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22 stories for 2022, part 5: Relegation madness, special suspension, awesome Annemiek, #critbeef

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: 

From brawls to relegation battles and beyond: here’s the final installment of this five-part series:

Relegation madness

Chris Froome, shown here with IPT teammates at the Saitama race, said the relegation system needs reworking. (Photo: Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Also read: EF chief Vaughters on how to improve the relegation system

It was a story that overshadowed the pro road season and stalked a swathe of top-tier teams — the battle for WorldTour survival.

The final year of the UCI’s three-season points accumulation process saw a half-dozen top-tier squads scrambling for results anywhere and any way possible. The two lowest-ranked teams faced being booted into the ProTeam division in what some called a “death sentence” that would impact racing calendars, sponsor commitments, and rider careers.

Lotto-Soudal, Israel-Premier Tech, BikeExchange-Jayco, EF Education EasyPost, DSM and Cofidis were all drawn in at various points.

The scramble for survival saw teams stretching resources all around the late-season calendar in the quest for any points available, whether from a top-20 in Langkawi or a podium in Japan. Riders complained of skewed race strategies, staffers called out a system seen as unfair, and it became the talking point of the pro season.

The end of the year saw Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech bottom of the tables and destined for second-tier status in 2023. Arkéa-Samsic and Alpecin-Deceuninck are elevated to WorldTour with all the benefits — and pressures — that it affords.

The story isn’t over yet however.

Israel-Premier Tech chief Sylvan Adams threatened legal action, and team managers called for future change. The UCI’s new system shaped the 2022 season, and for some squads more than others, it will continue to have repercussions for many years to come.

– JC

Specialized rethinks gravel suspension with the Diverge STR and rear Future Shock

Specialized Diverge STR with Rear Future Shock.

Also read: Diverge debuts Rear Future Shock

Gravel bike suspension comes in many forms, from traditional suspension forks to forks with leaf springs to stems and seatposts with springs.

Specialized added one more to the list this year with the Diverge STR and the rear Future Shock.

Viewed head-on, the bike looks exactly like the previous Diverge. From the side, so long as you only look at the front half, that holds true as well. The rear half, however, is a curiosity-inducing departure from traditional bicycle design.

The top tube is truncated and houses a hydraulic damper. The shortened top tube is connected to the seat tube by a piece of metal, and this system allows the rider to float fore and aft at the saddle by 30mm, with rebound controlled by the damper. But it doesn’t affect energy input into the bike, meaning no effort out of the saddle during sprints is lost to the suspension system. It does come with a weight penalty, however.

How big of an impact the system will have only time can say. Regardless, it’s one of the most envelope-pushing road or gravel bikes to come out this year, and no discussion of 2022 bike tech would be complete without it.

– WT

Annemiek van Vleuten takes worlds comeback win

Annemiek van Vleuten is congratulated by her teammates
Annemiek van Vleuten in disbelief after winning the world road race title. (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Also read: Van Vleuten celebrates greatest victory at Wollongong worlds

Annemiek van Vleuten has won a lot during her career, but few can match what she achieved at the road world championships this season. The Dutch rider had gone into the worlds week as an overwhelming favorite for at least one, if not more, gold. However, her week got off to a tricky start with a disappointing ride in the individual time trial where she finished seventh.

The wheels almost completely came off her week when she crashed hard coming off the start ramp in the mixed team relay and broke her elbow. It looked like her worlds would end there, but Van Vleuten is not afraid of pain and she decided to take the start of the road race. She was there to support Marianne Vos, but when Vos was distanced on the final lap, Van Vleuten decided to take her chances. Having held on to the back of a chase group until it reeled in a group of attackers, Van Vleuten made her race-winning move with less than a kilometer to go.

Despite a torrid week and racing with a strapped-up broken elbow, Van Vleuten did what had looked like the impossible and took her second rainbow jersey. After missing much of her first rainbow year in 2020, she’s going to savor the 2023 season, which is set to be the last of her career.

– SOS

L39ion and Best Buddies brawl

Crits got beefy this summer. (Photo: Kit Karzen/L39ION of Los Angeles)

Also read: Salt Lake Criterium ends in punches

American criterium racing’s biggest story of the year didn’t take place on the bike.

A post-race argument at the Salt Lake Criterium in July between Best Buddies’ Michael Hernandez and L39ion of Los AngelesJustin Williams quickly turned violent as punches were thrown and both teams stormed to the scene like a good ol’ fashioned benches clearing baseball brawl.

Arguably the spiciest installment of #critbeef yet in a scene teeming with drama, it effectively ended the seasons for both Hernandez and Williams, who were handed multi-month suspensions by USA Cycling after an independent investigation into the incident. Another Best Buddies rider received a month-long ban.

The fight unfortunately overshadowed much of the rest of the season of racing in the inaugural 10-race American Criterium Cup series. And it may have played a role in the downfall of the Best Buddies racing team. The namesake sponsor decided to invest its money elsewhere in 2023.

– WT