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Returning from Poland and catching up on the mainstream coverage of the World Championships, I was perhaps not surprised by the slightly downbeat tone.
Word reached us while we there that the BBC was asking where it was all going wrong. After Palma, Manchester and Beijing that is understandable, because for 24 months, Great Britain has utterly dominated on the track.
Even though Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero were missing, expectations were still sky high.
A look at the team selected for Pruszkow should have added a dash of reality, but it still took some by surprise.
Sir Chris said that people approached him in the supermarket and remarked that ?they weren?t doing too well without him?.
That?s the way it is now. If you win nine gold medals one year, and only two the year after, people will assume it?s been a flop.
After the championships ended, Dave Brailsford talked of feeling hurt at losing, suggesting that it was a reality check, but I don?t even think that?s a fair reflection of the week?s work in Poland. That was more an attempt to manage expectations after the event because there were certainly no recriminations for poor performances.
No one at British Cycling was expecting much more. After any peak, there has to be a comedown of sorts, and this is it.
The problem British Cycling had was that they didn?t communicate their targets and hopes ahead of the championships very well. They didn?t do much to dampen expectations, hoping perhaps that the absence of Hoy, Wiggins and Romero might do that for them.
Part of the dilemma is that pragmatism and realism doesn?t play too well with the broader sports watching audience. It certainly doesn?t appeal to broadcasters and national newspapers.
No one wants to talk about ?building for the future? or giving experience to young talent because the viewer at home on the sofa will think ?Well, if this isn?t the A team in action, I?ll go and do something else instead.?
After all, when a football team fields a weakened side for a cup match of lesser significance, people switch off in their droves.
That isn?t to say that British Cycling deliberately pulled their punches. They didn?t. Everyone in Poland gave 100 per cent of what they had to give. The thing was, they did not have as much to give. It has been a difficult winter, light on racing, because riders needed a break after Beijing and many had other commitments.
To win medals in nine different events was an amazing achievement for a weakened team. The women?s endurance riders were the stars, Lizzie Armitstead in particular, and they really delivered. So did Victoria Pendleton, who pushed herself beyond the call of duty. After all, she could have pulled out of the Keirin on Sunday morning, but chose not to, and that speaks volumes.
There was a sigh of disappointment about the team pursuit quartet?s failure to win a medal. It was the first time Great Britain has been absent from the podium since 1999.
But look at the facts. Ed Clancy broke a bone in his foot after stubbing his toe a few weeks before the championships. The other three were making their debut in the World Championship team pursuit squad and a bout of food poisoning had set their preparation back.
To get up and ride a 4-00, a time that would have won the world title in 2005 and 2006, and been second best behind Great Britain in 2007, bodes extremely well for the future.
As one of the coaches said: ?Would we have learned anything if Chris, Brad, Becks and the team pursuit ?A team? won gold??
|THE GOOD AND THE BAD|
Time to reflect on the week in Pruszkow, then. Here?s our summary of what was good, and what was not.
THE BEST OF THE WEEK
* The Olimpia restaurant adjacent to the Pruszkow was a life-saver.
* The gnocchi with mushrooms went down well too. http://twitpic.com/2gpcp
* The performances by the GB women. Lizzie Armitstead is going to be a world champion very soon. Wendy Houvenaghel got her first world championships medal. The team pursuit trio held off the rest of the world, which has stepped up a notch.
* Victoria Pendleton. Legend. She got up and got up onto the track for 17 races in five days. Competing every day is tough. Her medal in the 500 metre time trial was her first in the event at the World Championships.
* The Aussies have recovered a bit. We noted Anna Meares was keen to concentrate on the 500-metre time trial and team sprint. Does she know something about the London 2012 programme we don?t?
* Free wifi in the snack bar at the hotel. Saved us a ludicrous £20 a day on internet costs.
* The breakfast. A plentiful buffet with friendly service.
* Twitter. It?s brilliant. No, really, it is.
* The sprinting. Superb all week. Some fantastically close races in both men?s and women?s competitions. Gregory Baugée was really impressive. Can?t wait to see him take on Sir Chris Hoy next year.
* Seeing who Dave Brailsford was talking to during the course of the week. Intruiging.
* Awang?s wheelies. That?s the way to win a sprint in style. Cav should do that on the road.
