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22 stories for 2022, part 2: The arrivals of Tour de France Femmes, Life Time Grand Prix, Biniam Girmay

VeloNews' editors debate and dissect the biggest stories of 2022 in our own 22-stage grand tour of the cycling year.

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The 2022 cycling year was so packed with headline-harvesting stories that not even a full grand tour could house them all.

In this 22-stage series, Sadhbh O’Shea, Andrew Hood, Betsy Welch, Will Tracy, and Jim Cotton pick through the stories that shaped the narrative in 2022.

Also read: 22 for 2022, part 1

From the Tour de France Femmes to the Life Time Grand Prix and beyond: here’s part two of this five-part series:

The Tour de France Femmes finally arrives

Tour de France Femmes rolled out for the first time this summer.

Also read: Here’s what the women’s peloton wants from future Tours de France Femmes

Bringing back a Tour de France to the women’s calendar was a work in progress for several years and it finally became a reality this July. The race had featured under several guises since the 1950s but the last official women’s Tour de France had been in the 1980s, before the vast majority of the current peloton had even been born.

There was a lot of pressure on the inaugural ASO-run race to bring the event back with a bang and to deliver an event that would not only begin something that would stand the test of time but also give the riders something that befitted the race’s history. They did just that with a challenging route that gave a variety of riders opportunities for taking stage wins. Linking up with the end of the men’s race in Paris also proved to be the perfect send-off with crowds packing out the streets to cheer off the riders.

There were some nerves that the spectator numbers would die down as the race continued, but it proved to be quite the opposite. ASO would have hoped to have a closer battle for the GC, but Annemiek van Vleuten’s performance will go down in the record books as one of the greatest.

– SOS

Nairo Quintana and tramadol: End of the fairytale?

Quintana’s future remains in question. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Also read: Quintana on his future: ‘I will race in the WorldTour’ 

Nairo Quintana was caught in a sort of legal quicksand in 2022 when he twice tested positive for traces of tramadol in his system during the 2022 Tour de France. He was stuck and couldn’t get out.

Stuck, in the sense that tramadol — a powerful opioid painkiller — will not be on the WADA prohibited list until 2024. The problem for Quintana is that tramadol is banned during competition by the UCI.

Quintana found himself stuck with his feet in the mud, and he couldn’t get out. An appeal to CAS was denied, meaning the UCI’s decision to disqualify his results from the 2022 Tour, which included sixth overall and second on the stage to Col du Granon, remained in place. Quintana is not facing a racing ban or any sort of sanction, and in fact, is cleared to race.

Arkéa-Samsic, which had signed Quintana to a two-year contract extension just days before the tramadol case was announced, hit the reverse button and pulled out of the deal.

Going into the winter, Quintana was trying to find a team to sign him. Many WorldTour teams didn’t want anything to do with him. At 33 in 2023, Quintana’s proud run at the front of the Colombian decade seemed uncertain at best.

– AH

Life Time Grand Prix brings off-road racing to a new level

life time grand prix
Haley Smith and Keegan Swenson secure the 2022 Life Time Grand Prix titles. (Photo: Life Time)

Also read: Smith, Swenson top final standings in Life Time Grand Prix

In late November of 2021, fitness and event giant Life Time announced a new off-road racing series with a serious prize purse. In a landscape where belt buckles and pirate swords are typical podium prizes, the $250,000 purse for the top 10 men and women drew serious interest among the North American gravel and XC set.

The series was comprised of six of Life Time’s off-road events: three mountain bike races (Sea Otter, the Leadville 100, and Chequamegon) and six gravel races (Unbound, Crusher in the Tushar, and Big Sugar Gravel).

Some 60 men and women were chosen through a selective application process. Five of their six best results would be used toward the overall result, using a points system where 1-30 points were for each individual race result.

The series stayed interesting from April to October, with only one rider completing a near sweep. Aside from Keegan Swenson, however, the top 10 overall weren’t guaranteed until the very end, when riders put on a show at Big Sugar Gravel that might have been the best racing all year.

The series returns in 2023 with a few new twists: now, six out of seven races will be counted, and 70 riders will get the chance to compete for the money.

– BW

Biniam Girmay makes history, twice

Girmay backed up his Wevelgem win with one more at the Giro.

Also read: Girmay: ‘Welvelgem win so important for me, for my team, for African cycling’

Biniam Girmay was long slated for big things, and his landmark victory at Gent-Wevelgem this March was almost as big as it gets.

Girmay became the first African to win a classic and catapulted Eritrea into the cycling world’s conscience when he powered away from three breakaway rivals in Wevelgem.

Daniel Teklehaimanot first blazed a trail for the east African nation when he wore the KoM jersey for four days at the 2015 Tour de France. In the years that followed, talent systems through Africa delivered Eritreans like Girmay, Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, Merhawi Kudus, and Natnael Berhane to the WorldTour as the sport branched beyond its European roots.

Yet despite the influx of Eritrean talent in the middle of the last decade, it remained a struggle for Black African riders to gain a foothold in a sport dominated by white Europeans. Yet with his spectacular Wevelgem victory, Girmay directly showcased the strength of the burgeoning African cycling scene and put its riders direct into the spotlight.

Girmay went on to write history again at the Giro d’Italia.

The 22-year-old outsprinted Mathieu van der Poel in Jesi to become the first Black African to win a grand tour stage and further cement his spot in the front echelon of pro cycling.

Girmay beating Van der Poel in Italy was huge. But Girmay beating the world in Wevelgem was enormous, and will forever be etched in the history books.

– JC