Memories of Melbourne II

I know, I know, my second day in Sydney and I’m still reminiscing about Melbourne, or more specifically, Geelong. In Melbourne airport I met some of the Lithuanian squad on their way back to Marseille. Obviously, they had more modest ambitions than some teams but overall were pleased with their performances. So few have either the ability or opportunity to win that they have to set themselves more realistic goals.

The Moroccan squad were no doubt delighted that their rider Mohammed Said was part of the original breakaway group and featured strongly in the television coverage. Likewise, Esad Hasanovic from Serbia, the rider stranded in no man’s land for a large part of Sunday’s race, was probably being cheered on by lots of Serbs around the world. Yukiya Arashiro was the first Japanese to ever finish in the top ten in the Men’s Race. The Japanese team were staying in our Geelong base camp and they were delighted with that result. I know road racing is becoming more popular in a country that already has a significant cycling culture, albeit in Keirin racing.

My beloved, who flew back to Milan via Doha, was on the same flight as Philippe Gilbert and the Evans’. He talked to both of them and said they were pleased with their respective performances. They tried their best and that’s all anyone can expect.  The Belgians came away empty handed, not so the Australians, who collected three medals: one of each.

The Germans topped the medal table. A country that’s fallen out of love with cycling and which, at the end of this season, will no longer have a Pro-Tour team. But that didn’t stop them picking up four medals: three silvers and a bronze.  Great Britain’s hardware was picked up in the time-trials. Silver for David Millar and gold for Emma Pooley who was also a formidable presence in the Road Race. Who knows what Alex Dowsett might have achieved if he’d had a mechanic as deft as Tony Martin’s. Next up USA, whose Taylor Phinney won both a gold and a bronze medal.

Scandinavia garnered a full-house with Hushovd, Breschel and Johansson. Italy and Switzerland each collected one gold. Vos won her 4th consecutive silver, after gold in Salzburg, and looked on the verge of tears, she’s not a lady who likes to lose. Canada and New Zealand each picked up a bronze, or should that be half a bronze in the case of Canada?

Spain’s performance was disappointing. Their highest placed rider in all the races was Freire, who finished 6th in the road race. However, I do know that the team was much affected by all the doping news, particular that relating to Alberto, who is close to both Luis  Leon and Samu Sanchez, fanned by McQuaid’s pointed comments about Spain. I seem to recall they rather faded into the background when Valverde faced similar approbation in Stuttgart in 2007.    

I didn’t get a chance to ask JaJa if he was pleased with the performance of the French, Jeannie aside, but the 5th place of Arnaud Demare in the U23 road race and they way they animated the Men’s Race, not forgetting Romain Feillu’s 10th place, must have shown the team’s heading in the right direction.  

McQuaid has declared the Championships a success and said over 156,000 watched from the roadside on Sunday. How to they know? Does someone go round and count them? Or is there some agreed formula which takes account of the length of the course and the depth of the crowds?

Postcards from Melbourne V

Yesterday, I decided to explore Geelong on foot. I had been tasked by one of my club mates to obtain a signed photo of Cav. I don’t collect cycling memorabilia; any autographs or stuff I collect tends to be by chance and I always take it down to the club for whoever might be interested.  On my travels I exhorted the good citizens of Geelong to come and watch the cycling as many seemed disgruntled at the disruption to their driving/parking arrangements occasioned by the racing. It must have worked as there was a good crowd all around the race course and a great atmosphere for the U23 Road Race.

I had wished the French team good luck as they exited their hotel (our base camp in Geelong) and while waiting for the start of the race noted that Cav was being interviewed on the quayside. I set off at a trot but was too late, arriving only in time to see him ride off in the opposite direction. I retraced my steps to watch what proved to be an exciting race.

U23 races are much more difficult to call:  the best indicator of form being the recent Tour de l’Avenir.  Home town favourite was Michael “Bling” Matthews, while my friend Ute favoured German John Degenkolb. Taylor Phinney was the bookies favourite. Almost as soon as the race started, American Ben King soloed away. A tactic he had used recently to win the US Road Race Championship.

Stars of Tomorrow

The peloton seemed unconcerned but the Aussies sent a man in pursuit, Ben King. Yes, there are two of them, both riding for Trek-Livestrong. Groups of riders kept trying to get away but were constantly hauled back into the main bunch. Eventually, two riders succeeded (Hong Kong’s King Lok Cheung and Belarus’s Andrei Krasilnika) and then a further two (Italy’s Moreno Moser and Britain’s Alex Dowsett) making a bunch of 5 pursuing, the American Ben King. His gap on the peloton never exceeded 6 minutes and at approximately the half-way point, the peloton decided enough was enough and stepped up the pace.

