I’ve arrived in Sydney and have now had time to collect my thoughts. You’re probably thinking three races and three sprint finishes, not the outcome I predicted. True, but let’s look at what took place. The U23 race and that of the women kicked off in similar fashion with a lone American on a mission of self-destruction. All the action took place in the last couple of laps with riders trying but ultimately being unable to escape the oncoming group. A couple of factors came into play here. The second hill was just that too far from the finish. Because of the long straight road, any escapee was in full view of the peloton and was further hindered by the strong headwind along the esplanade. Many teams employed negative tactics and riders were unwilling to work together.
The U23 race was won by Michael Matthews, more of an all-rounder, than a pure sprinter. The ladies race might have been won by either Judith Arndt or Nicole Cooke if they hadn’t been so concerned about leading one another to the finish line. Instead, the winner was a powerful sprinter, Italian Giorgia Bronzini. The remaining two spots on the podium were, again, all-rounders, rather than pure sprinters.
The crowds had swelled considerably for Sunday’s race and it was hard finding a good position on the 50m line which had been colonized by the most fervent supporters of the official Tom Boonen fan club, who had travelled to Australia despite the absence of their sporting hero. Typically, Tom musters thousands of supporters at the World Championships. Having 40 turn up when you’re not even there speaks volumes. The Italians had adopted the 50m marker on the other side of the road but had only an Italian flag while the Flemish could muster t-shirts, flags, hats and balloons: round 1 to the Belgians.
The Men’s Race, which took place in perfect weather conditions, was more of an enigma. The peloton took off from the centre of Melbourne at a positively pedestrian pace aided by a tail wind as far as Weribee. A group of five relatively unknown riders went off the front shortly after the start and built up a seemingly invincible lead of over 23 minutes. No doubt concern was being expressed by the UCI commissars as to what would happen if, having arrived in Geelong, the leading group of 5 lapped the field. In theory, the field would have to retire. Thankfully for the UCI this situation didn’t arise. The leading group, and the sole rider in no man’s land between the two groups, wore themselves out well before the finish line and, one by one, were absorbed back into the peloton, spit out the back and retired.
On reaching Geelong, the peloton had cranked up the pace with riders dropping out on each of the circuits, their work for the day done and dusted. Not unnaturally, the bigger teams (USA, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Australia) did the lion’s share of the work, all hoping to place their protected rider in a winning position. Cadel Evans put on a magnificent defence of his rainbow jersey but rather wore himself out in the process. Philippe Gilbert vied with Cadel for the role of most aggressive rider but his 3rd and final escape was doomed by that strong headwind. I had erroneously assumed Filippo Pozzato would work with Philippe Gilbert, on the basis that a medal is better than no medal. I was so wrong: round 2 to the Belgians.
Finally, it was the Russians who reunited the fractured peloton of around 30 riders in the last 1km enabling the mass sprint which was won by the ever popular God of Thunder, Thor Hushovd of Norway who was part of a team of three. Dane, Matti Breschel moved up a place this year to claim 2nd, while Aussie Allan Davis was 3rd. I wouldn’t call either Hushovd or Breschel pure sprinters, they’re fast finishing rouleurs. Few figured on the final podium, but that’s what makes the racing exciting – it’s unpredictability.