Happy New Year everyone!
Out with the old... 2016 will probably be best known for troubling political times, but covering that has never been the job of this website, and we will continue to be a cafe, a place you can go to leave the problems of the world behind for as long as you can stay. And really, 2016 was a pretty solid year — for cycling. The ever-present dark clouds didn’t really get any darker, the things we could see with our own eyes were interesting and fun, and the future of the sport continued to evolve, with young riders stepping up bit by bit. It’s never all good news, and it never will be, but we had an exciting Giro, great classics season, fantastic Vuelta, respectable and occasionally entertaining Tour, and the emergence of a World Champion who could be building a resume for the ages.
We rehashed the 2016 season back in early November, so I’ll stop here with that part, and turn to 2017. Here are a few things I’m looking at, and maybe even looking forward to.
First on a lot of minds is the hope of a truly competitive Tour de France. Chris Froome earned a lot of respect last year from people (like me) who are rooting for someone else. Since Froome isn’t a villain in any way I can detect, us non-fans generally bear him no ill will and just want to see more intrigue in the outcome of the sport’s biggest event. The fact that he won last year with less of a team crushing and more of his own (surprisingly) all-round merits helped soften the effect of his dominance. But all that said, it’d still be more fun if that dominance gave way this year to more meaningful competition for yellow, even if Froome prevails in the end.
Next, the subject of doping will probably generate the second-largest number of headlines, and there are a couple dark clouds forming on the horizon. Mechanical doping is supposedly the subject of a 60 Minutes segment coming soon, though the presence of an American news network simply means the issue can be sensationalized, not that it’s a problem. But if there is evidence, well, that could get interesting, and not in a good way. Then there’s the impending release of Operacion Puerto names. I guess I am looking forward to this, because the Omerta has to die, no matter how much it hurts. But I can picture a few ways where it can hurt a whole lot. Anyway, I feel a little bad about the Jens Voigt conversation where I washed my hands of him and all the joy we took from his exploits back in the day. But there is simply a lot from that era that makes me want to turn the page, and I think the final Puerto revelations will help that.
Next, and it’s a mild upset that it took this long for me to get here, but I am really looking forward to a great Spring Classics season, in part because I will be in Belgium and northern France for Flanders and Roubaix. That experience, taking in the Classics with Cafe friends, is one that will be with me for a lifetime, as the last one was/is. But even for the folks that can’t be on hand, we seem to be looking at the usual intrigue level, a mix of very credible veterans against emerging young contenders. Peter Sagan will be where every conversation starts, but nobody dominates these races for too long, and his pursuit of the missing Cobble Trophy will be a big story as well. That event shapes up as an early pick for biggest day of the year, with Tom Boonen hanging up his bike that day, or such is the plan right now.
The Giro... the Vuelta... Paris-Tours... Paris-Nice... GP La Marseillaise... Tour of Poland... ENECO! We have literally hundreds of days of racing ahead of us where great and exciting things could happen. We have a world championship in Norway with a primary obstacle called “Salmon Hill.” We have two great cyclocross champions on the men’s side and a star-studded women’s field heading into the world champs for that discipline, if you’re into such things. We have an FSA Directeur Sportif competition that will struggle to top the tight, hotly-contested 2016 version, but ... well, you know what to do.
I wish for all these things to happen in ways that make it fun to be a cycling fan, even if the guys I like best don’t win a lot. I wish for an adequate amount of time to actually watch, so I can write here in an informed way (more of a challenge than it might appear? Or maybe it’s pretty apparent). I wish for a French Tour de France winner. I wish for a real Roubaix and for Boonen to go out on a high note of some sort.
Most of all, I wish for good health for the riders. There will be plenty of crashes, unfortunately, because that’s cycling. But maybe it can be a little less “that’s cycling” this year. Maybe the race organizers and UCI and media/team car people can all do a good job to remove unnecessary hazards from the races in the form of dangerous driving and too many motor vehicles on hand. Maybe we fans can generally keep our wits about us and stay out of the way when taking in the race from the roadside. And maybe the riders who do crash can get a little luck and not incur the dangerous and seriously debilitating events that sometimes mar the sport. That’d work for me.
What do you wish for in 2017?