* This apple pie. http://twitpic.com/2j4t5 The Olimpia?s restaurant again. Warm, cinammony. Only let down by the absence of ice cream.
THE WORST OF THE WEEK
* Getting splashed with hot coffee on the flight out. The stewardess gave us two bottle of wine by way of compensation. Apology accepted.
* Polish taxi drivers. Suicidal, most of them. There wasn?t a relaxing journey all week. They seemed to think you had to have your foot on one of the pedals at all times. They weaved in and out of traffic, and went through red lights.
* The catering at the velodrome. The UCI really needs to sort this out. We?re not asking for five-star food and service, but it?s a bit much to ask people to work for ten hours with only bottled water, tiny fudge sweets and these hot dogs ? http://twitpic.com/2hylw ? for sustenance. We noted the VIP area, where the UCI bods can go, had plentiful food, of course.
* The Omnium. See below.
* The Polish commentator. In the stadium there were two commentators. One who did all the official stuff in French and English, the other who commentated for the home crowd. He was hopeless. He shouted, he talked over the starting beeps and his style mostly consistent of repeating the name of the country or rider in the lead: ?Ous-tray-le-aah, Ous-tray-le-aah? or ?Francia, Francia? or our favourite ?Awang, Awang, Awang.?
* The lack of transport to and from Warsaw for media types.
* Failing to find anywhere more authentically Polish to eat than the hotel bar, or the Hard Rock Café by the railway station. Unfortunately by the time we?d finished work, everywhere else was shut.
* The clocks going back the night before the earliest start of the week. Expecting the competitors to finish the sprint at 9.30pm one night and start the Keirin at 10am the following morning (and lose an hour in the meantime) was daft scheduling.
The Omnium is simply not worthy of a rainbow jersey.
Nothing against the concept, but perhaps it should be a development event, rather than a fully-blown world championship.
Last year, when the Worlds were held in Manchester, the programme was expanded to a fifth day. Partly that was because it was Olympic year and there were huge entries as every country sought to qualify for the Games.
This year the entry was significantly reduced, but the championships was still held over five days.
The men?s Omnium was added to the programme in Palma in 2007, this year the women?s Omnium joined it, which is quite correct.
But it?s a hotch-potch of events, for the men consisting of a flying sprint, a kilometre time trial, a 3,000-metre pursuit, a scratch race and a points race.
While it gives the audience in the stadium a flavour of all the different style of track disciplines, which presumably explains why both Omnium events were held at the weekend, from a sporting point of view it?s a real turn-off.
For a start, it?s largely used as a development event by most of the bigger nations. And that is fine too. Perhaps there should be some more events for younger riders included on the programme. But the Omnium, as a bona fide world title race, is pushing it.
|A SLIGHT DETOUR|
On Saturday night, we tried to avoid getting another suicidal taxi ride back to Warsaw and attempted to locate the UCI courtesy bus, which ran the media and other invited guests back to the official hotel in the city centre.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a communications breakdown. The driver didn?t speak English, I couldn?t understand Polish. A German gentleman, who thought he was being helpful, confirmed that the bus was going to the Sofitel via the venue for UCI?s dinner.
After ten minutes we pulled up at a big country mansion and the driver asked us to get off.
?Er, Sofitel?? I asked.
?Sofitel in two hours. Eat first,? he said.
It transpired we?d been dropped off at the UCI?s gala dinner, to which we didn?t have an invite.
So, we spent 40 minutes standing around in the foyer with this boar http://twitpic.com/2jos8 trying not to look too untidy.
Our Polish hosts offered us a glass of Champagne, but we felt like we were firmly on the outside looking in.
But what were we missing? Pat McQuaid?s hilarious stand-up routine about the biological passport perhaps?
|LANCE WANTS TO BUY CYCLING?|
It is April Fool?s Day, but you won?t find me indulging in any spoof stories.
Anyway, the Wall Street Journal published its story about Lance Armstrong attempting to put together a consortium to control cycling last week by purchasing the Tour de France.
I still can?t take it seriously, though. The idea appears to be for Armstrong to run professional cycling along the same lines as other American sports, where money speaks louder than anything else.
Armstrong?s agent, Bill Stapleton, confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that he had discussed the idea of buying the Tour.
