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Tales from the peloton, 2008

The biggest moments of 2008: Ten-to-six

With the podiums stashed away and the riders enjoying their holidays, as the season finally comes to a close, Cyclingnews' Greg Johnson and Les Clarke look back on season 2008 with fond memories and light hearts. Here's their top 10 biggest moments from the year that was 2008.


Viva Italia, Viva Italia

Alessandro Ballan wins at home!
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Italy's record at the World Championships has hardly been disappointing of late, but it wanted redemption after losing on home soil in Verona four years ago. So to ensure another Spaniard, or anyone else for that matter, didn't shame them when the World Championships returned to Italy - this time in Varese - this year, they decided to dominate the race.

Enter Alessandro Ballan, Damiano Cunego and Davide Rebellin. Ballan left nothing to chance after falling short in the sprint to Paris-Roubaix glory earlier in the year, gapping his rivals to take a comfortable three-second advantage. Cunego's second place only added to the euphoria amongst the home crowd, while Rebellin narrowly missed out on third place to take fourth. Not bad for a 37-year-old.

Ballan's was the second win for Italy that week, after Adriano Malori took out the Under 23 time trial title.

The outcome was of little surprise to many. With the reigning two-time World Champion in Paolo Bettini in its ranks plus flowing on from Rebellin's second place in the Olympic Games road race, all the indicators were there for a win at home.


Hoy, Hoy, Hoy's triple treat in Beijing

Chris Hoy flies the flag
Photo ©: Rob Jones
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One of the most affable guys in track cycling, Chris Hoy was undoubtedly the star of this year's Olympic Games. Hoy confirmed his place amongst the greats of the sport - if not the best ever.

The Scottish speedster was forced to change his program following the exit of his 'pet' event, the 1000m time trial, for the Games. Who would have known it though, with dominant displays in the individual and team sprint, and the keirin, to take three of Great Britain's eight cycling gold medals.

Hoy was a focal point of events in the Laoshan Velodrome, and the emotion of taking a triple at the highest level wasn't hidden by this giant of the sport.

If he wasn't one of Scotland's favourite sons before the Olympics, Hoy was certainly welcomed home with open arms and a host of plaudits. The number of public appearances he made post-Beijing rivaled that of another famous Scotsman, Sean Connery!

Hoy was involved in a presentation at Scotland's rugby union test against the New Zealand All Blacks, and will compete in a ride-off against Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at the Race of Champions before headlining the Revolution 22 event.


Sprint to the line, Roubaix is mine

Tom Boonen blasts away
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He had done it all before, but for Tom Boonen the dusty old cobble stone that comes with Paris-Roubaix glory was one of two highs (and certainly the less controversial) in his 2008 season.

With defending champion Stuart O'Grady floating near the front as the race passed the half way mark, a second tilt looked possible from the Australian. But as Boonen swung off the front with just over 30 kilometres to go the writing was on the wall for anyone who couldn't follow.

After 259 kilometres of racing, fans world wide were salivating as Boonen entered the Roubaix velodrome with break-away partners Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Italian Alessandro Ballan. Ballan led the trio as they lapped the velodrome, while Boonen hid at the rear.

The Belgian's tactic of staying behind afforded him a head-start as he wound up the sprint with two corners remaining. There was little Cancellara could do as he attempted to catch Boonen, forcing him to settle for second place.

Unfortunately for Boonen he was persona non-grata come July's Tour de France, after a news of a positive out of competition control for cocaine came in early June. So no more Tour stage wins this season.


Differences settled at the top?

Former ASO president Patrice Clerc
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As the old Neil Sedaka song goes, "Breaking up is hard to do". In the case of the Union Cyclist International (UCI) and Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) however making up is even harder.

After three years of quarreling, threats and counter-threats, it seemed that 2008 might be the year that cycling's governing body and the Tour de France organiser finally call a truce. Since the inception of the ProTour in 2005, the two groups have been at each other's throats, with the low point coming after Michael Rasmussen's dismissal from Rabobank while leading the 2007 Tour.

The organisers of the three Grand Tours combined forces and agreed not to become part of the ProTour; this move forged the divide between the regulators of the sport and those who run its biggest events. The flames of the dispute were fanned by strong words from both sides, and some observers believed the dispute would signal the end of the sport's professional structure.

It only took two strategic moves - the stepping down of Hein Verbruggen, architect of the ProTour, and the removal of Patrice Clerc as ASO's Chief - to bring each body closer with an optimistic view to the future. Despite ASO choosing to run this year's Tour under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation (FFC) rather than the UCI, both sides have agreed that things might be different next year. This came after a meeting between the UCI and Grand Tour organisers at the World Championships in Varese, Italy. Watch this space...


The Giro circus rolls into town

Alberto Contador (Astana)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Don't you hate it when someone interrupts your holiday? In Alberto Contador's case however, a break from the beaches and babes in the south of Spain resulted in a second Grand Tour crown, less than a year after taking his first.

Astana was granted a late invitation to the Giro d'Italia and so the young 2007 Tour de France champion arrived in Italy for the year's first Grand Tour undercooked, apparently.

Claims of poor form and a wrist injury suffered in a Stage 8 fall meant Contador and Astana management could keep their cards close to their chest.

That's exactly what they did, letting Riccardo Riccò make the early running and give the Spaniard something to aim at. When he fired with amazing consistency in the Dolomites, he hit the target perfectly. It fuelled Riccò's furnace; the Italian began an open, verbal attack on his Spanish rival, updated daily, aimed at unsettling Contador's nerve.

It did the opposite, and as the race progressed fans found it harder to believe that Astana's Spanish prodigy was still suffering the effects of his earlier crash. His prospects grew brighter by the day, just as Riccò's frustration mounted.

Contador finished the Giro 1.57 minutes ahead of the Saunier Duval-Scott captain, establishing a rivalry that's sure to continue once Riccò serves his suspension for doping at the Tour de France…in 2010.

Stay tuned as we finish off the top 10 moments of 2008. Lance Armstrong's return was big, as was Team CSC's effort at the Tour de France but the year has also seen some big doping positives. What will take out number one?

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