Midge is a little late with this one. She’s blaming the heat in Doha, the fact the result left her speechless, and a little detour to Paris for the Tour de France presentation… or as she likes to call it the ‘best dressed cyclist’ award show [we use the word best under advisement]. Here is the final, FINAL KM from Doha.
Elite men road race
It was a brutal 257km of racing. The Belgian team blew the race apart in the crosswinds of the Qatari desert with 200km to go, and drove the reduced bunch to maintain the advantage on the circuits of Doha. Tom Boonen opened the sprint, Mark Cavendish went left and had to come around Michael Mathews. He caught Boonen to grab the silver but there was nothing either could do about Peter Sagan. The Slovakian tyro squeezed through the smallest gap between the barriers on the right and Giacomo Nizzolo, crossing the finish line in a roar of triumph to retain the rainbows. All we can say is it was a hell of a race, a hell of finish, and certainly one hell of a podium.
Here’s the whole race, starting at the 10km to go mark…
The above encapsulates the bare bones of the day, yet there was so much more to the race than the finale. Let’s have a closer look…
Making the break …
The elite men’s race was the only one at the championships to have a part of the route (150km) in the desert. This may have just been an exercise in heat survival if the wind hadn’t blown… but it did. This is the moment the race was won – or lost – in a matter of seconds.
It was classic Tour of Qatar racing, and no one knows how to do this better than the Belgians. You can see the moment they make the crucial right hand turn. The cross-tail wind strikes, and suddenly riders are fighting for a wheel and praying they can hang on. It’s pure gutter racing. As the move starts, watch out for the Belgian rider who lets the gap go thus setting the front group free – it’s just perfect. A lot of teams, most notably Germany and France, lost any chance of winning right there – 200km to go and out of the game.
The Velvet Samurai is the last man to make the split, although Niki Terpstra and Koen de Kort bridged across later. Imagine the effort it takes to cross that gap when the front group travelling at 70kph. Here’s a treasure of a video that explains the frantic chaos, and the heartbreak of losing out due to mechanical or moments inattention. Makes you feel for John Degenkolb, Sam Bennett and Magnus Cort who made the split but had to watch their chance disappear up the road..
When the dust settled and the race headed back for the Doha circuits, the lead group contained 26 riders with the chase group around a minute back. Nine times out of ten you’d expect the echelons to come back together – particularly with so far to go to the finish and with so many teams not represented at the front. However, the junction was never made. Why?
First, exceptional performances by the Norwegians, Italians and Belgian riders in the front group. One by one these warriors laid it on the line for their team captains. Make no mistake about the effort it took to keep the group away. Every photograph shows the pain-etched face of a rider on the rivet. There were many strong men on the day, but I’m going to single out three riders for special mention. Stand up and take a bow Jasper Stuyven, Daniele Bennatti and Truls Korseath (pictured below). The young Norwegian might have been immodestly clad, but it was an outstanding effort considering this is his first elite championship.Embed from Getty Images
Another contributing factor was the disarray in the second group which contained all three German captains: Andre Greipel, The Mighty Degs ™ and Marcel Kittel. Unfortunately for that trio the group also contained the Belgians Iljo Keisse and Jens Debusschere who did a fantastic job of disrupting every attack – time and time again. Frustrated beyond measure by this tactic we saw an outbreak of #HeatCrazedDegs in a rather unsavoury bidon incident. Shortly afterwards a distraught Kittel and Degenkolb abandoned the race, the Gorilla finished in 42nd place. Asked about the incident later Degs replied, “The bidon? Oh, Jens asked for refreshment and I granted his wish.”
A last minute flurry…
Not everyone in the front group could afford to wait for the sprint, and Dutch duo Niki Terpstra and Tom Leezer definitely had a plan B. Riders and fans alike waited for the inevitable Terpstra move, but I don’t think anyone was expecting Leezer to fly solo in the last kilometre. We watched amazed as the gap grew and distance ticked down: 600m, 500m, 400m, the finish line in sight and still he kept going. It would have been a huge surprise, the type the Worlds throws up every now and then, but it wasn’t to be. He was caught with 350m to go, but he carries the accolade of the ONLY rider to have broken the Belgians! His post race interview is full of good grace, we love him.
The last words…
Much has been written about Sagan and his back-to-back world titles: and all of it deserved. He is a cycling phenomenon on the bike and equally as engaging off it, we can’t wait to see how he will chose to honour the stripes next season.
Silver and bronze deserve to be feted too. Both previous World champions and both targeting this race as their best chance for another title. As they waited for the podium ceremony, Cavendish that he had been involved in a training accident four days before the race. Nevertheless he and his compatriot Adam Blythe rode smart and clever in the front group and very nearly came up with the goods.
Boonen put his Belgian team to work, made the difference and called the shots all the race long. We can argue that they should have tried to drop Sagan and Cavendish, but the pace they rode and the flat parcours made that task just about impossible. Boonen was bitterly disappointed, his words after the race are hard to read.
In the context of this race where split second decisions made the difference, both were great performances – they just came up short on the day.Embed from Getty Images
Sagan: “I don’t believe it. I’m still in shock, I’m very happy because there was a crosswind and I was the last one to make the first group. In the end, there was a bit of a headwind so I felt I needed to come from the back. I felt I was lucky because Nizzolo didn’t close me out. If he closed me out for sure we would have crashed because I wasn’t going to brake. We should have crashed but I’m happy. It’s unbelievable.”
Cavendish: ” I’m a little bit disappointed. I feel like I lost gold rather than I won silver. That’s how it is, you know.”
Boonen: [asked if Sagan would be unbeatable next year] “He’s won a few races but he hasn’t won everything, everybody’s beatable.”
BRING ON THE SPRING CLASSICS!!!!
Full report at Cycling News.
Header image: Podium of World Champions past and present © Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images