Canadian Cyclist


September 24/06 6:27 am - World Road Championships: Elite Men's RR Report

Posted by Editoress on 09/24/06

World Road Championships Salzburg, Austria

Reports made possible by the support of ENERVIT

Photos part one
part two

Paolo Bettini, the Olympic road cycling champion, finally won the title which has eluded him through his career when he took the Elite Men's title at the Road Cycling World Championships on Sunday in Salzburg. Bettini outsprinted Erik Zabel of Germany and Alejandro Valverde of Spain to win the 265.9 kilometer, 12 lap event in a time of six hours, 15 minutes and 36 seconds. Canada's lone entry in the race, Ryder Hesjedal, was dropped from the lead group after nearly 190 kilometers of racing, and retired from the race at the end of the ninth lap.

A race this long follows a predictable pattern, with a series of early attacks until the right mix of riders forms off the front of the peloton (top teams represented, nobody too much of a threat). This group then rides away to what seems like an insurmountable lead before the peloton decides to reel them in and starts shedding riders at a ferocious pace.

This year was no different, with Alex Ardila Cano (Colombia) starting the action on the first lap. American Tyler Farrar set off in pursuit, and was joined by nine others on the second lap - Nicolas Roche (Ireland), Matteo Tosatto and Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy), Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium), Bram De Groot (Netherlands), Daniel Andonov Petrov (Bulgaria), Luis Perez Rodriguez (Spain), Stephan Schreck (Germany) and Aliaksandr Kychinski (Belarus). By the end of lap three Cano was caught by the leaders, who then really began to put time on the peloton.

By the end of lap four (90 kilometres of racing) the gap was up to a staggering 15 minutes, putting the leaders half a lap in front of the peloton. This was starting to look dangerous, as it went to nearly 20 minutes in the next lap, however, the teams decided that it was enough and began to up the pace. The gap went down to eleven and a half minutes by the end of lap five, and then to less than eight by the halfway point in the race.

The pace was shredding the field, with riders being dropped and abandoning. The Swiss and the Austrians were particularly active at driving the pace. Halfway into lap eight the writing was on the wall as the time advantage to the break went below three minutes, and a lap later the remnants of the break was swept up (and mostly spat out the back).

It was on this lap that Hesjedal was dropped, and then abandoned. "I felt good at the start, better than I thought I would. Unfortunately, I just didn't have the distance in my legs, and around the five hour mark I couldn't go deep anymore. You have to come to the Worlds with everything running more than good, and I was lacking in a few areas. The race started pretty fast on the first lap, but once the break was established it began to roll along. I guess it was before the halfway point that the chasing began, and then it was pretty fast."

"On the first climb (of lap 9) I could feel it coming in my legs, and I didn't have good position as we went through the feed. Then I had bad position on the descent before the second climb, and to have bad position for that second, steep climb ... I knew that I couldn't stay on."

"I was pretty tired after the Vuelta, so I had no 5 to 6 hour rides, and that's the difference with a race of this distance. It was a little frustrating."

Back at the front, attacks were happening constantly, with breakaway groups forming and then being hunted down. A very serious move went away early in lap ten containing 23 riders: Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden), Vladimir Efimkin (Russian Federation), Aliaksandr Kychinski (Belarus), Nicolas Roche (Ireland), Danilo Di Luca, Filippo Pozzato, Matteo Tosatto and Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy), Jurgen Van Goolen, and Philippe Gilbert, Stijn Devolder (Belgium), Andonov Petrov (Bulgaria), Luis Perez Rodriguez, Samuel Sanchez and Carlos Sastre Candil (Spain), Stephan Schreck (Germany), Thomas Voeckler (France), Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Stuart O'Grady (Australia), Nicki Sorensen (Denmark), Andrey Kashechkin (Kazakhstan), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway), Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia).

They put 50 seconds on the peloton and, with riders such as new time trial champion Cancellara, Di Luca, Sastre and Arvesen in the group, it could have been the winning move. But the group was too big, and teams such as Italy and Belgium did not have the right riders in place, so it disintegrated under a flurry of attacks and selected riders not contributing.

