Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

World Championships Cycling News, September 29, 2008

Edited by Sue George

Ballan solos to cycling's famed rainbow jersey

By Gregor Brown in Varese

Ballan – a smiling world champion
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Alessandro Ballan topped off Italy's supremacy in the final of the 2008 World Championships Sunday to take the rainbow jersey solo, ahead of teammate Damiano Cunego and Denmark's Matti Breschel. The victory on home soil adds to a small – but impressive – list of wins by the 28-year-old that includes the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

"I did not expect this; I knew was going strong but to win the Worlds is always difficult. ... I imagined when I took that turn in to the track that I would be wearing the rainbow jersey," Ballan said in a post race press conference. The famous blue, red, black, yellow and blue stripes of the World Champion's jersey rewarded his solo gamble. It is a gift that is worthy of a rider who often dedicates himself to others.

In addition to his 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen win, Ballan won the Driedaagse De Panne and Hamburg Cyclassics in the same year. This spring he missed out on the big win in Paris-Roubaix, where he finished third, but showed that he was back on target in the fall with a stage win and one day in the maillot oro at the Vuelta a España.

Ballan was not the rider chosen as the leader of the Italian team. He dedicated himself instead to helping Paolo Bettini taking a record third-straight World title in what was to be the defending champion's final race in a 12-year career. After the peloton captured the day's three-man move, a second and decisive move formed under the impetus of the new World Champion.

Ballan bolted to the front on the second half of the Ronchi climb in the penultimate circuit – with 21 kilometres left of the 260.2-kilometre race. He took with him Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet, Matti Breschel (Denmark), Spain's Joaquím Rodríguez and Germany's Fabian Wegmann. The move gained importance with the addition of Ballan's teammates – Davide Rebellin and Cunego – Dutchman Robert Gesink, Austrian Christian Pfannberger and Ukraine's Andriy Grivko.

Rebellin kicked into action on the final time up Ronchi. He was marked and Ballan countered. Rebellin went again and then Cunego tried as well. The actions weakened their rivals for the final blow.

Alessandro Ballan pedals in front of compatriot Damiano Cunego
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

"We all started the race for Paolo Bettini ... Last night, we did not have a second strategy – the plan was for Paolo and it was never to be like this," explained Ballan. "He was going very well, but he had all of Spain and the other nations watching him.

"I always attacked at that climb [Ronchi] because I thought it was the most dangerous point," he continued of the 17.35-kilometre circuit, which also included the climb of Montello. "I talked with Paolo and he wanted to make a hard race for the sprinters. At the end, it went well."

Indeed, the race went so well that Italy had three men in the final 12-man move that took shape as the race zoomed to the converted horse track dubbed "Mapei Cycling Stadium". The heat was building for Italy to take action and drop some rivals. Ballan went into action at 3,000 metres out in the heart of Varese.

"I was a little uncertain. I tried before on the climb, I did not decide to do this when I saw this finish in the preview. I heard the roar of the fans and they gave me the strength – it was very difficult, but I gave it all.

"I was not alone in those final kilometres; I was joined by the roar of the fans. They helped me to finish my race. I was only thinking not to be caught. ... I thought of the women's and under 23 races, how the finish worked."

Read the complete winner's feature.

Breschel wins bronze

Matti Breschel (Denmark)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Matti Breschel won a bronze medal at the elite men's UCI Road World Championships on Sunday, thanks in part to the help of fellow Dane Chris Anker Sørensen.

Sørensen made several attempts in front groups and was eventually joined by riders including Breschel, making a total group of 13 for the final selection. He then picked up the pace so no more riders would be able to join the leading bunch.

The race was more or less decided three kilometers from the finish line, when Italian Alessandro Ballan made a strong attack. Sørensen got little help from the other 11, and he was unable to reel in the Italian rider. In the final sprint Breschel was the only one able to prevent a pure Italian podium as Damiano Cunego took second and Davide Rebellin took fourth. Sørensen would finish 13th

"This is huge! I'm extremely satisfied with getting a medal at the World Championships at the age of 24," said an elated Breschel according to a team press release. "My career at this level has only just begun so I'm very happy to be standing here with a medal.

"Of course I was sitting in the group at end hoping to take the rainbow colored jersey, but this is amazing though. I owe Chris and the other Danish guys a big thanks for all their hard work – they have a big share in this medal too."

Boonen angry with race outcome

By Hedwig Kröner in Varese, Italy

Tom Boonen
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

Former World Champion Tom Boonen was rather unhappy with how the elite men's UCI road World Championship road race went for him, and his team. While he was the designated leader for the Belgian squad, the attacks of his teammates in the final lap of the event annihilated his chances of the race coming down to a sprint.

"We had an agreement in the team. I had good legs for a sprint. If it would have ended in a sprint, I stood a 90 percent (chance) of winning. I didn't fear those last few climbs," he said after the finish.

