PEZ Medals At Mondial de la Presse!
In our pursuit of documenting what’s cool in pro cycling, we’ve collected enough milestones & memories to fill a trophy case. But Matt Conn’s podium ride at the World Press Champs was one for the top shelf – and for sure worth a read…
“Nice one geezer. You saved the season, Konyshev style, with a podium at the Worlds. You should still be good for a contract next year.”
– Aaron Conn, (Matt’s brother)
It was the running of the World Press Cycling Championships this year and along with a few other members of the PEZ crew, the race has been on my radar for a few years. Last year, Simeon Green represented Team PEZ at Vassiviere en Limousin in France at the championships. Despite being thwarted by mechanical troubles, Sim claimed 7th in the Time Trial and 5th in the Road Race in the ultra competitive M1 category.
Welcome To Kranj
I live in Udine in north eastern Italy, and with this year’s racing being held just across the border in Slovenia, I put up my hand to make the drive and see if we might add some rainbow stripes to the sleeves of next year’s PEZ kit.
Championship events, with a rainbow jersey to the winner, were held in time trial and road race events for both women and men, with the latter divided up into four age group categories.
Just like the Pros at the “real Worlds” this is what it was all about.
Being from the “Class of 1973”, I would be lining up in the M2 races, which suited me just fine after seeing the pedigree of some of the young guns in Sim’s report from last year.
Due to other commitments, there would be no time trial for me on the Saturday. This was actually a good thing, as given my complete inability to keep my mind focused on “going hard” I didn’t have to start my weekend off by seeing my name printed at the bottom of the results sheet.
With many competitors making the trip from further afield and the fact that putting on a good show for journalists (many of whom do not work in the cycling game) can pay big dividends for a city, the organizers provided sightseeing tours of Kranj’s historic tunnels and caves on the Saturday morning and an evening of local cuisine and music that night.
After organising a super championships, Robert Bauman (centre) pulled on the all white kit of the Slovenian Press Team and rode his way to a silver medal in the M3 Road Race.
The fact that Kranj is situated on a big outcrop of rock between the Kokra and Sava rivers, means there are plenty of steep little roads around the town to punish cyclists with.
Checking Out The Course
After expecting a road race consisting of 10 laps of a 5km circuit, I was informed on arrival that the course had been shortened to 3.25km due to road works and was more like a criterium than a road race. This was not exactly music to my ears as criteriums rank right up there with time trials in my “least favourite forms of cycling” list. This hatred of course, is based upon a lack of certain skills most well rounded cyclists would deem as necessary basics. Whatever!
An inspection of the circuit on Sunday morning revealed that there was something for everyone in the circuit.
The finish straight would be a downhill sprint, with a part cobbles / part asphalt and all bumpy surface. The first turn took us into a pedestrian area via a very narrow gap between a boom gate and a metal post and then directly across a section of marble slabs on an off camber right hand corner.
As the day warmed up, the spectators filled up these empty bars in the Old Town, adding to the atmosphere for those on the bike.
After a straight run through the old town and a 90 degree left hand corner it was across the river on a “modern” bridge, back out through a traffic barrier and another tight 90 degree left hander onto narrow country lanes.
This section of the course, away from the city, was undulating throughout with small turns and uneven road surfaces, cutting between houses. Another sharp left hander and it was onto the lightning descent. Throw in a hairpin right hand bend at the bottom and a wooden bridge back across the river and then it was time to climb back up to the top of the rock. This climb has sections around 14% and once at the top we had to double back on ourselves for the long gradual drag up to the circuit’s top corner.
A final fast left hander back onto the finishing straight gave a gradually 500m downhill run to the finish.
The road surface was ‘patchy’ at best in the finishing straight, giving a bone-jarring ride to anyone who strayed off the small strip of asphalt along the left and right hand gutters.
Knowing that whatever placing I achieved in the road race, I was going to have to post this report up on the site, didn’t exactly help my pre-race nerves. Despite that old cyclist trick of “deny, deny until you die” when asked “have you been training”, I had been putting in a few sneaky kilometres in July and August, but the closer the race came, the more I doubted it was going to be enough.
Job number one was getting to the start area (I had done my recce the night before) and despite no official credentials as yet, a flash of the press card saw us waved passed the road block and up the hill to the start. Collecting my info pack, race numbers, and timing chip became a very pleasant task when I was handed two ‘start packs’ of freebies to lug away as well.
Every rider received a ‘starting pack’ including local wine and sausages. Something to be savoured at home later rather than dumped in the pockets/drink bottles for race day.
