When cycling’s historians look back on 2012, they will find much to write about.
The Lance Armstrong scandal will dominate their assessment of the year, of course, but there will be many more inspiring tales to tell.
Armstrong’s fall from grace gathered momentum in June when USADA announced it would pursue formal charges against him and team manager, Johan Bruyneel, who continues to deny wrongdoing, and has opted for a public arbitration hearing.
June began with Bradley Wiggins defending his Critérium du Dauphiné title with the knowledge that in a little over three weeks, he would mount his third serious challenge in as many years for the greatest prize in cycling.
Team Sky were clearly using this eight-stage encounter as a final test before the Tour de France, sending seven of the nine riders who, weeks later, would roll from the start house in Liege in Sky colours, including Chris Froome, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Rogers, and Richie Porte.
They were not alone. Other teams sent riders on whom they would pin their Tour hopes: BMC’s Cadel Evans, and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) among them (Schleck’s challenge would end here with a fall on the fourth stage time trial).
Wiggins’ bid to retain his Dauphiné title began well, with second place on the opening prologue time trial in Grenoble, beaten by just one second by Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), but more significantly, finishing five seconds ahead world time trial champion, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and six seconds ahead of Evans.
The Australian showed good form just three weeks from the defence of his Tour de France title by winning stage one, but in another significant development, it was Wiggins who finished the day in yellow.
The Londoner would not relinquish his grip on the race lead, and increased it with a dominant performance in the stage four time trial, finishing more than half-a-minute ahead of second-placed Martin, 1.11” up on three-time world time trial champion, Rogers, over one-and-a-half minute faster than Froome, and 1.43” ahead of Evans.
From then on, Team Sky controlled the race, providing a foretaste of what the public could expect at the Tour.
Other riders hoping to leave an impression on the Tour headed to the Tour de Suisse, a race no less demanding than the Dauphiné.
While overall victory was claimed by Movistar’s Rui Costa, the most emphatic performances came from Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) winner of four stages, including the prologue time trial.
With the Dauphine and the Tour de Suisse wrapped up, all thoughts turned to the Tour de France. RCUK spoke to Wiggins in a phone call from his final pre-Tour training camp in Mallorca. While the line was less than perfect, Wiggins’ confidence, enthusiasm, and desire were came through loud and clear.
Back in London, we ducked around the corner to Oakley’s UK headquarters to interview another British rider with the Tour marked in red on his calendar: world road race champion, Mark Cavendish. In perhaps the first public indication that his ambitions would take a back seat, Cavendish told us he would be honoured to ride for Wiggins.
With days remaining until the Tour began, we headed to Liege to capture some of the sights and atmosphere ahead of the prologue time trial, catching up with mechanics working behind the scenes, and checking in on the unveiling of the new LOOK 675.
Away from the Tour, we took a ‘first look’ at the Scott Foil Team Issue, another of the machines nominated for Bike of the Year in the RCUK End of Year Survey.