October 3, 2010 by Irish Peloton
A Rainbow Jersey and Dodgy Commentary
So Thor Hushovd is the new World Champion, Norway’s first ever winner of the road race. In fact it’s Norway’s first ever medal of any kind in either the road race or the time trial. Hushovd did what he does best, he survived with what was left of the bunch as the likes of Cadel Evans and Phillipe Gilbert were swept up, and he powered past everybody in the resulting sprint. There was plenty of debate in the build up whether the race would come down to a bunch sprint or not. Although the top placings contain a number of sprinters, it definitely was not a ‘bunch sprint’.
The group which contested the finish contained a mere 18 riders, plenty of whom were not sprinters at all (Cadel Evans, Frank Schleck, Fabian Wegmann). I suggested before that the race could play out in a similar fashion to an edition of Milan San Remo. I daresay that this was far more exciting, and the group that contested the finish was considerably smaller than the group which usually battles for the win in Milan San Remo. Although with Hushovd, Freire, Gilbert, Davis and Pozzato in the final selection, there was five riders who have previously finished on the podium of the Italian monument classic, and they ended up filling three of the top four places. There was one previous winner of Milan San Remo who was not at the finish though, Mark Cavendish, thus proving Hushovd, (and Cavendish himself) absolutely right.
Hushovd won this race using the one great skill he utilised to beat Cavendish to the Green Jersey in the 2009 Tour de France: climbing. Norway only had a three man team with Hushovd along with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kristoff. Because there was only three of them there was no real onus placed on them to do any great share of work in hauling breaks back. This responsibility fell on the shoulders of the big teams like Spain, Italy and Germany. Hushovd remained patient and was brought back to the front of the race to launch his finishing sprint to beat the remains of the front group of 18 riders. Unlike Hushovd, who is primarily a classics rider, Cavendish has only once won a sprint from a group of a similar size to this. That was in the Tour of Qatar in 2009. In that instance however, the whittling down of the peloton was due to crosswinds and echelons rather than hills and climbing.
It is fantastic that Hushovd will now continue from where Cadel Evans left off, as a World Champion who has never been embroiled in a doping controversy. Although I must qualify that by saying that Hushovd has recently spoken out against Floyd Landis’s decision to talk at an anti-doping conference. Statements like this from active riders seems to me, to just encourage the code of silence regarding doping within the peloton. If a former doper wishes to speak about his experiences then I feel he must be allowed to do so.
Hushovd has already stated that his big goal for next year will be to win Paris-Roubaix while wearing the rainbow jersey. This is a feat which has not been achieved for 30 years but has actually been done on five separate occasions. The most recent to do it was Bernard Hinault in 1980. Before him came Francesco Moser in 1978 and a young Eddy Merckx in 1968. Finally Rik van Looy managed it to do it twice in a row when he won back to back World Championships in 1960 and 1961, and followed it up with back to back Paris-Roubaix wins in 1961 and 1962.
As the World Championships took place in Australia, this meant for us Europeans that the races took place at horrific hours of the day. Accordingly, this also meant that Eurosport decided to show delayed coverage of the racing at more sensible times rather than provide live coverage. As a result, I had to watch Hushovd’s victory on BBC, where the commentator Hugh Porter really put into perspective what an immense job David Harmon does on Eurosport.
Porter did his best to sound excited and provide us with a colorful commentary but he fell woefully short of the standards set by Harmon. He spent a large amount of time simply naming out riders that were in a particular breakaway, more often than not getting the names wrong, which only served to confuse the former World Time Trial Champion Chris Boardman (who was doing a fine job as co-commentator). It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Porter had money riding on the ‘big sprinter’ André Greipel, as he spent a large chunk of the race working out whether he was “in the front group, or the group behind, or maybe he was in the front group, yes that’s him! No wait, our computer is saying he’s not in the front group, but I really think that’s him Chris! Yes, the big German sprinter is in here”.
Apart from his constant referrals to ‘big sprinters’ such as Alexander Kolobnev, Tony Martin and Samuel Sanchez, his biggest gaffe came in the closing kilometres. He failed to see Gilbert being swept up by the peloton as Vladimir Gusev attacked and he proceeded to spend the final three kilometres wondering why the pictures weren’t showing Gilbert off the front. I will be most certainly looking forward to returning to the tried and tested combo of David Harmon and Sean Kelly for the remaining races of the season.
As for Nicolas Roche, he appeared in the large group of 35 riders that went off the front with about 70km to go but ended up fading badly to finish in 97th spot almost 15 minutes back. The huge efforts he put in throughout the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana must surely have taken its toll on him. Coupled with the fact he only flew out to Australia on Wednesday, a good few days after most other participants, it was always going to be a tough race for him. In fact, he was one of only three riders to finish in the top 20 of both the Tour and Vuelta and to even take to the startline in Geelong, the others being Luis Leon Sanchez and Ruben Plaza.
I was a little surprised to see Matt Brammeier in the break of the day. Surely the goal was to try and launch Roche into a position where he might scrap for a medal. Sending a team mate into an early break so your own team is not obliged to chase is a valid tactic, but not one that needs to be employed by a team with only three riders. Brammeier, I feel, would have served the Irish team better by staying with Roche as long as possible. Although, perhaps Roche had announced that morning that he wasn’t feeling the best, in which case Brammeier had nothing to lose by being in the break. Despite my tactical misgivings, it was nice to see a green jersey at the head of the race for most of the day.
The five man break Brammeier found himself in almost engineered what would have been a bizarre scenario. The race route brought the riders on an 80km route from Melbourne to Geelong where they were to ride 11 laps of a 15.9 km circuit. By the time the leading group containing Brammeier reached the finishing circuit, they were more than 20 minutes ahead of the peloton, almost the amount of time it takes to complete a lap. Had the group been allowed a further 2 or 3 minutes lead, they would have had one lap completed as the peloton entered the finishing circuit. The five riders could have re-integrated into the peloton with a lap in hand over everybody. If that scenario had played out, there is no way that any riders could have lapped the field on the testing Geelong circuit. We could have been waking up to headlines of Matt Brammeier – World Champion!