September 26/05 8:48 am - Road Worlds Men's Road Race Story
Posted by Editor on 09/26/05
Despite all the predictions that the men's 273 kilometre road would come down to a sprint between Italian Alessandro Petacchi and Australia's Robbie McEwen, it was Tom Boonen of Belgian who capped off a year of success and injury with the world champion's rainbow jersey. Boonen won a field sprint over 22 other competitors who made the final selection after 13 laps, with Alejandro Valverde (Spain) second and unheralded Anthony Geslin (France) third. Canada had one finisher out of three starters - Ryder Hesjedal hung in with the main field until the final selection on the last climb, ten kilometres from the finish line. He eventually finished 78th, 4:18 down on Boonen.
With 13 laps to cover of the 21 kilometre circuit, the race began slowly, with the top riders and their teams willing to let an early break go. Krasimir Vasilev (Bulgaria) got things underway with an attack in the first couple of kilometres. He didn't make much headway until joined on the third lap by chasers Juan Carlos Lopez (Colombia), Dmitry Muravyev (Kazakhstan) and Saul Raisin (USA).
Once this group got going they took the lead to nearly 12 minutes by the end of the fourth lap. However, at this point the lead began to shrink, as the Italian and Australian teams led the chase. Lopez was the first to drop out of the front group, followed by Vasilev. Raisin and Muravyev kept thinks going up front, but the handwriting was on the wall, and the gap began to drop a lap later.
Lopez dropped back on the sixth lap, and Vasilev was gone on the eighth. Raisin and Muravyev kept things going up front, but by the 90 kilometre to go mark the time split was down below five minutes. Things began to heat up at this point, and multiple attacks meant that the remaining two breakaways were caught early in the eleventh lap.
The first dangerous break of the race formed on this lap, containing Pieter Weening (Netherlands), Paolo Bettini (Italy), Patrick Calcagni (Switzerland), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan), Allan Davis (Australia), Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Spain), Fabian Wegmann (Germany) Valverde, Oscar Pereiro, Jakob Piil (Denmark) and Stijn Devolder (Belgium).
This looked to be a very dangerous move, with Italy, Australia, Belgium and Spain all represented by strong riders. Within a lap the gap to the disintegrating field was a minute. The peloton sensed that this was critical moment and kept the pace high. Bettini jumped on the second climb and was joined by Wegmann, Piil, Devolder, Gilbert, Valverde, and Perdiguero, however the bunch, down to less than half its original size was led back up to them by the Australian team, with Henk Vogels at the front.
It turned out that Petacchi had communicated that he was not on form (he had come off the back during one of the surges with five laps to go, but rejoined with the assistance of team mates). So Bettini was trying to stir things up and get away from the pure sprinters like McEwen and Erik Zabel (Germany). The Olympic champion went again in the final lap and when he was brought back Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) launched a couple of tries.
The second attempt brought along Bettini, Michael Boogerd (Netherlands), Marcos Serrano (Spain), Gorazd Stangelj (Slovenia) and Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands). This group looked like they may have managed to pull it off, with a ten second lead and less than a kilometre to go, but the Belgian team, who hadn't been doing the work of the Australians or Germans, and managed to make contact coming out of the last u-turn with a 600 metre uphill run to the finish.
Vinokourov tried again, but was quickly passed in the last 300 metres by Valverde, who was passed in turn by Boonen as he came off the wheel of team mate Mario Aerts.
"The last lap was very important" stated Boonen afterwards. "The Belgian team was always in the front, and worked very hard to catch the leaders in the last three kilometres. For me, this was my dream. After winning the double at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix I looked towards the Green Jersey at the Tour until I had bad luck and was injured in a crash.
It was very hard to get back in shape for this race. People were saying 'Boonen, he's not in shape' (for the Worlds), but I was very motivated to do this. This is the biggest..."
Boonen also commented on whether or not he was concerned about Petacchi - "The last two laps I didn't see him. I didn't ride his wheel or focus on him (during the race). It is better to ride your own race, to believe in yourself. I have found that if you focus on another rider you usually lose."
- Canadians Francois Parisien and Dominique Perras came off at the 200 kilometre mark and with one and a half laps to go respectively. Parisien commented "I tried to stay to the front on the climbs, maintain good position, but once it (the race) went over my usual distance of 200 kilometres I didn't have enough to stay on."
Perras went out the back at the same time as Cadel Evans (Australia) and a number of others - on the second climb of the penultimate lap. "A bit of a gap opened on the first climb, and we (the group he was with) managed to get back by the base of the second climb, but then they went harder again and we had nothing left."
- Hesjedal managed to stay with the lead group until the final climb, with 10 kilometres remaining in the race. Hesjedal was competing in his first road world championships. "I only came off on the very last climb. I had to dig really deep on the second to last climb; I stuck with (the leaders), but I was dead and couldn't maintain the pace when they got to the last climb. On the last three laps it got harder and harder - guys were coming off pretty quick, so I can't be too disappointed. I'm just happy to have been there until the last climb.
I had no strategy, just survive. To think that i could do something, be in a break was too optimistic. When I came apart, the last 10 kilometres to the line seemed longer than the whole race.
I didn't have the best prep for this race - I didn't know I was doing it until after San Francisco, and then I was doing both the time trial and the road race!"
- Hesjedal also commented on his first full season as a road pro: "I think the season has been a pretty big success. I was in the early Classics, and finished. I had a bad crash in the Giro, but raced well before that, and had a good Nationals. So I'm pretty pleased with this year, it's been a learning experience, a chance to grow."
- Given the number of riders in the peloton who ride for Italian trade teams, Boonen was asked how many "Italians" were in the peloton? He grinned and replied " 50! ".
- There were ongoing security issues with the Spanish police throughout the Worlds. Initially, the police screamed and threatened to arrest any photographer who dared to step on the course (even though credentialed photogs are given bibs to identify themselves and are allowed free access). Eventually, the word came down that photographers were allowed, and then the police interpreted this to mean that when the circuit was full of cars, bikes and motorcycles the photographers could be there, but once the race had gone past (and the road was completely empty) they all had to jump behind the barricades again...
Once this was finally dealt with the police decided to ignore everyone, and there were a number of near misses with elderly pedestrians as the police stood around in groups chatting. The final podium presentation turned into a frightening near riot, as the police all disappeared after the riders crossed the line and thousands of fans poured onto the course, pushing and shoving to get near the podium.