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Time to reflect

Moore reflects on memorable and notable incidents from 2011

Features Posted 30th December 2011 view comments

After last week's review of 2011, this week I take a look back at some of the year's other notable events, good, bad and tragic.

Cult Hero: Johnny Hoogerland

Hoogerland was bumped off the road while in a breakaway on stage nine of the Tour de France by a French TV car and sent flying into barbed wire, emerging from this horrific tangle looking as though he'd been attacked by a shark.

Hoogerland: horrific tangle made him a cult hero

Hoogerland: horrific tangle made him a cult hero

He struggled to the finish in Saint-Flour and when he appeared in tears on the podium we cried with him. How he slept at night, who knows? And how he battled on not only to finish the Tour, but to continue to animate it by featuring in various doomed escapes, only Hoogerland can know. Cult hero status was assured.

Least compelling soap opera: International Cycling Union (UCI) versus The Teams

In the spring, the UCI's attempts to ban race radios caused a division between the governing body and the riders, which then opened into a chasm between the UCI and the teams, which then appeared to be not about radios after all, but, rather, behind-the-scenes maneuvering by some of the top teams to form a 'breakaway league.'

If Stapleton, with his business credentials, network of contacts and record of success, couldn't sell the sport, who can?

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, took the unusual step of penning a long, rambling open letter to the professional riders. In it, he laid into the riders for their opposition to the radio ban, and lashed out at Johan Bruyneel for dropping none-too-subtle hints that he was plotting a breakaway league.

But all McQuaid's letter really succeeded in doing was to lay bare, in the full glare of the wider public, the depth of the division between the governing body and the teams (and riders), while at the same time apparently putting paid to any hopes that their differences might be forgotten and the dispute easily resolved.

And yet, oddly for the usually beleaguered UCI, many fans seem to have sympathy with McQuaid on the issue of the threatened 'breakaway league', with the teams widely depicted as more motivated by money than a brighter and more secure future for the sport. It's a funny old world.

Unexplained mystery: End of the Highroad

Someday the full story may emerge of the puzzling disappearance of HTC-Highroad. These are not easy times in which to attract new sponsors, but the collapse of the world's most prolific team remains baffling.

Phone company HTC seemed to be toying with the idea of remaining as a sponsor until August, but apparently with conditions attached. Their indecision can't have helped team owner Bob Stapleton in his efforts to line up a replacement.

And uncertainty over the future of their biggest star, Mark Cavendish, who spent most of the season not speaking to Stapleton, and agreed in principle to join Team Sky in May, cannot have helped. But still.

Stapleton, the Californian millionaire entrepreneur seen as a breath of fresh air when he was parachuted in to run the T-Mobile team in 2007, presided over one of the most successful teams the sport has ever seen, but also its demise.

It is a mixed legacy. And many wondered: if Stapleton, with his business credentials, network of contacts and record of success, couldn't sell the sport, who can?

Farewell: Wouter Weylandt and Xavier Tondo

Tragically, two professional riders lost their lives in 2011, Wouter Weylandt of Leopard Trek in a crash on stage three of the Giro d'Italia, Xavier of Movistar in a freak accident later the same month.

Weylandt's death prompted a moving tribute the following day, with the stage neutralised and the riders united in silent grief. But the ordeal had only started for his family and girlfriend, An-Sophie, who was five months pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, Alizée, in early September.

As Pedro Horrillo, who survived a terrible crash at the Giro in 2009, noted at the time: the sport paid its tribute, the Giro carried on, but "Wouter's absence is going to be with them for the rest of their life."

Tondo's passing was reported as a "domestic accident", a mundane description that comes nowhere close to capturing the horror of his death. As he prepared for a training ride he was trapped between his garage door and car and crushed.

It seems almost irrelevant, but he had been having a good season, winning the Vuelta Ciclista a Castilla y León in late March. He had also been in the headlines for having foiled a drugs ring by passing on an email offering him doping products to Spanish police the previous December.

Tondo apparently did not welcome the publicity that came with his outing as the whistle blower, but it confirmed him, in the eyes of many, as one of the sport's good guys and made his death all the more poignant and sad.

A terrible period continued when, only a couple of weeks later, Mauricio Soler suffered serious head injuries and cognitive damage when he crashed during the Tour of Switzerland. After months of rehabilitation, Soler finally returned home to Colombia just before Christmas.

Large crowds of supporters and media met him at Bogotá airport. He walked awkwardly and spoke slowly. His condition will hopefully improve, but a return to the sport seems sadly unlikely for the rider crowned King of the Mountains at the 2007 Tour de France.

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