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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 11:59 GMT
Armstrong too strong for rivals
By Matt Majendie

HEROES AND VILLAINS
The best and worst of cycling

Drug scandals, death, the record-breaking antics of Lance Armstrong and Britain's Olympic cycling success made 2004 a year to remember on the bike.

Armstrong became the first rider in the history of the sport to win the Tour de France for a sixth time.

In the end, the record attempt proved all too simple as the Texan defied his critics to beat closest rival Andreas Kloden by more than six minutes.

Richard Virenque won a seventh King of the Mountains jersey at the race.

But the build-up to the Tour was overshadowed by drugs controversy.

First, 1998 race winner Marco Pantani was found dead and an inquest later revealed he had died of accidental cocaine poisoning.

In the week before the Tour, there was further controversy when Britain's David Millar was found with vials of EPO in his home in Biarritz, France.

Millar - billed as a future race winner - admitted to taking the drug and was duly banned for two years.

Prior to the Tour, however, global cycling uncovered its next superstar in May in Damiano Cunego.

The 24-year-old had started the Giro d'Italia as a domestique for his Saeco team leader Gilberto Simoni.

But defying team orders, Cunego demolished his team-mate on the road with a series of sensational stage rides and cruised to victory.

His efforts led to him being hailed as a future Tour winner by none other than Armstrong himself.

In the wake of the Giro and the Tour, the Olympics took centre stage.

Bradley Wiggins

Britain shined on the track, winning a total of four medals. Bradley Wiggins was the star by claiming gold, silver and bronze medals.

He won gold in the individual pursuit, silver in the team pursuit and a bronze in the madison with team-mate Rob Hayles.

Britain's other on-track golden hero was Chris Hoy, who topped the men's one kilometre on day one.

There was Olympic misery, though, for Britain's great hope on the road - Nicole Cooke.

Cooke had been heavily fancied for the road race but missed out on the main break and then fell late on.

She also suffered in the time trial, finishing 19th, and then struggled at the World Championships in a season plagued by knee surgery.

Cooke, though, did enjoy some success in 2004, winning the women's Giro d'Italia in July.

In the third men's Grand Tour of the season - the Tour of Spain - there was home glory for Roberto Heras.

A two-time winner, Heras had gone into the race as the overwhelming favourite but struggled early on.

Alejandro Valverde pushed him hard, leading the Spanish youngster to be hailed as the "next Armstrong".

Tyler Hamilton

Valverde's challenge, however, crumbled late on as Santiago Perez took over the mantle of Heras' top rival to finish 30 seconds off the pace.

But the Tour of Spain was overshadowed by the last major doping scandal of the season.

Tyler Hamilton tested positive for blood doping at the Olympics and later at the Vuelta.

He held onto his time-trial gold from Athens after his B sample was ruined by being deep-frozen.

Hamilton, who has denied any wrongdoing, was suspended by his team and pulled out of the Tour of Spain, citing stomach problems.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Report: Armstrong claims historic sixth win


Interview: Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy



SPORTS REVIEW 2004

 

Highlights of 2004


FAREWELL TO...



SEE ALSO
Millar banned for two years
04 Aug 04 |  Cycling
Heras claims third Vuelta
26 Sep 04 |  Cycling



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