Ponferrada PEZ: Polska In Ponferrada!
Roadside Report: 255km of tough racing was on the agenda on Sunday and as always Ed Hood was there for every single moment from the warmup to the startline the finishline and then the post race reactions. Here’s a look at his day, roadside in the rain in Ponferrada for the 2014 Men’s World Road Cycling Championships.
Gerrans from Valverde we said; we almost got it right, second and third they finished – Poland and QuickStep’s Michal Kwiatkowski confounded us with a brilliantly taken win which, as with the U23 race, hinged around that final descent.
We were on the road at 06:30 am to bring you the words and pictures you don’t get anywhere else . . .
“In bocca al lupo” – ‘in the mouth of the wolf’ Paolo Salvoldelli tells Sonny Colbrelli as he concludes his interview. It’s an Italian way of saying ‘good luck’ without jinxing, like an actor saying; ‘Break a leg’ to a colleague before they go on stage.
Paolo is a journo and TV pundit these days but recognises the kindred spirit of the demon descender in Colbrelli, rising star of Italian cycling. Salvoldelli’s nickname was ‘The Falcon’ because of his ability to swoop at high speed. We were chatting to him this morning and asked if he’d have liked these parcours back in his racing days; ‘yes, but today the conditions are going to make it very dangerous.’
He’s ‘correct’ – the sunshine of the last two days has given way to mist and the odd spot of rain – those descents will be hairy.
Elsewhere in the bus park, mechanics clean ‘The Shark’s’ rims with spirit to ensure good braking and dollop grease onto chains in anticipation of a wet day at the office.
Former Tour podium star, Joseba Beloki wanders round, unrecognised. We ask if he misses the race days; ‘no, no, cyclo-touriste now, piano!’
Michael Matthews stretches; so does Betancur – he’s well ‘in the zone’ – Nicki Sorensen chills and gets his rub, Kristoff takes the questions.
Up at the line up, Italian coach Davide Cassani is loving it as the stars begin to appear – Gerrans, Greipel, Nibali, van Garderen with his posse, Bouhanni, Cancellara, Millar – his swansong. The rain drops ‘splat’ and the flag drops, 14 laps of 18.2 kilometres to give 254.8 K.
The first pass sees four off the front by over three minutes, a Columbian, a Croatian, a Lithuanian and a Ukrainian – yeah, that’s about right for the early break. Lap two and our boys are four minutes clear in the murk on the climb – there’s persistent drizzle in town and I’m praying for no repetition of Florence 2013 with that day long down pour, camera failures and general misery.
Meanwhiles, the Belgians continue their long tradition of entertaining the rest of us race fans. The fab four are spelling sweetly and the peloton is happy to let them go, the gap yawns – remember though, if they lap the bunch then commissars have to pull the lapped riders out . . .
There’s a guy selling ‘pulpo’ here – octopus – but what I don’t understand is why the tentacled chap looks so pleased – he’s about to get eaten. I’ve positioned myself at the foot of the descent for lap three, as soon as they pass, I’ll ‘yomp’ across town and catch them at the start of the first climb on their next lap – I hope . . .
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are working neatly and sweep off the descent in committed fashion with a huge gap behind them to a lone Greek and then another chasm to the peloton which is @ 13:30 on the leaders – wow !
The bunch takes no chances on the roundabout as the sun tries hard to appear. Some time later . . . . .
. . . . . that’s me on the other side of the circuit, for my fourth sighting of the race but their fifth lap – is that clear, no ?
The four are working well and the sun is starting to shine properly upon their endeavours. Dave texts to say there’s been a big crash in the peloton.
Our Greek is at 11 minutes and the stop watch says 15 minutes plus back to the Polish inspired peloton – Kwiatkowski is first to ‘blink’ and deploy his troops, then ?
John rings me, the Norwegians have just totalled the team car into a tree – let’s hope no one is hurt. But I recognise that dude on the scooter over there . . .
‘Hey Luca !’ It’s Luca Paolini, ‘spotting’ for the Italians – they think of everything . . .
Our Greek boy is just seconds ahead now as a ‘night shift down the mines’ blackened peloton sweeps past with much more urgency.