While one contained various bike magazines (in German) the other was a selection of sponsor products that again showed that Robert Bauman and his organizing committee were thinking about the wellbeing of their visitors.
With the course inspection done and everything in order from the official side of things, it was time to get back to the car and get the bike put together and start thinking about the job of riding this bike race.
With my Slovenian fan base seemingly confused over the start time, bike preparations were a do-it-yourself job on race day.
While I have done a few races back in Australia over the past few years, it was exactly 10 years to the month since my last race in Europe. It seemed fitting that just like my end of season amateur crit back in Kuurne, Belgium in 1999 (and pretty much every other race I rode in Europe before then), that for the Press Worlds, I had:
(a) neglected to bring along my own safety pins to attach my number, and
(b) also forgotten which side of my jersey I had been told it needed to be pinned to.
Despite being 10years older, 10kg heavier and 10km/h slower, it was somewhat comforting to see some things hadn’t changed!
After goodness knows how long, I had almost forgotten how to pin on a number! For the record, it was supposed to be going on the Left.
While it’s supposed to be all about the racing, one of the fun things for me was having my personal supporters club along for the weekend. While my wife had seen me race one or two times in the 8 years we’ve known each other, my daughter had never seen me do much more than ride off out the gate and return home a bit later (usually looking not very tired and smelling strongly of coffee).
Ava was happy to be in “Sa-veen-ia” and was going to watch her dad “ride his bike with his friends”.
One person in this picture is excited about being at a bike race, the other is nervous that he’s about to make a fool of himself.
Let The Championship Begin
My pre-race briefing with myself consisted of repeated instructions to “stay at the front, but not off the front” for the first half of the bike race. Forgetting of course that every single rider was there with the intention of winning the race, I should have added “stay on your bike too”, but after receiving a couple of good shoulder charges as we moved away from the line, this was added to the play list going around in my head.
With the exception of the finish straight, nearly the whole course would be ridden in single file and from the first lap we were well and truly racing.
From the wide roads of the finish straight, the first turn was a tricky left-right through a narrow gap and then across some off-camber marble slabs.
At one point in the first few laps I did need to hit the wind and close a gap that was opening up along the back straight and there were a few attacks that looked like they might go away, but the bunch ended up regrouping.
After four laps, I took the opportunity to sneak a look over the shoulder on the top bridge and was surprised to see that we were down to around half the original field. The high speed on both the narrow roads combined with the gaps that were opening up on the descent caused the tough climb to hurt just that little bit more.
It might have been short, but with a section at 14%, ten times up the climb back into the city really hurt.
I had forgotten too, just how angry bike riders can get when they’re racing. There were more than a few heated exchanges in German and Italian and more than once on the climb, it was elbow to elbow as people looked to the best position to make a move.
The hairpin at the top of the climb was followed by the long drag up the back straight. Not exactly the right terrain to recover from the earlier effort.
Around half distance, a move did get away on the climb and took advantage of the rest of us looking for someone else to close the gap at the start of the back straight drag.
Austria’s Martin Ganglberger, who had a team mate in the race and Eros Maccioni who had a few Italians to look after his interest as well, made a great move and working well together, gradually built up a gap as they rode off in search of the Gold and Silver.
Despite suffering with the effort of sprint, brake, corner, sprint, brake, corner, (repeat x 10) I decided it was worth trying to get a gap and possibly ride across to the front. On the hill coming up to get three laps to go, I gave it everything I could and kept it going around the top corner and on up the back straight.
Miroslav Cvjeticanin of the Slovenian Press team was on the wheel and but wouldn’t come through to aid the chase.
After an attack on the climb, Team PEZ tried to bridge across to the front with four laps to go, but with the local team along for the ride rather than helping out, the gap stayed at around 20seconds.
Coming through the start finish line to get three laps to go, the rest of the bunch gave chase with Mark Koghee of The Netherlands and Italy’s Emanuele Conti doing the lion’s share of work to bring us back.
With not much left in the tank and thoughts of what I might have to do to beat these guys in a sprint for bronze, things settled down a bit while the duo up front kept working away.
Austria’s Martin Ganglberger (front) was eventually beaten to the gold by Italian Eros Maccioni. The pair worked well from the moment they slipped away from the bunch.
The remainder of the race was spent with everyone taking turns covering everyone else’s attempts to get away on the hill, get a gap through the twisting sections on the other side of the river, or to convince someone else that they should be going to the front to do a turn.
The crowd had been building, and up the final few climbs, the noise from the spectators gave the race a big time feel and helped push me that little bit harder through the steepest section and around the corner at the top.
