Road World Championships round-table

An exciting Road World Championships drew to a close on Sunday, so of course we spent Monday dusting off the old satellite link between VeloVoices Towers in London and the Peloton Pentagon in Washington DC, cracked open some Grolsch and had a quick transatlantic natter about the largely excellent racing we saw, whether it was live in Limburg (Sheree) or whatever we could garner from TV and online feeds (the rest of us). Here’s what we thought …

It was a week of hilly races. What did we think of the various parcours?

Kitty: As a Classics fan, I loved them. One team couldn’t control the race. Everybody had to really ride hard on the parcours.

Jack: Yep, no complaints from me! Proper Classics-style parcours are never a bad thing. It was difficult to control, unpredictable and not just a boring sprint race.

The road race parcours called for tactical as well as physical strength. PhilGil duly obliged with a perfect attack (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Sheree: It was a deceptively difficult course and I loved the fact that there were loads of different starts to include as much of the region as possible. In the end, the extra distance tacked onto the Cauberg wasn’t that decisive as it was largely all downhill.

Tim: I liked the routes. Early climbs set a tricky challenge in terms of energy management, and of course having the Cauberg near the finish put an onus on tactical strength as well as physical power, as exemplified by the timing of Philippe Gilbert‘s attack in the men’s road race.

Panache: I was thrilled with both the time trial and road race courses. The addition of some wind and wet sections made the races all the more unpredictable. Racing over the Cauberg ten times for the elite men’s race … OUCH!

The trade team time trial made a return to the Championships this year. Is it worthy of inclusion?

Sheree: It was a great visual spectacle and also much enjoyed by the teams. It would have been impossible to host this as a national team time trial as the teams don’t get enough time to ride and train together. So running it as a trade team competition was the only practical solution.

Trade teams returned to the Worlds, with Specialized-Lululemon winning the women’s team time trial (image courtesy of Specialized-Lululemon)

Tim: Personally I think so, as team time-trialling is a difficult technical discipline to master, as we saw on the Cauberg, where the men’s event was effectively won and lost. Having trade teams provides a familiar entry point for casual fans, whose only association with the sport may be the Tour de France. From a commercial perspective, it also provides a week-long event in a fixed location where teams can wine and dine both existing and potential sponsors. Having it on the very first day also means it serves more as an amuse bouchewhich doesn’t distract from the main course. Is it necessary? No. Does it add something different? Yes.

Jack: I have no problems with it being included. The TTT is a technical and tactical masterpiece when executed properly, and should be recognised at the World Championships. It is bizarre to have trade teams, and if I was to make one alteration it would be to run national teams. As Sheree says, this would be difficult, but not impossible. There have previously been national TTTs in the Worlds – but not since 1994.

Kitty: I found the whole trade team one day, country the next very odd. It was exciting but does it really mean anything? Not sure it was worth putting in, to be honest.

Panache: As a fan, I always enjoy a good team TT but what is the reward for winning this one? What does it mean? Meh. Call me a cynic but this just seems to me to be another way for the UCI to extract money from the trade teams.

What was the most exciting race you watched?

Tim: I refuse to choose. I watched at least the final hour or so of both team time trials and all four elite races, and they were all full of drama and cunning strategy which kept us guessing right to the end how things were going to pan out.

Kitty: I only actually watched the men’s races …

Panache: Kitty, you only watched the men’s races?!?

Phinney won silver in the ITT, but it was so nearly gold (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Kitty: (hangs her head in shame) I would say the most exciting race of those was the individual time trial as it was so nip and tuck until the very end between Tony Martin and Taylor Phinney.

Panache: You missed the most exciting race, the women’s road race! It was exciting from start to finish with constant little attacks and then a break that stuck. Watching Marianne Vos win on her home soil after years of trying was thrilling. Her move at the end was so strong that she had time to grab a Dutch flag before crossing the line. It was panache-tastic!

Jack: Same as Kitty, I only watched the men’s races. But I differ in that I thought the men’s road race was more exciting, although then again I always find time trials boring! The constant attacks and breakaways of the road race made it an excellent spectacle, and very rarely are things boring when Philippe Gilbert is on form.

Sheree: Sadly not all of the races were broadcast. Frankly, it would be impossible to crown any of them as the most exciting as the live spectators were treated to a veritable visual feast. Both individual time trials were exciting largely because all eyes were on the clock of the last rider out of the start gate, the defending champion, who in both cases mounted a successful defence. However, if I had to pick one it would be the men’s under-23 road race where a photo-finish was needed to determine the winner, Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko.

If you had to nominate an individual as your rider of the Championships, who would it be and why?

