic a chance Mark Cavendish had of succeeding Evans to the World Championship in the Australian’s own back yard, Geelong. By the time we’d had a proper look at the course, though, with its two sharp ascents, it was clear this was unlikely to be the Manxman’s year.
With 20:20 hindsight, Thor Hushovd’s victory really shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise on a course where the peloton was likely to have been broken up well ahead of the finale. While he had failed to recapture his 2009 form in bunch sprints at the Tour de France, the Norwegian proved there and at the Vuelta that he was the man to beat in a sprint finish where the field had been whittled down to a select group of riders, and timed his run to the line in Geelong perfectly to take the biggest one-day prize of all.
Brits among the gongs in Geelong
Cavendish may have missed out on the rainbow jersey, but one other British rider who enjoyed a stellar season did get her hands on one of the coveted garments, with Emma Pooley taking victory in the time trial by a shade over 15 seconds from Germany’s Judith Arndt. Coming at the end of a season in which the 28-year-old also won races including the Flèche Wallonne, the Tour de l’Aude and Giro del Trentino, Pooley confirmed herself as one of Britain’s big medal hopes for London 2012.
In the men’s time trial, meanwhile, David Millar, stripped of his 2003 title after admitting to doping, put in a stunning performance to clinch silver, only beaten by a phenomenal ride from Fabian Cancellara who finished the 45.6km course almost two full minutes ahead of the Scot to clinch a record fourth world championship against the clock. Millar, however, would go on to top the podium in the Commonwealth Games at Delhi, taking gold in the time trial as well as bronze in the road race.
Cav gets his green jersey - but not that one
It may not be the one he targeted before the season began, but Mark Cavendish’s green jersey for winning the points competition in the Vuelta is still a pretty big prize – previously, the only British riders to have topped a classification at a Grand Tour were Malcolm Elliott, who topped the same competition in 1989, and Robert Millar, King of the Mountains at the 1984 Tour de France and 1987 Giro d’Italia.
World Championship disappointment notwithstanding, Cavendish’s Vuelta victory, built on four stage wins that included some stunning leadout work from Matthew Goss, capped a season that earlier on had appeared close to disaster, with early season woes caused by reaction to a dental operation followed by spectacular crashes at the Tour of Switzerland and in Brussels during the Tour de France.
That the Manxman put that behind him to record five Tour de France stage wins, in the process emerging as perhaps a more reflective and less abrasive figure in front of the cameras, is to his credit, and his successes in the three-week race in July also included two more of the season’s more memorable moments, with Mark Renshaw’s disqualification for head-butting Garmin-Transitions rider Julian Dean on Stage 11 in Bourg-lès-Valence, and Cavendish surging to an imperious second successive victory on the Champs-Elysées on the final day.
Armstrong’s star fizzles out
The start of that last stage into Paris had been held up by the actions of Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack team as the Texan prepared to bid farewell to the race he once dominated, the riders donning black, special edition – and wholly unauthorised – kit to promote his Livestrong charity.
If the stunt was all about garnering publicity for the organisation, it worked, as TV pictures were beamed worldwide of riders fiddling about with safety pins and race numbers as they changed back into the standard red and grey kit.
For many, the debacle left a bitter taste in the mouth, however, as Armstrong, third in his comeback participation 12 months earlier, saw his luck run out. Previously, when the 39-year-old hit problems during the race, he proved remarkably resilient in shaking off the adversity, whether that be bouncing back from snagging a stray musette, or going cross-country to avoid the prostrate Josep Beloki, both in 2003.
This year, however, it wasn’t just Floyd Landis, but also the tarmac, that had it in for Armstrong. On the very day his former US Postal Service team mate had made detailed allegations of doping against Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner crashed heavily on Stage 5 of the Tour of California, a cut and swollen eye forcing him to withdraw from the race.
Then, in the Tour de France, Armstrong crashed heavily twice on the stage to Morzine-Avoriaz, his former Astana team taking advantage to force the pace at the front of the race to deny him any chance of ending his career with a final tilt at the GC.
With his threat in the overall standings removed, Armstrong took the opportunity of the unaccustomed freedom to have one last crack at a stage win on the race’s final day in the Pyrenees, getting into an early break as the riders headed towards Pau via the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque, but it wasn’t to be, victory on the stage going instead to France’s Pierrick Fedrigo.
Tour of Britain tests winner's constitution
It may lack the cachet of the three-week continental races, but the Tour of Britain also provided plenty of entertainment as the season headed towards its conclusion, and with Cavendish competing in Spain, it was André Greipel, riding his final stage race for HTC-Columbia ahead of his move to Omega Pharma-Lotto, who dominated in the sprints, taking wins in Blackpool, Great Yarmouth, and London’s Docklands.
