What's Cool In Road Cycling

Worlds06: Mr. Hood’s Blow By Blow Account

It has been a long week already for PEZ-Man in the trenches, Edmond Hood, but it’s all been a mere prep for the big day: the Elite Road World Championship. After a refreshing night’s rest, it was on to the big business of the biggest one-day bike race around.

08.00 and I’m walking out the hotel room door as my ‘fail safe’ alarm goes off on the BlackBerry, ain’t no day to lay in bed – there’s a rainbow jersey to be won just along the road.

08.10 and the ‘ProTour village’ next to the start/finish is open already, these guys will have paid a fortune for concessions and they aren’t wasting any daylight. It’s windy today and cooler, it’ll be tough on those little plateaus after the climbs.

08.25 and the Boonen fans are already zip-tying their flags to the bus stops, there are still two hours to the start.

09.00 The clans are gathering; Belgium, Holland, Italia, Slovenia, Finland, Germany and Brittany (that ain’t France dude). Hey – there’s a Belgian rider, in fact it’s the whole team, there’s Tom; lookin’ good, laughing with the boys. The Burkina Faso team just arrived to sign-on, too early – how come they are allowed three riders in the elite race; the same as GB?

Bjarne Riis just went by, he looks like a cowboy; tall, slim and bandy legged. He makes a point of meeting all his boys, a hand shake and a cuddle not cold like he is with the press – maybe there is a heart in there.

09.45 The big stars don’t linger at the sign-on, Zabel looks very serious, Valverde smiles but signs no autographs.

The bike that came OH so close to winning the World Championships.

10.00 It’s hand to hand combat around the sign-on as the photographers battle for the best shots. I got two gigs today, one is a piece on the fans and the other is ‘who and what is cool’. Whilst the other snappers are shootin’ Vino I’m taking pictures of socks!

Does Robbie McEwen have cankles? Or are his feet that small?

10.15 I bolt from the sign-on down to the start, this is better, the riders are used to guys like me squeezing in between them and don’t get annoyed. They are all here – Di Luca, Cancellara, Hushovd, McEwen, Sastre, Hoste. . .

The Belgian riders were all together, and Tommeke looked less than stressed.

The same can be said for Tommeke’s followers, the Tommekes. Stress was definitely not the word for them today.

10.25 It’s crazy now and the announcer is sounding a bit stressed; ‘all riders to the start, all riders to the start!’ BANG! Game on! As I walk away the announcer tells us that 182, Ramos of Venezuela is on the attack – brave man.

10.35 …fighting through the crowd back to the press room, I got pictures to edit. Wow! Cipo, right in front of me – gel, stubble, tan cargo pants, white cotton shirt and brown silk jacket, if there was room I would throw myself at his feet.

10.40 Press room, let’s go to work.

13.40 That’s all my photos done, nearly 70, let’s go see some racing.

13.50 Just in time to see the buch, six laps to go, there’s a big break up the road though, Nicholas Roche is in it. The Swiss were working hard with the Aussies to the fore. Tom? Hiding half way down the bunch. Game plan is to catch the shuttle bus and jump off at interesting points around the course. A Brazilian guy just went past – around a week off the back.

14.12 I thought I had nothing better to do than wander-up past pits after my driver dropped me there – transpires you need a ‘pit pass’. A gentleman with what my buddy Stepano would call ‘janitor’ attitude took scarcely-concealed delight in evicting me, never mind. It’s hot today, real hot, damn hot and breezy too.

This part of Salzburg has been heavily colonised by a nomadic tribe from the north, The Tommekes. They worship a large blonde idol and have erected shrines to him everywhere, they drink much beer and the locals avoid them. Ten or eleven guys in the break, they ain’t playing at it, young Roche is still in there, that won’t do his rep any harm. Back in ’87 when his Pa won for Ireland & Carrera, it was in Austria too.

I make it four minutes plus back to the bunch, which is strung-out as it takes the feed. Feed or no, they are ripping. I hope that Brazilian guy has thrown-in the towel so it won’t be too long until my bus.

14.55 Top of climb two, my buddy Gerard from yesterday picked me up and deposited me up here. It was 29 degrees on the mini-bus computer and it’s very breezy up here. The crowds are big with a surprisingly large number of Slovenians and Norwegians around, the Tommekes are thinner on the ground up here – figures.

15.20 Back with my buddy Gerard on the mini-bus, I tried to jump an earlier one but the driver helpfully explained: ‘photo only, get out, I haf my orderz!’ The race radio tells me we have three laps to go and a group has split-away from the bunch to join the survivors of the break – that makes 25 or so up front. The break was finshed when it passed me on the hill, the gap was only about a minute, although the Italians looked still OK; I think it’s their day today.

Tyler Farrar (USA) waa hurting big and out the back. The Swiss were chasing hard in the bunch with the Italians marking them. Up on the plateaus it’s a huge party, but there’s work to do

15.35 At flame rouge for a bit of that urban stuff. The crowd is quite thin here but I’ve just been joined by a bunch of ‘Killer’ Di Luca fans. Make that Nocentini, sorry.

15.50 There’s a group of around two dozen clear, there are Kazakh and Danish jerseys in there; it’s not a big gap – 30 seconds? Holland, Spain and Italy are chasing, Nicholas Roche sits at the back looking rough and shaking his head.

16.17 At 250 to go on the bell lap, Loozli, Chavanel and Rebellin clear – only by eight secomds though. Let’s get to the press room.

16.37 Sitting in the press room with the Italian journos – Bettini goes on the second climb. Five chase, Millar is in-there but it would be uncool to leap to my feet and scream pro-Scottish propganda. Into the suburbs, I know the course so well now.

It’s all together again, Rebellin goes now, very stylish but it doesn’t stick. It’s still a big bunch, Millar is active into the last K but little group of four has slipped away. Two Spaniards, Zabel and Bettini – Zabel goes early but Bettini is on him – BETTINI from Zabel and Valverde.

The Tommekes will be headiing north, back to the flatlands already.

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