Sunday, September 29, 2019

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2019 World Championship Road Race


Bicycle races can be fun to watch. Sometimes, though, it’s like the Super Bowl … super boring because it’s a blowout. In cycling, this generally happens when one team (usually Ineos) dominates. Teams or riders dominate when they’re doing a better job of doping than the others. Announcers stand by and pretend nothing is amiss. I don’t pull punches like that … in fact, when I get frustrated I start throwing punches all over the place, practically at random. I haven’t had to do that lately, because … well, who knows, could the sport be cleaning up? It’s possible. Or maybe I’m sinking into complacency.

Well, I don’t have Ineos, or any other trade team, to kick around today because it’s the World Championship road race, where riders represent their countries instead. (At least, they’re supposed to.) But you can bet my coverage will be as biased and unprofessional as ever.  For example, I would love it if the defending world champion, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, totally sucked today because he’s a filthy doper. So read on, for the “real” (i.e., my version of) the story.

2019 World Championship Road Race – Yorkshire, England

“Having a teammate would certainly help at the finish,” the announcer says as I join the action. His Antipodean voice sounds both sad and playful, like a character, Dumbeldork or whatever, from a Harry Potter book. So far I’m not hugely impressed with his tactical insight.

Well, our recent Vuelta a España winner, Primoz Roglic, is dropping out. He probably just showed up for form, to make an appearance, like those dead weight guys on your work conference calls. It’s frigid and raining here … at least half the peloton will drop out. The race is brutally long: 261 km, almost 162 miles.

“Is there a possibility of Peter Sagan winning a fourth title?” the announcer asks. Um, yeah, I think we can assume there’s at least a possibility.

Right now the entire peloton is together and they’ve completed the BS just-add-mileage point-to-point part of the race, and now face seven laps of a hilly circuit.

Wow, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) is dropped! They’re saying he crashed earlier. I don’t need to admit this, but he was my top pick to win today, after he looked so good in the Tour. I guess I’m no oracle.

Nairo Quintana (Colombia) is with Gilbert, and I’m going to pose this question: “Is there a possibility of Quintana even finishing today?”

Okay, Gilbert is quitting. “Oh, dear, Gilbert’s dreams are over,” the announcer says lugubriously. “He’s crying like a little bitch, he can’t stop.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

I don’t know, Gilbert doesn’t look like he’s crying to me … he just looks cold. “He’s inconsolable,” the announcer goes on. How can he say that, when nobody is actually trying to console Gilbert? Speaking of inconsolable, I’m not super stoked with the footage today. We aren’t getting any feeds from motorbikes because the drivers and cameramen don’t feel like being out in the rain. Perhaps eventually their bosses will make them get their asses out there.

In 1986, the Worlds were in Colorado, and I had front row seats. I didn’t have a formal credential of any kind, but discovered that you could just sort of go wherever you wanted if you acted like you belonged there. It was cold and raining on and off, and I took shelter for a while in the American tent as rider after rider dropped out, joined us in the tent, collapsed into a chair, and bitched about what a grind that was. The only one who stayed in the race was Greg LeMond, who missed the final breakaway. I watched the finish from the roof of an RV parked at the finish line. It was glorious: Argentin outsprinting Mottet.

To get into the British spirit here, and because I’m lazy, I’m having PG Tips tea instead of coffee. Alas, it’s not enough to wake me up so I have to go fetch more. Don’t worry, there’s at least 90 minutes left and the peloton is still all together so you won’t miss anything.

Okay, I’m back. The announcer says there are “less than 100 riders left in the race.” I think he meant “fewer” but then these guys aren’t exactly liberally educated.

It’s a bit tricky telling who is who, frankly. I don’t get to see anybody up close without the motorbikes, and nobody is in his recognizable trade team jersey. The jackets obscure their numbers which doesn’t help. Meanwhile, anybody who gets a bike change doesn’t show up on the readouts that the announcers use, which challenges them. I’m also spoiled because in this past Vuelta everyone was so tired by the third week, the peloton tended to shrink down to a very manageable size.

