Maybe I’m writing this list because the decade is coming to an end, or perhaps it’s because I am getting so overwhelmed with reading other top-10 lists these days, that I felt like piling on. Regardless, here is my top-ten list for your Christmas day reading enjoyment. PS. I still don’t know how Random Spirit Lover by Sunset Rubdown AND Gulag Orkestar by Beirut both missed the top 200 albums of the decade on Pitchfork’s list…But. I. digress.
Ok, to be clear, this list is for my favorite and most memorable moments of the Men’s UCI road cycling during the aughts (2000-2009). I will try to boil it down to a single day happening, but it may be a representation for a greater period of individual performance, or tragedy, presented as a microcosm. Here be thy list:
10 – Eric Zabel – Évry – Saturday, July 28, 2001
Zabel wins the sprint finish to claim his record 6th consecutive Green Jersey in 2001. He also won the sprinters classic the Milan-San Remo the same year and in 2000. With so many wins it’s hard to keep track, Ete was a wonderful rider who was beginning to see the twilight of his career in the aughts. However, he also started to see the achievements stack up. Note: Zabel appears in the video at about the 5:50 mark.
9 – Mark Cavendish – Paris – Sunday, July 26, 2009
The 21st stage of the Tour de France. Is there anyone in the world faster than the Manx Missile from 200m in? I doubt it. Mark won 6 stages of the Tour de France in 2009 and if that final stage down the Champs-Elysees wasn’t one of the most awesome bits of riding I have ever seen in cycling, then I no longer remember what was. Honorable mention: Thor Hushovd, cause even though Cavendish won 6 stages, Hushovd still won the green jersey on the same day. Slick Thor…very slick.
8 – Gilberto Simoni – Mont Zoncolan – Thursday, May 22, 2003
The duel with the late Marco Pantani. If there ever was an Italian climber who could eliminate opponents like a mafia hit-man, it was one of these two. Gibo systematically destroyed his opponents in 2003 while encouraging the Italian duel of the decade. It was Gibo vs Marco. Pantani had been suspended for doping suspicions and had some difficult years leading up to 2003 when he came back to avenge his pride. Simoni, a proud man himself, and someone who also was returning from a disqualification in the 2002 edition, was not going to allow Marco to upstage him during the Giro. The stage was set, as Simoni was vying for a second Giro crown in three years and the 4th of his 8 Giro podiums. Pantani, meanwhile, was back to serious cycling with the arms of all of Italy embracing his dramatic return. When Pantani attacked, Gibo marked as the two swash-buckled up the climbs. It was, however dramatic, short lived as Gibo proved too strong for the contenders and climbed his way to one of my favorite grand-tour wins of all time. For Pantani, this may have proved to be the final blow, as less than a year later, he was found dead at 34 from a cocaine overdose. Marco, we’ll miss you.
7 – Mario Cipollini – Arezzo – Monday, May 18, 2003
I loved watching Cipollini when he was the finishing man for the red Saeco train. 2003 was a great year for him as he won his record breaking 42nd Giro stage win. A record that was held by Alfredo Binda since 1933. Cipollini embodied everything I imagined an Italian cyclist to be and he won in style. It was really great to see the Lion King win the Milan-San Remo in 2002 and break Binda’s record in ’03.
6 – Alejandro Valverde – Liège – April 27, 2008
The 94th Liège-Bastogne-Liège finished with a dramatic cat and mouse game between Valverde, Rebellin and the Schleck brothers. For Valverde his second Liège win and third podium, was the highlight for me of an incredible 2008 which saw him win the UCI points standings, the Dauphiné Libéré, the Clásica de San Sebastián, the Vuelta a Murcia and more. Valverde has been one of the most consistent and dramatic performers of the decade recently winning his first Grand Tour. There are few riders who have accumulated more points than Alejandro in the last ten years, and he wasn’t really riding in 2000 and 2001…so that says something.
