After Team GB’s success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Mark Cavendish establishing himself as a sprint force to be reckoned with last year, we thought that 2009 was going to be quiet in comparison.
We are glad to admit that we couldn’t have been more wrong. Some of the biggest stories of the year have been British based – the formation of Team Sky; Cavendish’s 23 pro wins; and Bradley Wiggins’ stunning fourth-place ride at the Tour de France.
And then there was Lance Armstrong’s comeback from retirement, and the subsequent internal battle with Astana team-mate/rival Alberto Contador.
It would be hard to imagine a year in professional cycling where there has been more excitement, rumour, intrigue and scandal to fuel the news pages.
Here we present the top ten stories of 2009 on www.cyclingweekly.co.uk, organised in order of page views… this is the top ten that you created, voting with your web browsers.
To read each article in full, click on the headline.
1. Team Sky: As it happens
The formation of a new top-level British team has been the biggest news of the entire year for our readers. The squad’s mountainous budget matched with its successful application for a ProTour licence has meant a race to sign up some of the top riders from Britain and abroad. We kept track of the rumours and facts surrounding the squad headed up by Team GB supremo David Brailsford with this constantly updated article. With the team now all set in place with the addition of Bradley Wiggins, the article now serves as a historical look back at the creation of a professional team that has experienced unrivalled interest.
2. Armstrong: “If Contador wins, I’ll be second”
Lance Armstrong’s ‘comeback 2.0’ from retirement fuelled some of the biggest stories of the year. The interest in the Texan’s return to the Tour de France was sky-high. Could he really win an eighth Tour after spending three years ‘drinking beer and sitting on the sofa’? And what of the internal power struggle at the Astana team between the often outspoken Armstrong and his rival Alberto Contador? In the event, Armstrong was off the pace at the Tour and conceded part-way through the race that Contador was the stronger rider. Lance being Lance, he vowed to his fans that if the Spaniard won, he’d be second. In the event, he nearly did it – coming third behind Contador and Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck. Now he and Contador are on different teams, Armstrong is gunning for the 2010 Tour win.
3. Design a jersey for Team Sky
Our article inviting readers to submit their own designs, however fanciful, for Team Sky racing kit was a surprise hit of the year. And it also proved that you are a highly talented bunch. We picked out the best and funniest of the designs and put them in the article, asking people to comment on what they thought was the most impressive. The designs were so good that one poor Italian cycling website actually thought that one of them really was the Sky jersey and ran a news piece about it. You’ve got to love Google searches. And we still don’t know what Sky’s kit will actually look like.
4. Voigt crashes out of Tour de France
Jens Voigt is one of the most popular riders in the professional peloton. But it took a near-tragedy to publicly show our collective love for the likeable German. Voigt had been part of a break during stage 16 of the 2009 Tour de France, but had been caught by a group of leaders including Saxo Bank team-mates Andy and Frank Schleck. Voigt somehow found the energy to help the Schlecks, pacing them on the Col du Petit Saint Bernard. On the fast and twisting descent, millions of TV viewers watched aghast as Voigt struck a bump in the road, losing control of his bike and sliding down the tarmac on his side and face. Voigt lay motionless, and was air-lifted to hospital in Grenoble. He had fractured his cheekbone and suffered severe cuts and concussion. Voigt was inundated with thousands of messages from well-wishers, and was back on his bike later in the year after making a good recovery from what must rank as one of the most horrific crashes ever televised.
5. Vuelta route favours the climbers
Always perceived as the poor relation of the three Grand Tours, the 2009 edition of the Vuelta a Espana proved popular with our online users. Although this article was published at the very end of 2008, it was read throughout the first half of the year, serving as a mini-preview of the three-week stage race in September. Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador gave their verdict on the route, although Contador’s comment that “It’s the sort of route that makes you want to take part” proved false as the Spaniard concentrated on winning the Tour de France for a second time and then taking it easy for the remainder of the season.
6. Tour de France stage seven live coverage
We didn’t cover the entire 2009 Tour de France with live text coverage, but we picked the key stages and tried to keep on top of the action as it unfurled. Stage seven of the 2009 Tour de France had been ear-marked as one of the stages that would shape the overall classification – a monster 224km trek from Barcelona to Andorra Arcalis. With hindsight, it was one of the most entertaining stages of the entire race – and one that saw Bradley Wiggins prove that he could mix it up with the overall contenders. Agritubel’s Brice Feillu won the stage, with eventual overall winner Alberto Contador showing his rivals a clean pair of wheels with a late acceleration to take ninth behind the break, and gain vital seconds on the Schlecks and Armstrong. As with all of our live coverage, your comments and questions were mixed in with the commentary.
7. Cavendish keeps on winning… awards
British sprint star Mark Cavendish may have won 23 professional races this year, including Milan-San Remo and six stages of the Tour de France, but really there was one reason and one reason only why people were looking at this article on the Manxman winning an award at the Gran Gala Ciclistico in Italy. Cavendish was there with new girlfriend Fiorella Migliore and we had the photos to prove it.
8. Pinarello Sky bike shows Italian’s intent
Despite having not yet turned a pedal in anger, Team Sky has already created more hype, rumour and speculation that all of the other ProTour teams combined. Probably. When the British-based team started to take shape, attention turned to what the super-squad would be riding. Several big manufacturers were linked to the team, but when Italian company Pinarello added a bike to its 2010 range called the ‘Sky bike’ the game was given away. However, it took months before Pinarello were officially unveiled as bike provider for Sky, and sure enough the blue, black and white bike that we pictured in this article did turn out to be Sky’s bike of choice.
9. Team Sky spotted out training
Over the course of a year, Cycling Weekly literally spends several pounds on sending out photographers to take shots of pro riders and drink cheap, preferably free, coffee. But sometimes it’s our readers who come up trumps by being in the right place at the right time, and with a camera. Step forward CW reader Stephen Knight, who noticed a group of riders passing him on matching Pinarello bikes on the A635 near Saddleworth. After a double-take, Stephen spotted Steve Cummings, Juan Antonio Flecha, Sylvain Calzati, Ian Stannard and Peter Kennaugh and started snapping. His excellent ‘spy’ photos showed that the team was already operating as a unit and enjoying the great British weather. Thanks Stephen.
10. Wiggins signs four-year contract with Team Sky
If Team Sky has dominated the news this year, then one question has been the recurring theme – will Bradley Wiggins sign with Team Sky? When the seemingly final team line-up was announced in November it showed that Sky had assembled a strong team, but with one serious omission – there was not a single Grand Tour contender among them. Then suddenly, the press were invited to a conference on December 10. When the media arrived, there was Bradley Wiggins. Sky had controversially bought out his Garmin-Transitions contract and signed up the rider who was fourth at this year’s Tour de France for a rumoured £4million over four years. Team Sky was complete and the scene set for a British team lead by a British overall contender at the Tour de France for the first time in history.