World Road Championships 2007 – Day 5: Elite Road Race
It wasn't until the Belgian guy pointed it out to me today, but it wasn't the friendliest of championships. The Press Centre you expect to be a clique-ridden, unfriendly, verging on hostile place.
I think it's because a lot of those that work there are freelance and any new face could be taking work from them. But even in the 'real' world, if you don't speak first, no one will talk to you.
In Belgium, folks always ask what you're about and then you have a pils together - or a dozen pils, more like.
In Germany, maybe because they are conservative by nature, there's not a lot of chat. Anyway, enough of my un-PC attitudes and racial stereo-typing.
Sometimes you just know when someones going to win, Cancellara for instance and Bettini too. The road race is obviously much more of a lottery than the test, but when I saw Bettini training on the circuit on Friday, it was apparent that he was a driven-man. He wore a mask of concentration and determination that spoke more than any words in a newspaper. This morning (Sunday) too, business-like, focused, no time for autographs, there was a race to win.
However, it would be wrong to forget the role played by Italian coach, Franco Ballerini, who once again welded-together a strong, united team, which ran rings round a Spanish squad; which was every bit as strong as the Italians, on paper.
Millar was well-in the mix until the bell lap, but that's when it really matters. The Worlds is like Milan-San Remo, it's all going to happen between the Poggio and the Via Roma, but you have to get there with the "heads" to be in the race. The Worlds is really just two laps, but it's just two laps with five hours plus, in your legs.
Mark Cavendish looked OK until mid-race, but it was no surprise to see him off the back as the shadows lengthened. The Italians didn't pick Benatti or Petacchi, so there was no way that Cavendish was going to get a result. No disrespect to 'Cav'; he's had a marvellous first season and if he continues to progress, is a real star in the making. But let the laddie pay his dues at this level before we think about him battling with the Azzuri for the last two laps.
Before the race it was chaotic around the Italian bus, there were hundreds of fans, looking for a glimpse of the Squadra.
Meanwhile, home favourite, Schumacher was able to get out of his car, stretch and chat to friends in complete peace. I think the Germans like the actual sporting event, but they're not into the Belgian or Italian pagan idolatory stuff.
It was a beautiful day in Stuttgart, in the first couple of laps, riders were removing under vests as it got hotter and hotter. It made for a different race from the U23 event where strong headwinds on the climbs and strong tail winds on the fast parts of the course, conspired to make it very difficult to form a breakaway. There was little wind today and the result was an attacking race.
The official finishing sheet lists two pages of DNF, virtually three quarters of the field, that tells a story. The organisers were lucky with the weather, earlier in the week it had almost felt as if there was snow in the air. One year, in a Northern European Worlds, the UCI are going to get "caught" by the weather with this new, late date. At Plouay in 2000 it was horrible, wet and very cold. In addition, many riders have had a long, long season, the racing starts in January and by the end of September, they've had enough.
It's 10.00 am Monday CET and I'm sitting in Stuttgart airport, waiting on my flight to Gatwick. That's The Worlds for another year, Varese in Italy for 2008.
Still, Trossachs next Sunday. Braw.
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