Marco Pinotti gives us his take first:
“It was a beautiful race and Italy deserved to win, they attacked many times; Ballan was on the attack from 50 kilometres to go. In the last two World Championships, Ballan has worked very hard for Bettini; you can look at today as his reward for all the work he has done for the team over the last two years.
Ballan did not wait for the race to come to him – he took it to the race.
The course was hard, very nervous, with many turns, and made all the harder because the Italians went on the attack early and forced the others on the defensive.
The mistake that the other favourites – Freire, Valverde and Boonen – made was to pay too much attention to Bettini; they made the same mistake that Bettini made in Beijing, when he watched Valverde too closely and Sanchez benefited.
Valverde has been roundly criticized by pretty much everybody.
You could tell that the Spanish didn’t think the move with Ballan was the right one because they covered it with Rodriguez and not Valverde.
Ballan was the crowning achievement on a perfect day for the Italians.
With five K to go, I thought that maybe Breschel would win; he’s very fast at the end, but the Italian team tactics were perfect, Ballan attacked whilst Rebellin and Cunego marked the rest.
I think that the two Belgians (Van Goolen and Nuyens) made a big mistake; one of them should have worked for the other, but maybe they were both tired.
The Belgians made a ‘big mistake’ according to Pinotti.
If you look at Sorensen, the other Dane, he chased for Breschel, that’s as it should be.
But Ballan’s attack to win was straight from the text book!”
“may be a little tipsy, just out drinking wine and eating pizza, call me in 20 minutes . .
So said the man’s SMS when I reminded him about our interview.
He was allowed that pizza, he’d just ridden 260 K in 6-42 and finished with the Bettini, Boonen, Freire, Valverde group – Britain’s Russell Downing showed that his second place on GC in UCI Tour of Ireland was no fluke with a sterling ride in Varese; he took time to tell us about it.
PEZ: How was the pizza?
Russ: It was called a Lazio, but it had green peas on it, I’m not sure what that was about!
It’s the first food I’ve had since I finished; my guts were in the bin, after the race.
Russel Downing at this year’s bitter cold edition of the Girvan Three Day in Scotland.
PEZ: Your best ride ever?
Russ: I think so, when you’re riding alongside Bettini on the climb on the last lap, you can’t help but think; “this is pretty good!”
PEZ: Your longest race ever; 6-37 for the winner?
Russ: Is that what it was, Jeez – it must be the longest one I’ve ever finished, it was pretty grippy.
PEZ: How did you prepare for it?
Russ: I didn’t, that’s the thing, I rode the Tours of Ireland and Britain, but the stages in those weren’t that long. I’ve been so busy racing and recovering that I didn’t do any specific mega distance work for it.
I’m thinking now about what might have been if I had done. At four hours, I was thinking; “this is my usual race distance and there are two-and-a-half hours to go!”
But I could see other guys hurting and I told myself; “you can do this!”
In Yellow at the Tour of Ireland.
PEZ: What was your mindset going in to the race?
Russ: There was no GB team game plan until last night, when we met and agreed that Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and I would cover the early moves.
But when the early break went with just a couple of guys, I thought; “that’s a suicide move, I’m not going with that.”
If there had been ten guys then I think I might have gone with it.
I packed in the Worlds a couple of years ago, with a lap to go – I wanted to finish today, if I could.
PEZ: Thoughts on the course?
Russ: It was a good course, there was no time to rest, you had the two climbs but the descents were very technical – there was just nowhere to recover.
At one stage someone called a pee break; I was at the front and coming back from the stop it was very difficult to get back to the front, not because of the speed just because it was so tight to pass guys.
PEZ: How did it feel to be ‘last GB man standing?’
Russ: You never approach The Worlds with the ambition of being best GB finisher; but when I saw Chris Froome looking rough on the climb with three laps to go, I could see that I would be on my own.
I’m happy for myself that I did the ride I did – the last lap was weird though, with Bettini riding round saluting the crowd.
The last time up the climb I made sure I was at the front, just in case it split – and I was right beside Bettini.
PEZ: What do you eat in a race of that duration?
Russ: Lots of sugars and gels – that’s why my guts are in such a state. You try to eat solids early – Go-Bars, pancakes, ham and cheese croissants but I had to force it down.
When it gets fast you just can’t eat, so it has to be gels – I had maybe six of them. I drank plenty of bottles and late in the race I was taking a less concentrated mix in the drinks and my guts calmed down.
PEZ: Who impressed?
Russ: No one stood out; if you’re there to do a ride, you can’t be in awe of guys.
PEZ: What about the crucial split?
Russ: I was in the middle of the group and things were clipping off the front, I tried to get across with a Russian, but couldn’t – I knew that if I made the big effort and didn’t make it, then I’d go straight out the back.
Russel didn’t quite make the winning split. It was close though, very close.
PEZ: It’s been a great season for you – seven Premier Calendar wins in Britain this year.
Russ: Last year was pretty shit for me, so I thought; “Right!”
And I put in a hard winter; Phil Griffiths (Russell’s Pinarello team boss in Britain) put me under no pressure and I’ve been very happy with the team. They reckon you peak at 30 and keep getting stronger – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway!
PEZ: What’s next?
Russ: Nothing, no more races, a holiday and a few beers!
Russ: I’m not sure yet, except that it will be upwards and onwards!
With thanks to Russell and congratulations on a ride straight from the top drawer.