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Cyclingnews' 2002 Top Ten - News Stories
Selecting the most noteworthy news stories of 2002 was not an easy task, as there were well over 2500 articles to choose from. In most cases, it proved to be difficult to select an individual story, as some of the most interesting ones evolved over weeks or months. After a number of sleepless nights, Cyclingnews' Chief Online Editor Jeff Jones narrowed it down to a top 10.
10. Tom Boonen leaves US Postal Service
Of the various 'transfer soaps', the one involving Belgian prodigy Tom Boonen was perhaps the most interesting, Jan Ullrich, Santiago Botero, Aitor Gonzalez and Oscar Freire notwithstanding. In his first year of a two year contract with US Postal Service, Boonen performed above expectations, riding an excellent classics season including a brilliant third place in Paris-Roubaix. But after such an impressive start, US Postal didn't want to push him too much, and Boonen was kept under wraps for the middle part of the season.
Boonen voiced his frustration at this, and expressed a desire to break his contract and change teams, with Patrick Lefevere's Quick Step team his main desire. USPS team director Johan Bruyneel wouldn't have a bar of it, and insisted that Boonen was riding with them in 2003. After months of deliberation, Boonen did decide to break his contract and ride for Quick Step-Davitamon. He got his wish to ride in a Belgian classics team, now the question remains whether he will capitalise on it. Hopefully he will not become another VDB.
9. Graeme Obree's condition
Former World Hour Record holder Graeme Obree fortunately did not join the list of cyclists who have died in tragic circumstances, despite attempting to commit suicide last January. Obree, considered one of the greatest innovators of modern cycling, suffers from bipolar disorder and undergoes severe mood swings. His retirement from cycling has made it harder for him, as endorphins released in the brain by strenuous exercise helped to keep the illness at bay during his racing years.
This was certainly one of the least pleasant stories to report this year, but it did show the human side of cycling. The letters of support that we received and published at the time clearly showed how much Graeme Obree was loved by the cycling community.
8. Frank Vandenbroucke's unhealthy dog
He's not called the enfant terrible of Belgian cycling for nothing. Frank Vandenbroucke's comparatively short but brilliant career as a rider has been eclipsed by the story of his personal life (private would be stretching it a bit). After the best part of two years in the wilderness, he started 2002 with good intentions of coming back to his former level. But it took just two months before police raided his home and found several illegal medicinal products on the premises (EPO, Clenbuterol, and Morphine). He claimed they were for his dog, but that didn't seem to convince the police.
There followed an almost farcical case whereby the Belgian cycling federation suspended him for six months for possession of banned substances. Frank appealed the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and won on technical grounds. However a disciplinary commission of the Flemish Government suspended him again - but only from racing on Flemish soil. VDB rode a few races towards the end of the season, and even won the Championship of East Flanders before his suspension came into force!
We won't even mention his DUI incidents in March and December...
7. USPS investigation collapses - slowly
It started in 2000 when the US Postal team was probed in France, where it was alleged that it had been involved in suspicious garbage disposal practices during the 2000 Tour. An inquiry was started based on footage aired by French television, but failed to turn up any real evidence implicating US Postal with drug trafficking.
In early February 2002, it was announced that the inquiry would collapse. But the French held onto it until well after the Tour de France, finally pronouncing it closed in early September. Vive le Witch Hunt!
6. The Garzelli affair
One of several drug affairs in the 2002 Giro d'Italia involved Stefano Garzelli, the Mapei-Quick Step rider who tested positive for the banned diuretic probenecid after winning stage 5 of the Giro. Although its performance enhancing and masking properties are somewhat dubious, it's a banned substance and Garzelli was thrown out of the Giro while in the sacred Maglia Rosa, and given a 9 month suspension by the Swiss Cycling Federation. After taking a long break, he decided to come back to cycling and signed with Tacconi Sport for 2003.
The circumstances around this test were in part responsible for Mapei pulling its sponsorship at the end of 2002. Conspiracy theories were rife at the time, but of course nothing could be proven except that Garzelli had traces of probenecid in his urine at the time.
