By now you’ve probably seen the VeloNews 2005 awards issue. If you are a subscriber, you received an issue with Tom Boonen on the cover; newsstand copies featured Lance Armstrong.If you have seen the issue, regardless of which cover it wore, then you know who and what the VN editorial staff has deemed best and worst from the past year in cycling. If you haven’t seen it yet, well, shame on you. Get on out there and pick up a copy — or better yet, do yourself a favor and start up a subscription for 2006.
For everyone else, the proverbial cats are long since out of the bag: Boonen was voted our international cyclist of the year, Armstrong our North American cyclist of the year, and mountain biker Marie-Helene Premont our North American female cyclist of the year. ProTour winner Danilo Di Luca was our choice as international male road racer of the year; World Cup overall winner Oenone Wood took female road racer of the year; and world cross-country champions Julien Absalon and Gunn-Rita Dahle repeated as mountain bikers of the year. Health Net-Maxxis was our unanimous choice as the top North American men’s road team, as team rider and NRC winner Scott Moninger took male roadie of the year at the ripe old age of 38.
Still, there were a few subjects that couldn’t (or maybe shouldn’t) make the cut. So I present them here, for your enjoyment and a look back at the wild ride that was 2005.
Best cycling film
The German documentary “Hell on Wheels” redefined just how deeply a film crew could delve into an event such as the Tour de France. Allowed full access to the 2003 T-Mobile squad, German Academy Award winner Pepe Danquart set out to capture the hardships of the Tour.
“I wanted to know what it takes to win the Tour de France,” explained Danquart, who had never been to a bike race before the 2003 Tour. “In the team, in the body, in the mind. We wanted to show how everybody who participates in the contest has to push himself to the limit, physically and mentally. How every cyclist, as well as every member of the team, cannot hide from the pressure of success, and how they deal with it.”
He did a damn fine job of it. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. Recently released for DVD distribution in the United States, “Hell on Wheels” is as insightful and professionally produced as any documentary on professional cycling could aspire to be, and should be considered essential viewing for any fan of the sport.
Top state for ’cross champ production
Go ahead, call it a bias. But before you do, take a look at the 2005 national cyclo-cross championship winners. Hailing from Colorado are elite men’s champ Todd Wells; his younger brother Troy (winner of the U23 race); junior winner Danny Summerhill; and elite women’s winner Katie Compton. Sure, respective race favorites Jonathan Page, Jesse Anthony and Bjørn Selander were all dealt some bad luck, but when the slush had settled, Coloradans swept the four biggest races of the weekend.
Best commercial using pro cycling in its story line
I can’t claim to know much about this advertisement, other than it was made for Vodafone, a multinational mobile-phone operator, by Belgian advertising agency LG&F, using Australian voiceovers. Oh, and it’s hilarious. “Ooooh, look out behind!” Nice work.
Best comic strip using pro cycling in its story line
“Frazz” cartoonist Jef Mallett is a cyclist, triathlete and self-admitted race fan. In addition to drawing one of the best comics in newspapers today, Mallett regularly slips in cycling references for those in the know. A glance at the December 11 strip shows Frazz on a run wearing a Health Net-Maxxis wind vest.
“The original version (of the strip) had Scott Moninger’s name right there underneath Lance Armstrong’s,” Mallett said. “But my editors at United Feature Syndicate thought it might be wiser to name a cyclist and a triathlete instead of two cyclists. It was probably smart – I’ve got a lot of triathlete fans – but I still wanted to slip Scott in there. On top of his racing success and class, a friend of mine who knows him says very nice things. Then again, I’ll probably come up with another chance. It’s my strip, right?
Worst TV program using pro cycling in its story line
The November 15 episode of FOX-TV’s program “House M.D.” entitled “Spin.”
“When a famous professional cyclist is brought in after collapsing during a race, House doesn’t want to treat him because he thinks he’s lying about doing drugs,” reads the episode synopsis. “But when the patient is forthcoming about taking all sorts of performance enhancers and blood-doping drugs, House is definitely intrigued. Cameron is upset the patient is a hero to kids when he is clearly cheating at his sport. She struggles with the ethical dilemma of patient confidentiality and considers going to the media.”
Between the piss-poor acting, ridiculous storyline and lack of cycling-specific knowledge, this program is one of my worst memories of the last 12 months. Our readers agreed, writing in to share their disappointment.
“The episode of House was probably one of the cheesiest shows ever to air,” wrote reader Keith Abruzzese (please remember to include your city and state next time, Keith). “It was just horrible. The show may even have insinuated that a popular cyclist we all know doped his way to the top, but the show was so bad that for that one hour I forgot to care that doping was, is, and will be a problem in cycling.”
