Cards from Copenhagen I

As a cycling fan I’m fortunate to often venture where I’ve never been before or, as in the case of Copenhagen, renew my acquaintance with places I haven’t visited in a while. Though the trip didn’t get off to a propitious start. I took the low cost flight option, which doesn’t have on-line check in facilities, so that you do really need to get to the airport 2-hours ahead of departure. A coach load of octogenarian Danes had however beaten me to it and I was sandwiched between them and a coach load of spotty adolescents. I then circumnavigated the long queue through security with my [free] airport premier card and fled to the sanctuary of the lounge where I browsed through the day’s Press and enjoyed a few non-alcoholic beverages.

Once on board, it was soon evident that there was a problem. The staff wandered up and down the plane counting and re-counting heads. Eventually they came clean. They had issued 144 boarding passes but there were only 143 people on the plane. It took a further 20 minutes to identify our phantom passenger who had been erroneously checked in by the travel company but who, fortunately, had no luggage. We breathed a collective sigh of relief: too soon. Ground staff were unable to decouple the plane from the loading bridge. The captain made a few off the cuff jokes about using explosives to blow the bridge off. His humour was not appreciated by his largely elderly passengers who were queuing 20 deep for the toilet.

Finally, we were underway. I fell asleep, as I do on most flights, only to be woken on a regular basis as my travelling companions needed yet another comfort break. We arrived and there followed a 2km hike to retrieve our baggage. I’m sure airports do this to reduce waiting times for luggage. Our luggage soon arrived. Or should I say, everyone’s luggage soon arrived, apart from mine. Just as I was thinking that this was the cherry on the icing, my Tumi hove into view. I grabbed my bag and legged it but was too late for the complimentary shuttle to my hotel. I reluctantly got a taxi. On arrival at the hotel I was advised that I was being upgraded to an executive room – good news. Ten minutes later, my head hit the pillow and I was in the land of nod.

This morning I easily made my way on public transport to Rudersdaal for today’s races. It was cold, largely overcast, at times windy, sometimes sunny but ultimately dry. I easily found a good spot on the barriers, near the 50m to go marker, in sight of the large screen, not too far from facilities and refreshments and directly opposite the great and the good in the UCI’s hospitality facilities which had colonised the entire other side of the road.

The girls, who had to ride just 5 times round the 13.5km circuit, started nervously, with crashes marring the first three. Once the peloton settled, Germany’s Mieke Kroger and Italy’s Rossella Ratto escaped and built up a reasonable lead before being reeled in with only 600m to go. The winner, having kept her powder dry, launched her attack with just 150m remaining and easily showed the pack a clean pair of cleats. Britain’s 17-year old Lucy Garner had won Britain’s first gold of these championships. Belgium’s Jessy Druyts and home-girl Christine Siggaard completed the podium. Not an Aussie in sight, they’d been felled in the falls.

The Men’s U23 race sometimes, but not always throws up surprises. Freed from her duties in the Press Centre, I was joined by my friend Ute who was hoping for further medals for Germany. The race was relatively relaxed until the final couple of rounds with numerous breakaways, all of whom were absorbed before the final round. It was largely those teams without a recognized sprinter who animated the race, such as the Italians and Danes, and it was heartening to see riders from Eritrea holding their own. To become a truly global sport, cycling needs to embrace competitors from every continent.

Finally, the much fancied Aussies took control of the race with their gold medal TT winner, Luke Durbridge driving the peloton. But there was a sense that the Aussies had done too much, too soon. Their train fell apart as Durbridge swung off. GB’s Luke Rowe led out Andy Fenn for the sprint but, as he faded, he was overtaken by the French duo of Arnaud Demare and Adrien Petit who impeccably timed their sprints to take gold and silver respectively. Fenn, who took bronze, can take heart, last year in Geelong, 20 year-old Demare committed a similar error and faded to finish 5th, but not this year. He will turn professional next year with FDJ. Just reward for his impressive results (below) this year.

I first saw Demare race in Mendrisio which was won by fellow Frenchman, Romain Sicard who now rides for Euskaltel-Euskadi and whose most recent season has been blighted by injury. The French team bossed the race and one was left with the impression that any one of the team could have won. They worked similarly last year but lit the blue touch paper too early.

