Worlds’09: One Last Lap With PEZ!
Roadside PEZ: It’s been a week since Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Men’s Pro Road World Championships, and while he’s been basking in the glory, your part time PEZ correspondents have had a few days back in the real world at our day jobs. So, before we move on to Lombardia, let’s take one final look back at the people and places that made Mendrisio 2009 such a great championships.
The best thing about working for PEZ and having the roadside assignment, whether it be at one of the classics, a Grand Tour, or the World Road Championships is that if I wasn’t working for PEZ and was at the race myself, I would be doing exactly the same thing – (except without the credentials that do come in handy from time to time). Wandering about, chatting to the folk I know, watching a bit of the racing, having a bite to eat in a local restaurant, chatting to other fans, taking a few pictures, and generally just enjoying the day out.
What makes it even better is that we get the opportunity to share what we do with you readers and maybe even inspire a few people to jump on a plane or train and come and stand along the roadside at some point in the future. We have a great time doing it, and even without the extra access that race creds get you, it is a fantastic way to be part of the great sport of cycling.
Having already taken you through the intricacies of the course , the excitement of the Under 23 and Women’s racing on the Saturday, the pre race action on Sunday and the men’s title race itself, there are still so many tales to share from what was only a brief four day visit to Mendrisio for PEZ.
If you have ever heard someone say, “half the fun is getting there”, you need to assume they were travelling by luxury ocean liner or first class jet. Dragging a bike bag on and off trains, running to catch trains with a bike bag over your shoulder, trying to get from one end of a metro station to the other with a bike bag over your shoulder in morning rush hour and all other manner of ‘bike bag related’ dramas, does not allow this particular traveller to use that phrase about this trip.
It was worth the effort in the end to saddle up on the Friday and get a bit of an idea about what the course was like and where the good spots to watch would be and also how it might be possible to cut backwards and forwards across the course on race day.
The view from the top of those hills wasn’t too bad either.
Once Friday’s bike leg was completed it was back on the train, back to Como and back to the hotel and from then until Monday at 4.00am, said machine stayed in the bag, and in the hotel, for which my aching shoulders were grateful.
The People That You Meet
While I had the bike out on Friday, I jumped on the back of the GB Under 23 squad for a leisurely ride (well for them it was leisurely), and after following them off course and then back on course, the weekend almost ended in disaster before it began with your intrepid reporter going very close to dropping himself on his backside while taking the picture that appeared in Friday’s story. After that I decided there would be no more ‘on bike photographing,’ but when the Spanish guys rode up behind me on lap two, I decided one more wouldn’t hurt.
What did hurt, was the decision to ride up beside them and snap a picture of Oscar Freire and as they disappeared off up into the heavens, I pulled to the side of the road, right next to a guy in a Scottish cycling top. With a large percentage of the PEZ crew from the Bonnie Isles of Scotland, I felt I should stop and say hello (after all, at the Giro, I bumped into a few Scots who knew Ed Hood from back in the day and was able to get some very good ammunition for the weekly slagging session that takes place via email between the Commonwealth Contingent here at PEZ).
Ian didn’t know Ed, Al, or Gord (much to my disappointment) but when he found out I was from Australia, he did share with me the fact that his daughter, who lives in Australia, was also out on the course taking pictures. Ian’s daughter is CJ Farquharson who runs WomensCycling.net and she was making her preparations to capture the action the next day in Saturday’s women’s road race.
Next year’s championships are being held in Australia and while it will be great for Australian cycling, there are more than a few of the Euro journos who aren’t sold on the idea. With the time difference meaning newspaper articles will not appear until long after the action has been dissected on the Internet, there is also the question of travel costs and whether or not their employers will outlay the expense to send them.
The fans are not so fussed and whenever I revealed my nationality, I was asked if I could provide accommodation for them and their friends next year. Of course I said no, but was happy to write out my brother’s email address. He lives close to the course and loves visitors!
Steve Peterson and Trudy Clark from the Melbourne 2010 Organising Committee were in Mendriso as well, checking out the logistics of running a world title and picking up a few ideas for next year. I also saw their Melbourne 2010 shirt being worn by The Voice of Cycling Phil Liggett.
Travelling back and forth from Como to Mendrisio each day also afforded an opportunity to meet fans from all nations heading towards the race. The Swedes stood out with their blue and yellow and one group made it into my weekend roadside report, but there was a group of Dutch fans that I just kept bumping into through out the weekend.
The group were from Sint Anthonis in The Netherlands and as well as capturing a few pictures for their own website of the region there were keen to enjoy the atmosphere of the championships. We met two or three times at the foot of the Acquafresca climb where they had taken up residence on a table at a cafe opposite the Knechten Voor Oranje.
