Professional Season 2012 Roundup
by Holly Blades
So, that was the 2012 season then! Not since I got into being a cycling fan have I needed the off season for a breather so much. Just imagine how the cyclists must feel. From the Spring Classics through to the Tour of Britain, 2012 has been a nail biter of a year for world, and particularly British cycling.
Early Season Form For The Belgian
Where do you start? Well, usually not with the Tour of Qatar and it's windy desert dullness – no offence to Tom Boonen for winning or Tyler Farrar for a rare GC podium place - but the year really got off to its flying start with the “sprinter's classic” the Milan-San Remo on 17th March.
January's Tour Down Under winner Simon Gerrans was the first of many “native English speakers” to take a big UCI World Tour win, he also went on to win the Milan-San Remo, the first of the spring classics, beating 2008 winner Fabian Cancellara to finish the course in just under seven hours.
March's Paris-Nice was the first sign of things to come when, after taking the leader's jersey on Stage 2, Bradley Wiggins went on to win the race becoming the first Brit to do so since Tom Simpson in 1967. If that wasn't enough, he also bagged the Green Jersey for the sake of it.
Following Gerrans' win at the Milan-San Remo, it was time for everybody's favourite part of the season, the dust, mud, and general chaos of the cobbled classics and one Belgian dominated in 2012. Whilst all eyes are usually on his fellow countryman Philippe Gilbert, March and April saw a return to form for Tom Boonen as he took top spot in E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Boonen Celebrating in the Roubaix Velodrome
PhilGil again failed to deliver as defending champion in the Amstel Gold Race which was won by Astana's Enrico Gasparotto – the first Italian to win a classic since Cunego's 2008 win at Lombardy. PhilGil was also the defending champion going into the 2012 Fleche Wallonne (that boy had a good 2011) but could only manage third step on the podium as he was beaten by a late attack on the Mur de Huy by Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez and GreenEdge's Michael Albasini. What appeared to be the nail in the coffin for Philippe Gilbert was the Liege-Bastogne-Liege when he finished a poor sixteenth, nearly a minute and a half down on winner Maxim Iglinsky. But, the season wasn't over for the sparkly toothed, spiky haired Belgian, oh no.
Whilst the doe-eyed Ivan Basso may have announced his intentions to race for a third pink jersey upon Alberto Contador's non-start in the 2012 Giro d'Italia, interest was also on the Lampre duo of Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego. The Giro began as a race with no clear favourite. Contador's suspension had left the race as open as the 2006 Tour de France following Lance's retiring and Ullrich's expulsion. Fans were just hoping to escape another Landis-gate. However, as the first Grand Tour of 2012 got underway, it was clear that it was two horse race between Ryder “Weight of a Nation” Hesjedal and Fleche Wallone winner Joaquim Rodriguez.
Ryder Hesjedal Battled To The Win
The pink jersey swapped shoulders between J-Rod and Hesjedal five times before Hesjedal, giving the ride of his life, managed to put 16” between himself and Rodriguez on the final stage's time trial. Talk about down to the wire. It was Canada's first ever Grand Tour win and the first time somebody from outside of Europe had won the Giro d'Italia since the USA's Andy Hampsten in 1988!
It was also a great start to Mark Cavendish's season in the World Champs' rainbow stripes as the Manx Missile took three stage wins to add to his previous Giro tally of nine.
Hot on the heels of the Giro is, what most experts see as the indicator of Tour de France form, the Criterium du Dauphine. And who should win it? Why, Bradley Wiggins of course. The modfather joined Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx as on of only three riders to win the Dauphine and Paris-Nice in the same year, not to mention the Tour de Romandie which he bagged in between the two. Wiggins presided over the Dauphine's English speaking podium with Aussies Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans in second and third respectively. Things were looking good for Team Sky. But could we dare to hope how good?
Wiggins Controlled the Dauphine From Start To Finish
And so it was on tenterhooks that British cycling fans approached the Tour de France. Mark Cavendish was taking part in the race in the World Champion's rainbow jersey and there was a very good chance that Bradley Wiggins could podium after his fourth place finish in 2009. The field was, like the Giro, an open one after Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador both failed to start - The yellow jersey was truly up for grabs, and could end up on the shoulders of anybody: The defending Cadel Evans, the Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal, Velverde, Nibali, Basso.
As far as stage wins went, the 2012 Tour de France was astounding for British riders as Chris Froome and David Millar took surprise wins along with Wiggins' two 'predicted' Time Trial wins and Cav's three sprint wins (including on the hallowed Champs Elysee.) Great Britain truly dominated the Tour de France.
