Monday 2 January 2012

Review of the Cycling Year 2011

I know the muse-ette has been a bit quiet lately, for lot's of reasons, but it'd be a shame to let the New Year period pass without the the annual, unprestigious Muse-ette Awards.

So here, in no particular order, are the 2011 muse-ette Awards:

Best Stage Race: After last years snub of the Grand Tours by the muse-ette awards, which I know they took note of, this year saw them clean up their acts considerably. As far as I know the only positive in any of the three great races was Alexandr Kolobnevs for the diuretic, hydrochlorothiazide (HCT) during the TDF. So the way is clear for the award this year to go to Le Tour De France for giving us one of the most exciting and remarkable races for years. From Johnny Hoogerlands heroics to Tommy Voecklers determination to Cadels domination from the start in Brittany to the top of the podium in Paris, it was a vintage year for Le Grand Boucle. Honourable Mention goes to La Vuelta, which was gripping at least until the anti-climax that was the final week.

Best Stage in a Grand Tour: There really is no contest here. Stage 18 of the Tour from Pinerolo to Le Galibier had it all. Uncharacteristically aggressive tactics from the Schlecks, Nico Roche in the break, Cadels cool as a cucumber display of sheer power and Tommy Voeckler defying the odds to hold on to the jersey for one more day. Fantastic. Honourable Mention: For us Paddies special mention has to go to stage 9 of the Vuelta from Villacastín to La Covatilla. It was already special when the Roche/Martin cousins went up the road together on the final climb but then we were screaming at the telly as young Dan sprinted clear at the summit to take his first Grand Tour stage win.

Best One Day Race: For the second year in a row the Tour of Flanders. Apart from the fact I was actually there this year, which always makes a race special, it was a great race. Fabian showed he's human, Gilbert had a good go and then Nuyens gave the home fans something to cheer by Nick-ing it (ouch!) on the line. The initiative of showing camera footage from the team cars was a great addition too. Honourable Mention: This doesn't go to a single race but to the full set of Monuments, all of which went to first time winners this year.

Best Finish: A slightly churlish choice but I did enjoy seeing Gilbert do over not one, but two, Schlecks at Liege. All the fancy scarves and rider poaching couldn't buy the Lay-O-Paaaards the tactical nous and hunger Gilbert displayed in abundance that day.

Best Irish Rider: No question about this. Bagging a Grand Tour stage, a second-but-should-have-won in Lombardy, a very close second in the Tour of Poland and finishing in the top ten in the World Rankings means Dan Martin walks it. Honourable Mentions: Mark Rohan for his two handcycling Rainbow Jerseys in the same year and Martyn Irvine who's edging ever closer to securing his place in the Olympic Velodrome in London.

Best Young Rider: I'm staying domestic for this one and awarding it to Lakeside Wheelers rider Damien Shaw. Damien had a meteoric 2011, rising through the categories to win a silver medal at the National Criterium Championships on home turf in Mullingar. Other highlights included finishing 6th, among the pros, at the National TT champs and numerous wins around the country. In addition to his domestic heroics Damien's also gained world class Paralympic status as a visually impaired riders pilot on the track.

Team performance of the Year: Team GB for their clinical domination of the Worlds. They gave a masterclass in team work to get Cav to the line before everyone else. Honourable mentions: An Post - Sean Kelly for a) just being there and b) winning the sprints jersey and a stage at the Tour of Britain. BMC for overcoming their obvious shortcomings to help Cadel win yellow.

Disappearing Team of the Year: A close call but it has to go to HTC-Highroad. I still don't get how the worlds best team failed to find a sponsor. Makes you wonder if Bill Stapleton really knew what he was doing or if he really tried at all. Honourable Mention: After two great years, Munster team The Edge look likely to bite the dust over the winter. Hats off to Timmy Barry, Sean Lacey et al for giving it a good go.

Most Embarrassing Moment of the Year: As if being mistaken for a Dane at the Tour in 2009 wasn't bad enough, Bertie had to listen to the wrong anthem again this year. Giro organisers mistakenly played the old, fascist, Franco-era anthem La Marcha Granadera instead of the newer instrumental version called La Marcha Real which was introduced 3 years after the dictators death in 1978.

The X-factor Award for Dragging Out The Announcement of a Decision Award: CAS for STILL not letting us know if Bertie actually won the Tour in 2010 or not. How long does it take?

