I rode into Mendrisio this morning ostensibly to meet my friend Ute for a coffee. She’s working as a part-time volunteer in the Press Centre. Of course, the real reason was to ride on the same course, at the same time as the Elite and U23 riders who were just out spinning their legs and checking the parcours. While the roads weren’t closed, there were police at every junction waving us through.
Who did I see? Who didn’t I see might be an easier question. Undoubtedly the highlight was riding behind Fabulous Fabian for the last 5km of the course. I saw Vino and the rest of the Kazakhs and, while I would have liked to say hello, I had no spare breath as I was scaling the bottom half of Monte Generoso; short and sharp. I appeared to be the only non-elite, female rider on the course and therefore on the receiving end of plenty of support from the roadside spectators. This is always tremendously encouraging.
On the way back to Lugano, I was passed by the Spanish squad who had evidently decided that it was way too dangerous to lodge, as previously planned, in Como. As we were going downhill I was able to smile at Messrs Valverde and Sanchez, congratulate them on their performances in the Vuelta and wish them well for Sunday.
The course reminds me of an Ardennes Classic. So we should be looking to riders who have previously performed well in those and who showed form in the Vuelta: Cunego, Valverde, Sanchez, Evans, Vinokourov. Nor would I discount Cancellara, after last year’s performance on a more difficult course in Beijing. Of course, given the strength and depth of the Spanish and Italian squads, it’s hard to bet against them.
I arrived in Lugano on Tuesday evening after a 5 hour drive from Nice. No sooner had I arrived than we were out on our bikes enjoying the warm summer evening. We cycled around the lake and then headed towards Mendrisio to check out the parcours. It’s a tough course, particularly one of the hills which, while not long, reaches gradients of 12% and which is bound to be leg sapping in the road race. It was dark by the time we got back home, my first nightime ride.
Wednesday morning, I was up bright and early ready to head down to the finish area to watch the U23 and Elite Women’s TTs. I found an excellent spot to watch the races, just in front of the podium, to the right of the large TV screen and about 50 metres from the finish line.
The two Tribunes opposite, particularly the VIP one, were largely empty. In fact, the volunteers outnumbered guests 3:1. Gradually, folk trickled in but you could still count them on the fingers of one hand. The winners of both races were predictable but I enjoy watching emerging talent in the U23s and seeing the ladies race since both feature so infrequently on the TV.
My Swiss friend was helping out on the Santini stand where I indulged my husband with a pair of their latest shorts and a transparent windproof top – much cheaper than Assos. Their ladies line however was not at all to my taste, so it’s not about to wean me off my Rapha and Assos habit.
After a long day standing in the sunshine, I was looking forward to dinner and an early night. One of the problems with watching races on one’s own is that, having secured a good spot, one has to stay put for the duration. The trick is to drink enough to stay hydrated but not so much that you need a comfort break.
I caught up with one of the girls with whom I worked as a volunteer last year in Varese. She was working in the VIP stand but was kinda bored as there were hardly any VIPs to look after. Ah yes, one of the perils of being a volunteer is periods of terminal boredom.
Thursday morning, I took the train into Mendrisio with my friend’s mother, herself a keen cyclist and extremely spritely for her age. I stood in the same spot as the day before. The Men’s Elite TT comprised 3 laps of the circuit and, with Cancellara in the line-up, the stands soon filled up. The organizers had shipped in a load of schoolchildren who obligingly raised the roof everytime a cyclist passed adding an encouraging cacophony of sound.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said by those more eloquent and articulate than me about Fabian Cancellara’s performance? It was truly out of this world. I kept checking his bike on the big screen to spot the jet propulsion engine, but it was just his heart, lungs and legs. He was always going to win on home soil but it was the manner of his victory. He quickly overhauled Larsson, his minute man. Next up was Bradley Wiggins, who was subsequently undone by a mechanical and a missing in action support vehicle. Cancellara then overtook Sebastien Rosseler who shook his head in disbelief, checking his speed on his monitor and ultimately finishing well down the pack.
The roar from the spectators was amazing as they watched Fabian on the big screen. It’s the first time I have ever seen someone celebrate a TT win 100 metres from the line, but he had time to spare. Larsson, who also overtook Wiggins, was 2nd and Tony Martin 3rd. Martin was later pictured slumped on the ground totally exhausted by his efforts. My man Vino finished a hugely creditable 8th, beating the gold and silver medallists from last year, in a very strong field.
The World Championships gives those emerging cycling nations an opportunity to compete with the best. There were two competitors from St Kitts & Nevis and, while they finished well down on the rest of the field, this will have been a huge learning experience for them. I feel I should also mention the performance of one Edvard Novak, from Romania, who beat his two-legged team mate. That’s right, Edvald is a below the knee amputee – chapeau!