(continued from Looking forward – Part 1)
3. Tour de France: There were many stand out individual performances in this year’s edition of the Grande Boucle, no less than the final TT performance by Cadel “Cuddles” Evans. His magnificent ride on Stage 18 of Col du Galibier to limit his losses was a testament to his determination this year. When Andy attacked, Cadel appeared to be on the ropes but impressively managed to plough his way back to finish third on the stage. Again on Stage 19 when Contador went for the glory, Cadel had a mechanical at the beginning of a climb but once again he managed to get back into the mix. Everyone knows that Cadel is a far better time trialist than Andy but still he had to go out there and deliver on Stage 20. He did exactly what was asked of him and almost ended up winning the stage. His doggedness and the full support of his team delivered the maillot jaune for the man.
The fight for the Green jersey was no less this time. Last year, despite winning 5 stages Mark Cavendish was pipped in the race for Green jersey by the wily campaigner Alessandro Pettachi. But this year with only one intermediate sprint available on each stage, the points system was modified to suit the best sprinter in the race to win the classification. Cavendish was provided a stiff competition by cunning tactician JJ Rojas and tenacious Philippe Gilbert. But Cav started the Tour with the goal of winning the Green jersey and put all his energy in it. He did it in some fashion by winning third consecutive time on the Champs-Elysses along with 5 stages wins. He deserved the “sprinters/points” jersey and delivered under some pressure cooker situations which is the mark of a true champion.
4. Vuelta a Espana: This year’s Tour was particularly marred by numerous crashes taking out many a GC contenders. The biggest name to crash out was Bradley Wiggins who was touted as a sure podium finisher by his team manager Dave Brailsford. But due to a crash on Stage 7 of the Tour, Wiggo’s GC ambitions were nipped in the bud. He vowed to make a grand comeback in the Vuelta and promised to win the Red jersey. Although Team Sky started impressively but as the race progressed it became clear that instead of Wiggins, his super domestique Chris Froome was stronger than him on the climbs. May be it was the heat which got Wiggo but Froome was conspicuously better than him. Stage 15 of Angliru proved to be the Londoner’s undoing when he cracked on the 23% sections and it was Froome who literally towed him up the mountain. Next up Stage 17 was the best climbing duel I’ve seen since 2010 slugfest between Contador and Andy. Froome had race leader Juan Jose Cobo teetering on the edge to claim a fabulous victory but Cobo did enough to retain the GC lead. I think Team Sky would rue their strategy and the faith put in the climbing prowess of Wiggins because if they had provided full support to Chris Froome, he would have won them their first Grand Tour. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding performance by Froome and he is marked for great things in the near future.
5. World Championship: Well what can you say about the phenomenon that are Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin. Before coming to the UCI Road World Championship, Tony had won TT at the Tour, Vuelta, Critérium du Dauphiné and Paris-Nice. With six time trial victories and only one loss (2nd place in national TT championship), Tony Martin was the favorite to win the colored hoops. He annihilated the field to win the Road World Championship Elite Men’s Time Trial with more than a minute over second placed Bradley Wiggins. He then went on to win the inaugral Tour of Beijing and Chrono des Nations to cap a wonderful year. Equally magnificent and imposing were Mark Cavendish and his Team GB in their victory of the Men’s Road Race where they controlled the race from the start like a 6 hour TTT. Team GB delivered Cav perfectly towards the end and the Manx Missile completed the job. It was a superb victory for Cav who this year has won almost everything available for a great sprinter.
6. Tragedies: It has been an enduring season for the peloton. We lost Wouter Weylandt (Leopard-Trek) in a high speed crash during Giro d’Italia and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) was found dead after a freak accident before leaving for a training ride. Some time around these sad news, a promising young Aussie rider also succumbed to his wounds suffered during a high speed collision. As if it was not enough, Mauricio Soler suffered skull fracture when he collided with a fan during Tour de Suisse. Thankfully, he lives to see another day and is now on a slow path of rehabilitation towards full health. Every cycling fan has been deeply moved by these tragedies and I will never forget 2011 because it took away people who loved to ride their bikes.
(to be continued…)