Panache: I love Taylor Phinney, Philippe Gilbert and Judith Arndt but Marianne Vos is BOSS! I believe that right now she is the best bicycle rider in the world (man or woman). She is Cyclecross World Champion, Olympic gold medallist, and now World road race champion. What a legend!

Kitty: Taylor Phinney – he rode with such heart during the ITT, missing gold by five seconds. He was the highlight for me, although I did love that PhilGil won the way he did.

Arndt rode into retirement with a second consecutive rainbow jersey (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Tim: For me it has to be Judith Arndt. Both she and Tony Martin put their towels down at the top of the Cauberg to defend their titles. But Arndt didn’t just win: she simply annihilated her rivals, riding more than a second per kilometre faster than anyone else. What a way to cycle off into the sunset of her retirement. Outstanding.

Sheree: Oh, I hate it when you ask us to pick out one stand-out performance against so many. Three riders retained their crowns – no mean feat: Judith Arndt, Tony Martin and Lucy Garner. While young Elinor Barker moved up from silver last year to gold this. However, if you’re going to insist then it’ll have to be Philippe Gilbert, who well and truly confounded his critics who I hope are eating humble pie this morning. [It’s a particularly delicious pie – Ed.]

Jack: I’m with Sheree on this one. PhilGil has had a difficult season but it was evident in the last few races he was riding himself into form for the Worlds, and he has more than made amends. When he made the decisive move I doubt anyone thought he could be caught, and sure enough, he couldn’t. Much like Mark Cavendish, Gilbert is a rider who will do the rainbow jersey justice next season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win at least one of the Ardennes Classics – and who knows, maybe repeat his triple of 2011.

Tim: Seeing as you mentioned him, can I just put in an honourable mention for Cav? He knew he couldn’t win but he upheld the honour of his status as outgoing champion by riding on the front of the peloton and then not climbing off on the first ascent of the Cauberg. The fans at the roadside certainly appreciated his efforts, although I see from his comments afterwards that he is more convinced than ever that he will never ride Amstel Gold!

Kitty: (groans) Man-crush alert!

Did anyone catch your eye in the junior and under-23 races as one to look out for in the future?

Tim: British cycling is in rude health at the moment, but what interests me the most is to see the next generation coming through. We saw this with Laura Trott in the Olympic velodrome, and Elinor Barker – who only turned 18 the week before the Worlds started – confirmed her potential in the junior time trial here. Second last year, she was over two seconds per kilometre faster than silver medallist Cecilie Ludwig. She’s a pretty useful track cyclist too. And Lucy Garner, of course, defended her junior road race title with a devastating sprint finish. The future’s in safe hands.

Sheree: I would certainly echo Tim’s comments about the girl’s races. We watched the junior boys’ race in the company of team GB (that would be Germain Burton, not Great Britain). While none of the team won, they rode strongly and intelligently as a team but were ultimately beaten by boys who were more physically developed. I’d say the future’s equally bright for the boys.

Kitty: I didn’t watch any of those so I can’t comment.

Jack: Ditto.

Panache: This was the only event I didn’t get to see.

All the women’s races were less than two-thirds the length of the men’s equivalents, and the elite women’s road race was less than half as long as the men’s (129km versus 267km). Is this really necessary?

Jack: Simply, if there is a desire in the women’s pro peloton to increase the length of the races, then the length should be increased.

Kitty: I’ve never understood why men’s and women’s sports of any kind are different in duration or length. Same length, same money, same coverage, I say.

Sheree: Women’s races are shorter for practical reasons. They’re more than capable of riding that distance but how are they going to take comfort breaks? It’s an issue faced by all female riders, professional or otherwise. While our male counterparts head for the nearest tree, or pee on the bike, this isn’t an option for the ladies, though I do understand that female triathletes have this down to a fine art. And, as we know, the women don’t get the same money as men – there is no minimum wage and only a handful earns a living wage. Most ride for kit, bike and expenses.

Panache: I will say this only: the rewards for winning the women’s race should be equal to the rewards for winning the men’s race.

Tim: I think marketing is the key issue here, rather than race length. After all, women’s tennis can be just as exciting as the men’s version even though it is best of three sets rather than five. I think the UCI seriously needs to do more about promoting women’s racing and see what market forces dictate. If there is demand for more coverage of women’s racing – and I strongly suspect there is – it should provide exactly that. With coverage comes TV and sponsorship money and so the virtuous circle begins. And if the demand isn’t there yet, then they should create it by promoting the heck out of the Tour de France Féminin, the Giro Donne and the key Classics. These things take time, but every journey starts with a small step. It can be done. Women’s football is a good model with the English Women’s Super League now receiving strong backing from Sky TV in the UK, and live coverage of both the World Cup and European Championships both well established.

Kitty: Right, that’s enough about football. See you all for Lombardia at the weekend?

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