In September 1965 Bob Robson, Ken Beck, Paul Mayor and myself travelled to San Sebastian to see the world cycling championships. Most of you will know that Tom Simpson beat Rudi Altig in a two up sprint after 170 wet miles. Forty years later three of the four were back in Spain with Dave Livy and Phil Melville subbing for R.A. Robson. I had booked the hotel with the Co-op, and they came up trumps with fine quarters a stones throw from the Royal Palace and Opera House.
I landed in Madrid on Wednesday morning and using the excellent Metro system I was soon at the time-trial course for the Under 23 event. I am not a fan of “amateur” racing as I don’t know most of the riders. Since the blessed Margaret Thatcher and her ally Ronnie Reagan defeated the Evil Empire it has gotten worse as the USSR now sends about a dozen teams. Some you recognise with Ukraine probably the best and Lithuania being the top womens’ team. Incidentally did I ever tell you about my “special relationship” with Jolanta Polikeviciute the darling of the squad? Perhaps another time.
Russian Mikhail Ignatiev won at 30mph over the rolling course and the best Brit was Ed Clancy in 37th place. In 45th position was Ben Greenwood.
Back at the hotel the rest of the squad had arrived and under the supervision of gourmet Phil Melville we enjoyed a fine dinner. All the guide books advise to avoid the tourist honeypot of the Plaza Mayor but Phil wanted to be seen in the thick of the action and insisted that was the place to be.
We had high hopes for Bradley Wiggins’s chances in the elite time trial but after being fastest at the first checkpoint he slipped back to finish seventh. A great ride but it is difficult to see Bradley taking the title without the extra 9% power and 15% endurance that comes with Y.K.W. (you know what). Perhaps we must await the return of turbo-boosted David Millar.
As there was no Junior racing this year Friday was a rest day which we used to explore the delights of Madrid. Using my finely tuned free-loading abilities I obtained tickets to the Presentation by the City of Salzburg, the host for the 2006 championships. Unfortunately Phil had booked for dinner at just the time that the free beer and food was being handed out so we had to give it a miss.
We had an early breakfast on Saturday as the womens’ race started at 9am. We missed the first couple of laps but were there in time to see Emma Pooley crash out. The bunch was well stretched out a couple of times but it came down to a big sprint with Nicole Cooke just missing out to the German Regina Scheicher who was led to the line by a Fassa Bortolo style train. Trixi Worrack swung off in a move Marco Velo would have been proud of and she punched the air as Regina crossed the line. It is all so different from Beryl Burton’s era when cycling ladettes were undreamt of.
The under 23 race proved the old truism that it is the riders not the parcour that makes a great contest. The race started at 1.30pm and by two o’clock Irishman Andrew McQuaid had been dropped and had packed. Maybe his relationship to the president of the U.C.I. explains how he made the team.
On the second lap a break of about 25 riders went away and their lead increased to about three minutes. As the gap reduced the eventual winner Grabovskyy (Grabo to his friends) began to chase along with Dall’Antonia. From the moment that he caught the break Grabo was in the thick of the action. The attacking from both the break and the bunch was relentless. On the last lap Grabo clipped off and won alone. If he doesn’t go all the way I’m a Dutchman. What a race,little wonder that the average speed was 43kph. There may have been Brits riding but I can’t say I noticed them.
Despite these trips having taken place over forty years we have not, as a group, advanced our linguistic skills very far. Ordering beer or the house wine is usually not a problem but we do, sometimes, have difficulties with the menu. Of course the waiter will give you the “English” version but more often than not the dishes aren’t translated and “ensalada a de aguacate” becomes aguacate salad. Not good if you think avocados are slimy, horrible things and don’t want them with your lettuce. Matters aren’t helped by one of the party being averse to all things foreign. This started almost half a century ago on a campsite near Milan when the consumption of two bottles of Chianti made him poorly. Not a drop of red wine has crossed his lips since that fateful day. Another habit of Johnny Foreigner that he finds unpalatable is the consumption of under-cooked meat. Now you would think that over the decades he would picked up the phrase for “well done” in some foreign tongues but not so. No matter how loudly he shouted that he wanted his filetto WELL DONE the unfortunate waiter couldn’t grasp it. There was no answer but to try the waiter’s own dago language so he yelled MUCHO COOKO at him which did the trick.
Sunday was another fine day and we made an early departure for the 10.00am start. I was the only one who decided against missing the first few laps to take in a tour of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu that is adjacent to the finish line. Despite our precise plan to regroup later that was the last time I was to see the football fans for eight hours. I watched the first four laps from the finish area and then took the Metro to the climb. There I met the “clown prince” of Paddington Brian Tadman who told me of his adventures drinking with the Norwegian fans. Apparently they were slugging from hip-flasks of neat vodka which may explain why they are always the most unruly group on the circuit.
It has to be said that it wasn’t a great race. A series of individual attacks from the start came together to make a break of four that gained ten minutes. Now if you were the Italian manager you wouldn’t want to use your gregario to pull back an early break when you need them strong to keep the race together in the finale for Petachi. So of course you recruit some supernumerary team members. It was understandable that Konstantsin Siutsou of Belarus would be recruited as Petacchi’s Fassa Bortolo team pay his wages. Siutsou is a real talent, he won the under 23 title last year, and he was superb in the service of the Italian team. More surprising was the treachery of Wegelius and Southam. Attempts to absolve the duplicitous duo claim that the British team lacked a credible leader which is nonsense. Roger Hammond was seventh in the Athens Olympics beating McEwen and O’Grady in the sprint for fourth place. He was a serious contender for a medal in Madrid. It is unfortunate that British Cycling have not revealed the outcome of their enquiry and more particularly why Herety was resigned. I believe there can be only two possibilities. Either Herety was aware of the traitors’ plan and colluded with them or he was unable to control his riders. In the era of radio contact this lack of authority is unacceptable and Herety deserved the bullet.
Boonen’s win was well-earned as he was the only true sprinter who hung in the front group. Interestingly Alexandre Usov of Belarus won the sprint from the second group beating Zabel and McEwen. Perhaps is his countryman Siutsou had worked for him instead of the Italians Usov could have been in the front of the split and challenging for the rainbow jersey. The joy of bike racing is, of course, that the “what ifs” are endless.
That night we went to a bar that specialised in Belgian beer to enjoy the craic.
It was full to overflowing with Belgians mostly well oiled. Things turned nasty when the occupant of the flat above the bar could no longer stand the endless shouting of BOOOOOOOONEN and tipped a bucket of water over the revellers. The good humour evaporated and the police appeared and closed the bar. It was galling that as a cop ushered me out he said that the English always cause trouble.
So there we are. The racing was a mixed bag with only the under 23 race rising above the ordinary. On the plus side the logistics of the trip were a breeze with direct flights, easy and cheap travel round the city and an excellent and reasonably priced hotel. As always the company was superb. Don’t forget, be careful out there.