Tuesday, 30 September 2014
A TALE OF TWO WORLDS
Ponferrada was not exciting in terms of the course and for the lack of support anywhere along the route. Wide nondescript drags and unattractive backdrop especially around the finish line (TT and Road races alike) and a very small presence of fans to cheer the riders. Even in the busiest section around the castle there were big gaps, which is shocking considering how many people turned up in Yorkshire for Tour de France or Belfast for the Giro. Spain is a cycling nation and their riders were amongst the favourites to win, which makes the lack of support even more difficult to understand... the bad weather? Come on, it was only a bit of rain.
However, races are mostly made interesting by the riders themselves, and in the end it was exciting to watch it unfold. Kudos have to go to the Polish and Italian teams. Italy was never going to be favourite with a below par Nibali, but they still tried to make the ride hard and chased down the breakaway. Most of the big teams did their turns at the front but in the end we all knew the decisive attack would come on the very last climb. Almost all the usual suspects tried but Kwiatkowski timed it to perfection, if anything most thought he had gone too soon, ok I did, given the long fast descent. But, as Strava showed later on, he was the fastest descender, and that sealed his fate.
While young Michal was taking every risk to get to the finish line first impersonating Mohoric in his crazy sit-on-top-tube style, Gilbert chased, dragging with him Gerrans, Gallopin, Van Avermaet, Valverde, Breschel (by the way, are the Worlds the only race he does?). Gilbert's face was a masterpiece of pain and determination, and had some of his companions helped taking in turns at the front, they might have succeeded in catching the Pole. But Gerrans, Valverde and even the Frenchman decided to play hide and seek behind Big G and jump him when he had nothing left to give to get a hollow medal. Hollow for the manner they took it. I don't normally have a problem with people's tactics and wheel sucking, sometimes it's called for by the tactics, but that's when the group is more or less together and there's enough gap to play cat and mouse. But in this instance it didn't look good. I'm pretty sure Harry Potter's invisibility cloak was deployed.
Never mind all that because in the end the winner was Kwiatkowski, a young rider (24) who only really burst into the scene this year winning National TT championship, Volta ao Algarve, Strade Bianche (beating Sagan of all people) and performed at the top level in many others. Cancellara didn't have the legs and the team (too small), partly I think he was confused by the splash of green in his jersey; Sagan confirmed his form needs re-tuning and motivation re-thinking; Team GB did the best they could and young Rowe, Swift and Kennaugh will soon fight it out for real.
Most of the race was not entertaining, but racing sometimes produces caging tactics, a big crash and the course didn't help either as it wasn't hard enough, as Lizzie Armitstead said in post-race interview. So the peloton stayed all together at a comparatively sedate pace until the last lap, when four of the best riders, Longo-Borghini, Vos, Armitstead and Johansson, pulled away and seemed to fight it out to the line. That is, until they decided that 5% chance was better than 25% and with 500 metres to go they waited for the chasers to catch up and past them. Inexplicably it became a bunch sprint and only Johansson from the 4 musketeers managed a medal.