Like many other cycling fans I spent yesterday sat on the sofa with the Elite Men’s World Road Race on in the background. For me it was an enforced period of rest, laid up as I was with a throat seemingly wrapped in sandpaper and joints which felt they had been knocked about with a sledgehammer – the perils of looking after your young niece and nephews! So at times, the race was a kind of comforting wallpaper, but as with many other British cycling fans it ended with the delight of watching our first world men’s professional/elite road champion for 46 years – a fact I know has delighted one other cycling Manxman well known to this blog.
I also decided to avoid Twitter for the duration of the race. And I have to say it was much better for it. The urge to send a quick opinion bubbled but was kept in my own head. And for some this is a small lesson – we all have thoughts, we all have a right to air them but sometimes it is better to keep them in our own heads. Therefore in the run up to the race we saw opinions on the presence of Sky on GB jerseys, during the race an ongoing critique of Team GBs tactics (therein is a lesson in holding opinion until an eggy face can be avoided) and subsequently the way the course was made for sprinters and how Cav benefited from a “pro-team” set up due to the large number of GB riders from one trade team. I’m sorry folks but I’ve lost interest in most of these tired arguments. So here’s a more considered take.
Clearly the race was made for sprinters. Whilst some nations complained, the parcours will dictate the eventual winner to a large extent as, as one of the more witty comments on Twitter pointed out, the Italians didn’t complain in Zolder when Mario Cipolini won. Not that the race was easy – whilst there were no decisive climbs, the rise to the finish in itself added interest to the sprint and the fast nature of the course made it difficult for breaks to stay away but equally brought a large bunch to the end and thus a hard race to control. That Team GB rode the race they did should be seen as a master-stroke in planning but more so a genuinely superb team effort on the part of Team GB. At times the armchair fan might have questioned the tactic to try and control the race almost alone but by 3.30pm that decision was vindicated – a brave move unseen in recent World’s. All of which is underpinned by the bigger project, nicely summarised by Inner Ring’s blog but visually captured by Adrian Timmis’ photo. We can all have gripes with the backers of British Cycling and Britian’s own Pro-Team – Sky, BSkyB, call them what you want – but the fact is they have chosen to invest in cycling at all levels. At the top end this has paid off with track and now road success at World level. At the other end it continues to be a part of the growth in the popularity of cycling – as Richard Williams suggested this morning, bike shops are now “virtually recession‑proof”on the back of it. I’m not overly enthusiastic about the puppeteers behind this company but if they are willing to back a sport I love I’ll happily take the money.
Then there is a puerile suggestion that GB are using Team Sky to get around the trade team rules for the Worlds. In a two earlier pieces I highlighted the way in which British Cycling have successfully taken forward a focussed project to be successful in world road cycling and, in another, the contradictions that the world rankings system presents for World championship qualification. Team GBs qualification points undoubtedly were helped by the performance of Team Sky. Yet Cav himself earned a fair share of the points and was further assisted by other non-Sky riders such as Adam Blyth of Omega Pharma-Lotto. But lets look back at the history of this project. Richard Moore’s book on Team Sky, Sky’s the Limit, highlights how its foundations are in the Academy system set up by David Brailsford and run by Rod Ellingworth. And who was in the Academy together and the same time? Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Stephen Cummings and Ian Stannard. Add in Bradley Wiggins (whose 1.5 lap pull on the front makes up for any previous “disappearances”) as a key member of the GB track set up and 5 of the 8 riders out there yesterday had been integral to this project. Frome, Millar and Hunt all provided experience and determination. When was the last time a national team from any nation looked so committed, focussed and together than this one yesterday. With the intricacies and contradictions that road racing brings, Team Sky has taken a different approach in its aims and its execution. It has learnt a lot and it has developed a lot, but there is nothing wrong with that. Nor is there anything wrong with a national team having a backbone from one trade team. More often than not the World’s has teams within teams, alliances between trade-teammates which undermine the national cause, something which Great Britain have not been immune. And there is nothing wrong or conspiratorial in one rider who doesn’t ride for the trade team making up the bulk of the squad to be assisted by or benefit from those who are. I’d actually say that was quite mature, whatever future rider movements suggest. At the end of the day, the comments of all the team have indicated a huge amount of camaraderie which is something we should all look at with pride.
So this one really goes out to the doom merchants out there: for the British cycling fans it is a lesson in grumbling less and enjoying more – we’ve waited a long time for this and the guys did us proud; for the overseas fans you’re time will come, probably next year, that’s the rich merry-go-round of cycling results. Despite feeling lousy all day yesterday, that race brought a smile to my face. But as well as Cav’s win, there are a lot of positives which can be taken from yesterday and a new chapter in cycling history, both British and International. I’m already looking froward to next season.