They keep promising the motorbike footage but nothing yet.

I just spotted an American rider! He’s tucked in the back, wearing a natty all-black jacket. That would be extra warm if there were any sign of the sun today. I have to say, I doubt this race will do anything for tourism in the UK (though that actually is a great vacation spot).

Oh, cool, we’ve finally got motorbike footage! Of course, it comes with a new caveat:

I wouldn’t want to fly a helicopter in these conditions so I guess I can’t complain.

Sam Bennett, the Irish spinter, drops out. Good, I don’t want this coming down to a sprint. That’s boring.

I’ve just learned that Valverde has abandoned. Excellent! Nobody is able to get footage of him climbing into his team car. He’s probably ashamed to abandon so early, being the defending champ. Well, in fairness, I’m sure he’s totally fried from taking second in the Vuelta. (Am I tempted to give him some credit for that achievement? Please.)

With five laps (about 70 km) to go, it’s still all together, with France and The Netherlands on the front setting tempo. The Dutch are trying to set up wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel for the win.

 Wow, an American attacks! It’s Lawson Craddock.

Daaamn, he’s getting a pretty good gap very quickly!

Some random dude has joined him. It’s Stefan Kung, a Swiss rider. He’s a pretty big guy, which bodes well. Big guys do better in the rain, just like they can hold their booze better. This isn’t just established fact, it’s my personal opinion as well, so you better take it seriously.

After taking like three minutes to eat a gel, Kung finally takes a turn at the front.

I strongly dislike Craddock’s handlebars. They’re like the “Randonneur” touring bike bars from the ‘80s. I guess I’m still rooting for him, though. It’s not like he chose those bars. In fact, his willingness to use what he’s provided, even when it’s so awful, is the height of professionalism.

In the peloton, Mike Teunissen of The Netherlands drills it at the front to shrink down the peloton. We’ll see what that does to the 31-second gap up to the lead duo.

Dang, just watching this is making me cold. I tried to warm my hands on my tea mug but it’s one of those double-walled insulated ones. I’m up in Oregon at my mom’s house, and the window is open because I’m too busy to empty the cat box right now, so it’s mighty frigid here. This is such a hard race for me!

The leaders have a gap that’s fluctuating between 25 and 35 seconds. Obviously they can’t hold this for 57 km, but perhaps somebody interesting will bridge up to them. I don’t think it’s possible for an American and a Swiss to do an epic break like that on their own … you need a Belgian or Dutchman in the mix to do something that heroic. That’s just the way it is.

Patriotism aside, I’d like to see van der Poel win, because I love to say his name. Back when his father, Adri, was winning a lot, back in the late ‘80s, I enjoyed saying that name, figuring out how to inject it into every conversation. (With that kind of social skill, it’s kind of amazing I wasn’t more of a ladies’ man.) Anyway, the young van der Poel is also a mountain bike and cyclocross racer, which I think is just kind of cool.

As the peloton comes through the finish line for another lap we get a more accurate split to the break: it’s only 20 seconds.

Another random guy attacks the peloton. His bike looks really odd, somehow bringing to mind a giraffe. I’m still getting used to seeing disc brakes on pro peloton road bikes. I’ll bet they’re nice to have in the rain today.

The chair I’m sitting at is too low. This is making my shoulders sore. Man, Worlds is a bitch!

The break is just sitting out there. I’m starting to think maybe Craddock won’t win this after all. Speaking of American victories, though, Junior Worlds was won by an American this year: Quinn Simmons. He fricking soloed … I didn’t watch it, but I’ve heard it was amazing. So we’ll keep an eye on that guy!

OMG, some dude totally stacks!

D’oh, his helmet whacked the pavement and everything. Poor dude.

Some guy attacks the peloton, bridges all the way to the break, and suddenly Craddock is dropped!

Man, things change fast. The new leader is Mads Pedersen of Denmark. That was an amazing bridge. So it’s just Pedersen and Kung out front, with Craddock floating a bit behind. Craddock is joined by some Dutchman … who now drops him.

