Lee’s Worlds Road Race Lowdown
The Richmond World Championships have been voted as a success with worthy winners all of whom took their victories with panache and élan. Lee Rodgers is in total agreement, but he also sees the importance of Peter Sagan using the opportunity of his win to talk of the World outside the bubble of professional sport. The World of Lowdown.
What a World Championships that was. It had it all. A total upset in the men’s elite time trial, a stellar U23 men’s race, a display of ice cold composure worthy of a paid assassin in the women’s race and a ride in the men’s elite road race that simultaneously took the breath away, put smiles on people’s faces and reminded us, thanks to an impassioned speech by the winner at the end of the race, that sport can and should connect with the wider world and strive to have a positive impact on the society in which it functions.
In the men’s TT everyone, including me, had the winner coming from the tried and tested trio of Tony Martin, Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, but Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus was reading from an altogether different script. Adriano Malori of Italy took an excellent second and Jerome Coppel gave the French more reason to believe that the revival in their fortunes is more than just a flash in the pan.
The men’s U23 road race will have done nothing but strengthened that hope, with Kevin Ledanois putting in a brilliant ride to claim the Rainbow Jersey. The last five kilometers of that race were just stellar. Several riders will long be ruing missed opportunities that were caused by crashes towards the end, but no one can ever claim that Ledanois is an unworthy champion.
The race was won through his bravery and courage to put it all out on the line, highlighted in one audacious moment as he squeezed past the Davide Martinelli on the final climb up Libby Hill, brushing the Italian’s shoulder as he did so. His joy at the end was clear to see and we’ll have to hope that the crop of talented youngsters who made the race so exciting will continue to progress.
Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead continued a fine tradition over recent seasons for Brits at the Worlds with a devastatingly cool ride to win the Women’s Road Race. Pegged as the favorite long before the race, she was a marked woman, making her win even more impressive.
We often see favorites being forced into tactical errors as a result of the pressure they put themselves under, but Armitstead played a brilliant long game and then dominated the short one, forcing others to work at the end by seeming to be prepared to lose.
In the end she started the sprint from the front but had been allowed to force the pace down thanks to the reluctance of others to start the surge to the line, and with her track background she was never threatened in her bid for a road World’s jersey to go with the one she won on the track in 2009.
“I knew that the sprint was going to be difficult but I knew that I had to read it out in that situation, so I dictated it,” she said after the race. Speaking of the attack by the eventual second placed rider Anna van der Breggen, who set off too early and allowed Armitstead to then launch off her wheel, she said “It was perfect, thanks Anna for that!”
All of the above was great, the events leading up to the last day delivering exciting, action-packed racing. However, the Richmond Worlds will forever be remembered as Peter Sagan’s, at least for me. The Slovakian’s ride was so very good in so many ways, so widely hailed by fans and his peers alike and, crucially, defined by such an infectious sense of joy and fun that it is hard to think of another victory in recent years to come close to it.
His name had, oddly, hardly been mentioned in the run-up to the race thanks to his recent slew of second places and other near-misses in races this year that had drawn criticism from the owner of his team, Oleg Tinkov, but, to his credit, Sagan replied by saying that he just loved racing his bike and that he knew the victories would start coming sometime.
It was fascinating to see him go on the attack in those closing kilometers, getting into his favorite tuck position on that short downhill and taking the corners with such verve and skill that he looked to put two seconds into the chasers over two critical corners. Also, interestingly, due to his size and the huge gear he cranked up he did not look on the flat sections to be going that hard, but appearances of course can be deceptive, as anyone who has tried to hold a slender lead over a chasing pack in the last kilometer of a race will testify.
His reaction as he neared the line, with arms half raised and a shake of his head, testified to a sense of disbelief but also a casualness in demeanor that belies an immense self-belief and desire to win.
If there has been a more popular winner in recent memory I am struggling to think of one, and we could see from the reaction of Tom Boonen and others as they crossed the line a genuine sense of happiness for this worthy winner.
For me though, the real mark of class came when he was asked about the win right after the race. Here’s a guy who just a couple of years ago spoke barely any English, and it’s obvious that he’s worked on improving that so that he can communicate better with more people, and in that final speech, we can see why.
Sagan was clearly frustrated, evidenced by several sighs as he spoke, that he was not better able to communicate what he as feeling, but by taking out the ‘likes’ that peppered his sentences, we can make better sense of it all.
“I was finding motivation in the world. I think it’s a big problem, with Europe and all this stuff that’s happening. I want to just say, because this was very big motivation for me. I want to win today and say this thing: the population in the world – we have to change, because in the next years, can be all different.”
“And also, I think this competition, and all the sport, is very nice for the people, and we are motivation for the people, and I am hoping we can do the sport, next years and in the future, because the situation is very difficult.”
“Then I want to say all the people: change this world.”
Message received, loud and clear Peter. Awesome ride, great sentiments, enjoy the year in the Rainbow!
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.