Oh, and did I mention Brad Wiggins won the overall GC? It's true – In case you forgot, 2012 was the first ever British win of the Tour de France. And just because we're showing off a little bit now, Chris Froome took the second spot on the Podium. The first time Great Britain has ever podiumed in the Tour de France and we took the two top spots. Nibali can make all the puppy dog eyes he likes, but the truth is that Team Sky handed the rest of the peloton their bib shorts on a platter.
Wiggins' Trial Trial Dominance Set Him Apart
Chris Froome had one more major event on his calendar, and it was time to ride alongside the Batman to his Robin once again as Froome and Wiggins joined the GB team completed by Mark Cavendish, Ian Stannard and the newly forgiven for his previous sins and allowed back into the Olympic club David Millar. It was a course not perfect for, but definitely suited to Mark Cavendish, for if he could get over the circuits of Box Hill, he stood a fine chance in a bunch sprint into The Mall. Unfortunately everybody else in the peloton knew that and refused to assist the GB squad in any way possible. Kudos went to sole Austrian contingent Bernie Eisel for throwing his lot in with his Sky team mates to work for Cav, and to Tony Martin who realised that if his sprinting compatriot Andre Greipel was going to have a shot at gold, he was going to have to risk assisting Team GB on the front. But, as one non-GB rider was quoted as saying on Twitter in the hours after the stage, “The riders weren't riding to win, they were riding to see Cav lose”, and it was too little too late as the exhausted GB squad couldn't chase down the remainder of the break and a controversial Gold medal went to Alexander Vinokourov – a great end to his career, but one that left a sour taste in the mouths of many.
Vinokourov On His Way To Winning Olympic Gold
However, it was a different story three days later when the top Time Triallists in the world took to the start ramp at Hampton Court Palace. Defending champion Fabian Cancellara had crashed heavily in the closing stages of the road race and was, until the last minute, unsure whether he would participate. But, when Spartacus descended the start ramp, there were already two Brits waiting on the “thrones of anticipation” in Gold and Bronze place respectively. Bradley Wiggins had finished on a time of 50:39:54 and Chris Froome at 51:47:87, 26 seconds behind Tony Martin in Silver. Cancellara's injury saw him finish 7th at 52:53:71 and fall to the ground an interesting shade of green from his exertion, making Bradley Wiggins the first person to win the Tour de France and an Olympic Gold Medal in the same year.
Whilst all eyes may have turned to Wiggins' wing man Chris Froome at the Vuelta a Espana, to see if sidekick could suddenly become hero, it was quite a lot to ask for the former Kenyan who failed to make an impression on the all Spanish podium, but Froomey never fell from the top few contenders in the GC and finished 4th overall, as well as 6th in the points classification! Not bad for somebody who three weeks earlier had worked himself inside out in the biggest race in the world. Another British stage win was notched up at the Vuelta when Team BMC's Steve Cummings won the 172.8km into Ferrol, the first Grand Tour stage win for the Liverpudlian. Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff took the overall honours from fellow Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez who fought all the way to the end.
A Reinvigorated Contador Took The Win
Following on from the incredible reception of Wiggins and Cavendish during the Olympics, the wave of euphoria towards British cycling continued into the crowds at the Tour of Britain – as many who were new to the sport lined the streets to see their sporting heroes. Wiggins may have pulled out with a stomach bug after the finish of Stage 5 but Cav managed three stage wins for his adoring public, and it was a chance for the domestic Brits to shine as Endura's Jonathan Tiernan-Locke lived up to his early season potential and became the first British rider to win the Tour of Britain in its current form (and the first to win a British Tour since Chris Lillywhite in the 1993 Milk Race).
Locke On The Attack
Tiernan-Locke also secured his entry into the World Road Race Championships in Limburg where, although it was clear Mark Cavendish would give up his jersey, the punchy cobbled classics style race was well suited for his team mate. As it happened, in his first World Champs, JTL put in a cracking ride alongside the outstanding Team Sky juggernaut of Ian Stannard to finish 19th, in the bunch 5” back. That may not sound too fantastic but considering the 27 year old only started riding proffessionally in 2009 it is a brilliant transformation.
Remember poor PhilGil? How I said we'd not heard the last of him? The Belgian was just coming into form following two stage wins in the Vuelta, and reached his zenith winning his first Rainbow Stripes in Valkenburg, home of the Amstel Gold.
Gilbert Breaks Clear On The Final Ascent
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