Every January, pro cycling fans are full of questions for the season ahead.
- What weird and wonderful method will Richie Porte find to lose time in a grand tour?
- Will the top cyclists in France will fail to win the Tour de France by a tiny margin, or a massive one?
- At what point during the Giro d’Italia will long retired (and 49 year old) Mario Cipollini claim he still has the beating of Italy’s top sprinters?
So, here in 2017, what burning questions is pro cycling is about to answer for us?
Will Nairo Quintana express an emotion?
Quintana has a face without age.
I have never seen pictures of him as a young boy, but I’m willing to bet he looked the same at ages 7, 11, and 15, as he does now. Tough, immovable, unreadable, and yet to reveal an emotion. Deep into the effort of an alpine climb he resembles an Easter Island sculpture, albeit a very tiny one.
As a team-mate of Alejandro Valverde he must have experienced emotions at one time or another – disappointment, frustration, bewilderment at the underhand tactics of a fellow team member – but his facial expressions betray nothing.
One day the floodgates will open. All that pent up feeling generated by a childhood spent living in a man’s face, and three weeks every year watching the rear wheel of Froome and his waggly elbows, will gush forth.
Perhaps 2017 could be the year?
With Bernard Hinault gone, who will provide the post-race undercurrent that someone might be about to get punched?
From 2017, legendary 1980’s cycling hard man Bernard Hinault will no longer be carrying out podium duties. He has decided to give up travelling the world, helping himself to the hospitality, and basking in the adulation of everyone he meets.
I must have missed the job application for that.
The real disappointment is that the chances of someone getting punched on the podium have decreased considerably.
As far as I know, Hinault only punched someone once during a podium ceremony – when a lairy fan invaded to be met with the Breton equivalent of a Glasgow kiss. But he certainly punched some people when he was a pro cyclist.
I’m willing to bet he’s also punched some other people in a non-cycling context at one time or another.
He seems to be a pretty ‘punchy’ chap.
Although further podium based punching was probably unlikely, for the past few years there was always the chance it might happen. It’s the end of an era.
UCI boss Brian Cookson can often be found on podiums but he gives the impression he’s never even raised his voice to another human being, never mind punched them.
I can think of only one candidate to replace Hinault.
Whether he’d be puncher or punchee I’m not sure but something, at some point, would surely kick off.
Will anyone dare to apply for a TUE?
With a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) riders can gain access, on medical advice, to treatment normally banned from use.
A quick scan of the cycling media would suggest TUE’s are dished out largely to allow the use of asthma inhalers.
Fair enough, you might think.
If a rider suffers from asthma it’s only right that he be allowed some assistance when attempting to gulp down the required amount of oxygen to both ride a bike, and continue to live.
Not a problem, surely?
And then you dwell on this, and it seems odd that SO many of the world’s greatest endurance athletes suffer from asthma. And you start to get cynical.
And then Bradley Wiggins enters the picture with his injections of allergy treatment, and a whole section of Twitter usually populated with lovely hashtags like #outsideisfree and #theroadismylife has a collective breakdown.
In quite a messy way.
Despite the fact that Wiggins hasn’t broken any rules.
If I were a pro cyclist in 2017 I’d take my chances with the asthma. It’s far less threatening than Twitter in a bad mood.
Will Mark Cavendish be super-happy?
And that’s that. The big questions answered for another year.
Sure, some people will ride some bike races, and some people will win them, but if Quintana cracks a smile, or Lance Armstrong punches Brian Cookson on a podium, those will be the enduring images of 2017.
We can but hope.
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