World’s Road Race course always picks its champion
Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde fight out the finish of Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under (Image: Felix Lowe)
This has been true of the professional and now the elite world road race title ever since it started. Look back over the last few years.
Copenhagen was flat, it was always going to end with a bunch sprint.
And who wins those nowadays? Mark Cavendish does.
Geelong was a middling kind of course, a mix of hills and flat. It still suited a sprinter but a more robust sprinter, someone who could do well in one of the Classics. Thor Hushovd won.
As soon as I saw the Mendrisio course I said Cadel Evans. I don’t usually do predictions, because I’m mostly wrong, but you can ask Aussie former pro Scot Sunderland who got some pundits to say who they thought would win that day, and I was the only one who said Evans.
Mendrisio was a tough course, a diesel engines course. I thought the other favourites would batter each other on it and Evans would chug off into the distance on the last lap. And that’s what he did.
Courses are important in the elite worlds because of the race distance. Going well over 200 kilometres, and this Sunday’s race will be 265 kilometres, magnifies the effects of terrain. It means terrain is more of a factor, more than tactics would be in a shorter race.
A rider still must play his cards well, but the course means that the same type of racer gets to play in the finale.
So who does the Valkenburg course suit? Well, it’s basically the Amstel Gold Race. The Valkenburg elite event does a 100 kilometre loop before ten laps of a 16.5 kilometre circuit, but taken as a whole it’s still the Amstel Gold Race, but in Autumn.
There are seven short, sharp climbs on the loop then two, the Bemmelberg and Cauberg, on each lap. The finish is 1700 metres after the tenth climb of the Cauberg.
So here’s my top three prediction for Sunday; Phillipe Gilbert, Allejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans. I also think that will be the finish order.
Gilbert has won Amstel Gold Race twice, he’s coming into form, and he’s been planning to peak now all through this year. I’m sticking my neck out but I think that makes the Belgian the overwhelming favourite to win.
But Gerrans has a chance of victory and a real shot at a medal.
He’s Australian national champion, he’s won a stage in each Grand Tour, and this year he won Milan-San Remo, one of the biggest single-day races in cycling. He also thinks that the one race that really suits him is the Amstel Gold Race.
I interviewed Gerrans in 2009 at the Cervelo test team in Portugal and even then he was eyeing up the race, partly because it was won by the man who was a big influence when Gerrans was young.
“I’ve known Phil Anderson since I was a kid, but at first I didn’t know who he was. All I knew was that he was the guy who lived on the next farm to us and turned up once a year with an interesting sun tan.
“In those days I was into in motor bikes, but I had a crash and Phil suggested to my dad that I rode a bike to rehabilitate my legs
“In fact I’m still discovering Phil’s career, and it was only when I’d ridden the races that he won that I’ve realised how good he was. It would be special to win a race that Phil won, but that isn’t the reason I like Amstel.
“I like it because it suits me. They call it the race of a thousand corners, and with all the short punchy climbs it really suits my style of racing at the moment,” he told me.
Since then, Gerrans finished seventh in 2009 and third in the 2011 Amstel Gold Race. He’s definitely homing in on winning it.
And if he wins on Sunday, one small part of Britain can take pride in the occasion. Gerrans comes from Mansfield in the state of Victoria.
“It’s a country town with 3500 people and four or five pubs. A real farming community, although my family background was in mining.
“My great grandfather was a mining engineer from Cornwall in the UK. There’s a place down there called Gerrans Bay, that’s where he came from. He came to Australia to work in the gold mines and ended up starting a farm,” Gerrans told me back then.
There, you know us Brits will take credit for anything.
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