Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

Armstrong's doping charges make him 2012's biggest loser

Armstrong’s doping charges make him 2012’s biggest loser

For all the great sport and amazing successes that happened over 2012, good cannot exist without the bad, so inevitably a number of sportsmen and women have had some absolute stinkers of a year.

Having reviewed the winners of 2012, it’s now time to visit the losers of the calendar year, those that simply failed to impress anyone with their actions in the sporting world.

FOOTBALL

Let’s get this clear first and foremost, because Olympic goggles distorted the image of football to a ridiculous level, with the sporting community so enamoured with the London Games that football took on a pariah-like status as the epitome of all that is wrong with sport.

It was somewhat over-the-top that for every good example of sporting excellence that happened over that month over the summer, someone was looking to point out that the game of football often promoted the opposite.

However, football really did have a rotten year, It was year defined by racism, diving, cheating and poor management of the game from the top level.

The Premier League had two separate racism charges levied against star players in Luis Suarez and John Terry, while UEFA took the highroad of fining Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner far more money for wearing sponsored pants than they dished out to entire nations for racist chanting.

Time to up the levels of sportsmanship for 2013 and try at least to preserve some form of positive image.

LANCE ARMSTRONG

Possibly the biggest loser of 2012, as his battle to clear his name against doping allegations came to a very unsuccessful end, as he decided to give it up under overwhelming evidence.

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had built up such a compelling argument to show that Armstrong had ‘enforced the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen’, with former team-mates on the US Postal tournament coming forward to give damning evidence against their former leader.

WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) relented to the demands of the USADA and stripped Armstrong of all of his historic seven Tour De France titles, amongst every other title won in his now less-glittering career.

Having been regarded as the best cyclist to have ever competed at the start of the year, the words from Pat McQuaid, President of the UCI, of;”Armstrong has no place in cycling, he deserves to be forgotten,” remark an incredible descent in fortunes and public opinion. For shame Lance, for shame.

MANNY PACQUIAO

Pacquiao started the year being given an award for being the WBO’s best pound-for-pound boxer of the past decade and ended it unconscious on the canvas having dodged the fight everyone wanted to see.

His award came prior to his bout with Timothy Bradley, who then beat him on points, although this came tempered with controversy as most people keeping their personal scores had Pacquiao comfortably winning, contrary to the views of the judges.

He then continued his blanket refusal to take a simple drugs test in order to set up the ultimate showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr, raising further suspicion on whether he was indeed as clean as he claims, instead choosing to set up a bout with Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time in his career.

This saw him knocked out for the first time since participating in fights outside of Asia, with Marquez’ right hook in the sixth round leaving him motionless on the canvas. Quite the climb-down for Pac-Man.

Idowu was Britain's biggest let-down of an otherwise successful games

Idowu was Britain’s biggest let-down of an otherwise successful games

PHILLIPS IDOWU

With all the expectation and hype going on around the Olympics, there was always likely to be one disappointment for Britain, but it was just the manner that Idowu went about being that disappointment that lands him on this list.

His relationship with Charles Van Commenee had always been a strained one, but Idowu’s decision to warm up for his home Games away from the rest of the Great Britain squad was perplexing, alongside his mysterious injury concerns that nobody was given any indication as how much of an issue they were. That includes his coach, who was cut off from any communication with his star man.  

Still he talked himself up so highly as the man to land the gold in the sandpit, but consequently failed to so much as make the final of Triple Jump, ending his summer early.

Greg Rutherford’s success in the long jump meant he was practically a forgotten man by the time the closing ceremony came upon us.

BADMINTON

It’s almost strange for a sport that has so little stock outside of the Asian continent to lose so much face, but badminton provided the biggest sporting disappointment of the Olympic Games.

With one Chinese pairing the overwhelming favourites, another two Chinese teams, one South Korean and an Indonesian team tried to manufacture their positions in the league table, which had come in to replace the round robin format in order to build more interest in the sport.

Instead fans began to boo when these teams tried to lose matches in order to avoid harder opponents in the next round, with such obviously deliberate attempts to fire the shuttlecock into the net or miss the court entirely.

It was scandalous stuff, saw the teams eliminated from the competition and has potentially irreparably damaged the sport in the eyes of the world.

KEVIN PIETERSEN

Kevin Pietersen has always been a controversial character in the oft prim and proper world of cricket, but 2012 has been more than anyone could have expected from the most divisive superstar in English cricket.

It all started with his retirement from One-Day Internationals due to the punishing and overloaded schedule being placed upon him and his team-mates, with his relationship with the ECB (English Cricket Board) becoming even more strained that it had been.

