What's Cool In Road Cycling

Worlds de PEZ: Limburg Here We Come!

Our roadside reporter, Ed Hood has certainly covered a lot of races in his time but even he has never seen a stand alone team time trial quite like tomorrow’s big race. This year’s new 6 man event has certainly captured his and the public’s interest and Ed lets us in on his thoughts on the Worlds and ‘that’ race that everybody is talking about.

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Saturday, 11:55 and PEZ is en route The Worlds.

To call this country ‘Holland’ is a misnomer, that name only applies to the two provinces of Noord and Zuid Holland around Amsterdam and Rotterdam, respectively. ‘The Netherlands’ is the correct title for this land of some 16.5 million souls where two thirds of the country would be under water if it wasn’t for network of ‘dykes’ or sea walls which keep the cold, grey, fierce North Sea at bay.

It’s a country renowned for it’s ‘polders’ – huge pan flat areas which used to be seabed until reclaimed from the sea and protected by the dykes. And that’s where all those windmills come in; endlessly pumping water back to the sea.

But these Worlds will be anything but flat. The province of Limburg is where the 2012 Championships of the World will be contested. The area is best known to bike fans as the battlefield where the Amstel Gold race is fought out, each year.

Gasparatto surprised us all with his Amstel win this year. Will we see more surprises this week?

Scottish climbing ace, Robert Millar used to call the race the ‘Tour of the Roundabouts’ due to it’s highly complex – and dangerous – parcours.

Roundabouts, road furniture, cobbles and a huge amount of urban roads are included in the route.

Limburg hangs from the south of The Netherlands like a big drip of water ready to ‘plop’ from an icicle. The connection to the Motherland is less than 14 kilometres wide at the narrowest; with Belgium to the west and Germany to the east before it swells out to an area of perhaps 80 kilometres square.

There are no polders here – but there are plenty of hills. The highest point in The Netherlands is in Limburg, near the town of Vaals. At 321 metres, it ain’t the Tourmalet; but the ‘bergs’ here are short, steep and nasty – especially when tackled multiple times.

In the Elite road race championships, the Cauberg – of Amstel finish renown – has to be tackled ten times. If a big guy is going to win, then he’ll have to be a real ‘bear’ – step forward, Mr. Boonen.

There’s not many stronger riders out there than this man.

The Worlds have been here before – in 1938, 1948, 1979 and 1998. In ’79 that same Robert Millar was fourth in the amateur edition, pulling his foot out in the sprint and leaving us thinking of, ‘what might have been.’

Jan Raas produced a home win for the pros but many felt that all the tows he’s alleged to have taken from the team car on the Cauberg just might have helped him, that day . . .

In ’98 it was the Swiss rider, Oscar Camenzind who was strongest on the foulest of days. A ‘coming back’ Lance Armstrong was fourth in that race – and a young Raimondas Rumsas rode well all day.

I wonder what ever happened to those three guys ?

Oscar Camenzind won the last Worlds in Limburg but his career went downhill after that….

The first event of the championship in what we all hope and think is a much better era for cycling is a new take on an old theme – the team time trial.

The TTT used to be run over 100 kilometres back in the days when the Worlds were contested on ‘Amateur’ and ‘Professional’ – rather than the current ‘Under23’ and ‘Elite’ formats. The race was first contested in 1960 as an Olympic event, with Italy taking the honours. The men in blue triumphed again when the event became part of the Worlds programme in 1962. In the squadra was Dino Zandegu; a big man who went on to become one of the finest roadman sprinters of the time. The event witnessed a remarkable era in the 60’s when the four Pettersson brothers – Erik, Gosta, Sture and Tomas won the event three years straight from ’67 to ’69.

In some books you’ll see their name as the Fеglum Brothers – after the town in Sweden where they lived. The ’68 Olympics eluded the bruvs though, going down to a strong team from The Netherlands. Gosta turned pro late in life in Italy but went on to win the Giro d’Italia.

