Days away from the New Year, Anthony Tan signs off 2011 with a few parting words.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Sometimes, words flow onto the page as easily as I pull on a garish
jacket. Other times, I feel like I'm subjecting myself to a bizarre form
of self-flagellation.

Still, nothing that I have done compares
with the dedication of British-American author and journalist
Christopher Hitchens, who died last Thursday and spent much of his
precious remaining hours eking out a 3,000-word review of English writer
G. K. Chesterton's biography by Ian Ker.

Hitchens' close friend
and fellow author, Ian McEwan, remembers escorting him from his deathbed
in a Texas hospital to a desk set up under a window. Doped on morphine,
his pain was implacable and denied eating or drinking, he sucked on
tiny shards of ice to keep himself alive that little bit longer. "We
helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged
pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop," McEwan
recalled to the Guardian newspaper.

"At intervals, his
head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would
drag himself awake to type another line.

"His unworldly fluency
never deserted him, his commitment was passionate and he never deserted
his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend."

As
involved as I am in sport, the more I immerse myself in the profession
of journalism, the more I find myself beguiled by conversation, people
and well-written prose, and less about the game itself.

Like
Hitchens, it will most likely be conversation and literature that keeps
me going till the end, not cycling or any other sport per se. Because as
charmed as I am with races like Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de
France, it is the players I find most interesting – because without
them, those events amount to nothing more than a one-dimensional sketch
on paper.

* * *

Notwithstanding, Season 2011 had its highlights.

Cameron
Meyer began the Year of the Underdog by demonstrating how scrawny can
beat brawny – even in a sprinters' race. A history-making triumph in
Milan-San Remo will surely prove to be a turning point in Matt Goss'
career that, on its current trajectory, will only get bigger, bolder and
better. Cadel Evans' victory in Tirreno-Adriatico – defined by his
mountain-top victory on the sixth stage to Macerata – was the first step
in an astonishing year for the plucky all-rounder and demonstrated age
was no barrier.

Flanders and Roubaix were special, because they
continued the Underdog theme with Flandrians Nick Nuyens and Johan Van
Summeren as respective champions, also debunking the theory that money
can buy you victory.

The Giro was unexceptional for me. Because
even for someone as gifted as Alberto Contador, who was so good he might
as well have ridden the whole damn thing on his own, the course again
proved too tough for anyone wanting to do well at the Tour; it also
heightened the need for restraint, if we are to convince future
generations doping is not just illegal, but unnecessary.

What can I say about the Tour I haven't already said to you, online or on TV?

It
was everything every Australian cycling fan wanted it to be, and to be
there, in the thick it, has provided memories that will last me a
lifetime and I can tell my kids one day. (Yes, I know, first I need to
get myself a wife…) I have a feeling the 2012 Grande Boucle will also be a cracker, but I won't make any predictions just yet.

If
only for unearthing The Talented Mr. Froome, who could well surpass
Bradley Wiggins in the not too distant future as Team Sky's numero uno,
the Vuelta was worth watching. Come January, should Contador be banned
by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, it will be Sky and
RadioShack-Leopard-Bruyneel-Schleck-Nissan-Trek as the teams to watch
come next July – provided your name is Cadel Evans.

The Worlds
was significant not just for Mark Cavendish's win, but equally for the
power of a team that displayed a unity like no other. For those times
when it does come down to the power of one, Tony Martin's dethroning of
Fabian Cancellara in the time trial was an abject lesson in humiliation –
his only path to redemption to take the title back in the same way he
lost it.

And Anna Meares receiving the People's Choice award?
That was pretty significant, too. For me, it demonstrated how a person's
qualities can transcend arguably the greatest sporting achievement by
an Australian sportsman.

* * *

That brings me to my final blog of the year, and a few parting words. (Cue sobs and handkerchiefs.).

I
thank you for reading, your support, and your comments (including more
than a few volleys of vitriol during the Tour that was akin to a shot of
Valium and helped me sleep at night).

I leave you with a quote from a speech by Daniel Ellsberg, the former US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, and which ignited the flame for the Watergate scandal that eventually led to then President Nixon's resignation.

"The
courage we need, is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in
the service of an unjust war; to help conceal lies; to do our job by a
boss who has usurped power and is acting as an outlaw government – it is
the courage at last to face honestly the truth and reality of what we
are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it."

I
continue to do what I do because, like Ellsberg, honesty and integrity
mean everything to me. If I see otherwise, I consider it my duty to
expose those acting unscrupulously.

Merry Christmas y'all, and stay safe and happy – I'll be back in the New Year.

Twitter: @anthony_tan

Image by Christian Witkin, Vanity Fair.