Riders who caught the cycling bug in 2012 could scarcely have chosen a better year to do so.
With superb action on the road and the track, as well the Lanc-ing of a conspicuous boil amid the 1,000 pages of USADA’s ‘reasoned decision’ conclusion to their investigation into organised doping on the US Postal cycling team, there was rarely a dull moment.
April proved a match for the season’s twin peaks of July and August, and British riders were among those notching the most impressive victories.
On the road, Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky swiftly followed the Londoner’s impressive win at Paris-Nice the previous month with victory at the Tour de Romandie, while Team GB dominated the UCI Track World Championships, with Sir Chris Hoy, Ben Swift, Laura Trott, and Victoria Pendleton leaving in the rainobow stripes of world champion, alongside Great Britain’s team pursuit squads, who triumphed over their Australian rivals to win gold with world record times.
If April belonged to a single rider, however, it was Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) who had once seemed destined never quite to recover the form that carried him to the world road race championship in 2005, and who had been thoroughly eclipsed by his countryman, Philippe Gilbert, in 2011.
Instead, Tornado Tom continued to blow through April after racking up victories in the previous month at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, and Gent Wevelgem, and proving that he was nobody’s April fool by beginning this month with a record-equaling fourth victory at the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Seven days later, however, came arguably the most impressive of all his career victories: a record-equaling fourth victory at Paris-Roubaix, simply riding away from established talents including his teammate, Niki Terpstra, winner of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, and Roubaix-specialists like Team Sky’s Juan Antonio-Flecha.
Observers may point to the abandonment of joint pre-race favourite, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek), who crashed heavily at a feed zone, as good fortune for Boonen, but this surely can’t detract from the Belgian’s magnificent solo effort, launched 50km from the finish.
More significantly still, Boonen’s Ronde-Roubaix double was the second time he’d achieved the feat in the same season, another record.
Mark Cavendish was in London to attend the unveiling of the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, the car Team Sky would use for the remainder of the season. We caught up with the Manx Missile after what had been a first quarter of mixed fortunes: victories in Qatar and Kuurne, followed by the rare taste of disappointment at Milan-San Remo, his key early season target.
“It wasn’t that I was last of the favourites – I was the last rider over La Manie, but I can’t explain why that happened,” he confessed. “It shows we’re not machines. These things can happen.”
The group interview offered a rare glimpse into the pressurized world of a man carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders. Reporters from national newspapers questioned him on the likelihood of his form returning for the Olympic road race, still four months away; journalists from the cycling press asked instead about Team Sky’s ability to balance the competing demands of Wiggins’ bid for overall victory and his own ambitions for the green jersey. Others asked how fatherhood had affected him.
Cavendish, to his great credit, didn’t duck a single question, answering each with unflinching honesty (see above), even if some of his responses came after long silences during which others may have decided to issue platitudes rather than genuine assessment.
Back at RCUK Towers, we tested what would turn out to be the first of five machines we felt worthy of nominating for Bike of the Year in the RCUK end-of-year survey. The Wilier Zero 7, valued at a cool £8,500 in the trim supplied by UK distributor, ATB Sales, had a hefty price tag to justify, but bore it lightly.