The ‘best world championships ever’ the organisers are saying – but I guess they would say that? The Mens Road Race was certainly a good race; and if last year’s race in Copenhagen was a model of GB team work for Cav, then this year was all about Belgium and ‘Phil.’
Having walked the parcours and seen all of the road races up to and including the U23 end in a bunch sprint, I thought that it would be a bunch sprint. The parcours weren’t as tough as we all thought – the surfaces were good and two bergs apart, it was very fast.
But when I saw Marianne Vos win on Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking; ‘Gilbert could do the same thing, maybe?’
And so it proved.
I walked a good chunk of the course on Sunday – it’s always the best way to get a real feel for things and to get the pictures that the photogs on the motorbikes miss.
The Cauberg was insanely busy, it took an age to get down there; behind the barriers on both sides of the road were two tidal streams of people, one going up and one going down.
The top of all the walls beside the pavement were lined with seated fans – making a kick in the ear a very real danger.
I latched on to a huge – yes, bigger than me – Belgian guy in a shell suit; he did a fine lead out job for me taking me through the traffic jams at the crossing points without drama.
The fans were everywhere on the Cauberg for the Mens Road Race, clinging to the hillside like Brazilian gold prospectors.
But one thing about the fans from the flatlands is that when they set out to have fun, nothing will distract them from that objective. They have no inhibitions, dressing in ever more preposterous outfits – personally it’s not my ‘thing’ but if they add colour and don’t knock anyone off then there’s no problem.
And as Dave said; ‘there’ll be a high absentee rate in Belgium on Monday.’
The other thing that occurs to you when you’re amidst all this beautiful madness is; ‘how are they going to replicate this in the middle of the desert in Qatar?’
The old school of thought was that the Worlds should predominantly be held in the Heartlands of Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands and Spain – with the likes of South America or Australia getting them every decade.
That made sense to me; even last year in Copenhagen, it wasn’t right, just too conservative.
The race is a celebration and you need those mad Heartland fans and supporters clubs to give it just the right vibe.
For those of you who are too young to remember, Jean-Pierre – ‘Jempi’ – was a brilliant, charismatic Belgian rider who won the Worlds in Leicester in 1970.
Tragically he died with the rainbow jersey on his back at just 22 years-of-age in a crash during the Grote Jaarmarktprijs in Retie in March 1971 after a head on collision with a car.
That sort of legend simply doesn’t exist outside the Heartland.
The sport has to take root, grow and flower – you can force blooms quickly in a hothouse, but they’re not robust flowers.
The ‘Mondialisation/Globalisation’ obsession is about one thing – money.
The races in China, Utah and Colorado are all too big, too glam, too quick – if the board of directors/politics change they’ll be dropped like hot potatoes. If you’re from my generation then you’ll remember the Coors Classic, Red Zinger, Dupont Tour, Tour de Trump and Wincanton Classic…
Sorry, ranting, move on.
Race-wise, Cav and Brad were obviously just ‘showing the colours’ for GB before their early retirals.
But Steve Cummings, Ian Stannard and Jonathan Tiernan Locke were all part of the race, proper.
Cummings and Stannard are big strong men with proven track records, but Tiernan Locke was apparently riding through the 200 K barrier for the first time.
For him to make the top 20 in his first Worlds was a ride of real quality. I think that he’s a young man headed for the very top.
But the day belonged to Belgium – virtually every picture I took of the peloton throughout the day had Belgian riders at or near the front.
It was also good for the sport to see young men like Timmy Duggan, Alex Howes and Simon Clark unfazed by being up against the biggest names in the sport and making the race the epic which it was.
If Gilbert and the Belgian’s were beyond criticism and stuck tightly to the script, all was not so rosy in the Spanish camp.
I’m a Freire fan, but his comments that if Valverde had waited then he ‘Oscarito’ would have won, seem off the mark.
Valverde had to react as the situation demanded, had he waited I think there’s little chance Spain would have made the podium.