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Waxing lyrically, one of former UCI president Hein Verbruggen’s favorite phrases was “the mondialization of cycling” – “monde“ meaning “world” in the mellifluous French dialect.
Verbruggen, who ruled the UCI roost from 1991 to 2005 before incumbent Pat McQuaid took charge, considered himself quite the patriarch during his tenure at Aigle in the Romande region of Switzerland, home to the UCI headquarters. And when he chose to leave (though many believe he’s still hiding behind the curtains), the UCI ProTour was his grand legacy.
Right from the get-go in 2006, the ProTour series was awash with controversy and bickering so vitriolic it could have applied to become an Olympic event – the most notable being the collaborated rebuke from the organizers of the three Grand Tours (and by default, a swag of major Classics) to distance themselves from Verbruggen’s grand plan and do as they please, retaining the profits from the lucrative TV rights that go with it.
Meanwhile, the fight to be ProTour champion – and its eventual winner – receives about as much attention from the mainstream press as the local club races here in Geelong, Australia, where the 2010 UCI road world championships will be staged, starting Wednesday, September 29 and running through to Sunday, October 3.
Nevertheless, despite the mixed success of the ProTour, that the road worlds (as it’s often called in two-wheeled vernacular, or simply “the Worlds” or “Worlds”) has made it as far as Australia for the first time in history – actually, the first time in the Southern Hemisphere – and only the fourth occasion for an Anglophone nation, the last being 2003 in Hamilton, Canada, does say something about the evolution of cycling outside its western European heartland.
So, does that mean cycling’s been “mondialized?”
Though it’ll probably take a few more ProTour races than the Tour Down Under and the recent pair of Canadian classics, a few more Anglophone-registered ProTour teams, and a few more road world championships outside Europe to definitively say the globalization of cycling is alive and kicking in all corners of the globe. “This global vision has been our number one strategic priority for the last few years,” said McQuaid in his keynote welcome in the 2010 Worlds’ official guide, “and today we are pleased to see that road cycling has also now become in this magnificent country one of the most popular and appreciated disciplines.”
Magnificent country, yes. Most popular and appreciated disciplines? Well, not if you ask the nation’s 11 million-plus car owners – equivalent to one car for every 2.2 Australians, the second highest level of car ownership in the world – many who find the sight of a person on a bicycle akin to a cockroach in their kitchen.
Aside from the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and other seldom-run occasions such as the European or Asian championships, the Worlds is the only time you’ll see cyclists compete in the colors of their country, trade team bike shorts aside (which, for the ProTour riders, usually has their team name on one side and country stamped on the other).
And it’s because of its rarefied nature that cycling fans from around the world, whether they watch the events by the roadside, on TV, print or radio, or online here at VeloNews, often exhibit a harbored sense of nationalistic pride closeted within all of us. Sharing a slab of beer among like-minded friends also goes some way to whet the Worlds appetite. Floyd Landis’ appearance at an anti-doping conference – that will now run without the imprimatur of the organizers – does not.
The elite road worlds in particular, which produce just six champions from as many events, the five stripes emblazoned across the rainbow jersey – blue, red, black, yellow and green, in descending order – signal an athlete of immense accomplishment.
That athlete not only receives a fat-ish pay check, endless adulation and often a healthy contract bonus – plus the right to party all night long – but the honor of wearing the rainbow tunic (in lieu of their trade team jersey) in races they participate in throughout the following 12 months, ensuring cycling immortality. “Everyone knows it’s the best-looking jersey in the peloton,” said Thor Hushovd, one of a handful of pre-race favorites for the final event on October 3, the elite men’s road race, to be staged over 262.7 unpredictable and for the latter part, unforgiving, kilometers.
Speaking of the men’s road race, other than the aforementioned firsts for this year’s Worlds, for the only occasion since the event’s inception in 1927 held in Nürburgring, Germany, the blue riband event will pioneer a new format.
On 10 a.m. October 3, some 200 riders will leave Melbourne’s Federation Square in the heart of the Victorian capital’s Central Business District (CBD) and traverse 85 likely wind-affected kilometers to Geelong, before embarking on 11 laps of a challenging 15.9km circuit in said coastal city, the latter being the course method used for all road world championships till this year.
Editor’s note: VeloNews correspondent Anthony Tan will be providing extensive on-the-ground reporting and video interviews from the 2010 UCI Road Cycling World Championships
Coming next: Analyzing the time trial and road race parcours and their title contenders
Race schedule: 2010 UCI Road Cycling World Championships
Wednesday 29 September
Under 23 Men Time Trial, 31.8 km, 10:00 a.m. AEST start
Women’s Elite Time Trial, 22.9 km, 15:00 p.m. AEST start
Thursday 30 September
Elite Men’s Time Trial, 45.8 km, 13:00 p.m. AEST start
Friday 1 October
Under 23 Men Road Race, 159 km, 13:00 p.m. AEST start
Saturday 2 October
Women’s Elite Road Race, 127.2km, 13:00 p.m. AEST start
Sunday 3 October
Men’s Elite Road Race, 262.7 km, 10:00 am AEST start