‘Lucky seven’ for the desperados – if you were a junior or lady you’d be nearly done but if you’re a pro it’s only half distance. Time for a cana – beer – and a seat as we wait for the cavalry with the watch running.
A dozen minutes pass before the Polskas sweep past with Kwiatkowski tucked safely away – it reminds me of Plouay in 2000 where they worked all day for Zbigniew Spruch, only for Vainsteins to steal it for Latvia and leave the big Pole with silver. The eighth time round and still the break has double figures in minutes and still the Poles line it out under a hot sun. Hard men.
As well as Paolini, the Italians have another man on the circuit, calling the shots; 10:50 says his board. The Castillo and there’s plenty of space – on the Cauberg climb, two years ago you needed a Sherpa guide. At nine laps in still those boys in red and white burn the watts – whatever the end result of their adventure, they’ve ‘honoured this race.’ The gap is still big at eight minutes plus and still the Poles ask for no help and get none.
Did I say it wasn’t crazy at the Castillo – that was before I met the Belgians . . .
The tenth lap would mean the day was about to end if you were U23, on this day the race hasn’t even started yet. Still the four grind on – they were doomed as soon as they went up the road. But they have their part to play in this huge operatic production.
The gap is below six minutes and still the Poles hammer it out on roads which are damp again with drizzle – Degenkolb doesn’t look ‘on it,’ today as we’d see at the finish.
Dave sends an SMS to say that the Italians have taken it up with the gap @ 4:00; the last acts are about to play. Four to go and the Italians are punishing everyone, the break is clear but only just, the speed the Azzura drive through the wet urban roads remind you that this is The Worlds, the real deal. So is the rain, I find shelter under a steel sculpture – and wait with three to go . . .
A lone German and it’s split, behind with several Italians and a GB in the front group, British champion, Kennaugh.
It’s Tony Martin who’s the escapado – if anyone could do it solo, it’s him. The Aussies have missed the split and are doing all the work – Adam Hansen, Simon Clark, Matt Hayman . . .
If they want that win bonus then this is how they earn it. Up on the big screen, Martin climbs like a machine ahead of a group of ten – but he’s caught. That makes 11 up front – Martin, Kennaugh, Albasini, Vanmarcke, Visconti, Boasson Hagen, Navarro, Caruso, Geschke . . .
The leaders come through two to go with a lead of maybe 30 seconds, however we can see it’s not total commitment, from my view point in the grandstand – but the peloton is flying, a long line of black faced, pained men.
Visconti goes solo and Kennaugh chases as the French haul back the break back. Kennaugh and Visconti lead from the main field but Cav’s compatriot, Kennaugh isn’t totally committed – it’s compatto, again. It stretches but doesn’t quite snap; until De Marchi goes with Gaultier and Valgren Anderson – they stay clear down to the dam and on to the second climb.
The grandstand is beginning to burst at the seams.
Kiryienka tries to bridge but doesn’t make the junction before the drop; but gets there off the top. I bolt to the finish line. The last big climb and the four stay clear as the Spanish drive with Swift and Matthews well to the fore.
The four have 15 seconds, still – is it enough? Belgium drive it inside 10 K and it could come down to a sprint, yet. The four breast the climb in the rain, GVA is the man doing the damage for Belgium – nine seconds as they plummet to the dam.
Kwiatkowski bridges after a mad descent – and he goes virtually right away, only Valgreen Anderson responds – but the Pole sheds the Dane and it’s Poland against the world. Rodriguez launches from behind, Valverde, Gerrans, Gilbert . . .
Off the climb – Kwiatkowski is dropping like a depth charge, he has eight seconds on the chasers. Valverde, Gilbert, Gallopin, Gerrans . . .
Red kite – Gallopin won’t go through, Gilbert drives, but too late! Poland!
Gerrans takes silver but his face tells the story of his true feelings better than my words as Valverde claims his sixth Worlds medal. The sky opens, Ponferrada cries for Alejandro.
The Polish team officials rejoice as there are almost fist fights to get pictures of the nation’s first Elite World Road Race Champion.
Up in Belgium, Patrick Lefevre smiles, he lost two world titles this week but brought home the one which really matters, he said he might.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.