This came further to a head when defamatory text messages were found sent by him to South Africa’s players during the test series, with derogatory remarks made about then-captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, with Pietersen having already hinted at retirement from international cricket.

He was subsequently dropped from the team and forced into a grovelling public apology, which the ECB finally accepted to allow him to be part of the ultimately-successful tour of India.

2013 is a year in which Pietersen needs to reintroduce himself as one of the finest batsmen in the game, if he is to win back the trust of the selectors, coaches and fans in English cricket.

Who were your losers of 2012? Joining the discussion at the bottom of the page or on Twitter @SmParker8

Wiggins was the outstanding sporting star of 2012

Wiggins was the outstanding sporting star of 2012

2012 was a massive year for sport, with the Olympics taking centre stage in a year saturated with huge sporting events.

Here I pick the highlights of 2012 and the people who will look back on it with a heavy sense of pride, as they enjoyed some wonderful successes.

BRADLEY WIGGINS

No surprises here for the sporting man of the year, not only in Britain, but potentially the world.

Wiggins made the leap to become the first Briton to ever win the Tour De France, with a Herculean effort needed to become victor without the aid of performance enhancing drugs (more on that in the losers section).

To then top it off, Wiggins had a two week rest before leaping back on his bike to win gold in the Olympic Games, Great Britain’s first of an incredibly successful summer.

His reaction to being persistently quizzed by journalists about whether he was using drugs at all saw him throw a table across the room, (which is quite frankly brilliant) and he won BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, as well as a Knighthood.  

A very good year for a likeable man. Just a shame he’s referred to in tabloids as “the sideburns ace.” Sigh.

JESSICA ENNIS

The pressure was on really on Britain’s golden girl and quite frankly it would have been only too easy to hide away or choke on the expectation that followed her around all year.

But instead she rose to the occasion and absolutely destroyed a strong field to take home her first ever Olympic Gold and fulfil a life-long dream.

There has been no sense of arrogance from the Sheffield heptathlon star who has taken the success and fame in her stride to really become a national treasure.

Who hasn't done 'The Mobot' yet?

Who hasn’t done ‘The Mobot’ yet?

MO FARAH

Followed up his World Championship success by claiming double gold at his home Olympics in some style.

His performances in the 5,000m and 10,000m races established him as the number one long-distance runner in the world right now finally wrestling that title away from the continent of Africa, with these races traditionally dominated by Athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia.

On top of that, he got an entire nation pulling a stupid pose, as millions of photos appeared on social media sites of people doing the Mobot. Given this includes Usain Bolt, that’s a reason to be proud of yourself.

LIONEL MESSI

It was generally a bad year for football, but there’s no way the Argentinean forward will look back on 2012 with anything but pride.

He’s almost become a problem for sports-writers, who are constantly trying to come up with new superlatives to describe a player who will most likely be looked upon as the best player ever come the climax of his career.

Messi won his fourth consecutive FIFA Ballon D’Or in recognition of a year in which he broke a 40-year-old record for goals in a calendar year, scoring an incredible 92 goals for Barcelona and Argentina.

For the man to stay so humble in a game populated by egos despite his incredible ability is almost staggering, but he will surely talk about 2012 for years to come.

ANDY MURRAY

After so many near misses and almost theres, Andy Murray finally broke his major tournament duck by defeating Novak Djokovic to win the US Open in New York.

I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Scot on many an occasion and won’t hide behind any hypocrisy here, but it was an incredible achievement in a fantastic match against a player currently at the top of his game.

This came just a few weeks after Murray had claimed Olympic gold as well, thwarting Roger Federer from claiming the only title he has yet to win in a glittering career.

In addition to this, his surly attitude and penchant for petty excuses seems to be giving way for a more approachable and enthusiastic competitor, who will look to build upon this successful year in 2013.

THE PARALYMPICS

Such a terrific year for sport leaves us with only so much room to cover the successes and despite several athletes and individual Paralympians, the event as a whole deserves recognition for the boost in publicity it has received.

Never before has the Paralympics been so popular, so widely watched and so well supported than in London 2012. So often it has been an after-thought to the ‘main event’, forgotten about in the aftermath of emotionally draining Olympic Games.

But not this year, not in London, as people swarmed to take in the Paralympics just as much as the more able-bodied athletes.

It helped shatter some of the poorer attitudes to the disabled, as athletes with physical and mental disabilities proved themselves worthy of adulation, exceeding the accomplishments of most other people in the nation.