5 – Tom Boonen – Roubaix – Sunday, April 12, 2009
Torpedo Tom wins his third Paris-Roubaix a feat which has only been accomplished by six other men. Widely regarded as the most difficult bike race on the planet, the Paris-Roubaix is 6+ hours of torture. American George Hincapie once said that he feels as tired after one Paris-Roubaix as he does after one 21 day Tour de France. The all-time record is four, and if anyone can do it, it’s Boonen. A spectacular win this year in dramatic crash-filled fashion. Boonen truly is the King of the Cobbles for this decade at least.
4 – Jan Ullrich – Cap’ Découverte – Friday, July 18, 2003
The closest Jan ever came to defeating Armstrong in the Tour de France was in 2003. There was something about Ullrich in 2003 that hit a nerve with me. It was on a primal level, or it had tapped into my childhood associations with power and intimidation and all things that are cool and evil. Jan Ullrich was the celeste clad Darth Vadar, and I was drinking the kool-aid. Come on, you can admit it, there were times after the twentieth re-run that you secretly wanted Darth to chop off Luke’s head or Drago to beat the shit out of Rocky. Stage 12 of the 2003 Tour de France saw Ullrich crush the competition and beat Armstrong, who finished second, by a massive 1min 36 seconds!
If Armstrong was the dominant force for about 60% of the decade, this was his closest match. Ullrich was a behemoth of an East German with speed to kill. It’s only unfortunate that he crashed in the final time trial due to that speed and lost the tour. That was an absolute heartbreak. This was the best I ever saw Jan, I just wished I saw more of it.
3 – Lance Armstrong – Alpe d’ Huez – Tuesday, July 17, 2001
Ok, then there is this relatively unknown guy. He won the Tour de France, what?, six consecutive times during the decade. Wow. Love him or hate him, he is Lance. This stage is a famous one, referred to as “the look” or “the bluff”, Armstrong faked his suffering in the mountains and then bolted from the competition to win his third straight tour. It’s the sort of single-day-epic-achievements-duality sports thrive on. It is also described by Armstrong himself as his “best day ever on a bike, bar-none”. That’s saying something when you had won 7 tours in a row.
2 – Jesus Manzano – Morzine – Saturday, July 12, 2003
This is a controversial one. I mean sheesh, what do you say about Jesus Manzano? Criminal or Hero? I choose the latter. We all watched with disbelief during the Festina scandal and shook our heads at the Cofidis debacle. However, in 2003 when Manzano outright blew the doors off the cycling world with a claim so shocking that the whole sport refused to believe it, the proverbial ‘shit hit the fan.’ If cycling is cleaner today, we have Jesus Manzano, in major part, to thank for it. In fact, I believe he has done such an honorable service to the sport of cycling, that in those rare times when I’m not wearing wool, I now wear a Kelme kit, as a comment on the duality of the sport and in his honor. Manzano’s involvement, admission and details of how systematic doping worked when he was riding for the Kelme Costa-Blanca team in 2003 not only nearly cost him his life… twice… but also uncovered Operation Puerto, a Spanish-led anti-doping investigation, the largest cycling had ever seen. I find it incredible that Manzano had the courage to expose cycling for what it once was, so let’s hope we have moved on from the days of cyclists being required to risk their lives for their day job.
1 – Alberto Contador – Arcalis – Friday, July 10, 2009
In his first act of defiance en route to the Yellow jersey win in the 2009 Tour de France, young Alberto Contador has set the stage for a new decade of drama in France. The first rider to de-throne Lance from the top podium step since his comeback from cancer, Alberto has also set the stage for the unfolding of his own dominant career. With four grand tour wins in 3 years, each of the three grand tours in a record 15 months, and being only the 5th rider in history to win all three grand tours, we may be witnessing the evolution of one of the greatest riders of all time. We’ll find out in the next decade.
So that’s it. For me, these were the most memorable moments of the aughts. I am sure you have your own. What did I miss? Feel free to comment, but please don’t scream at me if these were not you favorite moments as well. I would love to here others’ additions/subtractions.
All the best and Merry Christmas.