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Copenhagen Road Worlds 2011 Reminiscences

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As I sit here on a rainy Wednesday awaiting my wife’s transition from early labour to full gas labour (is that the correct terminology? heh) I thought I should get my act together and at least attempt to begin more regular blog posts, especially about the Copenhagen Road Worlds 2011…

What better time to try and commit to spending more self time than just before one of the major upheavals of your life, where you’re guaranteed to have less time to do exactly that? What could possibly go wrong here…

The new light in my life & ready made excuse for slow bloggery.

It has been months since the Road Worlds were run and won, but I’ve not written a peep about them. Most remiss of me.

It’s now over a week since I started writing this post, and my beautiful wife has had our first beautiful baby, a boy named Albie. Clearly my plans to post more have already been slowed down!

The Road Worlds 2011 experience was unique in that the two favoured teams were genuine “best of enemies.”

Historically Australia has considered Great Britain the great nemesis from a sporting point of view — we’ve always loved our battles with the Poms. Be it rugby, cricket, football or Olympic sports, Australians relish the chance to continue (and hopefully dominate) the rivalry, and the Brits do too.

From a cycling perspective, Australia has been the big brother over the past decade or two, with more pros in the peloton, more successes on the road, and better results on the track. However, in recent years (and largely thanks to Dave Brailsford), the tide has been turning. Slightly.

Team GB cleaned up at the Beijing Olympics, the UK is home to a very successful pro team in the World Tour peloton and has been for a couple of years now, the winningest rider of the past three seasons is a Pom, and the number of British pros in the peloton and on podia has exploded recently. And so the big boys of the Anglophone cycling world have suddenly had to come to terms with a global swing towards the Brits.

Couple this swing with three extra elements: firstly, the red hot favourite was a Brit and one of his only genuine rivals was an Aussie from the same trade team; secondly the two squads consisted largely of trade teammates, former teammates and/or friends; and thirdly the two teams shared the same hotel for the week. The stage was clearly set for a ripping week and a great race.

On the cross-pollination of the two teams: Cav & Gossy were the individual team leaders, and both rode for HTC Highroad. Millar was GB captain on the road, and Stuie O’Grady (one of Dave’s ushers at his wedding) was the Aussie captain on the road and a former teammate at Cofidis. Millar was also currently teammates with Heinrich Haussler, and formerly teammates with CJ Sutton. Fnally, Team Sky had 6 men riding for GB, and 4 for Australia. Interrelated, much? And that’s just the riders!

Copenhagen Road Worlds 2011
Me fitting in with the Copenhagen locals.

At the hotel, there was a cordial atmosphere throughout the week, although Australian eyebrows were raised with mutterings of class systems and snobby Poms when the elite GB riders sat on a separate table to their U23 and Junior kids. I guess it gives the youngsters something to aspire to: “Someday I’ll be able to ignore young riders in my team.” Or something. Stuey O’Grady arriving and shaking everyone in the team’s hand was the proper way a man should behave we all thought.

Race day for the TT boys was a few days earlier, and both the Aussies and Team GB had good days, with Wiggo spectacularly taking the silver medal for GB, and Jacky Bobby pinching 5th in his first senior length TT. Both brilliant rides in their own respects. Richie Porte brought it home for 6th for the Aussies, thus qualifying Australia for two places in the TT at the Olympics next year, whilst Dave Millar finished in 7th. Great performances from all involved.

Race day approached, and looking back I am impressed at how cannily Millar played the mind games leading in to the show: a rumour leaked here, a tweet there, and our talk wasn’t on what we were doing, but on them. Chapeau Dave!

Despite this, plans were made, and team strategy set out to throw everything at Cav and Team GB to try and unsettle the almost inevitable bunch sprint.

Whilst Australia had Plan A of Gossy sprinting, there were various fallback plans to try and cover other eventualities, such as Stuey and Gerro being ready to cover and get in any breaks, and so on and so forth. Team GB clearly had one plan and one plan only: set up a sprint for Cav.

As the race unfolded GB went straight to the front as if they were a team riding the final stage of the Tour holding the Yellow Jersey. It was bold stuff for such a long race, although considering how strong a favourite Cav was, it made sense that they would attempt to control any breaks that got clear early, and ensure they could deliver their man to the business end of the day with something to sprint for.

Millar told me afterwards that some of the boys in their team even questioned the wisdom of committing so early, but he insisted, the boys did indeed commit, and they were genuinely magnificent.

The Aussies, Belgians and French threw attacks, attempted breaks, rival sprint trains and everything else they could at the Brits, and it was all absorbed and shut down with the likelihood of a bunch sprint finale becoming more and more of a foregone conclusion as the laps and kilometres ticked by.

In the final show, Gossy received a great lead-out from Team Australia newbie Heino Haussler, but was just checked the slightest bit as he tried to launch. Cav squeezed through a tiny gap and headed for home, holding Gossy off by half a wheel.

This main event was atop a magnificently courageous attack by Fabian Cancellara a long way out that Cav & Gossy only overhauled very late (and barely at all by Andre Greipel for the bronze).

Copenhagen Road Worlds 2011
A token Copenhagen photo.

I didn’t have the chance to see any of this as I was awaiting the riders’ arrival beyond the finish line and couldn’t see a thing that was happening.

The American commentator (who was truly hilarious and an excellent part of the day’s action) was bellowing about Cav and Cancellara, and so I wasn’t even sure where Gossy came until a little later in the piece.

Gossy’s original reaction was of disappointment at being beaten, but he quickly realised that he had ridden brilliantly, and was beaten by the sprinter of his generation by less than a wheel.

Both teams performed excellently, with the Brits deserving all of the praise that they have received, and the Aussies not making any mistakes, just being beaten by a better outfit on the day.

The end to the championships was fittingly at a bar in a restaurant recommended by a guy who knew a friend who owed a favour to a guy who was a massive fan of Dave Millar’s.

It was pretty cool. The two teams shared drinks, stories and laughs at the end of a super hard-fought race. Great sport, and a great week.

Toby Watson
Toby Watsonhttps://www.veloveritas.co.uk
Ex-Garmin Transitions physiotherapist and soigneur Toby Watson brings you inside the squad, and shows you what it's like to be working with a top team on the biggest races in the world. Through his regular blog updates, Toby shares his sense of drama and fun that were essential parts of his job. Toby is Australian, and currently lives in Girona with his fiancee Amanda. If he has any time, he enjoys reading and running, and occasionally skiing too, when he can.

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