By Andrew Hood
Everyone talks of the dominance of the Italians, but since 1995, it’s been the Spanish that have ruled the men’s road world championships. Spain has won seven world championship medals to Italy’s five since 1995, including four world titles to Italy’s one.
Abaham Olano won Spain’s first rainbow jersey in the high-altitude course of Colombia in 1995, finishing ahead of Tour de France legend Miguel Indurain. Big Mig won two silver medals in his career (he was second behind Lance Armstrong in 1993) and won the world time trial title in 1995, but never won the rainbow jersey on the road.
Marco Pantani took the bronze that year and Michele Bartoli claimed bronze in 1996 and 1998, respectively. Paolo Bettini settled for silver in 2001 before the Italians got it right in Zolder and worked together seamlessly to deliver Mario Cipollini into Italy’s first rainbow jersey since 1992.
Spain, meanwhile, struck gold literally with little-known Oscar Freire in 1999, who surprised a group of riders that included Jan Ullrich, Francesco Casagrande and Chann McRae. Freire proved he was no fluke by backing it up with a bronze medal in Plouay and a second world title in Lisbon, where he edged Bettini to take his second rainbow jersey in three years.
Igor Astarloa’s victory made him the third Spanish ride to claim the rainbow jersey
Spain vs. Italy in the worlds since 1995:
|1995 (Colombia)||Olano, gold; Indurain, silver||Pantani, bronze|
|1996 (Lugano)||— —||Bartoli, bronze|
|1998 (Valkenburg)||— —||Bartoli, bronze|
|1999 (Verona)||Freire, gold||— —|
|2000 (Plouay)||Freire, bronze||— —|
|2001 (Lisbon)||Freire, gold||Bettini, silver|
|2002 (Zolder)||— —||Cipollini, gold|
|2003 (Canada)||Astarloa, gold; Valverde, silver|
Astarloa on top of world
Igor Astarloa gambled to attack alone against the all-star final group and it paid off with the biggest victory of his four-year pro career. Following his breakthrough victory at Fleche Wallone this spring, Astarloa was one of Spain’s wild-card riders who had the freedom to ride his own race behind team leader Oscar Freire.
The 27-year-old Basque rider recounted the decisive moments in a post-race interview with Spanish journalists, including an offer from Italian favorite Paolo Bettini that Astarloa could afford to turn down.
Q: How does it feel to be world champion?
A: “You ought to ask Oscar Freire, who’s won two times, because I still can’t believe it and it will probably take a week or month before I do. For a classics specialist like me, this is the biggest thing, the best thing that can happen. This is like winning the Tour de France if you’re a grand tour rider.”
Q: Did you speak with Freire?
A: “Yes, before the beginning of the final lap, Oscar told me to go with Bettini on the first climb because he preferred to wait and see if it came down to a sprint. I responded well and I put myself into this group. We all went a little awry, but I knew we could arrive to the finish.”
Q: Van Petegem, Bettini, Boogerd – that’s quite a group to fight against in the worlds!
A: “That’s true, but we didn’t understand each other very well. Nearing the final climb, Bettini offered me money to collaborate with him. He told me we could both arrive to the finish together and fight it out for the gold. I couldn’t accept this. The main group was nearly catching us and I could see that (Bettini) was afraid of Freire of winning the bunch sprint. I also knew that Bettini was faster than me and I decided to go for it alone. I knew it would be hard against a head wind, but I had to try. Only when I arrived at the final curve did I realize the title would be mine.”
Q: And (Alejandro) Valverde made it a double?
A: “When I saw that Alejandro had arrived to the group behind me it gave me some tranquility, because I knew if I didn’t make it, Alejandrois the fastest and he could have won. We all know Valverde is very strong and he’s a young man with a great future. (The Spanish team was) very united, we made some great work and we achieved a prize much more than we expected. I can’t believe it!”