After being on stage to take a few pictures of the Knechten Voor Oranje, there were plenty of photo opportunities presented to me as I moved back down the hill.
What to do for lunch was always a tough choice and on Sunday it was the sandwich option that won out. Something in the backpack that could be munched on during a lull in the racing, or on the fly between spots was preferable to a table for one at an overpriced cafe.
Just past the boxes where the road turned to the left, this couple were working overtime in their small shop keeping the hungry race fans fed. Like several other shop owners I spoke to, they were working a Sunday for the first time in a long time. The 100,000 plus hungry spectators on the course in Mendrisio were too good an opportunity to pass up.
It wasn’t just the people of Mendrisio that caught our eye. This apartment block was just behind the team boxes that were set up along from the start finish line. On the left hand side of the picture was another building that was the mirror image of the part you can see in the picture.
On Sunday, there were plenty of “visitors” making their way up onto the balconies to take pictures and one downhill mountain bike star of the future who was racing down the grass with no regard for the spectators who were crossing across in front of his finish line at the bottom.
With the fans two and three deep on the barriers, a bit of height is just what the doctor ordered for a better view of the action.
Gun Of A Son!
The Swiss, Italian, Belgian and Dutch fans certainly stood out in Mendrisio, so when we saw the Union Jack being worn as a combination hat and cloak, we thought the picture was make a good colour contrast to a sea of orange and white on red crosses.
Not long into our chat, we found out that Peter, the guy in the flag, was actually Peter Kennaugh (pronounced ken-yick) and was the father of the other Peter Kennaugh who had finished in fourth place in the Under 23 road race the previous day. Peter Snr. Was with a group from the Isle of Man who had come across to support both his son and Mark Christian in the Under 23 race. The representatives of the Manx Road Club were missing their most famous member in Mendrisio with Mark Cavendish pulling out of the GB team in the week prior to the pro race.
Another very proud set of parents were spotted tucking into a glass of the local vino from their vantage point on the wall of the carpark above the team boxes. Jack Bobridge’s parents were having a relaxing Sunday watching the pro road race after their son had picked himself up a gold in the under 23 time trial and ridden strongly in support of Australian team in Saturday’s road race.
Staying with the family theme, we caught up with FDJ’s Wes Sulzberger before the start of the pro road race. Sulzberger is a former Under 23 silver medallist and has had a great first year in the paid ranks, riding most of the classics, the Tour of Spain and grabbing his first professional victory as well.
The rider from Flowery Gully would go on to ride a great team race, but prior to stepping on bike for a 260km marathon, he was more interested in talking about his brother Bernard, who was back at home after winning the Superweek title in the US a few weeks back. When we asked him what his role for the day was we got a very modest answer, followed up with, “But hey, did you hear Bernie won the Launceston to Hobart race last night in Tassie?”
The Racing Continues
While capturing the action up close is one of the jobs we need to do, sometimes I feel like I need to turn and walk away too. There are times when you are told things or hear things that you know are not for publication and also times when you happen to be standing in the middle of something that is unfolding and a bit of human decency stops the camera from coming up to capture what might be a great photo.
While walking the pits after the start of the women’s road race, Alexis Rhodes arrived back from her 12km chase as a result of her crash in the first 1000m of the world title race. At the time I was standing talking with Australian team director Shayne Bannan and the look on Rhodes’ face was all I needed to make my quick exit. There was a picture from a polite distance that made it to Saturday’s story and by the end of the race, she was walking the pits herself and chatting to the riders who had gone the distance and sharing her own unfortunate story with a smile on her face.
Canada’s Erinne Willock chats with Alexis Rhodes. Both riders had wildly different experiences from the day, but both were smiling as they listened to the exploits of the other.
Speaking with Bob Stapleton, we learned that Team Columbia had 15 staff members at the Worlds to help support the 23 riders they had competing at the championships. French team Franзaise des Jeux only had four riders selected for their various national teams so obviously had a much smaller contingent.
After saying a friendly “Hi”, (actually it was a friendly “salut” – when you only know three words in French, you might as well use them!), to a FDJ shirt-wearing guy every morning at our hotel, we came back from breakfast to see the corridor outside our room full to the brim with FDJ bikes.
Frank Rousset was at the championships to be the one man support crew for Finland’s Jussi Veikkanen. With one bike to race on, one bike for the following car and a third in the pits, you can see how the logistics of having a nine man team can cause some nightmares.
Veikkanen finished the race in 49th place, 5.20 behind Evans. Frank certainly wasn’t the most overworked staff member in the pits on race day, but his only client in the race certainly appreciated his efforts.