From my perspective today was extremely satisfying given that I support both GB and France. What else can I say, Sheree 4 – 0 Ute.

2011 Palmares Arnaud Demare  

  • 1st Boucles Catalanes
  • 1st Vienne Classic Espoirs
  • 4th on 4th and 5th stages of Tour of Normandy
  • 1st in La Cote Picardie, U23
  • 4th ZLM Tour
  • 2nd on 4th stage of Tour of Brittany
  • 4th in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs
  • 1st in 1st and 4th stages of Coupe de Nations, U23
  • 2nd on 3rd and 4th stages of Tour de L’Oise
  • 1st in GP de Pont a Marq
  • 2nd in GP Cristal Energy
  • 1st on 3rd stage and 4th on 4th of Tour Alsace
  • 3rd on 1st and 7th on 2nd stage of Tour du Poitou-Charentes et de la Vienne
  • 19th in GP Fourmies
  • 1st on 3rd stage of Tour de Moselle

Postscript: This is my 500th post!

The future’s bright, the future’s green-edged

We had a marathon meeting down at the club yesterday which enabled us to make our positions clear, particularly with respect to the coming (and our last) season. Interestingly, it soon became apparent that the Old Guard hope to persuade me to stand for President at the end of the present incumbent’s current term. They can think again. I’m more than happy to remain involved with the Kivilev and to continue the supply of baked goodies, but that’s as far as it goes. Everyone’s agreed to retain the cyclsportif and brevet for the coming year but we’re going to amend the 175km parcours making it around 20kms shorter.

All this meant I was unable to watch the individual time-trials on the television and had, instead, to settle for the edited highlights. For me one of the charms of the World Championships is the ability to watch great races every day and, in  particular, see those who you can’t generally watch on the the television, such as the ladies and U23 races. This year, they’ve added the juniors into the mix. The Australians have made a very strong start to the Championships with 18 year-old Jessica Allen winning the 13.9km time-trial in 19:18, ahead of Britain’s Elinor Barker and Germany’s Mieke Kroge.  Jessica thought her mastery of the technical sections of the course just gave her the edge.

The men’s U23 individual time-trial was won by Australia’s 20 year-old Luke Durbridge, a member of their gold winning track team, who hails from the same town as Jessica. He finished 2nd last year to Taylor Phinney, but was in a class of his own this year, blitzing the two-lap, 32.5km course in 42:47. He was the only rider to break 43 minutes and was fastest at all of the splits. Rasmus Quaade gave the home crowd something to cheer about as he finished second while in third place was another Australian, Micheal Hepburn, who might have fared better if he hadn’t fallen. Another Australian finished in ninth place. Watch out for these boys in the forthcoming road race.

Under grey skies and in windy conditions, baby faced, 17 year-old, home boy Mads Wurtz Schmidt lifted the spirits of the considerable crowd to win the junior world title on the 27.8km course in 35:07:06. Looking as if he’d maybe started too quickly, Mads maintained momentum to record the fastest split times. His more fancied team mate finished sixth. Not to be outdone, the podium was completed by Kiwi, James Oram, and Aussi, David Edwards.

The skies were still overcast when the ladies elite individual time-trial got underway this afternoon. First off the ramp was  Kathryn Bertine who rides for St Kitts & Nevis. I met her in Stuttgart 2007, she’s a former US triathlete who changed allegiances and now runs the islands’ cycling development programme. The weather deteriorated as the event progressed making the conditions treacherous for the more fancied riders. Germany’s Judith Arndt turned in a masterful and powerful performance to win her first gold medal in this event. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride – not anymore. In second place was Dane turned Kiwi Linda Villumsen and, in  third, the defending champion Britain’s Emma Pooley who did well on a course unsuited to her attributes. The future is indeed green-edged, with maybe flashes of red.

For tomorrow’s elite men’s race, it’s hard to look beyond either Fabulous Fabian Cancellara or Tenacious Tony Martin. The latter has had a more impressive season than the former whom, I feel, you write off at your peril on a course which favours the stronger rider. Bring it on.

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.