Hopefully this doesn’t prove just a false dawn and the Paralympic Games can continue to receive the recognition and adulation it has finally been given. It also brought Adam Hills to our screens on a regular basis, which must happen more often.

Who were your sporting winners of 2012? Comment below or directly @SmParker8 on Twitter

It’s far too easy to watch from our sofas at home and comment on the competency of the coverage provided by the media. Sometimes we sit and criticise, in the (usually) false belief that we, the general public, could muster such a supposedly easy job.

However, this page will now be dedicating regular features promoting and praising the efforts of those that deserve it, whilst also providing a constructive criticism of those that do not come up to scratch.

The first to come under my gaze and receiving two thumbs up are Eurosport for their coverage of the Tour De France this July.

In all fairness there is a wholesome feel to Eurosport’s coverage of everything really. They skip the whole the graphics side of things that seems to dominate television these days and strip the coverage down to the basics.

The provision of pictures + commentary and expert insight gets the job done effectively without doing anything fancy. Missing out on typical mainstream adverts for the likes of GoCompare and Halifax is an added bonus in the coverage as well, as we are treated to some more relevant commercials in the brief breaks they take.

Now the Tour De France (and any long-distance cycling for that matter) is one of the trickiest events to commentate on due to the length of it. Races lasted for between three and seven hours depending on the stage, which is an awful lot of time to fill with your own words.

Add to the mix that there are long stretches of each stage where there is little action of note on which to translate, often leaving the commentary team with a number of hours of space to fill with their own thoughts.

Yet the duo of David Harman and Sean Kelly do this seamlessly. They have perfected the art of idle chatter and casual conversation, ensuring that at no point during the several hour races do you lose interest.

Every commentary team needs to do some serious research before taking their place in the hot-seat. And those that don’t, shame on you.  But this team has gone the extra mile, locating stats about every one of the hundreds of riders participating in the run to Paris.

You get the sense that they really care about the sport. As former riders they should do, but their commentary exudes passion to the viewer. The fact they regard this as more than ‘just a job’ is something that goes a long way to drawing in the attentions of the masses.

But they don’t just impart pearls of wisdom on the sport and its competitors. The Tour De France becomes a history lesson and a cultural excursion. It’s this sort of thing that has made Le Tour compelling viewing, even when the cycling itself reaches a tedious point.

Their interaction with viewers via email and twitter is fantastic as well, as all questions get looked at and answered as best they can. This tour saw an ongoing theme of looking at the best films and books brought constant interaction between those outside and inside the screen.

This is all backed up by the ever-excellent James Richardson in the studio for post-race discussions. How this man hasn’t gained a more high-profile role in sports broadcasting is a mystery really, as he seems to excel in everything he does.

He is an extremely affable man, with a clear broadcasting voice and a vast number of interesting facts and figures. His questions are always designed to probe and provide some usual insight. Compare this to the world of football, where the same questions are laid out to encourage the same bland, clichéd responses.

All in all, Eurosport’s coverage of Le Tour is clever, witty and informative. All this backed up by a team of likeable and intelligent personalities, the Tour De France is one of the most competently covered events of the calendar year.

Mark Cavendish’ stunning sprint finish down the Champs Elysees on Sunday brought a close to the Tour De France, and I for one am sad to see it end.

For this year has proven to be the most entertaining Tour in my memory. With competition until the last, controversy following the riders up the mountains and inspired commentary from the Eurosport team (more to come on that another time).

Alberto Contador may have clinched the Yellow Jersey for a third consecutive year once the dust had settled, but this was by no means the formality that it has been previously. Previous years have seen the identity of the winner easily recognisable from the mid-way point, with Lance Armstrong often winning by some distance.

Contador himself won last year’s race by over two and a half minutes. This year saw the front two only separated by eight seconds until the final time trial when Contador opened the gap to 39 and claim the title.

Contador’s tears come the end of proceedings showed how hard he had been pushed by the likeable Andy Schleck. This showed he had been put through a real race. He wasn’t comfortably better than the rest of the field this year; he had been challenged to the very last and those tears displayed as much relief as they did joy.

It would be amiss to ignore Dennis Menchov in all this excitement, with the Russian powering through on that final time trial and last real stage to pip Samuel Sanchez to the final place on the podium, for the first time in his career.

The Green Jersey went to the wire as well, with Cavendish having a mathematical chance of overcoming the lead of Alessandro Petacchi going into Paris, although he was ultimately unable to make up the points to overtake the Italian.