Italy’s Gianni Moscon attacks the field and blows by Craddock, who’s on his way back to seek the breast of drafting and be suckled by the peloton.

The Dutchman who bridged up to Craddock was Teunissen, and he’s now on his own between the breakaway and Moscon, chasing like a madman.

And Teunissen has got them! This is great news for Holland because now van der Poel can just sit on, back in the peloton, and wait to counterattack if the break gets caught.

And now Moscon catches the break!

This is cool: Kung asks Teunissen for a gel and Teunissen gives it to him. They’re great pals now … if they make it to the last kilometer together, of course, that will change quickly.

One of my nephews just came over to see what I’m doing. He thinks that basketball is a far better sport than cycling. (Of course he does … he reached 6’4” at age thirteen.) I explain, “These are real men. They’re out there for over 160 miles in the frigid rain, rather than always playing indoors in a climate-controlled environment.” Peter replies, “Yeah, but they’re wearing yoga pants!” I explain that these uniforms predate yoga. But he’s wandering off. He’ll never learn.

The screen says the break still has 25 seconds but it doesn’t look that way to me. I could see everybody together in one shot just now.

Nils Politt of Germany makes a savage attack. What’s left of the peloton reacts swiftly.

With surprising quickness, Nils and three others, looks like van der Poel is one of them, significantly shrink the gap to the breakaway. Note the absurd Simpson-Meets-Flanders flag in the foreground.

Teunissen is dropped! I did not see that coming. Perhaps he’s dropping back for van der Poel. Could these guys be that organized?

And Nils is suddenly dropped! It’s because van der Poel is going so damn fast! Matteo Trentin of Italy is the guy on his wheel. Not sure who that third guy is.

And now van der Poel and Trentin catch the breakaway!

But the peloton is not far behind and there’s a ton of attacking back there.

So this lead group of five has two Italians. I think Moscon’s jacket might have thrown people off from realizing this. The Belgians have got to be pissed … they don’t even have a guy in the break!

There’s a chase group of three only 7 seconds behind, with the field another 10 seconds back. I hope this break stays off because I’ve taken some trouble reporting on it.

Kung misses a feed. D’oh! But somehow he scores another gel. Very resourceful, that guy. Note that this is the third gel he’s eaten since we started watching. Wise man.

The chasers are Izagirre Insausti (Spain), Carlos Betancur (Colombia), and Tom Skujins (Latvia). They’re looking really tired. Betancur is now dropped.

Up here in Oregon, winter has already arrived. I guess it’s fitting I should be freezing my arse off as I watch this. (In case you haven’t realized it yet, today is really all about me.)

The gap to the peloton is up to 35 seconds with 24 km (15 miles) to go. Betancur latches back on to the other two, but these guys are falling apart, they’re going to get caught. It’s a shame for them … they were so close to catching the break.

The gap is going out further, now up to 48 seconds so it’s not looking good for anybody in the peloton. As for the break, is van der Poel a big enough badass to beat the Italian duo of Moscon and Trentin, if they take turns attacking him?

Just to recap, the break is Kung (Switzerland), van der Poel (Holland) Pedersen (Denmark), and Moscon and Trentin (Italy).

Moscon cracks!

This lowers the breakaway’s chances of staying off, but obviously benefits Kung, van de Poel, and Pedersen if they can hang tough and hold it to the line.

But Moscon digs deep and makes it back on!

You know he suffered terribly to chase them down. What a badass!

Tim Wellens (Belgium) gets sawed off the back of the peloton. The peloton is rapidly dissolving as some furious Belgian bashes away on the front (perhaps unaware of the specific damage his effort has just caused).

Amazingly, Moscon has revived and is now doing solid work on the front of the break!