It was another HTC-Columbia rider, however, who sealed the overall victory, the Swiss rider Michael Albasini establishing a margin of victory on Stage 3 into Swansea that proved sufficient to keep him in the race leader’s jersey all the way to London.
Albasini’s stage win came on perhaps the most memorable day of the race, with mist and rain over the Black Mountain making conditions hazardous for the peloton ahead of an ascent of Swansea’s infamous Constitution Hill worthy of the closing stages of a Spring Classic. The Swiss rider was not only the first onto the slippery cobbles as the road reared up, but powered his way up the climb and held his nerve on a fast descent back down to the finish to lay the foundation for a worthy overall victory.
Breaking up is hard to do
While the Tour of Britain was unfolding over here, Team Saxo Bank was unravelling in Spain, with its two highest profile riders leaving the Vuelta in very public, not to say unusual, circumstances.
It had been an open secret for months that the Schleck brothers would be joining former Saxo Bank press officer Bryan Nygaard’s new Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project, but even so, when Andy Schleck and Stuart O’Grady were thrown out of the race after being discovered by management sneaking back into the team hotel after a night out on the beer at some time – depending whose account you believe – between 1am and 5am, it raised eyebrows.
So, too, did the departure from the race of Fabian Cancellara, who to no-one’s surprise would later be announced as yet another former Saxo Bank rider heading towards Luxembourg. Few expected Cancellara to complete the Vuleta – he had that fourth world time trial championship attempt to prepare for, after all – but to pack his bags and leave without apparently informing anyone at the team indicated the extent to which relationships between management and riders.
Bjarne Riis could at least content himself with the fact that in Alberto Contador, he had secured the services of the sport’s top rider for 2011, a signing that reportedly helped persuade IT services firm SunGard to sign up as joint title sponsor for the year ahead. More than most, Riis will be awaiting news of the Spaniard’s fate, due early in the New Year, with trepidation.
Team Sky throws all its oeufs in one basket
Although there were numerous high points as Britain’s Team Sky hit the road for its debut season – 20 victories, including the team time trial in the early season Tour of Qatar – there was a sense of anticlimax as the much-heralded outfit failed to live up to the fanfare that had accompanied its glitzy launch in January.
While Bradley Wiggins provided possibly the team’s high point for the year with victory in the opening time trial in the Giro d’Italia in Amsterdam to take the maglia rosa, he failed to repeat that feat two months later when the Tour de France got under way in Rotterdam, taking a gamble that backfired on him that an early start time would help him beat the forecast bad weather.
Despite Team Sky’s public ambition of building its season around trying to get Wiggins, fourth in the 2009 Tour de France, onto the Champs-Elysées podium, the Briton came a disappointing 24th overall, Team Principal Dave Brailsford subsequently admitting that it had been wrong to focus on “one rider, one race.”
What proved to be the team’s low point of the year, however, put its teething problems in its first year in the professional ranks firmly into perspective, with the death during the Vuelta of soigneur Txema Gonzalez following a short illness resulting in the team abandoning the race as a mark of respect.
That was one of several untimely deaths to affect the sport this year, others including former Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon, who lost his battle with cancer, Italy coach Franco Ballerini, killed in a rallying accident, and the trainer Aldo Sassi, who died earlier this month as a result of a brain tumour.
And the year’s biggest story was…?
So, the biggest sport story of 2010, at least in terms of the number of people reading about it here on road.cc? Well, it may surprise you to learn that it had nothing to do with Landis, Armstrong or Contador, or even Cancellara, Cavendish or Wiggins.
Step forward Footon-Servetto with their ‘gold’ (to the team and the fashion designer) and ‘nude’ (to anyone else) kit that didn’t so much break the rules of taste as stamp all over them with the big, black, cartoon foot emblazoned on the front.
By the time the Vuelta came round, we’d sort of grown used to it, it did make the riders easy to pick out and didn’t look too bad close up on a rider with a deep, end-of-season tan, but on a pale skinned cyclist in the rain it did make the poor bugger look like he’d dashed to the start in a hurry and forgotten his kit.
Mind you, getting dragged into doping allegations apart, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the kit got a lot more people talking about Footon-Servetto than would have happened on results alone, and you know that in 20 years’ time it will still be mentioned whenever cycling fans debate the worst kits ever.
That wraps up our review of 2010 as far as racing goes, but we’re not finished yet, and over the coming days we’ll be looking back at some of the big tech and news stories of the year, so watch out for a round-up of those here on road.cc very soon!
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.