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World Road Race Championships 2012 – Mens Road Race

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The ‘best world championships ever’ the organisers are saying – but I guess they would say that? The Mens Road Race was certainly a good race; and if last year’s race in Copenhagen was a model of GB team work for Cav, then this year was all about Belgium and ‘Phil.’

Having walked the parcours and seen all of the road races up to and including the U23 end in a bunch sprint, I thought that it would be a bunch sprint. The parcours weren’t as tough as we all thought – the surfaces were good and two bergs apart, it was very fast.

But when I saw Marianne Vos win on Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking; ‘Gilbert could do the same thing, maybe?

And so it proved.

Mens Road Race
Phil’s all smiles as he tells the journalists that the weight of the jesey won’t be felt until the Giro diLombardia.

I walked a good chunk of the course on Sunday – it’s always the best way to get a real feel for things and to get the pictures that the photogs on the motorbikes miss.

Mens Road Race
Sagan is introduced to the crowd in Maastricht.
Mens Road Race
YMCA! Gilbert, Roelandts and Vansummeren practice their dance moves for the Christmas team night out.

The Cauberg was insanely busy, it took an age to get down there; behind the barriers on both sides of the road were two tidal streams of people, one going up and one going down.

Mens Road Race
Large numbers of people on the two climbs.

The top of all the walls beside the pavement were lined with seated fans – making a kick in the ear a very real danger.

Mens Road Race
Most of the folk are in great spirits, and there’s no bother.

I latched on to a huge – yes, bigger than me – Belgian guy in a shell suit; he did a fine lead out job for me taking me through the traffic jams at the crossing points without drama.

The fans were everywhere on the Cauberg for the Mens Road Race, clinging to the hillside like Brazilian gold prospectors.

Mens Road Race
A member of the Flandrian Foreign Legion.

But one thing about the fans from the flatlands is that when they set out to have fun, nothing will distract them from that objective. They have no inhibitions, dressing in ever more preposterous outfits – personally it’s not my ‘thing’ but if they add colour and don’t knock anyone off then there’s no problem.

Mens Road Race
Guess which country these guys are supporting.

And as Dave said; ‘there’ll be a high absentee rate in Belgium on Monday.

The other thing that occurs to you when you’re amidst all this beautiful madness is; ‘how are they going to replicate this in the middle of the desert in Qatar?

The old school of thought was that the Worlds should predominantly be held in the Heartlands of Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands and Spain – with the likes of South America or Australia getting them every decade.

That made sense to me; even last year in Copenhagen, it wasn’t right, just too conservative.

The race is a celebration and you need those mad Heartland fans and supporters clubs to give it just the right vibe.

Mens Road Race
And as I walked down the Cauberg, I spotted a banner for next year’s GP Jean-Pierre Monsere – you won’t see banners like that in Qatar.

For those of you who are too young to remember, Jean-Pierre – ‘Jempi’ – was a brilliant, charismatic Belgian rider who won the Worlds in Leicester in 1970.

Tragically he died with the rainbow jersey on his back at just 22 years-of-age in a crash during the Grote Jaarmarktprijs in Retie in March 1971 after a head on collision with a car.

That sort of legend simply doesn’t exist outside the Heartland.

Mens Road Race
Contador appeared relaxed at the start.
Chavanel looked cool chatting to the media.
Mens Road Race
The Hot Favourite giving an interview before the start.

The sport has to take root, grow and flower – you can force blooms quickly in a hothouse, but they’re not robust flowers.

The ‘Mondialisation/Globalisation’ obsession is about one thing – money.

The races in China, Utah and Colorado are all too big, too glam, too quick – if the board of directors/politics change they’ll be dropped like hot potatoes. If you’re from my generation then you’ll remember the Coors Classic, Red Zinger, Dupont Tour, Tour de Trump and Wincanton Classic…

Sorry, ranting, move on.

Cavendish worked hard in the first third of the race to keep the break pegged at a reasonable gap.
Froom packed at the same time as Wiggo.
Wiggo packed just as the race was hotting up.
Wiggins was in no mood to hang about as the paparazzi gave chase.

Race-wise, Cav and Brad were obviously just ‘showing the colours’ for GB before their early retirals.

But Steve Cummings, Ian Stannard and Jonathan Tiernan Locke were all part of the race, proper.

Steve Cummings – machine.

Cummings and Stannard are big strong men with proven track records, but Tiernan Locke was apparently riding through the 200 K barrier for the first time.

For him to make the top 20 in his first Worlds was a ride of real quality. I think that he’s a young man headed for the very top.

JTL will be riding for Sky next season and will have plenty more chances to shine at the top level.

But the day belonged to Belgium – virtually every picture I took of the peloton throughout the day had Belgian riders at or near the front.

The Belgians drive up the Cauberg.
GB mass near the front, but it’s Belgium pulling.
Phil Gilbert looks comfortable in the front half of the peloton.

It was also good for the sport to see young men like Timmy Duggan, Alex Howes and Simon Clark unfazed by being up against the biggest names in the sport and making the race the epic which it was.

Flecha was active for most of the day.
Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) looked good, until he packed.

If Gilbert and the Belgian’s were beyond criticism and stuck tightly to the script, all was not so rosy in the Spanish camp.

I’m a Freire fan, but his comments that if Valverde had waited then he ‘Oscarito’ would have won, seem off the mark.

Valv and Oscar are together at this stage at least.

Valverde had to react as the situation demanded, had he waited I think there’s little chance Spain would have made the podium.

Fast Phil is the 4th World Champion to be racing for BMC.
Valverde took Bronze.

And were GB working for Eddy BH or just Jonathan Tiernan Locke – you’d have to ask David Brailsford on that one.

EBH rolls in as the Dutch fans look to see where there men are.

That’s my gallivanting done for this season – at least ‘til the Six Days (and for Grenoble make that ‘Four’) kick off.

But John Young is off to Lombardia next week and if we’re lucky then he’ll send us some of his photography – which is becoming ever more pro and for which we thank him for his contributions from the Worlds.

See you at the Trossachs time trial in October?

We haven’t heard anyone say they don’t think that Fast Phil is a worthy winner.
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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