With one lap to go, everything was still possible for Boonen as he was leading a second chase group about 30 seconds behind a move including his teammate Greg Van Avermaet, Alessandro Ballan, Matti Breschel, Joaquin Rodriguez and Fabian Wegmann. "Van Avermaet's move [with 21 km to go - ed.] was good, but when Nuyens and Van Goolen went for it [on the penultimate climb shortly afterwards - ed.], they broke our agreement. Now, that's not how you're going to win a race! They should have stayed with me. We talked about all of this before the race, and then they attack!"

Nuyens, who finished ninth after making a strong showing in the winning breakaway, had a different view of how those last kilometres unfolded. "Boonen, with four and a half laps to go, told us that he was feeling good. And then, with one and a half laps to go, I heard him say on the radio 'I can't win anymore.' I was surprised, but we quickly re-organised the team," he stated.

In any case, the Belgian team ended up without a medal even though they had been counted on as one of the strongest teams. "Our collective failed," said Boonen. "It wasn't necessary to jump away in those breakaways, only Van Goolen's move would have been enough. From what experience tells me, there are people who have too much ambition."

The Quick Step leader was more than disappointed. "It's a lost opportunity, as I already know that I won't go to Mendrisio in 2009. I can only console myself with Paris-Tours now, but it's not the same as becoming World Champion."

Freire: "We raced badly"

By Hedwig Kröner in Varese, Italy

Spaniard Oscar Friere
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The Spanish team, although rated as the second-strongest squad after the Italians, did not earn any medals in the elite men's UCI World Championship road race on Sunday, with its best-placed finisher being Joaquin Rodriguez in ninth position. Top man Oscar Freire was far from being satisfied as he came in almost five minutes down, within the big favourites' group including Paolo Bettini, Tom Boonen, Stefan Schumacher and Sylvain Chavanel.

The three-time World Champion said that the Italian strategy had worked out, while the Spanish team "rode a very bad race. Italy rode a good race. But we... we were not at top level. It was important to us to not initiate breaks, but if a break went, we had to be in it. [Alejandro] Valverde should have been in that group with [Davide] Rebellin, [Alessandro] Ballan and [Damiano] Cunego. But he wasn't, and with three Italians, the escape was validated behind."

The final move including the three Italians went clear on the penultimate climb shortly after the bell rang for the last lap. The sprinters' group was then some 30 seconds behind, and it soon became clear that interests within that bunch were not in Freire's favour. The riders sat up.

"Valverde should have been in front. I don't know what happened to him. Cunego, Rebellin and Ballan should not have been left to jump without him. Then, behind, nobody was pulling anymore," said Freire, whose only teammate left with him at that point was Valverde.

Samuel Sanchez, for example, finished 22nd, between the winner's group and the sprinter's bunch. "Behind, nobody was with us. It was only Valverde and me. The Belgian team had riders in front... so I think we did a very bad race."

As to Rodriguez, who was in front with the Italians and finished sixth, Freire said, "Yes, but he wasn't as fast as Valverde."

The Rabobank rider had to settle for a disappointing result. "I felt good, but sometimes races are like this, just very tactical. Today was like that. Italy was simply the best team."

Wegmann's "hardest race ever"

By Hedwig Kröner in Varese, Italy

Fabian Wegmann of the German team rode a fine UCI World Championship road race on Sunday, finishing seventh behind the new rainbow jersey winner Alessandro Ballan. The 28 year-old was part of the final, successful breakaway and did not lack much to take home a medal, save for a bit of energy spent too soon in covering nearly every move that went during the last few laps of the race.

"If you want to win, you have to be able to follow the moves," he said, leaning against his team Gerolsteiner bus after the event. "That's what I did. It was not a pure race of attrition - you had to attack constantly to be in front. It was always the same riders: Ballan, (Damiano) Cunego, (Davide) Rebellin... they were always attacking in the last four laps and I was always with them, too."

Nevertheless, he admitted that his efforts might have been too much. "Sure, if you jump with every attack then maybe you pay for it in the end," he said. "For me, it didn't work out, but the seventh placing is not that bad, is it! I can be satisfied, I think."

Wegmann added that he felt completely drained after his performance. "It was one of the hardest races I ever did, I think. In the end, all I could feel was cramps. It wasn't a bike race anymore, it was...," he was left speechless.

"The lest ten kilometres, the climb and the flat part - I felt delirious. I couldn't think anymore. I just tried to keep somebody's wheel, at any cost..."

The German also paid tribute to the new World Champion. "Ballan was incredibly strong. He really deserved the win today. He's a very active rider. I really like his riding style and his class."

