Brits in Ponferrada: a yawnfest
THE GREAT BRITISH DISAPPEARING ACT
Roll up, roll up to a small town in northern Spain to witness the latest edition of the Great British Disappearing Act.
Perhaps that’s how British Cycling should advertise the men’s World Championships road race from now on. After all, there has been precious little to celebrate in the last three editions. Ever since Mark Cavendish fared pretty well to win the damned thing in 2011, Project Rainbow has looked rather more like Herman Munster’s reflection in a muddy puddle.
Last Sunday’s Spanish chapter followed a familiar pattern. Chris Froome made all the right noises in the build-up, just as a car tyre sounds good before it pops at rush hour on the M25.
Froome had promised to do his utmost to help Ben Swift, so it was no surprise when he pulled out on lap six. At least there’s a certain binary predictability to his efforts: the Sky man has failed to finish his last six World Championship road races.
David Millar commemorated his last race in a GB jersey by climbing off. Luke Rowe worked hard, as he did last year, but also didn’t finish. The Yates brothers are still in nappies, so they can be absolved of much blame – but even so, this looked like it could be a course to suit Simon.
At least two Brits stuck around to the end this time – Peter Kennaugh, who seems to relish a metaphorical scrap on the bike, and Swift, who by placing twelfth became the first British rider to finish in the top 20 for two years, since Jonathan Tiernan-Locke rode off his heavy night on the tiles by racing Philippe Gilbert up the Cauberg.
Yes, Ponferrada 2014 was infinitely better than Florence 2013 – if only because zero multiplied by anything is still zero. But just as Avatar is slightly more tolerable than Titanic, yet deeply execrable all the same, this was still disappointing fare.
There was a plan for Ponferrada, a coherent strategy to ride for a team leader whose talents suited the parcours. Last year the tactics involved giving the Italians and Spaniards a free RAC tow for the first 100 kilometres before taking the first exit slip-road back to the safe confines of three-week stage races.
The current failures boil down to an inability to carry out the tactical wrinkles required by a one-day race, combined with a set of tired riders at the end of an arduous season. Contrast Froome’s effort with that of his erstwhile nemesis B Wiggins, whose time-trial victory betrayed the freshness of a year spent not riding better races than the Tour of California.
Until those problems are solved, the circus will continue with Sir Dave Brailsford as the dispassionate ringmaster, pouring out maxims to the trapeze artists as they tumble from the wire when the rain begins to fall.
It’s a good job, then, that the World Championship road race is so infernally difficult to watch on television…
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
24 years, 4 months – The age of Michal Kwiatkowski, the youngest road race World Champion since Oscar Freire in 1999.
6 – Number of times Alejandro Valverde has finished on the podium of the World Championship road race (second twice, third four times).
Unadulterated joy from the Polish team car and directeur sportif Piotr Wadecki. Head to 6.00 for the best bit – just watch out for the girlish screaming.
It’s the Tour of Lombardy on Sunday, so enjoy underdog Oliver Zaugg’s 2011 win.