The World Road Race Championship is without a doubt one of the sport’s greatest spectacles. To me, the best thing about Worlds is its ability to produce a surprise winner that’s never really a surprise. By this I mean that the World Champion is often not the rider you might have expected or wanted to win, but still someone whose victory comes as no shock. Take last year, for example: Cadel Evans was not someone mentioned near the top of many lists of contenders, but when he won, most of us felt as if we could have seen it coming—even thought we didn’t.
With the exception of one of my esteemed colleagues, this year’s race produced a similar winner. While I considered Hushovd an outside contender for the win Sunday, there were others whom I felt were more likely candidates. In hindsight though, I’m not surprised at all. That said, let’s take a look at Sunday’s winners and losers.
JR picked Thor for the win—and had been saying he was going to do so since the first week of the Vuelta. Not many guys call their shots and get them right. Color me impressed.
Only a blog would give credit to one of its editors before giving credit to the man actually making the news. All kidding aside, Thor rode a fantastic race, sticking with it long after others had abandoned, riding patiently while his teammate (Boasson Hagen) was in the leading group, and taking care of business when given the opportunity. He now heads to Paris-Tours as a top favorite, and looks to become the first World Champion to win a major cobbled classic since Tom Boonen won the Ronde in 2006.
Gilbert entered Sunday’s race with a huge target on his back, yet raced the way true champions are expected to—even in defeat. Moral victories don’t count for much in a country where the term “what have you done for me lately?” might as well as be the national motto, but Belgium has no reason to slight Gilbert’s efforts. He did his best, but in the end was defeated by a course that proved just a bit too easy for an escape to stick.
Cadel Evans and his Aussie teammates more than held their own in front of a home crowd. While the team failed to defend its title from Mendrisio, Evans made every move that mattered and Allan Davis took third on the day. Good on ya, mates!
The New Course Format
I don’t know about you, but I liked the addition of a long lap before beginning the traditional finishing circuits. It makes the race more interesting to watch, gives more fans a chance to see their stars, and has to be more interesting for the riders themselves.
The Killer V’s
Jonathan Vaughters and Gerard Vroomen now have a World Champion in their midst—certainly the biggest win in either squad’s history. The bar has been raised for 2011, but with a solid team of men ready to prove they belong, more big wins—and the publicity that accompanies them—seem certain to follow.
Mattio and I
We completely misjudged the race—my pick (Matthew Goss) didn’t even finish. Ugh.
Talk about hero to zero! Cancellara finished 50th after failing to make the day’s key selection. If Cancellara’s really serious about winning Worlds—and the hillier monuments—one day, he’ll need to seriously re-think the scope and sequence of his season. Anything’s possible for the powerful Swiss champion, but his performance Sunday leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those expecting a repeat of his dominating April.
Belgium has to be wondering what Sunday would have been like had an in-form Tom Boonen made the trip. While they can’t be blamed for his non-selection (he’s only just returned to racing after an injury-riddled summer), they have to be disappointed to see their boys come home empty-handed. The team rode as well as it could have given the conditions, they just lacked a rider able to contend in that kind of finale.
Running the Italian National team is a lot like managing the New York Yankees or coaching Real Madrid as its nearly impossible to live up to the expectations of the world’s most passionate fans—especially when you have one of the planet’s most gifted talent pool from which to build your team. Italy’s strongest move was sending Vincenzo Nibali up the road with a few laps left to race—even if it was probably a bit too soon. In the end, Pippo Pozzato followed wheels to fourth place, but never appeared strong enough to win. After leaving several men known more for their powerful sprints at home, Bettini has several questions to answer. Even worse for the new capo, next year’s sprinter’s course in Copenhagen won’t make life any easier.
Samuel Sanchez and Luis Leon Sanchez failed to even finish, while 3-time champion Oscar Freire—in a finale that seemed tailor-made for him—could manage no better than sixth. Freire’s best days might be creeping behind him, but the question remains: how did he end up alone in the lead group? With not a single teammate able to make the cut, Spanish fans can’t be blamed for wondering how many days remain before Valverde’s return.
The United States
Is it harsh to wonder if the United States’ U23 team would have fared better Sunday than the elite men did? Tyler Farrar was nowhere to be seen—the top US-finisher was Ted King in 73rd, more than 13 minutes behind Hushovd. On a day when many (including yours truly) had expected Farrar to prove that he’s more than just a field sprinter, he failed to impress. It’s a shame USA Cycling seems to treat the elite men’s road race as more of a vacation than an objective.
Race Radio Fans
Sorry Johan Bruyneel, but every time a race is run without the use of rider-to-car radios, it’s exciting, aggressive, and almost never fails to produce a worthy winner. Was Sunday a glimpse into cycling’s future?
What about you? Who are your Worlds winners and losers? Share your comments below.