So there were many thrills and indeed spills throughout the tour, making it thoroughly enjoyable. We saw former champion Lance Armstrong hit the deck three times on one stage, whilst another day saw the great man take a tumble in the neutral zone prior to another.

One of the pre-Tour favourites, Frank Schleck (brother of Andy) was ruled out early on, as a bad tumble saw the Luxembourgian shatter his collarbone, requiring eight bolts to repair.

Most notable of the spills or attempted in this case, was the bizarre exclusion of Mark Renshaw of the HTC Columbia team for head-butting. Cavendish’ lead-out man for the sprints was found guilty of throwing three butts at Julien Dean of Team Garmin-Transitions. In addition to this he also then cut across Tyler Farrar in the final sprint to help ensure victory for his team-mate.

This was the first time a rider had been expelled from the tour for non-doping reasons since 1997.

The controversy for this ride around France wasn’t over yet either, as an even bigger talking point emerged in the Pyrenees. With Andy Schleck in possession of the yellow jersey at the time, he went on the attack only to find his chain wasn’t so willing to join him, falling off at the crucial point.

Contador then went on the attack with his rival stranded halfway up the hill trying to attach his chain to his bike again. Whilst there is nothing in the rules in regards to this, it is generally considered poor sportsmanship to attack whilst your opponent is incapacitated.

In fact Contador had waited earlier in the tour when Schleck was grounded. He claims he was already on the attack when Schleck’s chain came off, whilst there was also the issue with Samuel Sanchez, the third-placed rider, who had taken off himself.

It only adds to the fire that Contador gained 39 seconds on Schleck that day; the exact amount he ended up triumphing by.

So all this has made for exceptional viewing. Throw in the fact that this tour has seen the fewest riders thrown out for doping offences in my memory and you have quite the success story.

Whilst this campaign might be over, attentions will now turn to next year’s route. And I’m looking forward to it already.

This summer has proven one thing to the world. And that is when you leave something, you should never go back.

For two of sport’s greatest ever stars have fallen victim to that particular pitfall. Step forward Michael Schumacher and Lance Armstrong.

Both once dominated their respective sports and retired at the top with the world worshipping their talents and lauding them up with the best ever to compete.

Yet both were then convinced to come out of retirement, whether through boredom, a love for the sport that hadn’t been quite quenched or financial (we don’t know the exact reasons). And now their names will now have a black mark against them, as they have failed to make any impact back in competition.

Schumacher had won 7 World Championships between 1994 and 2004, and was hailed by such legends of Formula One as Niki Lauda as the best ever to have stepped into an F1 car, when he retired from the sport in 2006.

This year, however, Mercedes GP convinced the German to come out of retirement for a season. How it would have been conceivable for him to do such a thing, if it had been a team worthy of challenging for any major honours. Unfortunately Mercedes are some way off the abilities of the McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams cars and won’t be in the mix for anything some October.

Those 91 career wins seem a long time ago now, as Schumacher has barely troubled the podium, with a fourth place finish in Turkey proving to be his best effort so far. This was in turn followed by a 15th place finish in the European Grand Prix, his lowest ever placing.

Silverstone saw Schumacher scrape into the top ten and claim points, but saw him over-taken by Sebastian Vettel, who had been relegated to the back of the field due to a first-lap puncture. Vettel produced a drive reminiscent of Schumacher himself in Brazil in 2000, proving the baton has already well and truly been passed to his compatriot and that his return to the sport has proved unnecessary and unfitting with the rest of his glamorous career.

Lance Armstrong falls in a similar vein to the German Driver. Armstrong is perhaps the greatest cyclist ever to have graced the Tour de France.

Having battled back from testicular cancer in 1996, Armstrong went on to win seven consecutive titles in between 1999 and 2005. This final victory saw him retire from the sport to spend more time with his family, acknowledged as the best ever owner of the famed yellow jersey.

In 2009, he announced his comeback and actually completed the tour in a respectable third place, behind team-mate and overall winner, Alberto Contador.

This year (his final year) at the age of 38, has looked beyond him though. The first major climb on Sunday saw his fall from grace virtually completed, as he fell twice on the course and was dismounted from his bike on another occasion.

This saw him come in over ten minutes behind the stage winner, Andy Schleck, leaving Armstrong’s hopes of regaining the title in tatters and virtually over. A sad and painful end to a glittering career. Once again, the de-retirement has failed to offer anything but disappointment, despite the amicable starting aim of raising cancer awareness.

Other recent examples have seen Mike Tyson and Martina Hingis attempt similar comebacks and fail. Sometimes, when retirement is called, it’s for a good reason and should be stuck with.