Mesteren (Hushovd)

19 10 2010

My new contemporary Richard Speer from Pezcycling summed it up “If you weren’t here to see it in the flesh then you’ll have to get the DVD”. Indeed the Elite Men’s World Road Race Championship had been one of the most exciting in years. At the time I was carried away with the atmosphere and enormity of the experience, not only of the headlining act, but also the sum of the events leading up to the nerve-racking finale.

Thor Hushovd; 7 hours before that smile got a whole lot bigger

Many people say that you see ‘more’ on TV. While it’s true that you will have the event covered from start to finish with slow mo’s, replays and ‘Phil and Paul’ what do you feel? Where is the emotion?

Cadel's defence preparation

 

My live experience in Geelong a couple of weeks ago is still fresh in the memory. I’m still buoyant for the chances that I had. As an official UCI journalist representing New Zealand Endurance Magazine I was given an access all areas opportunity to not only see and feel the race, but to mingle with the stars, bit players and expert opinionists week-long. Jetting around from a Cadel Evans interview to the Italian team presentation,

Paolo Bettini; I was up next

to post race podium press conferences and everything in between was part of the build up to Sundays epic. I was there to see the genuine team comradery and joy of the Australian U23 squad immediately after Bling had crossed the line first on the Friday. The utter devastation of Marianne Vos sprawled out on the ground when she had crossed the line second on the Saturday. By the eve of the Men’s race the media center was full of seasoned cool chatter about how the big boys would come out to play. Even for the age-old writers in the room, the championship still held an anticipation beyond any other race covered during the rest of the season.

Frank Schleck about to open up a case full of custom S-Works Shoes

Sunday morning. 5:30am alarm. The Cabbie was 5 minutes early cutting my coffee time, but I didn’t care I hadn’t slept much and I was wide awake. In Geelong I jumped on a Media shuttle Melbourne bound. The rest of the bus was sleepy, if I looked it, it was only to fit in. On arrival at Federation square our media co-ordinator showed us where the team cars would line up, the riders would sign on and where the start line was. With still an hour to pass I was too nervous to sit still so I went on a search for… coffee; always helps to settle anxiety…

In 3 Hours Simon Gerrans would be turning himself inside out for Australia

Roulston soaking it up

In the space of that time Fed. Square had filled… completely. Melbourne is a city that is passionate about their sport and cycling has gone through some major growth in the last few years. Blame it on the popularity of Mountain Biking, the Tour Down Under or Lance. What ever your theory there was no mistaking that a fiercely Football oriented public was going bike mad. One of the most elite collection of road racing super stars to ever assemble in the Southern Hemisphere filled passed national team by team. The excitement grew to fever pitch yet the pro’s were tranquil and happy to smile for the camera. If these guys had butterflies in their stomachs it wasn’t showing on their faces.

So many big questions for this man, just how great will he become?

"How much Fabu?"

On the start line; the Australian team by a stroke of incredible coincidence had the defending Champion on their side and had the privelidge of front row seats in front of their beloved public. All under clear sunny skies this was a dream for the organisers, and Patty McQuaid to showcase cycling and really cement it’s place in the ‘new-world’. Crowd noise was not unlike before the first bounce at the footy, with chants and and random shouts of support for the green and gold. Soon enough that broke into a deafaning roar with the gun. The boys were off and it was back into the bus for us. Following the caravan out into the highway for the first 40 km before the race would diviate and we could bee-line it for Geelong. On the bus the atmophere had changed somewhat. From sleep deprived grump of earlier now most passengers had a conversation and in all languages. A collection of cultures that would rival the transit lounge in Dubai. Everyone had a top three to list of favorites, plus an outside hopefull; with hindsight looking back no-one picked the winner, and that’s a sad oversight. 

One minute to go - insert crowd noise here

Over the next 6.5 hours I went from my grandstand office down to the waterfront and back a few times in search of that feeling. What the crowd was receiving. After all many of these people would never have seen a road race live before, how was it treating them? Flags hung from random balconies, street posts, or simply worn as capes. Fans dressed in their favorite riders trade team jersey. Picnics enjoyed on the railing. This was more international colour than they regularly see at the Footy. Young and old, people were making a day of it. It was a carnival and bike racing had reached the masses down under.

