From the race guide book, the ‘stats’ for the road course are a little bit daunting. On Sunday, the professional men will set out to cover 19laps of what is a very tough 13.8km circuit, giving a slightly numbing race distance of 262.2km, with a total of 4,600m of climbing. Ouch.
Before that, the women will race 124.2km on Saturday morning followed by the Under 23 men racing 13laps in the afternoon, giving them a total race distance of 179.4km.
This is where it all finishes. Come with PEZ while we take a look at exactly what the riders will need to go through in order to claim that coveted top spot.
Let’s Hit The Road
The course selected for the 2009 world road championships here in Mendrisio is definitely not one for the sprinters. While there is a nice wide run into the start finish area that means any small group arriving together to contest the medals will have plenty of space to manoeuvre, the kilometre before the line and the couple of kilometres after, are really the only flat sections of the course that we found.
The start/finish area is slightly outside of Mendrisio itself, which has allowed room to build the large hospitality area and the tribunes where the VIPs, paying guests and other assorted hangers-on will get to view the racing in comfort.
There won’t be any vacant seats here come 5pm Sunday afternoon.
Just after the start finish line, there there is a gradual downhill section and a large roundabout which will be negotiated by the riders on the right hand side. Off to the left are all of the professional team’s buses and campers, which normally get loaned out (possibly even hired out) to various national teams for he championships.
It wasn’t just the riders, fans and intrepid PEZ reporters who were out on the bikes today. Just after we stepped off the train at the Mendrisio station, Sean Kelly rode past (going fast enough to thwart our attempts to retrieve the camera from the back pack) and then on the start of our first lap, we spotted Mr Team Columbia HTC himself, Bob Stapleton, riding back to the team bus after checking out the circuit for himself.
I wonder if team owners who ride, like Bob Stapleton, ever consider putting themselves on the start-list for races?
The road drops down under a road and rail tunnel before the long straight section that heads to the first section of team boxes.
For the first few laps the riders will be going both sides of the roundabout, however once the ‘racing’ begins, expect it to be strung out along here, like it will be on most of the rest of the circuit.
With such a narrow circuit in Mendrisio, the team cars will not be able to service the riders as easily as they would in a regular stage or one day race, and so the work of the team support staff in “the boxes” will be even more important. The boxes are a long line of tent like structures where riders can take on food and drinks each lap except the last, and as well as being just past the finish line, ther is also another section on the back of the circuit.
The team boxes are along the right hand side of the road, just after this roundabout.
There will be limited time for refilling the pockets before riders have to make this left hand turn and start the drop down towards the station. While the roads are quite good, it is a typical inner city circuit with man hole covers and various other bumps and grooves just waiting to catch out someone riding no hands.
The Dutch team making their way around the bottom section of the circuit.
This long downhill run takes the riders to the Train Station and as well as being bumpy and fast, is quite narrow.
If you are watching on TV, the section past the train station, as well as being split up the middle with traffic lights and road islands, is the final section of the long descent from the start/finish.
The roads were not closed to traffic on Friday, so there were more than a few opportunistic fans who staked out the traffic lights and managed to get pictures and autographs as many of the teams had to stop at the red lights.
The Swedish women rolled in behind us while we waited for the green light, and then after our delay, the British U23 boys caught us, so we tagged along with them for the rest of our first lap.
There’s a slight kink in the road to the right and then the climbing begins. This first section, which comes after a right – left combo is all uphill, but not even included as part of the 1200m long first climb, the Salita Acquafresca.
There is some respite at the top of this small-ish first climb as the riders drop back down to a large roundabout, take a left and then disappear up into a section with tall buildings on either side.
It was quite amazing to see the teams thread their way up through these sections on open roads with normal business day traffic moving in both directions, drivers opening their car doors, fans swerving all over the road as they tried out the course and all manner of other obstacles that you can imagine. I guess if you can get around on the rest day, the circuit would seem relatively safe by comparison on race day.
While the section in the picture above might seem typically Swiss or even Italian, once the riders move through this section, the road opens out into “The Netherlands”.
The Dutch fans have taken over a hotel just before the tough part of the climb starts and as well as music and food, the whole area will be a wall of noise to spur on their riders.
‘Knechten voor oranje’ means Workers for Orange. The national coach believes that with so many fans in one place, it will be like having an extra worker riding for the squad on race day. Even on the rest day, there were plenty of Dutch fans already getting into the party atmosphere.
The Serious Climb Begins
Exiting Holland, the road curves up a bit more and then makes a sharp left hand hook to the climb-proper and which is a 10% leg-breaker.
It was on this section of the climb that we saw the biggest number of teams riding together and while it was not too bad at ‘training pace’ with the GB boys the first lap, on the second lap we jumped on the back of the Spanish team which was a whole other story.
