It's been a lively few weeks. I've had a few pieces in Cycling Active, been described as "skinny and athletic" in the pages of Cycling Weekly, seen the Tour of Britain four times and...not blogged very much. Whoops. That feels particularly bad towards the end of the season. In a couple of weeks time I'll be trying (and probably failing) to psyche myself into having some enthusiasm for cyclocross rather than just respect, and I'll regret not having found more time to blog about the actual racing this season.
Still, prior to doing a big wrap up of 2013, I thought I'd put down a couple of lines about recent events.
Tour of Britain 2013
Probably my favourite edition of this race so far. The double climb of Caerphilly and the summit finish on Haytor weren't the race shapers we might have hoped for, but it was great to see a win for Simon Yates on Haytor, and the fact that the TT was the decisive stage just meant we got the winner wed all been hoping for for years, so I mustn't grumble, much.
I would like to see a longer/ tougher summit finish, a Kirkstone or a Rosedale or a Bealach, combined with a longer TT, to create a real see-saw between the climbers and the testers, but the logistics of getting a race caravan up those climbs make it unlikely. In any case, we had dramatic weather, enormous crowds, great stage winners and the long awaited Wiggo victory.
I enjoyed the worlds a bit more than usual this year. Certainly more than Joaquim Rodriguez or Pat McQuaid did. The fight for Silver in the Men's TT was a nailbiter and, as has been the case all season, Wiggo showed that you can't judge the second half of his TT effort based on the first half. Not that Tony Martin wasn't a nailed on cert for Gold, but I do wonder if it might have been closer if it weren't for the negative split? Still, Wiggo knows what he's doing, he must think that the steady ramping up of effort throughout the stage is his best tactic. He knows what he's about.
As does Mariane Vos. Effortlessly surviving all of the US team's attempts to ruin the pack's legs, dodging a crashed rider, making the break, then jumping off the front on the final climb for a 15 second margin of victory. It's not like women's cycling is particularly unhelathy, there are plenty of brilliant riders in the women's peloton, which makes it all the more impressive that Vos' victory came as a surprise to absolutely no one.
As for the Elite Men? I know I'm supposed to belittle Team GB as a bunch of jessies who climbed off early, but really, what else was going to happen? Thomas has spent all year crashing and breaking bones, Stannard has been flogging his guts out in the pissing rain since Milan San-Remo at the start of the season and can hardly be expected to be at top strength at the end of it, Wiggo had presumably burned all his matches in the Tour of Britain and TT and it's not like we'd seen any sign of form from Froome since July anyway. Beyond that, Edmonson and Rowe both suffered crashes and Cav did a good job grinding away on the front in the early going, which was all that could have been asked of him.
It's less that the team wimped out, and more that you had to wonder why they'd been chosen at all. Bringing Stannard when you know he must be f*cked, using the world's fastest man to do the job you'd use Stannard for if he weren't f*cked, hoping that Wiggo would be motivated to pull for a charmless backstabber like Fwoomie, then padding out the team with World's virgins and crash-happy walking wounded? It's not like Team GB had success written all over them. Even then, you can't really fault Rod Ellingworth, who else would you have picked? Short of dragging the Yates brothers out of the Under-23s it seems unlikely that he could have found any riders who were both suitable, in-form and motivated.
Finally, there's Brian Cookson winning the UCI presidency after a day of ridiculous hair splitting and debate. Seriously, watching the UCI congress unfold via Twitter made the whole thing hilariously farcical, but I gather from those who were actually there it was less funny, more tedious.
In any case, Pat McQuaid is gone and that's a victory in itself. Whether you believe that he's merely a chump doing what Hein Verbruggen told him to, or if you think he's a crook in his own right, it's hard to be sorry that he's gone. I've heard plenty of awful rumours about the man that I won't repeat here, but I'm happy to see him go just for the stuff that can be confirmed: his decision to race in Apartheid era South Africa, awarding of World Tour status to pi$$ poor races he appeared to have a financial stake in, the disregard for women's cycling and the constant attacks on Landis, Kimmage and USADA rather than attempting to address the concerns they were raising.
Of course, just having Cookson in charge doesn't mean everything will automatically improve. I refuse to believe that McQuaid was the only crook in an organisation full of saints. There's still going to be corruption in the UCI, but the removal of McQuaid hopefully also means the removal of the organisation's brass neck and elephant hide. Knowing that McQuaid's handling of doping scandals was what turned people against him, one can only assume that Cookson will have to handle them differently. A good start will be having someone in charge who doesn't call whistleblowers "scum" and attempt to sue journalists.
I think the basic hope is that the focus of corruption in the UCI will have to change. Instead of doping cover ups, we'll have people skimming the canteen fund. I can live with that. In fact, I'll be overjoyed with that.