End-of-season round-table: 2012 in review

With the season now very much over and the furore over that investigation now starting to die down somewhat, it would be all too easy for us to put our feet up and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. However, that’s not the way we roll here at VeloVoices Towers, and while attacking the restocked VeloVoices drinks trolley with gusto last Friday we had a lengthy discussion looking back on the season gone by and looking forward to next year’s racing. We started with a quick review of the races and riders who made 2012 such a memorable and dramatic year.

(Parts two and three will follow over the next two days.)

So, the final top three in the WorldTour rankings were Rodriguez, Wiggins and Boonen. Have they been the three best riders this season, and if not who else would you add to the list?

Kitty: I think they were. Obviously, two of them I love, one of them I grudgingly acknowledge as having had a great year. I think Boonen had the best year as an individual – he had an amazing spring and he rode the races with gusto and guts and (ahem) without having a well-oiled team protecting him the whole time. He had to do it himself and he did with a fierce joy.

A worthy top-ranked rider (image courtesy of Katusha)

Jack: I’m tempted to say Hesjedal or Contador after their other Grand Tour wins, but neither dominated their respective GTs like Wiggins did. So, on that basis, I’d say the rankings were just about spot on.

Sheree: The way I look at it, Wiggins was the best stage racer, Boonen the best Classics rider and Rodriguez was the season’s most consistent performer. On that basis, it’s kind of hard to argue against the UCI’s ranking.

Panache: I agree with Sheree. Those are the best three but for some reason the name Peter Sagan seems to keep popping into my head. Some highlights: he won five stages of the Tour of California, four stages of the Tour de Suisse, three stages of the Tour de France and the green jersey. What a fantastic season for a rider who still has many years ahead of him.

Sheree: Good point, Panache. Sagan was the best under-23 rider by a country mile!

Tim: Agreed on Sagan. Given that the rankings are generally weighted in favour of multi-stage racers rather than individual stage winners, to finish eighth in a season where others dominated the Classics is a phenomenal achievement by a phenomenal rider. Wiggins was a little unfortunate to miss out on top spot after a season of incredible consistency in one big race after another, but I’m in agreement with both the top three and their ranking order.

What was your favourite race/moment of the year?

Sheree: I hate it when you ask me for just one! How can you distil a magnificent season of racing into one perfect moment? But, if you insist, I’ll choose Samu Sanchez winning his maiden Tour of the Basque Country to the immense delight of the Basque fans. He piped the man who was to finish top of the pile at the end of the season, Joaquim Rodriguez, and who knows what else he might have achieved were it not for his crashes.

You’ll never guess who featured in Tim’s favourite moment of 2012 … (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Tim: I’m tempted to say the early season semi-Classic Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, an incredible fluctuating race with a surprise winner in Sep Vanmarcke – just about the only man who bested Tom Boonen all spring. If I was being objective I probably would say that. But I’m not being objective, so I won’t. My favourite moment was stage 18 of the Tour into Brive. This had incredible drama. One final bid by Vino to snatch a stage. Nicolas Roche in a late brave attack in search of a maiden Grand Tour stage. And the sight of the yellow jersey helping to lead out Mark Cavendish in a seemingly impossible last-gasp chase. But bridge the gap he did in thrilling fashion, leaping from wheel to wheel in the closing metres to complete a dramatic victory. In a Tour where he was forced to play second fiddle throughout, this was Cav’s tour de force. His speed and coolness under pressure at the end were astonishing as he judged his accelerations to perfection. [All together now: man-crush! – Ed]

Panache: I didn’t have to pause to think about this. For me it was Thomas De Gendt’s attack on the Passo dello Stelvio to earn himself a podium spot in the Giro d’Italia. He began the stage in eighth place, 5:40 behind Joaquim Rodríguez.  He was able to get into a break and with 13km to go he escaped his breakaway companions and soloed to victory. At one point De Gendt was just 35 seconds away from the maglia rosa! The field behind was in shambles, which forced Christian Vande Velde and Peter Stetina to bury themselves to keep Ryder Hesjedal in the race. Brilliant racing! I still get butterflies in my stomach when I think about that day.

Jack: It’s so hard to pick one moment. I’d probably have to say stage 17 of the Vuelta, on which Alberto Contador took the lead. He knew that it was now or never, and his lone attack paid great dividends. The bravery he showed on that stage was the mark of a true great. It was heroic, but downright strange too. I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I first tuned in to see the gap he had opened up.

Kitty: There were so many great races and moments but the one that leaps to mind first is Tom Boonen’s Paris-Roubaix, when he basically did a Cancellara and time-trialled his way to the finish, leaving all behind him bewildered – including his own team car! – and racing for second.

Boonen had a magnificent Classics season, with Paris-Roubaix arguably his best victory of all (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

If you could have changed one thing about the 2012 season, what would it have been?

Panache: I would have undone the combining of Leopard Trek and RadioShack into one team. I also would have prevented all of Fabian Cancellara’s crashes. (I guess that is two things!) These changes would have made for a much more interesting Classics season and better Grand Tours.

Cancellara checking for stray bidons … (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

Sheree:Well in view of my answer to the question above, it would be Samu Sanchez not being taken out of the Tour de France by the deadly combination of a teammate and a picnic table.

Kitty: I would have made sure there were NO bidons in the feed zone at Tour of Flanders … If only Fabs hadn’t fallen … (wipes tears away).

Jack: I honestly can’t think of much I would change. I was gutted to see Vincenzo Nibali caught in the dying metres of Liège–Bastogne–Liège, but such is the wonder of cycling. Sometimes you win, most of the time you lose.

Tim: The outcome of the Olympic road races to provide Team GB with double gold, courtesy of Cav and Lizzie Armitstead. Lizzie will hopefully get another chance in 2016. And it’s astonishing that Cav has been to two Olympics now and not won a single medal, let alone gold. But, as Jack says, that’s cycling for you.

What’s been the best thing about being part of VeloVoices this year?

Sheree: Apart from hanging out with you guys and similarly minded folks in person and on the net, I’ve really enjoyed researching the articles and learning more about the sport and its personalities. It’s given more purpose to my all-absorbing interest in cycling.

Tim: Getting involved in such diverse and healthy debate, both amongst ourselves and with our followers. Listening to other people’s views has only served to broaden by knowledge and appreciation of the sport.

Panache was a welcome mid-season addition to the VeloVoices roster

Panache: Starting to face my fear of writing, being mentored by Kitty Fondue and being associated with such fine people from across the pond who share my obsession with pro cycling.

Kitty: All the really great people I’ve met – both in person and through Twitter. I didn’t expect to make such wonderful friends – it made watching races so much more fun, even when we were disagreeing. I’m hoping that next year, I finally get to meet Jack. I’m also ecstatic that I will be meeting my beloved Panache during the Tour next year.

Jack: At the risk of making this sound like a mutual appreciation society, chatting to the VeloVoices team and all of the people the site has introduced me to has been brilliant. Having an excuse to sit watching cycling all day is also a bonus.

Sum up the 2012 season in five words or fewer.

Kathi: Unpredictable. Fabulous. Infuriating. Beautiful. Heart-stopping.

Sheree: Scintillating, surprising, spellbinding, shocking, sorrowful.

Panache: Fight the Omerta and Bone Idleness!  (Sorry, it took six words!)

Jack: Unpredictable and (mostly) excellent.

Tim: Time trials and trial time. [By which Tim means the key role played by ITTs in two of this year’s Grand Tours and, well, you can work out the rest – Ed.]

In part two of our round-table tomorrow the team look back at the key issues which shaped the 2012 season off the road.

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