As a lover of the classics, Igor Astarloa is an anomaly in grand tour-crazy Spain where pro teams want tour contenders, lithe climbers or workers to help the stars.Despite winning eight amateur races in the late 1990s, Astarloa couldn’t find a Spanish team to offer him a pro contract. Things were so bad in1998 that Astarloa, then 22, was forced to help out a cousin who sold dishes and tableware.Thanks to help from friend and fellow pro racer Pedro Horrillo (QuickStep), who sent Italian sport director Emanuele Bombini Astarloa’s resume, Astarloa scored a ride with the Italian neo-pro team Calcestruci-Salentrinain 1998.After racing in the cut-throat Italian scene, Astarloa secured his first contract with Mercatone Uno in 2000 and earned his first pro win the next season. Four years later, Astarloa is world champion and heading to the French Cofidis team.
Born: March 29, 1976, Ermua, Spain
Pro since: 2000
2001 (Mercatone Uno) – GP Primavera
2002 (Saeco) – Brixia Tour (stage-win and overall)
2003 (Saeco) – road world title, Fleche Wallone, stage at Vuelta Valenciana
Valverde caps amazing season
Things just keep getting better for Alejandro Valverde (Kelme). The23-year-old Spanish rider sprinted ahead of Peter Van Petegem and Paolo Bettini to snatch the silver medal to cap an amazing break-out season.
Just weeks after winning two mountain stages and finishing third overall in the 2003 Vuelta a España, Valverde has all of Spain in a tizzy.“This is too much,” Valverde said Sunday on the finish line. “I cannot believe it. This is the best. It’s impressive. It’s been an exceptional season. I can’t say which makes me happier, this medal or the Vuelta.
”Valverde is already being compared to Laurent Jalabert for his uncanny ability to shine in the sprints, the mountains and grand tours. Valverde’s silver medal confirms the rider from Murcia as one of Spain’s hottest prospects.
“After the attacks by Astarloa, I entered the chase group. Even though we were getting close, because there was a head win, in this moment I knew if I could hang on we could get first and second,” he said. “In the sprint, they started too early because had the head wind. I grabbed the wheel of the Belgian (Van Petegem) and I came around him.”
Cofidis to ride with both world champs
Cofidis will boast both men’s world champions next season. David Millar, winner of Thursday’s world time trial title, extended his contract with Cofidis following this summer’s Tour de France. Millar promises he’ll fight for the Olympic time trial gold medal in Athens and begin to seriously challenge for three-week tours next year.
Igor Astarloa, winner of Sunday’s road world championships, recently penned a deal that takes him from Saeco, his home for the past two seasons, to Cofidis. Astarloa’s win in April’s semi-classic Fleche Wallone was Spain’s first victory in a northern one-day classic. Fourth overall in the World Cup in 2002, Astarloa will have solid support next season as he makes a run for the overall title.
Barry rides strong for home crowd
Michael Barry put on quite a show for the home crowd Sunday, finishing an impressive seventh place after bridging up to the lead group with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde.
Barry’s finish is the best world championship result by a Canadian since Steve Bauer was third in 1984 in Barcelona.
“I surprised myself,” Barry told the Canadian AP. “The Italians controlled the race pretty much from the start. Because Bettini was the favorite -he can sprint well – they had every reason to control it, and the Spanish controlled it pretty well as well. It wasn’t a super attacking race, it wasn’t supremely aggressive. Maybe riders were a little afraid of the course.”Barry missed the move when Peter Van Petegem attacked hard on the final lap and five others followed, including eventual winner Astarloa.
“I was trying to be as patient as possible throughout the whole race and just save my energy, following all the moves and not putting my nose in the wind too much,” Barry said. “Then, on the last lap, I thought I’d give it a go.
”Barry’s ride electrified the enthusiastic home crowd, estimated at more than 100,000 people.“
There was definitely a huge crowd carrying me up the hill so it made it easier,” said Barry, 27. “It was an incredible day. There was definitely a lot of Canadians out there cheering for me. I just wanted to put on a good show for them. I’ve been racing in Ontario since I was five years old so I kind of wanted to put on a good show for everybody. I tried hard. I’ve done a lot of races where I can’t sleep at night after because I regret not attacking. So I thought I would give it a go and see what happens.”