Meanwhile, the front group had splintered leaving Alex Dowsett and Moreno Moser (Francesco’s nephew, so another name with provenance), to pursue the American Ben King.  Moser caught and overtook King at about 3/4s of the way round, managing to stay in front until the 9th lap when the major nations decided to take control of the peloton. This provoked a major split leaving most of the fancied riders in the front group. The French made multiple bids for freedom, but each attempt was reeled back in setting up a mass sprint for the line. With 300metres to go, Bling Matthews came off Phinney’s wheel and launched himself several bike lengths clear. Degenkolb (good call, Ute) was second while, for the first time ever, two riders tied for 3rd place: Guillaume Boivin of Canada and Taylor Phinney. Not so much as a pixel between them. There was however only one medal, so they’ll have to share!

Postcards from Melbourne III

It’s still far colder than I anticipated for this time of year and I’m regretting not bringing my down vest but the forecast is for warmer weather at the week end. As well as checking out the course in Geelong, we’ve been exploring the Melbourne shoreline on our rental bikes.  The scenery has been quite spectacular and, as we’ve ridden further south, the properties have grown in size and there are some splendid examples of both colonial and modern architecture. The former are generally clapboard with wrap around verandas decorated with filigree ironwork while the latter are seemingly built largely from glass affording the owners panoramic views of the sea.

When questioned as to the difference between Sydney and Melbourne, the natives have advised that Sydney was founded by convicts while Melbourne was founded by immigrants from mainly Scotland and Italy. Do I sense some rivalry?

We again set off for Geelong at a reasonable hour to watch the U23 individual time-trial where Taylor Phinney was odds on favourite to win. He does have an impeccable pedigree and the results this year, most recently in the Tour de l’Avenir, to back up those claims. However, he faced stiff completion from the locals, last year’s silver medalist and GB’s Alex Dowsett.

We easily positioned ourselves near the start/ finish line with a clear view of the big screen, close to refreshments and cover from the promised rain squalls. This is my 5th Worlds and easily the best so far from an organizational perspective. Everything has been done for the viewing public. Instead of the usual banks of seating, there’s one small one for the press after and a small one before the finish line for local dignitaries. The UCI and sponsors’ lounges are at the foot of the final climb.

Many local shopkeepers have a cycling-related focus in their windows while the bars, cafes and restaurants are competing hard for business with lots of themed events.  There are screens all over the course, particularly in key areas such as the climbs and in the family-friendly parks.  They’ve even established hubs for the supporters of the major foreign teams all handily located near purveyors of alcoholic beverages. No stone has been left unturned. There’s even screens in the centre of Melbourne for those that can’t make the journey to Geelong. But then Australians really love their sport, don’t they?

Sadly, the cycling is being overshadowed by this Saturday’s replay of the AFL finals. You only have to look at the local press or watch the TV to have this amply confirmed. Residents of Geelong were asked if they’d be watching the cycling, most seemed to be annoyed at the inconvenience of road closures while others were aghast at having seen professional riders jump red lights. The inclement weather and that apathy accounted for the poor showing at today’s races. You could literally count the numbers of spectators, many of whom had arrived by bike.

The first rider off, Frayre Moctezuma Eder from Mexico, was visibly shivering in the chill wind and took some time to attain rhythm and speed.  No sooner had he set off than the heavens opened, making the course treacherous for those in Groups 1 and 2. Subsequently, the sun and gentle breeze combined to quickly dry out the course for those in the subsequent two groups. The few fans gathered mostly in the finishing straight did their best to loudly cheer and encourage the future of the sport. This was great to see and heart-warming for the riders as generally the U23’s and women’s events unfairly attract less coverage and support. This is a race with a great pedigree. Just look at a few of the winners of recent years;  Lars Boom,  Jose Ivan Guttierez and Thor Hushovd.

To win a rainbow jersey, you need luck. This was Phinney’s fifth. He was lucky that Luke Durbridge endured wet roads, while he didn’t. Alex Dowsett was unlucky to have a problem with his tyre which ended his potential challenge.  Phinney won by 1.90secs ahead of 19-year old Durbridge, while German Marcel Kittel was a further 20 secs back in 3rd. The future of cycling looks rosy.

Next up, the ladies. Pre-race favourite, German, Judith Arndt finished 2nd, some 15secs behind the diminutive, feisty Emma Pooley from GREAT BRITAIN. Linda Villumse was 3rd on her maiden outing for NZ. The evergreen Jeannie Longo was 5th.   A great day’s racing; I can’t wait for the men’s TT tomorrow.