Again, the Pros were only training, but the decision to move from the back of the group up the outside, (on the steepest part of the climb), to get a picture of Oscar Freire was met with opposition from both the lungs and the legs.
One rider who didn’t seem to be having any problems, was a young Quickstep fan, who, accompanied by his father, was making easy work of the hill.
From Spain, we have the man who won the Worlds for the first time ten years ago, beside a rider who still wont be old enough to race them in ten years time.
It’s really difficult to capture on camera just how steep this section is. The Garmin was reading 10% or more the whole way up and with the cliffs rising above you, it actually makes the road seem steeper as you look up into the distance. At one point, a rider from Team Garmin flashed up the road at what I assume will be race pace. If the boys at the front are going that quick on Sunday, I pity any rider caught at the back, as there is precious little road on this circuit that is conduce to an organised chase.
PEZ pals, Ciclonews.it were at the top of the hill and as well as grabbing some pics for the website, their boss, Mino, was making sure the Brazilian team got a helping hand over the steepest part.
While Massimiliano snaps the pics, Mino gives the Brazilians a bit of a shove.
Of course, what good is it having friends with cameras if they they can’t snap a pic or two of you testing out the roads.
I might have been smiling, but the climb was only half over!
The first climb of the circuit just keeps going….
…and going. This is the top of the first hill and finally gives a small bit of relief along the top. There are the VIP tents to keep the punters fed as well as a big TV screen for the fans and a lot of support for the French.
Once the riders pass that TV on the top of the truck at the left, (and given the lack of reflections from shop windows, possibly even do a quick style check on the big screen), it is the start of the first main down hill section of the course.
Down We Go
The road surface is not exactly what you call smooth. Sure the asphalt is brand new, but it was laid over the older rough road and what you end up with is a bumpy descent on narrow roads where those who are game will have no problem bouncing along at well over 70km per hour.
There will be no time for looking at the view. With the twists and turns and narrow roads, this will be a tough place to be chasing a break.
This 90 degree right hander is the first thing that will slow the riders down on their high-speed descent. As well as being narrow, it has a tight exit and continues on with another steep downhill section of narrow bumpy road.
There are more than a few cemeteries here on the hill meaning it is the former residents of Mendrisio, rather than the current ones, who have the best view across the valley to the mountains
The Slovakian U23’s give it some gas around the corner.
This 180degree right-hander breaks up the fast descent. Come race day, you’ll most likely see this picture again, but with riders stretched single file as far as the eye can see in both directions.
After some more downhill, it’s a left hand turn in Balerna onto a wider road, which will give the bunch the chance to move at even greater speed into the town of Chiasso.
Climb Number Two
At the bottom of the hill there’s a jaunt through an industrial area under the free-way overpass, and then it’s another 90degree right-hander at a roundabout to bring us to the second climb of the circuit.
The second section of Team Boxes are along this straight and then it’s into the 1700m long Salita Novazzano. Again, it’s hard to tell just how tough it is, but the road passes by the front of that apartment block you can see…which is still only about a third of the way up!
While trying to ride and take pictures at the same time means speed on the climbs is something other than ‘race pace’ it is a little disheartening to see just how fast the pros pedal up these hills when they are taking it easy!
If the first climb is reserved for the Dutch, then the Spanish have taken over the top section of the second hill. There won’t be a lot of space for the fans along the side of the road, but there will be no mistaking who the people in this particular section want to see on top of the podium at the end of the 262km.
As the road rises up for the final pinch, there is a vast section of open ground that has been taken over by fans in their camper vans. This whole area was filled with the smell of the BBQs and is sure to be party central at night too.
Downhill Run To The Finish
Over the top and some good roads for the second main descent. The last camper in line was the odd one out amongst the Belgian and Italian fans, showing their support for the British Girls who will be racing from 9.00am on Saturday.
After passing the Brits, the road straightens out for a run down through the trees and then into another huge section filled with campers. It’s then another 90degree right hand turn, and the final section of the course opens up in front of you. The road widens slightly here and with a good eye you can see the finish line at just over a kilometre in the distance.
There is a tiny kick in the road at about 100m to go (something to look out for if finishing alone and with hands already in the air) and then the road actually narrows as the riders come into the finish. This shouldn’t be a problem as there is unlikely to be a bunch sprint at the end.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the circuit for the 2009 Road World Championships.
Squadra PEZ managed two laps in the same time the pros will likely do about five on Sunday (we stopped to take LOTS of pictures) and then headed back to the press centre change back into the civvies and get to work.
Stay tuned to PEZ for our continuing coverage of the 2009 UCI World Championships and as the rain pours down on the roof of the press centre, and the thunder and lightning threatens to short circuit all of the electronic equipment plugged in here, we’re left to ponder just how on earth we are going to get all of our bike gear back to the hotel in Como.
Let’s hope when this rain eventually stops, it doesn’t come back for race day. The last thing this circuit needs is a coating of water!