Bettini in shock
Pre-race favorite Paolo Bettini had the look of exasperation as he watched Alejandro Valverde squirt ahead of him to claim the silver medal. With Belgian Peter Van Petegem taking the bronze, Bettini was left with fourth-place and no medal.
“I am disappointed, but the best has won,” Bettini told ANSA, the Italian wire service. “The course was very selective. The team rode well, but I was not my strongest and I have disappointed the team. Astarloa was the strongest and he chose just the right moment to attack.”
French hoping for more
Like many, the French team missed the final move and was left hoping the Germans and Americans could bring back the move to set up a sprint finish. Two riders – 1997 world champion Laurent Brochard and Cedric Vasseur– finished in the lead group, but it was too late for the French, whose last road world champion medal came with Jean-Cyril Robin’s bronze medal in 1999.
“I was OK for the first 200km. The circuit was very difficult and the hills were hard, which made it difficult to recover,” Brochard told L’Equipe. “We tried to get into some of the moves, but it was well controlled. We were hoping for something more.
”Vasseur stuck his nose into the wind a few times, but it was difficult to shake the group until the final decisive lap. Sylvain Chavanel (84that 4:33) said the long distance took its toll.
“I started to crack in the final two or three laps. I started to notice the distance,” Chavanel said. “This is the first time I’ve raced such along distance, but I am content. I’m not completely destroyed physically.”
Americans frustrated despite strong showing
The American team left Hamilton frustrated that they weren’t in contention for the medals. The U.S. team came to Canada with its strongest line-up in years, with George Hincapie as the designated team captain and hopes for at least a podium appearance.
Fred Rodriguez was a late addition, replacing Christian Vande Velde, and finished as the top American in 18th.“I was cramping pretty badly,” Rodriguez said in a USA Cycling release.
” I just kept trying to ride and every time I pedaled hard I cramped. No one in the field was ready to chase, and I think if the Germans would have had a stronger team here to help Zabel it could have came back.
”Chris Horner revealed excellent form and worked himself into some late moves and worked hard to try to bring back the winning move on the final lap.
“I tried to make it happen,” Horner said. “The race wasn’t hard enough in the beginning and there was too many guys left at the end. It was definitely hard near the end and I just tried to keep it fast and string it out for George and Freddy, I led it into the last climb as hard as I could for the sprint.”
Chris Baldwin, a relative newcomer to the world championship scene satin awe after abandoning the race.
“I learned more in five hours than I have in five years,” he said. “It started out so slow at the beginning and then just started going hard. I think I could feel my body switch from burning fat to burning sugar. I wanted to ride until I had nothing left and do whatever it takes. I was able to be at the front for a while and did what I could.”
Tim Johnson also was pleased with his performance and explained his own mishap.
“I did my job and whenever anybody needed help, like when Freddy had mechanical problems, I went back and helped him,” he said. “I went down in the first crash on the descent. I was in second wheel but the guy in the lead touched his brakes and lost it. I slid 40 yards on my back.”
John Lieswyn was a little disappointed at his performance, hoping to have contributed more.
“I’m a little depressed because I wanted to be in there for the meat of the race, but I did my share of work and helped out Freddy and George on the front. I went for 180 km but I was only really in it for about 140km,” he said. — Courtesy of USA Cycling
Kevin Lacombe, 18, of Amos, Que., who broke the orbital bone above his right eye in a crash in the junior men’s road race Saturday, will remain in Hamilton General Hospital until a scheduled Tuesday release. A full recovery is expected but he’ll miss games with the Drummondville, Que., major junior hockey team for which he plays defense, the Canadian wires reported … Total attendance for six days was 230,000There were 1225 athletes from 57 countriesThe Netherlands (7), Germany (5), Russia (4) and Spain (3) won the most medals.It was the first time the road worlds were held in Canada since 1974in Montreal.