Friday, 2 October 2009

Mendrisio Worlds Part 3

And so to Sundays big one, the Elite Mens race. On a beautiful sunny day in Mendrisio, the atmosphere was building before we even got there on the train. It was even more exciting for us given that there was a very real feeling going around that the Irish lads had a real chance of success. We had the green "Ireland" t-shirts on and the Tricolour out so we were a match for blue Italian, red Swiss and orange Dutch fans any day.

We were only a few minutes out of the station when the first sound of the helicopter approaching had us making for the roadside. As we turned an Irish voice beside us was telling her Mum to get to the barriers. She spotted us with the flag and was straight over. She was surprised, and delighted, to hear that there were Irish riders in the race.

Turns out they weren't over from Ireland for the event but were in fact locals! The mother was from Galway.  She'd married a Swiss man 25 odd years ago and had moved to Mendrisio with him. The voice we had heard first was her daughter, in her early twenties and Swiss born and bred. That was amazing to us because her accent was pure Galway! Apart from how she pronounced some place-names you would not have thought she came from anywhere else. So we chatted for a bit, explained what was going on in the race, pointed out the three Irish lads in the bunch and moved on.

Irish Champion, Nicolas Roche

Dan Martin and Philip Deignan on Acqua Fresca
early in the race.

After going to the second climb, Novazzano, on Saturday we headed for Mendrisio town and the first climb, Acqua Fresca. This was another steep one, rising in several ramps through the town and out into the country above.

If the other side of the course was the Belgian village, there was no doubt but that the Dutch had taken over this side.  At one point the Dutch and Swiss fans on opposite sides of the road were counter chanting "Holland", "La Suisse", "Holland", "La Suisse"! Just like their Benelux neighbours the Dutch were downing the beers with enthusiasm as the DJ called out party games and race related quizzes for Dutch themed (ie Orange) prizes.

By this stage the race had settled in to the usual Worlds pattern. A ten man break had opened a 7 minute gap on the bunch and were grinding out the laps in the sunshine. German sprinter Andre Greipel was a surprise inclusion in the break, not least to himself according to his post race interviews.

Andre Greipel (Germany) in the early break of the day.

The bunch was being controlled by the big nations, including the Aussies and the Belgians.

Stuart O'Grady of Australia (right) leads former
World Champion Tom Boonen of Belgium (far left)

At this stage, before the inevitable fireworks kicked off, it was time for some lunch. As we tucked in to a stand up lunch in a local shopping arcade, who should come along only the Irish/Swiss mother and daughter from earlier. But this time there was no doubting their loyalties. Having found out there was Irish riders to support they'd rushed home, donned their best Ireland tops and grabbed their Tricolour. They were out for the day now!

A couple of laps more and a surprising split was formed. Actually there were two splits. The first was being forced by the Italians and contained defending champion Allesandro Ballan, while the second was being driven by the Belgian team and contained former champion Tom Boonen. The two groups joined up and for a bit it looked like the peleton was not going to close it down. Most of the big countries were represented in the break so who was left to chase?

Defending World Champion, Allesandro Ballan of Italy
follows Belgium's Greg van Avermaet in the mid race split.

Well that was answered soon enough. The strong Aussie team were obviously not along for the ride and, despite having Mick Rogers in the split, massed at the front to get their co-leaders Evans and Gerrans back into contention. It was a powerful display  of teamwork and strength and eventually bore fruit as the remains of the field came back together for the finale.

The Aussies lead the chase.

At this stage the Irish lads were still in there. Philip Deignan looked the more comfortable, Dan Martin was hanging in but Nico Roche was looking like he was feeling the pressure.

 Philip Deignan looks more at ease than eventual winner, Cadel Evans.

Nicolas Roche feeling the effects of a long season.

As we made our way back towards the finish area we heard that Roche had had enough. The word from the Irish pit was that after his amazing Tour De France debut, and subsequent heavy racing schedule, he was just too tired.

As on Saturday the rush was on now to find a telly to see the finish. Today it came courtesy of a Belgian fan club whose tent must had had fifty odd people crowded around to witness Cadel Evans outwit the Swiss and Italians to net Australia's first World title. As a former resident of that fine country I was almost as happy as I'd have been if one of ours had done it (well not quite, but a bit happy!).

Dan Martin leads 2009 World Champion,
Cadel Evans

1st Cadel Evans (AUS)                      6:56:26
2nd  Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS)            +0:27
3rd Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (ESP)          s.t.

For a full race report see

One of the great things about attending in person at an event like the Worlds is you get to enjoy the non-racing parts too. At the Start/Finish are there was a trade village with various stands including a very impressive display team.

And best of all I finally got to fulfil a dream and take the final stage in the yellow jersey (well almost!).

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