Age before beauty - Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sport
What a loooooong, long strange trip it's been...
On Sunday Tony Martin got the last laugh of the 2012 cycling season. His victory in the Chrono des Nations, clean and decisive, was celebrated by a modest crowd in a race that barely registers a look in the international cycling world. Martin was good... but by any measure the season went out with a whimper.
It's hard to recall a more difficult recent year for the sport, though they surely exist. On the doping front, Cycling hit rock bottom in 2006 with Operacion Puerto, followed by Landis-gate. Our recent obsession with the past probably doesn't eclipse what was a real-time disaster a few short years ago. But the problems are still very real, right now. Sponsors are on the edge, and that's always a sign that we're at DEFCON 3 or 4. It will surely be a discontented winter.
On the road, there was less than the usual amount of excitement and good cheer to balance out the backstory. The Tour de France failed to deliver the thrills of a close contest. The Tour of Flanders hacked chewed off its leg to escape the trap set by... a guy with a bar. Tightly controlled racing dulled Flanders, Amstel and Liege. Paris-Roubaix was over a tad early, as were the Fall Classics, with the new calendar bringing the curtain 90% of the way down before the leaves start falling.
But so be it; frankly we have been spoiled in the last few years with exciting racing. There will always be room for more attacking in the sport, but we never have to wait too long. The list of races to smile about isn't dramatically shorter than most years, with a massively thrilling Vuelta, a fun Olympics, an edifying Giro result, and some decent drama in the classics, starting with a memorable Omloop. Cycling gives and takes. This year it took a little extra, even before the USADA stuff drowned out the ending. Even before races started messing with successful formats, even hallowed grounds. It wasn't a great year, by any measure... but most of it I am guessing we can put behind us. As long as they bring back the Muur.
In separate posts, I will kick off the annual award nominations, and we will wrap up the FSA DS competitions, with prize announcements, confessions, analysis and more. With Tomorrow's Tour de France route live thread, there is already plenty to discuss this week besides TheyWhoMustNotBeNamed, so let's not rush into it.
I would like to express my deepest and most sincere gratitude though to the many of you who make this site happen. Through it all, it never stopped being fun, interesting, educational and silly -- everything this site is designed to be. My cohort Douglas provided a huge boost to the writing front, with some of the best race analysis in the English speaking world. Gavia -- we are totally back to calling her Gavia -- wrapped up her last season as co-editor with all the skill, grace and humor which has made her such a presence here since basically day 1. The rest of the editors, who tirelessly post live threads, follow races, analyze course features, run the forums, and so much more... you guys rock, period. We have the best book review collection in the cycling world (and this year was perhaps the cycling book industry's biggest year yet). We cover women's cycling like nobody's business. Cyclocross: you're next. In fact, it's already happening.
And then there's our readership. It's always been a two way street here at the Cafe. You guys provide content, just as much as the editors. I like to think of our work in terms of the scientific method, with peer review and comment being part of the whole, not a separate entity. This is true for every single part of the Cafe. You guys play the FSA DS. You comment on the stories. You ARE the live threads, and same goes for the hot topics. I know the last few weeks have been more negative than usual, but that's the subject matter dragging us all down a bit. When cycling gets back to doing what it does best, inspiring us with feats of real human strength, determination and wit, the Cafe will be its normal self... the smartest, sanest, most fun forum in cycling.
Oh, and that will be in about a week, at the very latest. Koppenbergcross is Thursday, Nov. 1. If not in Pilzen. Or at the Tour rollout. And despite all that went awry in the sport this year, 2013 is just barely around the corner, and it's bound to be a healthier place. I can't wait.