The Thierry Henry Cheat of the Year Award: Guess who??? Ricco's return to the top was shortlived after he decided to enact an episode of ER in his own living room and ended up in a real ER. Thankfully not too many Dishonourable Mentions this year: Kolobnev, Garcia Da Pena, Vazquez Hueso, Locke.

The John McEnroe Award for Throwing Your Toys Out Of The Pram: Italian champion Giovanni Visconti for throwing away the chance to win a stage of the Giro in the Tricolore jersey by losing his rag at Diego Ulissi in the sprint to the line in Tirano. Visconti was relegated to third after taking is hands off the bars to push his rival when he reckoned Ulissi closed him out against the barriers. Honourable Mention: Jens Voigt for his one-man crusade to save the sport from the life threathening radio ban.

The No News is Bad News Award: Yet again it seems there's no shortage of sponsors prepared to cash in on the column inches generated by returning cheats, no matter how unwelcome they might be. Step up Miche, employers of both Rebellin AND Schumacher in 2011.

The Don Corleone Award for Making an Offer they Can't Refuse Award: UCI for "clarifying" the consequences to sponsors of not riding the Tour Of Beijing over such a trivial matter as race radios.

The Triathlon Award for Combining Seemingly Unrelated Sports to Make a New One: Bertie for inventing Cyclo-Boxing with that right hook to the jaw of a fake medic on Alpe D'Huez. "Suggest I'm a doper, will you? Take that!". Honourable Mention: Johnny Hoogerland for inventing Breakaway Showjumping while unsuccessfully trying to clear a fence during stage 9 of the TDF

The My Best Day on a Bike This Year Award: 2nd April 2011 when I got to ride on hallowed ground. The cobbled classics have always been my favourite races so getting to join almost 20,000 other riders at the Tour Of Flanders Sportive, in glorious weather, was a dream come true. Top that, 2012. Honourable mention: 24th September 2011 was the day of the Equinox Cycle from Howth to Galway, in aid of Temple St Childrens Hospital and Headway. 150 miles from door to door in nice weather and among great company all while raising over €15,000 for worthy causes.

The My Worst Day on a Bike This Year Award: Despite the awful conditions, not even the Wicklow 200 wins this. I'm happy to say there just aren't any worst days on the bike for me at the moment.

Finally, as ever, 2011 has seen the passing of some cycling greats:

Derek Owens, 41, my ex-Eagle CRC clubmate and training buddy as schoolboy and junior, lost his fight with cancer this year.
Wouter Weylandt, 26, Leopard-Trek rider died in full view of the TV cameras after a freak crash on stage 3 of the Giro, having won the corresponding stage last year.
xavier Tondo, 32, tragically crushed in his garage on 23rd May, Tondo was one of the good guys who reputedly rode his bike simply because he loved it. Deserves to be remembered for his courage in reporting a doping ring to the polive earlier in the year.
Bobby Power, 56, Irish cycling legend and multiple Ras stage winner Bobby gave as much to the sport as he ever got from it.
Niall Jenkins, Irish track sprinter best known for winning the Irish National Tandem Sprint Championships in 2007 and finishing a great 4th at World Master's Sprint Champs the same year. Also represented Ireland as a pilot at the Paracycling Track World Championships 2007.
Terry Colbert, stalwart of Tailteann CC in the 1960's
Danny O'Shea, Sorrento CC, tireless commissaire and timekeeper. One of those unsung heroes without whom cycle sport wouldn't exist.
Peter Post, 77, Dutch Paris-Roubaix winner, Six Day champion and legendary manager of the TI-Raleigh and Panasonic teams.
Alberto León, 37, Spanish Mountain Biker committed suicide after having been arrested for his alleged role in blood doping rings.
Fedor den Hertog, 64, Olympic Team Time Trial champion in 1968, Tour de France and Vuelta stage winner, Dutch Pro Champion.
Carla Swart, 23, HTC-Highroad pro died after being hit by a truck while training in her native South Africa.
Emile Masson Jr., 95, winner of 1939 Paris-Roubaix
Lewis Balyckyi, 18, former member of British Cycling's Olympic Talent Team and British Youth Circuit Champion, killed while training in Lancashire
Carly Hibberd, 26, Australian rider hit by car while training in northern Italy.

May they, and all other cyclists lost this year, rest in peace.

Finally, once again, thanks for reading the admittedly sparse mutterings from the muse-ette in 2011. I wish you all a very Happy New Year and many enjoyable miles in 2012.

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