The perfect blend? Live and Live

With 3 hours still to go however the race had turned up the heat and the heads of state were smashing each other. After plenty of atmosphere soaking I turned for my grandstand privileges and unadulterated race viewing. Breaks, splits, regrouping over and over again. It all came down to a finale of epic proportions.

How's the gas in this breakaway? Still 60km to go...

The final chapter was extraordinary and as Richard says if you haven’t seen it then you must. Thor Hushovd is now resplendent in Rainbow, a worthy Champion. Like Cadel Evans in the season just passed you know that in Thor the world has a patron willing to take on his races from the front, willing to try and fail than not try at all, and his victories will be that much more beautiful for it. It’s taken me sometime to adjust and come down from those few days. So here’s to live events. participate, witness, live them. I’ll never prefer the TV.

Next years dream Thor? "That would be Paris-Roubaix"

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Somebody’s gotta win

4 10 2010

Vos looked like crying. Her 4th Silver Medal at the World Road cycling Championship in as many years was proving difficult to wear. All the attention and questioning was naturally aimed at the girl with the rainbow stripes sitting just to her right; but I felt for Marianne. I had a question for her intending to cheer her up, but she was somewhere else, and didn’t elaborate enough to realise.

Vos tried to lie down and hope that it was all just a bad dream

“Marianne, does Silver ever get easier? And how will you look to the future to rebuild and improve?”

Not again...

 

With resignation she shrugged her shoulders and simply replied “No it’s never easy… I guess there is always next year” Her voice trailed off as she realised it would be a long wait to get another opportunity; Oh would someone give the girl a hug? Hang on a second a second here Ms. Vos. The all-mighty, all-conquering female cyclist of her generation. With a deadly finish that has caused sleepless nights for many of her contemporaries, this time it didn’t fall her way.

OK, granted she had come close and we are talking about the World title, but no need to hang yourself. Maybe its cultural. It seems all the Dutch women I know, love a laugh and a good time, but once the flag drops it becomes all or nothing. This does make them great racers, but it can’t be easy to live with. The psychological side of sport has always fascinated me, and I love seeing the tension of the beginning and how the champions conduct their victories and losses. Marianne was the first place loser and it hurt to watch.

Cath Cheatley came to Melbourne with great form and confidence but in the end it just hurt too much

 

In the pit area after the finish New Zealand’s Cath Cheatley was more philosophical; despite having to resign herself to survival mode just to make the finale and the sprint for victory. After having a phenomenal season dominating the U.S pro scene, the wick had been torched one to many times for her on the finale lap, yet she still manged to put up a fight and sneak into a credible top ten position. “The last couple of K’s very pretty hard… I wanted to go up the home straight but I had no choice really!” She said with a laugh. Her reaction was one of honest reality but also content. What’s done was done. She had raced as hard as she could on the day and rolled in six steps from the podium, also matching her performance at Mendrisio last year, but still proud to be there after a tough race.

The Italians and Dutch were ranked 1st and 2nd in the World at the start line

Indeed the circuit used for the laps around Geelong had been rated very tough by all the teams upon close inspection during the build up. Yet both the Under 23 Men and Elite Womens races ended with a bigger bunch gallop than many pundits have anticipated.

Of the women the fastest was Italian Giorgia Bronzini. While we’re looking at post race reactions she had a different excuse for not hiding any emotion. While Vos lay on the road shattered, Bronzini sought out her teammates and one by one embraced them all with heartfelt thanks for a victory she openly could not have achieved by herself, “Without them… impossible… and for Franco (Ballerini the late Italian coach)”. It was then equally interesting to see her flamboyant Italian celebration toned down for the following press conference. Resplended in the unbroken bands of Blue, Red, Black, Yellow and Green she was gracious and respectful in the company of the defeated sitting either side of her; though I imagine the team would’ve painted the town Red (White and Green) later on.

Italy still on top - Champagne girls?

The World’s is unlike any other in many regards. Witnessing the top flight Women cyclist give it their all really underlines the difficulties in this great sport. At its most basic, it is one of the original endurance sports, with that an attractive mix of beauty and suffering. But in modern time it manages to respect its history, and it’s a game played with high emotion. No other race brings this out as much. Riders toss aside their commercial trade team kit and take on the pride of their National Federations. For some it is do or die. Others take honour and privilege in the uniform and for the lucky one, the celebration and prize of the day will turn into eternal greatness. How will the Men behave?





