So Phil finally did it: he took the jersey that if he hadn’t taken at least once in his career, he would have never have not been reminded about it. Philippe Gilbert won the Worlds, and in the end, he made it look much easier then he many anticipated.
The race that panned out was odd in that it lacked the tension that it usually did, for me anyway – the breakaway never had any time gap more then five minutes, and thanks to Great Britain, or should that just be Mark Cavendish, they were never going to escape the clutches of the peloton. The dull weather didn’t quite give it the golden lustre of other races either, and the course seemed less hilly then the map had made out. This is always the way with the Worlds – the route is never really known until the actual race. I got hugely confused at the end when the sign saying 5.6km to go came up on screen, as the pack of 60 odd riders seemed to be simply tootling along with no one watching on the side of the road, as they’d presumably gone to find a TV. Still, the race was always going to be an improvement on the bore-fest that was the GB time trial around Copenhagen last year, but it didn’t match the heights of the astounding Geelong route, or the Menderiso race destroyed by Cancellara. However, in the end, the man we all picked out a year ago when the course was announced was ultimately the one to take the crown – Gilbert.
Gold – Philippe Gilbert
I’m immensly glad that Gilbert took the win – he saved his season in doing so, having taken just two wins (albeit Vuelta stages) before hand, which compared terribly with his embarrassment of riches from 2011’s Ardennes Quadruple. This is arguably the reason why Gilbert sort of swept under the radar during the race – perhaps we were all conned into thinking he was no longer any good, when really, he had simply been fatigued/ill/whatever other excuse BMC offered early in the year (a ‘viral infection’ is a popular choice for their riders for the moment!).
However, when it mattered, Belgium and Gilbert played the race very well, keeping out of trouble and using few of their men before lining up with Boonen 4th and Gilbert 5th in line coming into the Cauberg. Gilbert then scooted up to the slow motion attack of Nibali, who glides off the front rather then bursting like Gilbert, and then, at the precise moment when Nibali’s legs slowed just the slightest amount in their rotation, he sprang and kicked his big ring ferociously to power away to glory. Ironically, he benefited from what his teammate Boonen had hoped would be his own personal benefactor come the finish – the strong wind, except that it was now a tail wind, not a head wind as Boonen had hoped would stall the climbers. Thus, freed from the bonds of the peloton, Gilbert was, as Phil Ligget would say, free to fly to what many have seen as his destiny – a solo win up the Cauberg to take the rainbow jersey. With the Tour of Lombardy now moved to just a week away, who would bet against him taking a 4th win of the year and 1st in the rainbow bands in Lecco?
Silver – Edvald Boassen Hagen
Norway continue to punch way above their strength in the big one day races – in the last couple of years, they’ve had Thor Hushovd win the Worlds, Alexander Kristoff take Bronze at the Olympics, and now Boassen Hagen has a silver at the worlds: an impressive haul from a nation that has just five ProTeam riders on the cards (the others being Gabriel Rasch and Lars Petter Nordhaug). Boassen Hagen was the leader given the lack of Hushovd (who has one of those ‘viral infections’), and his tiny 3 man team kept him just where he needed to be, even allowing him to make an effort to haul back the leaders on the penultimate lap. We should have forseen him being a string force on a climb given his perfomance on stage one of the Tour de France, when he laboured after Sagan and Cancellara, and he repeated the performance today after hopping on the Kolobnev/Valverde express.
Perhaps now, if Cavendish does leave Sky, the British team will realise what a talent they have wasted in Boassen Hagen, who has become an odd domestique de luxe instead of simply being let loose a la the 2011 Tour. He can sprint, climb, time trial…he may not be the new Merckx who can win the Tour as predicted in his youth (but then who is?), but his prodigious talent simply needs unleashing – he would be an excellent rival for Sagan and Moser.
Bronze – Alejandro Valverde
A fourth World Championship medal for Valverde, who already had two silvers and a bronze, and he ended up taking flak from Oscar Freire for not coming back to help him. Realistically, the race wasn’t coming back like Freire seemed to claim, and Valverde did the right thing. Unfortunately, the problem was that the chase group had one man too many – three, which meant one man would mess out on a medal. Thus, they quarreled over who would pull whilst Gilbert pulled away. Still, Valverde has to be happy with what has been a phenomenally successful comeback season – he would have won the Tour Down Under if it wasn’t for the the cannier Gerrans’ placements, took a Tour Stage wins, second at the Vuelta and a couple of stages, plus Silver at the worlds. Could next year see a proper grand Tour challenge, or will he return to being the major adversary of the man in rainbows?
Well done Mark Cavendish
Hearty congratulations to Cavendish for seeing out his stint in the rainbow jersey in style. Whilst he may have another chance in Qatar 2016 to take the jersey, he showed admiral courage to lead the peloton for near on 110 km of the race in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to win it, but would ‘defend’ it with pride. It was impressive to see the outgoing world champion leading the field, and something that might not ever bee seen again. it showed Cavendish’s class, and whatever team he lines up for with rainbow piping on his jersey next year, he can be proud of his achievements in 2012.
Why the heck was Wiggins even there?
I mean, seriously? What was the point of him being there? Whilst Cavendish was labouring at the front, Wiggins simply floated along at the back, then dropped off on the first couple of laps and abandoned the race. Whilst this will probably be dismissed as typical ‘Wiggo bashing’, the Tour de France champion not honouring the world championships is a bit pathetic, akin to footballers who can’t be bothered to play for the national team. You feel his place would have been better going to David Millar, who could have applied some nous and helped Tiernan Locke around his first 250km+ race, rather then being a training ride for Wiggins.
Hugh and David: Partners in crime
Speaking of David Millar, as I’m not blessed with enough of a data allowance to stream 7 hours of Eurosport player, I was stuck with the BBC commentary team of Hugh Porter and David Millar. Millar was actually rather good, and I presume brought in because Boardman was fed up of correcting Hugh, but showed his knowledge to help newcomers and the experienced alike. He did belittle a few of the weaker teams however, and despite mentioning WADA, found no time to mention his own past in regard to their subject matter. As for Porter…well, how the man still has a job is beyond me. Any other commentator showing his level of incompetency would be fired on the spot, but Hugh was allowed to get away with the comment ‘How important are wheels in a bike race?’, the usual myriad of miss-identifications, and an apparent obsession with Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, whose name must have been repeated a billion times and be firmly ingrained in the mind of everyone who watched the race. And let’s not even get started on his pronunciation of ‘OScar Free-air’
What happened to Sagan, the Dutch and Australia?
Sagan is simple – he was just knackered after a long season, and his aura of ‘terminator’ indestructibility made it seem odd he wasn’t up there with Gilbert. As for the home nation, the Dutch, they did well early on, marking the breaks, but got caught out by the big crash that was missed by the cameras and split the field – leaving just their men in the original break, who didn’t posses the kick required for victory, to battle on. However the award for the most disappointing team has to go to Australia, who you’d barely have known were in the race. Despite possessing one of the favourites in Gerrans, and punchy riders in Haussler and Porte,they never seemed botheres to even help out with the pace, let alone get Gerrans in a position to compete with Gilbert. A dissapointing ride from the Cyclones.
So that was the worlds. Gilbert will ride off as yet another as BMC’s legion of rainbow banded starlets, with a staggering 3 former champions to accompany him on the team (they must get great discount on the clothing), and with next year’s race in Italy also finishing on a hill, could we see two years of Phil in the jersey he so covets?