We didn’t realise when we made our way to the Civic Hall in Leeds for the sign-on of the 2019 Elite World Road Championships just what an epic day we were in for; emergency purchasing of umbrellas in the local outdoor centre didn’t quite cut it as the deluge lasted almost the entire race.
But we didn’t mind; the biggest one day race of the season was in our country and no amount of rain ad wind was going to stop us having a ball. Ed stalked the buses and finish line area to grab riders as they called it quits early whilst Martin walked the entire circuit (it took five hours) protecting the cameras from the elements and capturing the action as he went. It took Martin a few days to get the blue shoe dye out of his feet – but it was great to be there, to witness Mads Pederson step up on such levelling conditions to take the rainbow bands. It was a day that will be talked about for years and is our 2019 memory for ‘The VeloVeritas Years’ collection.
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Denmark’s Mads Pederson drops to the wet Yorkshire tarmac, a hundred metres past the finish line, he can’t take in what he’s just accomplished.
He has out-sprinted one of the foxiest and fastest men around, Matteo Trentin of Italy – the hot pre-race favourites for the title on this horror of a day.
In third spot was the tall, handsome young man who forced the break, former World Pursuit Champion and Swiss Time Trial Champion Stefan Küng.
In fourth spot was Trentin’s Italia team mate, Gianni Moscon who was in the Küng break but cracked.
But the man who cracked in most spectacular style was the man who many felt was world champion in waiting with a lap to go – even the Belgians in the bar I had to take shelter in – Mathieu Van Der Poel.
The young talent reckoned he’d eaten enough but hadn’t bargained on the cold which ate into everyone as they hammered around the sodden streets of Harrogate.
It’s arguable that it was VDP who won the medals for Messrs. Pedersen, Trentin and Küng with his power house spells dragging them clear, out of the clutches of the Belgian and French teams.
I can’t actually remember the last time the Worlds was won with a move which went clear before the last lap.
But on this day it was a ‘Paris-Roubaix-esque’ situation where the chasers are just as damn wasted as those in the break.
Fifth place went to the irrepressible Peter Sagan who, by his own admission got it wrong, thinking the race would come together on the last lap for a sprint; like it usually does – but not today.
His late chase to bridge to the banditos up front came, well, just too late.
It was another Dane who took sixth, Michael Valgren – reminding us of his talent and the strength of the men in red and white.
We reckoned before the race that ‘an old warhorse’ like Degenkolb or Kristoff may well flourish on such a long, tough parcours – never mind the horror weather endured on the day.
Kristoff took seventh and the German 15th.
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Leeds, 07:30 am and the best bike riders on the planet are here among the old sandstone Victorians and ultra-modern glass buildings under a sky just waiting to deliver.
The crowd recognises some of the stars; but Spanish fans apart there’s little of the Vuelta-esque pagan idolatory for the man who will remain world champion until the 09:00 am roll out, Alejandro Valverde.
But today was not for a ‘man of the south’ – there was no sunshine to warm the bones on this day and it was appropriate that we had a Norse winner.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan is much in demand; Martin spots the TV cameramen readying themselves for an interview and slots himself in next to them, risking being trampled by dozens of feral media folk, desperate for The Big Shot or sound bite.
Home Boy and Sky/Ineos stalwart, Ian Stannard always has time for us; he’s here to do a job for Ben Swift he tells us and not fazed by the course change, he’d actually prefer if the whole race was on the circuit; avoiding the moorland climbs.
Albeit he reckons the circuit is wearing on for being ‘dodgy.’
Another old friend, Kiwi Jack Bauer has no big pretentious, ‘with such a small team we have to work off the back of the big nations,’ he tells us.
Big Irish man, Connor Dunn won’t be in the early break today, he’s on ‘bottle duty’ for Sam Bennett and Dan Martin; Ireland is ‘all for Sam and Dan,’ today, he tells Martin.
Looking relaxed is the man we tipped for the time trial champs, but it didn’t happen – big Suisse, Stefan Küng, he’d be smiling still at the day’s end.
Whilst his Swiss team mate Silvan Dillier was already thinking about all those kilometres he’d spend in the 11 man break which splashed through the floods and dominated the TV screens until the circuits.
Trentin looked cool, calm and collected – not the vision of dejection we saw on the podium.
The circuits – increased from seven to nine to account for the rain-shortened large loop – were savage, lumpy, technical, wet, cold and wearing.
We lost two race favourites for the price of one when Gilbert went down, Evenepoel went back for him and neither got back.
It wasn’t long until Phil Gil was pedalling along the narrow ‘escape’ lane back to the busses, not the way he’d have liked his Deceuninck days to end.
Latvian Champion and 2015 UCI Americas Tour winner, Toms Skujins finished 21st, his face told the story of a day of unrelenting Elite Road World Championships misery.
After we saw Julian Alaphilippe in action in the Canadian World Tour races we rather felt the little Frenchman wasn’t on his best game – the Harrogate circuit soon finds these things out; here he reflects on 28th place.
The mighty Belgian squadra with four potential winners could do no better than eighth from GVA who slipped quietly away through the crush to safety of the Belgian team bus.
Aussie fast man, Michael Matthews did have form in Canada but he was another spurned by Lady Harrogate, he was almost in tears as he rode away from 24th place.
Ben Swift’s boyish visage looked much older at the end of this race; twice a podium finisher in the Primavera and fifth in the Bergan Worlds, we’d expected more than 32ndfrom him – but then so did he on a day where the cold just bit harder and harder as the laps counted down.
The man who many expected would be King – me included – cut a picture of total dejection, pale and avoiding all eye contact, his gaze on the wet tar.
But with his talent, the day will surely come for Mathieu Van Der Poel?
But this was a day for the Viking Raiders from the North with three men in the top 12: Pedersen, Valgren and Fuglsang.
As we say in Copenhagen; “Tillykke !”