The final time up the back straight saw a little bit of cat-and mouse in the second group with a few of us taking turns at the front to make sure that the pace didn’t drop too much and allow another rider to jump from behind and get away. The race for bronze was going to be a small bunch kick.
Along the back straight of the course, it was still uphill from the 1km sign until the turn downhill at 500m to go.
Here Comes… Conn-endish?
In the sprint, Saturday’s time trial winner Jeff Jones (from Bike Radar and now a winner of four career Press Championships) led the sprint out and when Slovenian Miroslav Cvjeticanin made his move down the left hand barrier I gave it everything I had up the middle and just got over him on the line.
At this point, I also have to make a confession (or is it a clarification – ?). In the closing stages of the race, in fact in the final kilometre, our chasing group of six actually caught two riders. Due to a lack of race radio (I for one am now in the Bruyneel camp and am totally opposed to any ban), I somehow managed to think that these guys were possibly the two leaders who had either cracked on the climb or were playing cat and mouse.
Now, if you happen to see a picture somewhere of a PEZ kitted rider doing a single fist pump after crossing the line in a tight sprint to take third, you can either choose to believe that the thought had crossed his mind that he may have won the championship, OR (and this is the “official” version) he was having an Axel Merckx Athens Olympics, ‘Bronze is as good as a gold’ moment.
Winners (of all medal colours) are grinners!
Recover And Refuel
After the obligatory post mortems between those involved, and a roadside shower, it was time to pack up the car, take advantage of the host’s hospitality, catch the final few laps of the Young Guns race and then get ready for the medal ceremonies.
As well as a number of local craft and gift stalls, Museeuw Bikes and Garmin were amongst the event sponsors who had set up shop in the area around the start finish line.
What was holding more of an attraction for the majority of competitors, however, was the food tent off to the side where lunch was being served.
The food tent was filling, the beer was flowing and the racing was not even over.
Knowing that serious athletes are serious about post-event rehydration, there was plenty of liquid to go with the food that was on offer.
The catering was top notch for those that had finished their ride and included this locally produced sports recovery drink.
Vegetables, sausage, chicken and lamb. A nice Slovenian cook-up was then complemented with a giant size portion of pasta carbonara.
Off To The Podium
Once the races were all done, we were treated to some traditional Slovenian folk music on the main stage. When the medal ceremonies did get underway, I was actually surprised with how seriously the whole event was taken.
After a day of cheering and photo spot selection, not everyone was available for the medal ceremonies. A big thanks to both My Girls for helping out over the weekend.
All riders who finished in the top six of their race were called up on stage to receive a trophy, with the first three place getters also handed prizes to go with their medals. The winners of course, also received their special edition world champions’ jersey and had the honour of listening to their national anthem being played to the crowd.
The winners in the singing stakes were definitely the Italians, and despite my own Advance Australia Fair getting a run for Jeff Jones’ time trial win, I actually think the Italian anthem takes the prize for being the “coolest” (can they take my passport off me for saying that?)
Finally, it was time for the M2 division to go up for our road race presentations, and with the other guys from fourth to sixth on stage as well, it was more a bit fun than a solemn presentation ceremony.
While the PEZ team opted for the Trade Team strip, more than a few nations pulled on the national colours for the championships.
It was made even more light hearted when the podium girls stepped up to join us for the playing of the Italian national anthem (although I’m not exactly sure that was the intention).
While winning was always the goal (however unrealistic that actually may have been), to come away with a medal was very satisfying result for me and I know that The Pez was pretty stoked too. Even if he couldn’t be there to have a ride himself, it was nice to offer up a “result” as a bit of a payback for the cupboard full of race kit and the chance to swan around the Giro, Milan-Sanremo or “real” Worlds on the mighty PEZ expense account.
So that was the Mondial de la Presse for 2009. PEZ’s second, my first but definitely not our last. It certainly isn’t the biggest race on the international calendar and I definitely won’t be hanging my medal off the laptop in the press centre in Mendrisio next week (or agreeing with the riders at the post race press conference that ‘yes, I know how you feel’), but it was a lot of fun to race.
While the reality is that I finished third out of 20 guys in an age-group category race held over just 30-odd kilometres, I prefer to defer to my brother, Aaron’s definitive post race analysis:
“Nice one geezer. You saved the season, Konyshev style, with a podium at the Worlds. You should still be good for a contract next year.”
Here’s hoping. If the “cyber-office” banter this week is anything to go by, Team PEZ might just have the full complement of riders in Lierde, Belgium for Mondial de la Presse 2010.