The leaders are now on the final lap, with only 13 km (8 miles) to go and a 47-second lead. In normal conditions, and in a shorter race, I’d expect the peloton to still have a solid chance, but I’ll bet everybody is just tired, cold, and demoralized. Look how sad Sagan looks. I think his sunglasses are falling off. Maybe that’s why he’s always rocking the ski goggles on the podium. Well, he won’t be doing that today.

Oh my god! Suddenly ven der Poel completely cracks!

He detonated so abruptly, I couldn’t even get a snapshot of the gap opening up. I think he probably bonked. He should’ve hustled up a couple of gels like Kung did!

And just like that, ven der Poel is caught by the peloton.

And now he’s off the back completely. What a shame, after his amazing move to catch the break.

Pedersen, notwithstanding the huge advantage Italy has in this breakaway, does a solid pull.

Trentin has finally ditched his jacket. Moscon is doing a lot of work on the front, making sure Trentin can save something for the finish (being the faster sprinter).

Now Kung pulls through. These guys are really working well together and that’s why the winner of this race will almost surely come from this group.

And Kung is just crushing it on the front! Moscon is dropped again, and Trentin is dying!

Kung is amazing. He was the original guy in this break, you’ll recall. And that was ages ago, with like 65km to go.

Sagan makes his move. Uh, dude? You are aware how overdue this is, right?

Kung is still being a total hero at the front and you can tell he’s suffering.

Now they’re inside of the final kilometer and suddenly they’re crawling, each waiting for someone else to pull through. Kung, on the back, looks absolutely miserable. I think he’s had the stuffing knocked out of him.

And Trentin launches his sprint!

But Pedersen is super fast and, surprisingly (to me, anyway, as I’ve never even heard of him) comes around! He’s heading for the line and looks like he’s got it!

What an amazing victory! I hadn’t really thought much about Petersen’s chances in this breakaway … he was just some guy. So what can we quickly learn about Pedersen? Well, he’s only 23 years old. He rides for an American team. He was second at Flanders last year. And now he’s being interviewed.

“What does it mean, to be wearing the World Champion jersey?” asks the interviewer. Pedersen replies, “Well, it’ll be harder to keep it clean. White is tricky that way, and remember, cycling costumes have to be washed in cold. So 2020 will be a tough season. I think I’ll need to lay in a good supply of Tide Plus Colorguard, and some Spray ‘n Wash.” The announcer says, “This must be a very special moment for you. A good soak should help with those whites. You might consider checking in with Mr. Laundry for some more helpful tips.” Pederson responds, “Thanks. Thanks for that.” (Note: I might not have this exchange exactly right. It’s possible laundry didn’t actually come up.)

Here’s a nice shot, thanks to the super-slo-mo replay, of Pedersen winning the race. I love how utterly wretched Kung looks in the background.

And here’s van der Poel crossing the line, looking pretty bollixed himself.

A domestique, noting earlier that I was slapping my hands together to beat blood back into them so I could type, has now brought me a down vest. I appreciate the gesture but where was he half an hour ago? The race is over!

Now the medalists are mounting the podium. Trentin really doesn’t look very happy.

Not surprisingly, Pedersen looks well chuffed.

And here’s your final podium. Trentin still can’t manage a smile. I hope he doesn’t kick any dogs later today. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll reflect on how a silver medal is actually pretty cool. Kung looks pretty pleased and he should be … he’s only 25 and obviously a complete badass with lots to look forward to. Also, being taller than the others, he will probably ultimately make more money. As for Pedersen, you know who he looks like? Buzz Lightyear. Am I right?

So, in closing, I invite you to ponder these facts: 1) an American initiated what became the winning break (even if he didn’t hang around to contest the finale), and 2) Valverde sucked even more than I hoped he would. What a great race!

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  1. Great writeup - But you didn't know who Pedersen was? His ride to 2nd place at Flanders was friggin' heroic...massive time in the pain cave. Anyway, I was rooting for him massively. Plus being a 23 year old Scandi kid, much easier to imagine being the polar opposite of Valverde...Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks! I totally missed Flanders the last couple years and obviously didn't do my homework. Maybe I'll have to go back and watch that...