By lap 11 the peloton was back together, and the attacks began again, with Bettini and Fabian Wegmann (Germany) sneaking away, only to be caught as David Loosli (Switzerland), Davide Rebellin (Italy) and Sylvain Chavanel (France) counter. This trio has 15 seconds by the start of the last lap, but are caught on the first climb.

Bettini tried again, with Vinokourov, on the second climb but was brought back and with six kilometres to go the peloton was largely intact and position began for the inevitable sprint. With defending champion Tom Boonen (Belgium) still in the field, plus Robbie McEwen, Stuart O'Grady (both Australia) and Freddie Rodriguez (USA), it looked like there was going to be a sprinters drag race to the line. However, instead, at 700 metres, Valverde bolted off the front, paced by team mate Samuel Sanchez.

The early tactic almost worked - and certainly threw a wrench in the plans of the sprinters - with only Bettini and Zabel able to respond from so far out. Zabel went by Valverde 150 metres from the line, and it looked like he had it, until Bettini was able to come by him in the final 75 metres.

"My team mate Samuel told me to get on his wheel with 700 meters to go and we went for it. The medal I won today was thanks to him," stated Valverde. "Erik and Paolo were too strong and I wasn't able to win, but I am very content to have this medal."

"It was a dream to become world champion today, but I am very satisfied with my race" Zabel said. "It's great to race here in front of so many German-speaking people. I felt good and I stayed calm; in part because Oscar Freire wasn't here and I knew he couldn't pass me again!" (This in reference to Freire's famous bike throw that took Milan San Remo from Zabel two years ago).

The final word goes to Paolo Bettini, whose pure joy at finally winning the title which has eluded him for so long - silver in Lisbon (2001), and poor legs in Hamilton (2003), when he was the designated leader for Italy.

"The speed was much faster than I expected today. I tried two times to make a selection, but the circumstances were not favourable. Then with 5 kilometres to go, I said to myself: 'don't panic, it is still possible' and I gave everything to win the sprint. I've won the World Cup and the Olympics, Classics and some big races at the Tour and the Giro, but I could never win the Worlds. This is the race I've wanted most."

Race Notes

- This was the fourth fastest Worlds ever, with an average speed of 42.476 kilometres per hour. Zolder, Plouay and Valkenburg are the only faster ones.

- The team report from Australia claims blocking tactics by Spain cost them the title...

- Paolo Bettini's win was extremely emotional for the 'Cricket', and his joy at winning the title palpable. Both his partners on the podium seemed genuinely happy for their rival, who is well liked and respected by his peers (and the press). Bettini and Zabel, who are friends, hugged on the podium, and Zabel and Valverde hoisted the new world champion up in the air after the ceremony. Even UCI President Pat McQuaid was laughing and smiling as he presented Bettini his jersey and medal. Bettini said "Zabel is my good friend and we have raced together for amny years. We have a lot of respect for each other".

- The organizations final count for the crowd is 300,000!

- Top medal count for the Worlds:
Germany with 3 medals (1 gold and 2 silver) followed by U.S.A. also with 3 medals (1 gold, 2 silver) and Switzerland with 2 medals (1 gold, 1 silver).

No Team for Hesjedal ...Yet

We spoke with Ryder Hesjedal about his team plans, now that the Worlds are done. "I'm still waiting to see; there's not a whole lot going on this week. But I have no real deadline at this point."

Does he plan to stay with a ProTour team? "I would think so, but I have to figure out what is in my best interest. To say 'ProTour' is not that simple; there are lots of other options, teams."

What about a recent rumour we heard that he is possibly talking to Symmetrics? "We've had some early discussions, some dialogue. They have a good program, but we have just talked at this point. I have two years of the ProTour under my belt now, and I'm trying to take as wide a look as possible for the next five years. I'm 26 now, and I want to set things up properly."

Ryder says his season (and therefore career with the soon to be defunct Phonak) is finished, and he will be heading back to Victoria in time for Thanksgiving.


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