Championship Mondial pt. 1

27 09 2010

It hasn’t exactly been a day like any other. For starters there was a 4am alarm so that I could get to the airport in time for the red-eye to Melbourne… From there it was hotel check in, followed by (take a guess) Black Coffee and straight to the train station; destination Geelong. No I haven’t become some bizarre over night AFL freak, it’s the location for the World Road Cycling Championship; and they’re on this week.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto - Melbourne looked good for race weekend

 

Off the train at the other end I bee-lined it towards the (still under construction) finish. Rumours have been starting to circulate that the pure sprinters might not have it their way as originally expected. Well, you should see the finale! If Cavendish wins here I’ll have permanent respect for him beating the odds. The final 800 or so are seriously on the rise all the way. For me this was an exciting moment. This is going to be a genuine smash festival and I think I’ve already had confirmation by the look in David Boily’s eye’s. More on that later…

That's gonna be 50 meters of ouch!

 

From the finish line I wondered downhill to Geelong’s great seaside Pier to look for Media HQ. At the base of the finishing straight is a 90 degree right hander coming off a downhill; last lap the boys will be hitting some staggering speeds through here, though I think first out of this corner will be way too early. Breaking my day-dream about the race were some riders out on the course; one in an HTC Columbia kit, and one in Cervelo, but I didn’t recognise them, and they didn’t seem to pedal like genuine proffi’s. Then I saw some boys in Australian Kit’s and Jayco shorts, ah here we go some U23’s out for a spin. Coming down the hill soon after in NZ kit with a familiar bull like posture was Gordon McCauley on his TT bike, I gave him a shout and he was his usual jovial mouthy self. Now I was beginning to get it. Spotting the wanna be’s from the Pro’s was going to be easy. The pro’s will be wearing National colours… suddenly the meaning of this one day bared it’s full weight for me to absorb, and it was heavily intoxicating. OK where is this media center? Hey there’s a couple in Great Britain, shortish kinda girl and a big fella. Hey he’s got a sweet custom Pinarrelo to match, must be Geraint Thomas from Team Sky – “Yo Geraint, good luck!” – that got a wave and a smile. Shit why haven’t I got my camera out…

No joke - but it is funny!

OK I’ll skip the formalities, but once in HQ I had my photo taken, received ‘Journo’ accreditation, joked around with the volunteers who were not yet jaded by the enormity, checked my email using the supplied UCI password and went to go find me some more random pro’s. Once outside it started raining; now that would be something, oh that’s an evil thought…

I went back up to the start finish straight, mostly because I wanted to pace it out from the bottom up, I was really quite surprised just how much it rises. Coming down in the opposite direction (on the footpath) were four Canadians lead by Dominique Rollin, they were happy enough to have their photo taken and seemed to be destined a little cafe further down. The Journo juices seemed to be leaching out of the pass in my pocket so I had to follow them and try to get a back page scoop.

Canada eh? Dominique gave the U23 boys a tour of Geelongs sidewalks.

Rollin confirmed my thoughts “Cav likes it (makes flat sweep with his hand), I think it’ll suit a rider more like ah, Gilbert”. Not exactly a revelation, the Belgium native must be odds on favorite, but cool to hear it from someone who has raced them both this year. The other three I didn’t recognise but their Argon 18 bikes outside gave me the clue that they were the Frenchy’s (Québécois) that make up the U23 squad. David Boily (I said I get back to him) had a worried look in his eye’s an also confirmed growing opinion – “It’s really hard, much harder than we thought it was going to be” – spoken almost with a tone that suggested they would have to go back and re-think their tactics; interesting. Well that was cool boys “Bonne chance!”.

Future World Champ?

Right, it was time to get back on the train to Melbourne, fizzing but tired and hungry! Camera now was always at hand. Slovenia pulled up at the lights – “Peter!” Peter Sagan turns around and waves for the camera, now there is someone who could be World Champion one day, outside hope for this Sunday even? Giddy from luck I went to cross the street to the train station and nearly got run over by a flash of Orange/Yellow – two of Spanish armada had run a red light in front of me, both on Orbea. Illegal but cool.

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing these guys in National colours. I wondered if it’d be an anti-climax of sorts as all the famed photo’s you see them in through the year they are in trade ‘uniform’. But I have to say it is quite startling and all the more impressive to see the elite of the elite practicing for an extremely select prize, the one jersey to rule them all. The Rainbow with the unbroken bands; stay tuned for more…