In discussing Giro drug affairs, an honourable mention goes to Gilberto Simoni for testing positive to cocaine and blaming it on imported South American sweets. He was eventually cleared, although he was thrown out of the Giro and his Saeco team excluded from the Tour de France.
5. Jan Ullrich's follies
Jan Ullrich has had an interesting year, unfortunately most of it has been off the bike. Riding just one race in 2002, his problems started in February when an inflamed knee forced him to stop riding. His efforts to recover in time for the Tour de France were in vain, and he was forced to renounce the Tour, and ultimately the rest of the season. His frustration manifested itself when he caused an accident while driving under the influence. He copped a two and a half month fine, and his team Telekom was not amused.
It got worse though, when he tested positive to amphetamines in June, after the German cycling federation paid him a surprise visit at the clinic where he was recovering from a knee operation. He'd obviously not been taking the drugs for on the bike performance enhancement, but was still given a six month suspension by the German federation. Telekom suspended him without pay for that period, which led to his eventual departure from Walter Godefroot's Magenta Mannschaft. Jan Ullrich has been in that team since he was a baby, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up and how he performs in 2003.
This is another story with a number of contributing elements, and demonstrates just how devastating an injury can be to an professional athlete.
4. The Rumsas affair
The drug case involving the third place getter in the Tour de France, Raimondas Rumsas, started on the final day of the Tour when his wife Edita was arrested on the French border while on her way to Italy. Customs officers found a large quantity of medicinal products in her car, some of which were legal, some were not. Edita was thrown in prison while French authorities tried to persuade Raimondas to come to France to help the police with their enquiries. He declined, and eventually Edita was released in October.
The outcome: Despite circumstantial evidence, nothing could be proved against Raimondas, who has always maintained that his Tour de France was clean. He did not test positive during or after the Tour and wasn't found in possession of banned substances, which he and Edita claimed were for her sick mother.
3. Robbie McEwen vs. Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France
Judging by how many times this story was quoted around the world (occasionally attributed), it certainly deserves a mention in the top 10 news stories. It turned out to be the non-race story of the Tour '02, due to the simple fact that the green and yellow jersey wearers were not on particularly good terms. Robbie's comments at the time reflected this, although Armstrong would not be publicly drawn into a debate. It's rare to get such an insight into intra-peloton conflicts, and this certainly took the cake.
2. Mapei pulls out
Mapei s.p.a., a company that has invested more money in cycling over the last decade than any other, announced its withdrawal from the sport at the end of June. Citing "the current problems in cycling and sport in general", outspoken company boss Dr. Giorgio Squinzi was also disgruntled with the way he has been treated by the UCI. The Garzelli affair (see above) served as the catalyst for the team's dissolution, and one of the most successful teams in cycling is now finished, as well as $10 million a year in sponsorship. The effects of this have already been felt, with fewer riders able to find contracts for next year. In the very competitive arena of world sports, this cannot be a good thing for cycling.
On a more positive note, Dr. Squinzi remains an ardent cycling fan, and will continue to support a few development programs, including the Australian U23 squad.
1. Mario Cipollini wins the World's
In itself, it wasn't such a surprising thing, but Mario Cipollini's triumph in the World Championships Road Race in Zolder was the culmination of a whole year of planning, with a few hitches along the way. When he announced in his new year's resolution that he wanted to win the World's, people took him seriously. He then won Milan-San Remo for the first time, six stages in the Giro d'Italia, but fell foul of the Sociètè du Tour de France (again) by refusing to ride Paris-Roubaix, after his team had been given a special invitation to it. That led to a non-selection in the Tour de France, which really hurt the Lion King, and in a fit of pique he announced his retirement from cycling, effective immediately.
It was surprising news, but few believed he was serious when there was a rainbow jersey up for grabs. In good time he came back - bagging a few stages in the Vuelta - and got everything right on the day in Zolder to win that most coveted of jerseys. His victory, and that of the Italian team's, showed professional cycling at its best, and few would begrudge him of the prize.
The story behind Cipollini's win had a number of contributing elements, and was fascinating to see how it all unfolded. It had so much momentum behind it that I would have almost felt cheated had he not crossed the line in Zolder, arms raised high.