Back from enough festive debauchery to make even Jan Ullrich squirm, Blazin' Saddles gazes into his crystal ball to predict the major events that will shape the coming season.
JANUARY: It looks like business as usual as Andre Greipel wins the the Down Under Classic despite two flat tyres. But then Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barramundi) surprises the world with four stage wins during the Tour Down Under proper – although the American's prospects are inadvertently helped by Kenny van Hummel, who, spotting a kangaroo towards the finale of stage one, swerves and takes out Greipel. The German retires from the race, which is won by Thomas de Gendt after a winning turn on Old Willunga Hill.
Farrar is ecstatic about his flurry of wins, claiming he always knew he would one day return to top form. "Cycling is a game of poker and during the past two seasons I was merely giving the impression that I had a bad hand," says Farrar. "I also gave the impression that I had a bad knee, bad back, bad buttocks, bad elbow, not to mention a bad temper. But it was all just a ruse to that I could come here and excel on the streets of Adelaide."
FEBRUARY: Sporting a new peroxide blonde barnet, Mark Cavendish reminds Sky what they're missing as he storms to four wins in Qatar. He also trousers a hefty slice of dosh in endorsing Qatar's World Cup campaign in a series of adverts alongside David Beckham and Pele. Race organisers jazz things up by replacing their male podium ambassadors with scantily clad podium girls covered head-to-toe in full body hijabs. Western journalists are given X-Ray glasses provided their publication makes no reference – veiled or overt – to doping.
Sir Bradley Wiggins makes his season debut with a supporting role alongside Chris Froome in the Volta ao Algarve. "This is right up there with flirting with Susan," he says after Froome takes the overall.
MARCH: Froome continues his fine early season form with victory in Paris-Nice despite unexpected pressure from Saxo Bank's Nico Roche. Peter Sagan storms Tirreno-Adriatico while claiming he was treating it as a warm-up race for Milan-San Remo. The Slovak sensation proves good to his word with an impressive win in the 'Classica di Primavera' – despite Simon Gerrans physically holding onto his saddle on the ascent of the Poggio.
Tom Boonen makes history with the biggest winning margin ever seen on the Tour of Flanders before the foundations of cycling take a battering with a massive bombshell: exploiting an archaic legal loophole dating back to the time of Napoleon that allows banned dopers to perform on Corsican soil, Lance Armstrong makes a comeback in the Criterium International. Riding for the Bruyneel Bacon outfit, the Texan finishes second in the three-day race – but is declared race winner after the initial victor fails a dope test for corticosteroids.
APRIL: Boonen looks set to make it a cobblestone double but is brought down by team-mate Mark Cavendish after a crash in the Arenburg trench. Victory instead goes to BMC's Daniel Oss, who promptly tattoos a giant cobble across his chest after a heavy night out in the team sauna.
Joaquim Rodriguez of Team Europcar pips Argos-Shimano's Andy Schleck for the win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege a week after Blanco Procycling complete a clean-sweep of the Amstel Gold podium, with Wilco Kelderman taking the win ahead of team-mates Rick Flens and Maarten Wijyants.
Played out in Arctic conditions, Paris-Camembert is won by an unknown Italian rider called Riccardo Riccotta, who on the podium is revealed to be 'The Cobra' himself once his face mask is pulled off in scenes to rival the closing segment of any Scooby Do cartoon caper. Portuguese newcomer Thiago Manchego is awarded the win ahead of Dutch starlet Cotija Gouda of the Vache Qui Rit pro-continental outfit.
MAY: Sir Bradley Wiggins turns up at the start of the Giro with a special Sky jersey emblazoned with the word 'Knightrider' across his sleeves. Demanding to be called 'The Hoff' by his team-mates, Wiggo's hopes for the overall win take a battering when the race enters France and the Sky leader crumbles on the ascent of the Galibier. A crash in the second individual time trial sees Wiggins leave the race with a fractured elbow. Alberto Contador takes the overall win ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez and Vincenzo Nibali.
Elsewhere, the Tour of California is overshadowed by a drive-by incident at the infamous restaurant Cache-Cache involving former team-mates Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong. No one is hurt – and both Landis and Hamilton are offered lucrative book deals to tell their side of the story. Cadel Evans is "stoked" after toping the Cali GC.