The reason the UCI is vulnerable is because it doesn?t own any events or hold television rights (apart from the World Championships). In America, the sports are owned and run by a central body ? the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB ? and the clubs are franchises. Even FIFA, football?s governing body, runs the World Cup.
The UCI attempted to set up the ProTour, which crumbled to not much more than a name and a logo when the race organizers objected to the governing body trying to muscle in on its territory.
Whether the Tour de France will ever be for sale is a moot point. It?s far less simple than putting it on the market to the highest bidder. For a start, the Tour de France happens because of public money. Local governments pay for the right to host stage starts and finishes. Central government would surely block any move that meant that money transferring to foreign hands.
If the Tour de France were owned by a foreign business interested primarily in economics, eventually we could reach a situation where the prices were raised and stages would be hosted only by those able to pay.
|NO LIMIT TO SKY’S AMBITIONS|
While it may appear to have gone quiet on the Sky team front since the announcement last month, work continues apace behind the scenes.
Dave Brailsford’s life must be one continuous round of meetings at the moment as he discusses every aspect of the team and goes about recruiting the right people for the job.
He remarked to my colleague that if we were to set up a web cam at Manchester airport, we’d be very interested in the people popping in to visit him. We might just do that, Dave.
One of the things that is becoming clear already is that there is no limit to the ambition the team is showing. Rather than observing and conforming to the conventions and traditions of road cycling, Team Sky will be doing things its own way. I won’t be surprised if the set-up runs itself more along the lines of a Formula 1 team than a cycling squad.
They will strive for the very best in every area – from the team bus to the way the racing programmes are designed. If there’s one thing British Cycling leads the world in, it’s planning, logistics, attention to detail. I’m not saying that there are no other pro road teams out there that work in that way, but I suspect Brailsford and his team will revolutionise the sport.
Next year, I expect Team Sky to be doing some things in a different way. And in three years’ time everyone else will have copied them.
|BRING ON THE COBBLES|
The preparation races are in full swing, but the three big cobbled Classics start with the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
For many, it?s the most exciting week of the year. Some big names are missing, but that won’t affect the racing much. As ever, the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix will throw up new names and some big talking points.
Look out for our predicition for how the top ten will turn out at the Tour of Flanders on this site later in the week.
And follow both www.twitter.com/cyclingweekly and www.twitter.com/cyclesportmag over the weekend if you want to know what we’re up to.
|IT?S IN THE BLOOD|
Bernhard Kohl said he?d made a mistake and succumbed to blood doping to cope with the expectations and pressure of doing well at the Tour de France. Even though there was no great expectation on his shoulders.
Now it turns out he?s accused his manager, Stefan Matschiner, of supplying him with EPO in return for 50,000 Euros. Matschiner, it is alleged, is part of sophisticated blood-doping network in Austria and has been arrested.
This brings the allegations into the Vienna blood bank, Humanplasma, back into the spotlight. The investigation was recently closed after allegations that sports people across Europe, including cyclists, had used the clinic.
Meanwhile, Rudy Pevenage, who?s happily working for Rock Racing, says there were at least five doctors offering the same services as Dr Eufamiano Fuentes to cyclists.
The number of riders pulling out of races with various illnesses and injuries this spring has been noticeable.
And the UCI, which has been collecting biological passport data for more than a year, has done what so far?
It is too simplistic to ask why the biological passport failed to catch Kohl, Riccardo Ricco, Stefan Schumacher and co because the scheme was still in its infancy. Last July each rider had given perhaps only two or three samples ? too few from which to draw any conclusions, so the experts say.
But now there’s no excuse. If a rider tests positive in this year’s Tour, we really will be able to ask the legitimate question: What the hell is going on?
THE WEDNESDAY COMMENT IN 2009
March 25 ? Cavendish?s win, Lance?s crash
March 11 ? A great Paris-Nice, plus much more
March 4 ? Team Sky launched
February 25 ? Why Lance was wrong to push the idiot
February 18 ? It?s all happening in California
Bonus Comment: Lance Armstrong and Don Catlin drop anti-doping programme
February 11 ? Why BC must fight harder for road racing’s future
February 4 ? What’s hot during the big freeze?
January 28 ? The Snore Down Under
January 21 ? The Second Coming
January 14 ? So, Sir Alan rides a bike?