I’m with Keith. Please — a moment of silence for an hour of my life that I’ll never have back.
The Stranger than Fiction award
Speaking of weird storylines, I’ll have to admit, I took a perverse pleasure in breaking the news of David Clinger’s facial tattoo and the havoc it wrought within the Webcor Cycling Team. A new rider shows up to early-season team camp with a full facial Maori-style tattoo, throwing team management into damage-control mode. You couldn’t make something like this up if you tried (especially if you are a writer for “House”). In the end, Clinger and Webcor quietly parted ways; the illustrated man wound up racing for the Southern Californian Helen’s RPM team, and the Webcor men’s team reportedly is riding off into the sunset.
Cutest baby of 2005
The progeny of Olympic cyclists Michael and Dede Barry, 5-month-old Liam Barry may take over the world just on sheer charm alone. This smiling kid is so happy and friendly it’s almost hard to believe. Michael said Liam slept through the night on his first night home from the hospital, and Dede claims his first real crying fit came after four months.
I think I may have disappointed my Aunt Debbie over the recent holiday, when she prodded me to confirm that her grandson Brandon was, in fact worthy of his nickname “CBEB,” short for “cutest baby ever born.” I hated to do it, but I had to tell her, “Well, actually, there’s this baby Liam….” Let’s just say Aunt Deb didn’t want to hear it. Lesson learned: Sometimes it’s better just to nod your head and keep your thoughts to yourself. Meltdown of the year
In the awards issue I believe we gave Michael Rasmussen the “worst time trial rider” distinction for his disastrous stage-20 Tour de France time-trial performance. But I prefer “meltdown of the year,” for his lack of grace under pressure. A display of matter over mind hasn’t been seen like that since the fabled Huffy toss by Bjarne Riis, who chucked his $20,000 Pinarello prototype into the weeds during the 1997 Tour’s EuroDisney ITT — or IBT, for “individual bike throw.” But hey, I had a good laugh over it.
The Schmoopy podium award
The award for the most sickeningly ass-kicking couple of 2005 is a tie between Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger, who both took cross-country wins at the NORBA National at Brian Head, Utah, and cyclo-cross super-couple Tim Johnson and Lyne Bessette, who shared the podium a few times this past ‘cross season, including the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross stop in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Easy on the brakes award
This one goes to T-Mobile team director Mario Kummmer, who was forced to hit the brakes while motorpacing Jan Ullrich just 48 hours before the start of the Tour de France. In order to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic, Kummer locked up the binders, unintentionally causing Ullrich, one of Lance Armstrong’s leading rivals for Tour victory, to slam into the back window of the team vehicle, smashing it and sustaining a cut near the throat.
Coolest glove design of 2005
Anyone who has been out on a cold winter ride and wished for a little more hand protection while descending than climbing can appreciate Descente’s Wombat glove. Using a design seen previously in wool camping gloves, the waterproof, windproof and fleece-lined Wombat features a pull-out convertible mitt section for added warmth.
Confusing title-sponsor award
EPO manufacturer Amgen decided to tackle the anemia-battling synthetic hormone’s bad publicity in the sports world head on — by sponsoring the Tour of California, an event in the discipline most closely related to the hormone’s abuse in the sporting world.
“Amgen discovers and develops vital medicines that over the years have helped millions of patients fight cancer, kidney disease and other serious illnesses,” said Kevin Sharer, Amgen’s chairman and CEO. “We are associating our name with this premier cycling event to underscore the value of a healthy lifestyle, promote medical breakthroughs made possible through biotechnology and emphasize the proper use of our medicines.”
Much was made of the biotech firm’s decision to sponsor an event in a sport that has found its products in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even former cancer patient Lance Armstrong admitted Amgen’s financial commitment to the event came as a bit of a shock.
“I have to say I was surprised when I saw that announcement,” Armstrong told VeloNews. “But I wasn’t at all offended. I thought it was a ballsy move by them. At the end of the day, Amgen doesn’t make its living off of unethical athletes, it makes its living producing life-saving drugs. I have been a consumer of Amgen products as a cancer patient, and I can tell you they work.”
Best investigative article from outside the cycling press
After the L’Equipe Armstrong story hit the news in August, San Francisco Weekly columnist Matt Smith did some fine research into the money trail that connects Armstrong, former U.S. Postal Service team backer Thom Weisel and USA Cycling’s chief operating officer Steve Johnson.
