Yes, I know that despite my best intentions the number of blog entries is dwindling to a trickle, but I have been busy, honest. I’m just back from an action packed 10 day annual pilgrimage to the World Road Cycling Championships which was held in the delightful surroundings of Limburg, that bit of the Netherlands which protrudes into Germany and Belgium. As you might imagine, the area’s cycling mad and every time I saw a cyclist I wished I’d had my bike with me so that I could join in. Ah well, next year in Tuscany 2013!
I had intended hiring a bike, albeit it would probably have been one of those sit up and beg ones that you see all over the Netherlands, but I fell over and twisted my ankle. Clumsy or what? As usual I was talking and not watching where I was going. One minute I was on the pavement, the next minute I wasn’t. As falls go it was fairly spectacular but I quickly leapt to my feet, dusted myself off, retrieved my scattered belongings and continued walking as if everything were fine. It wasn’t, it was really painful.
That evening I gave my right ankle the alternate hot and cold water treatment which seemed to help. No need for an embarrassing recourse to the medical staff of the Spanish and Italian teams who were staying in my hotel. The next morning the ankle was too puffy for my comfortable shoes but I could wear my ballet flats. I also had an impressive collection of bruises on my left leg and my right arm. There are times when a good covering of body fat comes in useful, I just bounce and avoid serious injury. A sore ankle is not ideal when you’re proposing to spend all day standing at the barricades but I’m an endurance spectator, I just grinned and bore it without complaint. It was my own fault after all.
So, back to the cycling which kicked off with a revival of the trade team time-trial. It sits somewhat awkwardly with a shed load of national races and a ways back they used to have a national team time-trial but nowadays that’s probably a bit impractical. The event was nonetheless pretty fiercely contested and, largely thanks to an error by BMC, Belgium’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep triumphed. But it was a close run thing. Not so in the ladies event where Specialized-Lululemon dominated with their US/German/Dutch squad.
The great thing about the Worlds is that you get a week’s worth of racing all in the same spot. My mate Ute (we met at the world championships in Salzburg in 2006) and I occupied a place about 20m or so from the finish line and, based on the early bird theory, laid claim to it all week. Neither of us is particularly tall, while the Dutch are, and we did not want to be in the second row standing on tippy toe.
Most fans preferred to stay the other side of the Cauberg climb, closer to the plethora of bars and restaurants, either that or they weren’t willing to trek the extra kilometres to the finish. This meant we had a ringside view of all the racing, could swivel around to watch the action on the screen behind and then later have another prime view of the podium presentation: a pretty much perfect situation. Although there was little in the way of refreshments, my accreditation gave me access to the press area and Ute came well stocked, so we were able to regularly take in sustenance and prevent a bonk.
Another great thing about the Worlds is that you get to see lots of racers whom you never or rarely get to see on the television, like the ladies, U23s and juniors. It’s always interesting to chart their progression into the senior ranks. It’s also great to see the grass shoots of globalisation of the sport with more and more countries fielding riders and teams. None from China although there were increased numbers of Japanese and more from African countries. However, Ute and I agreed while it was great to see riders such as Judith Arndt and Tony Martin retaining their crowns, our abiding memory will be of Marianne Vos’s domination. She last won the World’s in 2006 – our first Worlds – and has been a disappointed runner-up ever since. But this year she’s done the double, Olympics and Worlds just like Nicole Cooke in 2008.
I mentioned that I was staying in the same hotel as two of the teams. Initially, it was Euskaltel, Movistar, Lotto-Belisol and Topsport Vlaanderen. The Lotto boys were on the same floor as me although I never saw any of them but the strong smell of embrocation in the hotel corridor was rather evocative. However I could have done without all the door slamming. Of course, they departed smartly after the trade-team time trial to be replaced by the national team riders. The hotel was under siege from fans, many of whom waited patiently for hours for a glimpse of their sporting heroes. Goodness knows what the busloads of Japanese tourists staying in the hotel made of it.
Now you might be thinking what a fantastic opportunity for interviews. It would be except the boys and girls were already under siege and I had no desire to add to that burden. Surely, everyone deserves a bit of down time. However, it was interesting to observe the contrasting approaches of the two different nationalities. The Italians are extroverts, the Spanish introverts.
There was no racing on Thursday which afforded me a welcome opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Maastricht, a delightful historic town with plenty of eye-catching architecture and some great coffee shops. Purely in the interests of research I tried some of the local baked goodies but I did find them a little heavy for my taste – delicious, but heavy.
As ever one of the fun parts of this event is catching up with friends and acquaintances plus just chatting to a wide range of fans from all over the world while we wait for the racers to hove into view. A few of the natives were overly familiar. A rather drunken Dutch chap said he thought I looked around 42, I smiled as if he might have hit the nail on the head but he was way off base. He’d asked the woman sitting opposite me if she was my mother. I was delighted as she was probably only four to five years older than me. However, having ascertained I was married but with no children, he asked me to go clubbing in Dusseldorf. I politely but firmly declined, after over 10 hours manning the barricades the last thing I needed was more hours on my feet, besides I had a hot date with my laptop! For more about the event and the races, head over to www.velovoices.com.