Lap two crash hinders Barry at worlds

By Daniel Friebe, Procycling Magazine

Michael Barry
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Michael Barry wasn't a name on many people's list of favourites for the UCI World Championship elite men's road race, but then most people may not know that Barry recently took his first win in three years - a brilliant solo effort in the Tour of Missouri - nor that the Canadian had brought similar form to Varese.

When the Team Columbia man attacked between the Montello and Ronchi climbs on the final lap on Sunday, Barry briefly looked set to rejoin the leaders and contend for unlikely top-ten finish. He might have succeeded had he not been suffering from the ill-effects of the injuries sustained several hours earlier in a crash on lap two. Or, indeed, if he'd made his move just a few kilometres earlier.

In the event, Barry was quickly absorbed by the main peloton and would finish the race in 33rd position. It was a result which, the Canadian knew, did scant justice to a fine performance.

"I was pretty disappointed, because I crashed early in the race," he said. "I had good legs. I felt really good actually. I attacked on the last lap - I was trying to get away, but it was pretty difficult, because the group which eventually stayed away didn't even go on a climb - it was just in the start-finish area. I maybe should have been more aggressive and gone with them, but I hesitated, because a lot of the favourites were still in the group behind. Everyone was watching (Paolo) Bettini and (Alejandro) Valverde. I realized that I'd missed the group and tried to chase when it was too late."

Barry not only rued the timing of his attack, but also the lap-two crash which certainly affected his race - and may have curtailed his season.

"I could definitely feel the effects of the crash at the end of the race," he said. "Someone ran into me on the second lap, and I hurt my back and ribs. I think I might even have broken some ribs. I could really feel it when I took deep breaths, and when I was accelerating on corners."

Commenting on a World Championship road race which many riders considered among the toughest in recent years, Barry said that the Italian team was rewarded for taking the initiative early in the race.

"The Spaniards and Italians started accelerating pretty fast with about six or seven laps to go, which seemed very early," he said. "By the end, I think everyone was pretty dead. There weren't any token attacks on the climbs. As soon as we hit the climb, the group would slow down, because a lot of people were cramping. The guys who had the balls to attack got away...."

Italy "too strong" for Australia

Matthew Lloyd
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

Matt Lloyd was the only Australian finisher in the elite men's road race at the UCI Road Cycling World Championships on Sunday. Lloyd finished the 260km event in 55th position, 4'53" down on the winner and in the company of Paolo Bettini, Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Freire.

Australian teammates Trent Lowe, Allan Davis, Adam Hansen, Simon Gerrans, Will Walker and Matt Goss pulled out after lap 12 whilst in the second chasing bunch that was at 2'25" but with no chance of regaining the leaders. Michael Rogers and Robbie McEwen called it a day soon after, leaving Lloyd to fly the flag for Australia.

"It was pretty much on from the start and on a course where there's around 4,000m of climbing, by the end of the day everyone's legs were pretty much nailed," said an exhausted Lloyd after the race. "Obviously with Robbie McEwen and his fantastic history with racing and Allan Davis who has been doing reasonably well recently we couldn't deny the possibility of a sprint finish so in light of that we tried to work with those guys and get them to the finish.

"But as you saw at the finish when it was really 'game on' those guys couldn't hold on and with Mick (Rogers) trying his best with two laps to go - he's such a quality rider - so you can see how deep you have to go in the World Championships - I was fortunate enough to just hang on longer than anyone else."

Race Manager Neil Stephens said the Italians were just too strong today.

"We went in with a few different options but we were not sure how Michael Rogers would recover from time trial (Thursday) and we had a couple of quick riders in Davis and McEwen but as it was the circuit was quite tough and the Italians really took it to everybody," Stephens said. "They ramped the speed up right from the start and it proved a little bit too hard for our fast boys.

"Luckily we had 'Lloydy' who was there with the best of them - Bettini and Freire and yes he was our best finisher."

Lloyd had worked early in the race for his teammates which in the final two laps took its toll.

"I personally felt like I was in a body bag and you can try and do your best to rejoin the groups in front but after six hours it tends to become not so much wanting to do something but that the ability tends to disappear," he said. "It's something I hope to improve on over the next few years."

Australia ended their participation in the UCI road Cycling World Championships with one bronze medal claimed by 20 year-old Cameron Meyer, in the U23 men's time trial on day one of competition.

Italy topped the medal table with two gold and two silver ahead of Germany who claimed one gold, one silver and three bronze medals. Australia finished in equal ninth place of the ten countries that collected medals during the six days of the competition.

French team frustrated over wrong tactic

By Jean-François Quénet and Hedwig Kröner in Varese, Italy

Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis)
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

The French team had expected to be the underdog of the World Championships in Varese but had nothing to celebrate at the end of the week. Since France's best result before the final event, the elite men's road race, was Cyril Gautier's sixth place in the U23 men's road race, the country where the UCI was founded in 1900 ended their Italian campaign with only one accomplishment to celebrate: its national federation is no longer politically banned from international cycling after an agreement was reached between the UCI and the directors of the Tour de France.