In a piece titled “Tour de Farce: Lance Armstrong, Thom Weisel, and questions about anti-doping efforts in American cycling,” Smith asserts that there exists “a serious conflict of interest between [Johnson’s] organization’s role as a doping cop and his personal, institutional, and financial ties to the diversified business world surrounding Lance Armstrong.” It’s a must read, and the only story I read in 2005 that made me think, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”
Best ride on a bike that wasn’t mine
As a guest at Specialized’s “Roubaix at Roubaix” product launch media event on April 8, two days before the race, I was lucky enough to ride the S-Works Roubaix on the first five sectors of the Paris-Roubaix course’s cobblestones. Gerolsteiner’s Michael Rich came along for the ride, and while out on the course our group was passed by teams out on reconnaissance rides, including both the Discovery Channel team of George Hincapie and the Davitamon-Lotto team of Peter Van Petegem and Henk Vogels. Just another day at the office, folks.
The carbon fiber S-Works Roubaix employs Specialized’s Zertz vibration dampers in its seat stay, fork and seatpost, as well as Specialized’s Bar Phat road-bar damping handlebar tape. After testing the bike on the first five sectors, Rich, a six-time veteran of Paris-Roubaix, called it “the best bike I’ve ever ridden on the pavé.”
The Roubaix I rode was spec’d out in fresh Campy Record components, so it probably goes without saying that it rode like a dream, making it the only ride in 2005 that made me think, “Damn, I wish I owned this bike.” One of my fellow VeloNews editors picked up a Roubaix when I got back to Colorado. To this day, when I sit on his wheel during rides I still think back to that ride in Northern France. Yeah, it was that nice.
Hottest rider Web site
So how exactly do you say “Hot damn” in Australian? Thanks again to whoever sent me the link to Aussie Rochelle Gilmore’s Web site, which, in addition to her race diaries, race schedule and palmares, also features a modeling gallery. Let’s just say the photos reconfirm just what cycling can do for a body. Hot damn, mate.
Hospitable gesture of the year
Heading to Livigno, Italy, for the UCI mountain-bike world championships, I slept quite a bit of the eight-hour flight to Milan. I’d decided not to rent a car when I arrived, since it cost almost $100 per day and my hotel in the small village of Livigno was a five-minute walk to the racecourse.
Instead I took a one-hour bus ride into Milan’s central station and then waited two hours to catch a train to Tirano, the end of the train line in the Alps, still a few hours away from my final destination. Train travel went all right for a while, until I fell asleep thinking I would awaken, or be awakened, at the end of the line.
Instead, I awoke and looked out the window to notice that the train was headed in the opposite direction it had been when I fell asleep. “Wait,” I thought, “didn’t we already pass Lake Como?” I asked around in my tourist’s Italian and learned we were headed back to Milan. This was upsetting because it was already 8 p.m. and I doubted I’d be able to catch a bus from Tirano to Livigno that late, and I had a hotel reservation in Livigno beginning that night.
Ah, the adventure of public transportation in a foreign country. I really had no idea where I would spend the night. I got off the train in a small town called Morbegno to wait for the next train back to the small town of Tirano, where I figured I would look for a hotel for the night.
While looking at the timetable for the next train in Morbegno, I asked the only person there, a middle-aged Italian woman, if she spoke English. She did, quite well, and asked where I was from. It turns out she was an English teacher, and I explained my situation to her. Her name was Norma and she was very eager to help. She offered to call my hotel for me, to explain I wouldn’t be taking the room that night and to please not charge me. The only problem was that all my hotel information was on my laptop, and my battery had died hours earlier on the plane. There was nowhere at the Morbegno train station in to plug in my laptop, so she promptly invited me to her home to plug in and call the hotel.
I ended up having dinner with Norma and her husband, Giuseppe. They offered me wine, lasagna, fresh tomatoes, fruit, and a shower and bed for the night. It was unbelievable. This was something that would never happen in the States, but Morbegno is a small Alpine town of about 11,000 people, and I couldn’t help but think that Norma was an angel sent to help a weary traveler. She said I reminded her of her 23-year-old son, who was traveling in Mexico, and if her son was in this situation she would want someone to help him.
In the end it was a much better situation then roaming Tirano, dragging my bags around, looking for a hotel late at night. I slept like a rock, and in the morning Norma treated me to a real Italian cappucino and apricot jam she’d made herself. She drove me back to the train station and made sure I understood the connecting bus schedule to Bormio and the transfer to Livigno. She also told me if my girlfriend and I ever wanted to come to Morbegno, we always had a place to stay. In return, I offered her and her husband a place in Colorado, but neither of them like to fly; she said she didn’t even go to visit her brother in Laguna Beach, California.
So all I can offer Norma is my eternal thanks, and this award for hospitable gesture of the year. Oh, and the wish of a happy new year.