There were sections of the course where you couldn’t actually get anywhere near the front of the barriers and other parts (like the descent between the two climbs) where you had your choice of standing wherever you pleased. At one point, we were standing in the second row doing a camera reach-over to snap a picture of the peloton going past beneath us.
When the lady on the fence, who had likely staked out her position hours earlier, saw our press pass, she happily gave up her spot for us to take our shot. Having fought (and lost) for position on the Champs Elysees before, this was a welcome change and a typical example of the friendliness of the Swiss we met in Mendrisio.
Blast From The Past
The three days spent at the Championships certainly gave us a lot of opportunities to see many of the current and former stars of the sport as well as catch a glimpse of the future stars in action. Some of the ex-pros were working for the various national and trade teams, some were there as guests of the national federations and some were providing commentary to their country’s TV and radio networks.
Super talent. Huge Future. World at their feet. No, not Frank Vandenbroucke standing by the table, but the local school children whose art work was on display on the walls behind him.
The next picture is a bit self indulgent, but made me laugh to myself. In the car on the right (in the checked shirt) is Belgian national coach, Carlo Bomans. In black, leaning against the Milram car is Frank Vandenbroucke. Snapping the picture is your PEZ correspondent.
The last time these three people were this close was the pro/am Omloop van de West Kust in 1996. They were both racing for Mapei and I was following the wheels, trying not to die on the descent of the Kemmelberg. Freddy Van Steen, who was driving my team car that day, was also at the Mendrisio worlds working for the Belgian Federation. Ahh, Memories!
When the racing was done and dusted and after Cadel Evans had been presented with his hard won world champion’s rainbow jersey, we decided to make the mad dash back to get a seat at the post race press conference.
Arriving at race HQ we saw Olympic road champ Samu Sanchez rolling in for his anti-doping control after finishing fourth.
We had seen Sanchez on the start line and now could see up close the toll that racing for the win over 262km had taken. We actually felt sorry for Sanchez, not because he had missed out on a medal, but because after riding his bike right in the front door of the race HQ, he then had to walk up two flights of stairs in his bike shoes to wizz in the bottle.
The main event got rolling eventually with Kolobnev and Rodriguez flanking Evans for the official press conference. Things were slow going and a lot of the emotion from the protagonists was lost when both the questions and answers were translated either to, or from, Italian, French, English and Spanish. Evans took questions in both English and Italian (and responded in whichever language the question had been asked), but after visibly suffering through the “official” translation of his words, he took over and answered in both English and Italian himself.
Evans paid tribute to the support he had received from his wife, Chiara Passerini, over what had been a very tough year for a number of reasons. When the new world champion left the press conference, the attention quickly turned to the remaining member of the family in the room.
Mrs. Evans handled the press like a seasoned professional herself and happily talked about her husband and her own career as a concert pianist.
See You Next Year
After a great finish to our final day at the championships, it was a matter of sending off a few press conference quotes and a whole batch of pictures. The second job was made infinitely easier by the super-fast and super reliable wireless Internet connection the organisers provided (Grand Tour organisers please take note:reliable, fast and FREE). Then it was a quick trip to the station and back to pack up the hotel room ahead of our 4.00am departure.
On the train back to Italy, we shared a carriage with these satisfied (although not necessarily pleased with the result) Belgian fans. They were part of a group of 12 from Overijse near Brussels, who had been travelling to the world championships every year since Swiss rider Oscar Camenzind took the crown in Valkenburg in 1998.
This year they had come prepared with eight of the group packing their allocated 20kg of checked luggage with 24 1/2litre cans of their favourite beer. One member of the group even suggested he had forgone clean underpants to make way for more beer!
When I asked if they would be going to Melbourne next year (and given them my brother’s email so they would have somewhere to stay) they said that due to the distance and the need to take two weeks for the trip, it was unlikely. The current plan was to head to the Belgian Ardennes, hire a house and have a “boys only” worlds weekend. They did ask me to put on the website that if there was an Australian brewery that was willing to sponsor their trip, they would still consider heading to Melbourne in 2010.
And there it is: The PEZ Does The Worlds 2009 story. Like all of the roadside assignments I have done for PEZ, it was long days and late nights, but great fun to be in amongst the action, attempting to bring our readers a real insight to what the professional racing scene is all about. With a superb display by the favourites over the final laps (not to mention an Aussie winner as well) the racing was just brilliant. The people of Mendrisio also put on a great show across the whole week of the championships and the organising committee of this year’s event have set a high benchmark for others to follow.
A big thanks to all of the PEZ team who covered the actual racing reports while I was on the ground in Mendrisio and another big thanks to Jered who edited and prepared my endless supply of photographs.
All that’s left then is to unplug the charger, tuck in the socks and saddle aboard the PEZ-lectric Mobile for one last motor assisted ride through the hills of Mendrisio.