In Sunday's elite men's road race, there were no Frenchmen in the 15-man group that played for the win. The team's captain and best performer of the year Sylvain Chavanel wasn't too happy with finishing in 53rd. His future teammate at Quick Step, Jérôme Pineau, finished the race as the highest ranked Frenchman in 19th position. "We had a tactic," Pineau revealed. "Sylvain was supposed to wait for the last lap and I was being saved for an eventual sprint."

Having a pre-determined tactic was a step up for the French team, which often heads to the race with a see-how-it-goes approach. Since the last French win by Laurent Brochard in 1997, the French have managed to win two bronze medals at the Worlds: Jean-Cyril Robin in 1999 and Anthony Geslin in 2005.

National coach Frédéric Moncassin seemed down after France's poor result in Varese. "I'm disappointed and frustrated because we could have done better," he said. "The team generally speaking was at a good level. Chavanel waited, I hope I haven't prevented him from having gotten ahead."

On the penultimate lap, Chavanel had still looked easy on the second, more dragging climb of the circuit. Still, the Frenchman had to settle for the 53rd ultimately, after he gambled that the favourites' group would keep the race together for the final lap.

He had to realize his race was over when former World Champion Paolo Bettini stared to shake hands in the chase group, saying his goodbyes to pro cycling. A breakaway including the later winner Alessandro Ballan was off the front, as the Italian team's race tactics worked out perfectly to trap such important contenders as Oscar Freire and Alejandro Valverde from Spain.

"I respected my instruction," Chavanel seconded the team's tactic outlined by Moncassin. "I followed the favourites, but in the end, I got trapped in that sprinter's group around Freire, Boonen and Bettini," he said, nevertheless smiling. "I wanted to wait for the final lap to make my move. I should have anticipated. It's frustrating, as I felt really good."

The Frenchman couldn't help admiring the perfect strategy of the Italian team, which got the Squadra Azzurra its third rainbow jersey in a row. "The Italians really played their cards well. Everybody was deceived! The Spanish, too, lost out completely," he added.

Cozza leads young American squad at worlds

Steven Cozza
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Steven Cozza was the top US rider at the elite men's UCI Road World Championships in Varese, Italy, on Sunday. In the elite men's road race, he finished 23rd, 1'40 behind winner Alessandro Ballan of Italy. The 23 year-old Cozza was racing his first elite worlds and he equalled the performance of George Hincapie, the best American finisher at the worlds last year.

Cozza was joined in the race by fellow Americans Tyler Farrar, Lucas Euser, David Zabriskie and Brent Bookwalter. For Bookwalter and Euser it was also their debut at the elite world championships. And for the entire team, with the exception of Zabriskie, the 260-kilometer race was the longest of their riders' careers.

"The longest race I've ever done was 230 kilometers three years ago," said Cozza. "Honestly, my goal was just to finish the race today. But as the race went on, I started feeling better and better and I kept making all the splits. I was just trying to follow (two-time world champion Paolo) Bettini's wheel."

Team Director Noel Dejonckheere, who also directed all five of Sunday's competitors as U23 athletes on USA Cycling's European-based National Development Team, was encouraged by the young riders' performance.

"Overall, I'm really satisfied with the team today," said Dejonckheere. "Zabriskie was really here focusing on the time trial and Brent was added to the team at the last minute and is just getting over being sick, so to do this well while only having three young guys at full strength is impressive. I think they did much better than even they thought they would."

With many of the United States top European or domestic pros either declining invitations to participate or injured, the door was open for several young riders to get a crack at what was likely their first of many elite world championships.

"For a small team to race that well over 260 kilometers against veteran teams at full strength like the Spanish and Italians shows that they're only two or three years away from really contending," Dejonckheere said. "We'll keep moving forward and see what happens."

Unlucky day for the Irish

Nicolas Roche, Philip Deignan and Roger Aiken were short of luck in the elite men's UCI Road World Championship road race on Sunday.

Roche crashed in the third lap but was able to rejoin the main field assisted by Aiken who had dropped behind to help pace him back. Unfortunately Roche was forced to retire a few laps later with a thigh injury. He was reportedly headed to the hospital for further investigation to determine the cause of swelling at the injury site.

Deignan was able to hold on for longer and kept near the front of the bunch but Letterkenny man struggled with a stomach upset and was unable to digest the race food. He finally ran out of legs with three laps to go as the Italians whipped up the race speed and split the bunch into pieces.

Mountain biker Aiken did a tremendous ride to help Roche rejoin the bunch after his crash and he held onto the main field for over 200km before he finally lost contact.

Only 77 riders out of 207 entries finished the tough race.

Previous News    Next News

(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing (Overseas) Limited 2008)