JUNE: World champion Philippe Gilbert gets his first win of the season at the GP Kanton Aargau race in Switzerland before the focus shifts to the Criterium du Dauphine, which is won by Frenchman Thibaut Pinot. L'Equipe has a field day, claiming the 22-year-old is now the firm favourite for the Grande Boucle.
Disgraced former Tour trickster Lance Armstrong comes clean about his years in the peloton with a book, cowritten by David Walsh, entitled 'The Tours de Lance: From Ferrari to Skoda', which later in the year will win the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, narrowly pipping Daniel Coyle's 'Bradley Wiggins: Sir But No Longer Certain'.
JULY: Exploiting the same legal loophole that allowed him to ride in the Criterum International, Lance Armstrong takes to the start of the Tour de France in Porto-Vecchio. Having patched things up with Jonathan Vaughters following his literary coming-out, the Texan one-time Tour stage winner joins Garmin-Sharp on a four-day contract. "We know Lance can only ride for us in the Corsican stages but we feel it's the right message for cycling. Besides, Tyler Farrar never makes it beyond stage three in good nick for us anyway so it's a no-brainer," says Vaughters.
After victory in the third hilly stage, Armstrong bows out of the sport for a third and final time while wearing the yellow jersey. He updates his Twitter profile accordingly. UCI President Greg Lemond issues a statement urging the world to treat the Corsican triptych of stages as "a bad dream – something you get from eating way too much cheese". The race is won by Alberto Contador, which would have forced Lemond to retire "where it not for the presence of cherubic youngsters Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland alongside the Spaniard on the podium in Paris".
The Tour's showpiece double ascent of Alpe d'Huez is thrown into controversy after two Euskaltel riders trick everyone by concealing themselves in the orange throngs alongside the road, only slyly to return to the race two minutes ahead of the field on the second ascent. With Bradley Wiggins having lost 10 minutes on the first mountain stage to Ax 3 Domaines in the Pyrenees, British hopes are left to Chris Froome, who takes fifth in Paris behind former team-mate Mick Rogers. Another Australian, Richie Porte, complains that he could have won the whole thing where he not forced to set the tempo for his Kenyan-born British team-mate.
AUGUST: The prestigious Dutch Food Valley Classic race is won by Thomas De Gendt after one of his trademark "serious" breakfasts. But all eyes are on Spain for the Vuelta, for which two more high-profile riders come out of retirement. First of all, Astana DS Alexandre Vinokourov announces he will take on a "player-manager" role for the race, taking up the space vacated by sacked rider Andrei Kashechkin. Then French veteran David Moncoutie, 47, says he too will return to Cofidis in a protest against the controversial returns of so many of cycling's old guard of dubious provenance.
Moucoutie goes on to win two stages and the polka dot jersey, prompting Lance Armstrong to declare the Frenchman's performances "not normal" on Twitter. The race is won by Peter Sagan, who puts in an audacious attack on the penultimate stage on the Angliru to leap-frog both Alberto Contador and seven-time stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez in the overall standings.
"I couldn't sit there and let Contador win his third Grand Tour of the season – nor could I let Purito win yet another stage – so I just decided I'd ride a little bit faster than both of them today and it worked," says Sagan after becoming the first rider in history to wed a podium girl live on TV.
SEPTEMBER: Bradley Wiggins turns his season around with the overall win in the Tour of Britain ahead of Sky team-mate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. "I started this season with the aim of making history and so I am happy to become the first Tour de France winner to go on to win the Tour de Britain, and nothing else, in a following season," he says.
The World Championships road race in Tuscany is won by Tyler Farrar, who helps channel his inner Marco Pantani over the undulating course by shaving off his flame-haired locks prior to the race. Sporting a polished head, hooped earrings and a goatee, Farrar gets into an early breakaway and manages to hold off a late surge by Peter Sagan to take the rainbow stripes. "It's stupid that the world's best rider is not the world champion so I guess I will have to just come back and win it next year," says Sagan.
OCTOBER: After an uncharacteristically quiet season, Thomas Voeckler manages to outsprint team-mate Joaquim Rodriguez to take the Tour of Lombardy, before the season comes to an end with victory by Jonathan Castroviejo in the Chrono des Nations. Only joking – the annual time-trial race is won, of course, by Tony Martin.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tyler Farrar
- Lance Armstrong
- Bradley Wiggins
- Joaquim Rodriguez
- Alberto Contador
- Chris Froome