by Barnaby CHESTERMAN
PARIS, Dec 19, 2013 (AFP) – Almost every year cycling reaches peak interest
at the end of July with the culmination of the Tour de France, but 2013 was
the year in which Lance Armstrong ensured mid-January saw the sport’s defining
Armstrong took to the US airwaves to finally admit what everyone already
knew, that he had been a drugs cheat throughout his career.
Accepting an invitation from the queen of chat-show hosts Oprah Winfrey,
whose inexperience as an investigative reporter — or perhaps due to
contractual obligations – made for a rather shallow and unrevealing admission,
Armstrong began the quest to rebuild his reputation by coming clean.
He admitted to have taken doping products, notably the blood-booster EPO,
throughout all seven of his record number of Tour de France successes, of
which he had already been stripped by the US Anti-Doping agency (USADA).
But he stopped a long way short of lifting the lid on the hows, whys and
who were involves of his sordid past, leaving many viewers feeling a sense of
frustration at having been told no more than was already widely suspected.
But the end of that long-running saga, which had seen Armstrong
relentlessly pursued by journalists aiming to uncover his dodgy dealings
throughout his career, and then by a subsequent federal inquiry followed by a
USADA investigation, promised to cast a shadow over the entire season.
And so it proved as Briton Chris Froome’s excellence and domination of the
greatest race of them all was accompanied by a steady stream of unsavory
Time and again Froome was forced to answer questions about doping, about
whether he was involved and about whether cycling could emerge from its
tainted past into a bright new, and clean, future.
Froome himself was majestic, winning the Grand Boucle by more than four
minutes from talented Colombian climber Nairo Quintana.
And he also did so without the dominance from Team Sky that his teammate
and predecessor Bradley Wiggins had enjoyed the previous year.
He had crashed in the neutral zone on the very first stage in Corsica,
effectively lost two team-mates to crashes early on in the race and was left
isolated on stage nine, the day after his imperious victory up Ax 3 Domaines
had put him in yellow.
Only gritty determination ensured he lost no time to the relentless attacks
launched by a particularly sprightly Movistar team, whose leader Alejandro
Valverde would eventually be eclipsed by younger statesman Quintana.
Froome’s super-domestique Richie Porte had cracked that day but he came
back to form in the final week to help his leader extend his lead with victory
on Mont Ventoux.
It capped a fine year for Froome in which he won the Tour of Oman,
Criterium International, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine, while
finishing second in the Tirreno-Adriatico.
It was a polar opposite year for Wiggins, who had decided to take on the
Giro d’Italia only to be forced to withdraw after stage 12 following a
miserable race in which a crash and puncture had lost him time before he then
lost his bottle on wet descents and eventually caught a cold to boot.
He pulled out of his Tour de France defense due to injury and refocussed on
the World Championships time-trial, but although he was dominant in that
discipline the previous year, winning Olympic gold, this time he finished
second to Tony Martin, who won for the third year in a row.
There was a shock in the road race in dire conditions with Rui Costa, of
Movistar, triumphing ahead of a tearful Joaquim Rodriguez.
Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro d’Italia on home soil but came up short in his
quest for a second Vuelta a Espana when American veteran Chris Horner, at the
age of 41, stunned the whole field in achieving the greatest result of his
For Rodriguez, who finished third at the Tour and fourth in the Vuelta,
there was the consolation of finishing top of the overall UCI World Tour