The event was never kind to ‘Anglo’ nations, with only the USA’s bronze in the LA Olympics in ’84 to show for their efforts. That race was won by the Italians, with two of the team going on to have good pro careers. Eros Poli became a ‘super domestique’ and Marco Giovannetti won the Vuelta. The race was last run as an Olympic race at Barcelona in 1992 when the Germans won.

Eros Poli, a big man with big power. The perfect team time triallist.

The last time it featured in the Worlds was in 1994 with Italians winning for the third year running. You may have noticed, from the results, that squadra Italia made something of a science of this event where big men with big engines coupled with slippery aerodynamics, ruled.

The UCI thought so too – and that’s why the binned the race; ‘becoming uncompetitive and only a few, wealthy nations can win it’ said the Technical Committee.

(Have those guys visited a velodrome, recently?)

The new format is very different to the old. National teams have been replaced by trade teams. All of the 18 World Tour teams start and there are slots for a further 32 teams: 20 teams from the UCI European Tour (Continental and Pro Continental) plus five each from the UCI American and Asian Tours and one each from the African and Oceania Tours.

That’s a total of 50 teams with 300 riders on the start sheet, if all teams take up the option. Endura, for example, were offered a ride but declined on the grounds that the all that money and logistical effort would give better value, elsewhere. The six man team is a radical departure from the old one with four riders, the clock stopping on the third man.

The new format is six, with four to count.

The ‘fixed distance’ concept has changed, too – not the 100 kilometres of old, the first edition of the new race is over 53.2 kilometres. And the parcours have also changed dramatically; usually – but not always – the TTT champs were fought out on an exposed dual carriageway, or motorway yet to open, or closed for the day.

Often held on long & lonely roads, tomorrow’s TTT promises to be different.

The teams will still be toting 55 x 11 – but they better make sure they have also an inner ring fitted and some sprockets with a few more teeth to tackle the fearsome Cauberg.

All time trials require pace judgement but those with multiple riders require the team to know each other’s strength and weaknesses – you don’t blow off the big, strong guy on an early climb, if you know he’s the one who’ll do double spells into the head wind finish.

It’ll be an intriguing race, for sure. Australia’s GreenEDGE have already established themselves as TTT big hitters right from the start of the season in Tirreno & they field a heavy duty team, tomorrow: Australian National Time Trial Champion Luke Durbridge and Canadian National Time Trial Champion Svein Tuft are joined by track flyers Cameron Meyer and Sam Bewley plus former Het Nieuwsblad winner Sebastian Langeveld and big, strong, home boy Jens Mouris.

Garmin too are masters of this beautiful art and Jonathan Vaughter’s will be desperate for the rainbow to end at the Garmin bus. At the time of writing, we didn’t have their final line up – all of the World Tour teams will be waiting as long as possible to see how their strongmen have recovered from their efforts in the Spain before finalising the line up.

Sky are in a similar position; Chris Froome and Ian Stannard are riders any DS would want in their TTT starting order – but that was one hard Vuelta.

And on the subject of the Vuelta; let’s not forget Movistar. They blasted the field in the opening TTT in Espana; they have the self belief, some strong boys – and won’t be scared of the climbs.

Omega Pharma QuickStep will have an army of fans, keen to see Boonen warm up for the road race.

On the BMC roster are past national time trial champions Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Taylor Phinney (USA) and Marco Pinotti (Italy); along with former national time trial silver medalists Manuel Quinziato (Italy) and Tejay van Garderen (USA) plus former world road champion Alessandro Ballan (Italy).

The BMC boys testing the Limburg course on Friday.

Ballan, Phinney and Pinotti were part of the BMC Racing Team’s squad that won the team time trial at the Giro del Trentino in April. That’s a strong team.

And home team Rabobank will be cheered to the skies – although it’s hard to see them win a medal. If pushed for one sentence, we’ll say; “BMC from GreenEDGE.”

One of Ed’s tips for the race, Orica-GreenEdge seen here en route to winning the TTT in Tirreno earlier this year.

PEZ will be in Valkenburg for the duration – team time trial, time trials, road races we’ll be roadside at them all.

As they say on the best radio shows; ‘Don’t touch that dial!’

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