The area where the team busses and tents are set up is not a closed in section so with the fans making their way to the various countries’ areas, it was definitely a case of dump the PEZ-lectric Mobile and fight our way through on foot.
The Italian squad had commandered just about every vehicle owned by Team Lampre to set up their camp in a narrow little dead-end laneway. I guess when you pay the wages of the defending world champion in Ballan, and one of the big favourites for today in Cunego, you get to have your name seen at the worlds.
Once the riders arrived on another bus and made the short trip across to the team bus, there was absolutlyy no chance of getting close for a picture, let alone a comment.
There are always the favourite squads and the ones making up the numbers as far as the majority of fans are concerned. While the human crush was on in Mini Italia, Zolt Der of Serbia quietly went about filling his pockets with enough food to get him through the first part of today’s race.
With a full squad of nine riders able to take the start due to their world ranking, Luxembourg only has four men on the grid for the men’s road race today. When 50% of your team is Kim Kirchen and Andy Schleck, there is always a good chance that a lack of numbers won’t be an issue.
When the US team arrived, we grabbed a few words with a very relaxed looking Tyler Farrar. The Garmin rider has had an incredible six weeks and is under no pressure today to bring home a results on this climbers’ course.
“I’m here today to help out the climbers. I’ve got two more races left after the worlds and then when Paris – Tours is done, I’ll just be hanging out at home.” Home for Farrar is Belgium these days and he will be spending the winter there in preparation for 2010.
The Irish cycling legend that is Sean Kelly spared us a few moments between signing autographs and receiving well wishes in a steady stream of different languages. Kelly concurs with the other pundits and says the men to watch today will be Sanchez, Cunego, Valverde and Cancellara. We said we had seen him out on the course on Friday with his bike and even though he thinks 19 laps of this circuit will be incredibly tough, he still thinks Cancellara cannot be discounted.
It’s ten years since Oscar Freire surprised the world to become an “unknown” world champion in Verona. Now with three world titles under his belt, the Rabobank sprinter is probably more likely to be playing a team role today than going for win number four for himself.
Along with Valverde, Olympic Champ Samuel Sanchez is another member of the Spanish team who is in with a real chance of the win today. Valverde will be heavily marked in the race and Samu might just be able to make a move when it matters and be in for the win at the end.
After a first pro win (and a great picture with a double team salute) on home soil at the Tour of Britain, sprinter Ben Swift is another rider who will be playing a team role here in Mendrisio. He told us he plans on being right there (in front of the television!) for the final few laps, having done his bit for the team in the first 200km. Following the worlds, he is hoping to hang up the wheels after starting his season back in the first week of February. As for next year? “I still have a contract with Katusha.”
At the GB team bus, two friendly rivals were happy to buddy up for the PEZ camera. Dave Brailsford is seeing his Team Sky project move into the final stage of completion, while Bob Stapelton is one victory away from being able to claim that Columbia HTC has won one out of every three races they have entered in 2009.
While the national team format of the worlds means the focus of the day is on the rider’s national jersey rather than their Pro team’s sponsor, Stapleton told us that from the team’s point of view the worlds were still a big deal.
“We have 23 riders here this week from both our men’s and women’s team as well as 15 staff and two buses. The world’s are an opportunity for the riders, who work all year for the team, to do something for themselves and that is important for their motivation and morale which is ultimately good for us as a team.”
The announcement of the trade team Team Time Trial being introduced in the 2012 worlds in Limburg was also great news as far as Stapleton was concerned. “For a teams like us and Garmin it will be great. At present we have something like nine national time trial champions in the squad and it will be a great opportunity for us to get our team sponsors more involved in the world championships.”
One of the 23 Columbia HTC riders on the grid today was Michael Barry. Along with Ryder Hesjedal and Svein Tuft, Barry would be flying the Maple Leaf on behalf of The Pez himself and all proud Canadians.
The omission of Stijn Devolder from the Belgian national team caused somewhat of a stir last week when it was announced. The good news with Devolder staying at home was that Bert DeWaele ( Landbouwkrediet) finally got the chance to represent his country at the worlds.
We spoke to De Waele’s pro team sports director, Claude Vancoillie before the race about his selection on a course that should really play to his strengths.
“Bert has been one of the best riders on the domestic scene in Belgium and his selection here this year is well deserved. He can not just play a role to help Gilbert, but can ride the whole race distance and actually be there to play a role in the final. Obviously it is up to Bomans (the national coach) what that role is, but this is a perfect course for Bert.”
Of course, not everyone from Belgium is quite so happy about Carlo Bomans’ selection. Devolder’s supporters club were on the scene to remind people (thanks to an unflattering caricature of Bomans) that Stijn should always have been here in Mendriso.
And finally, (even though it was the first place I went in the village), we need to talk about one of the outside chances for the win today. With two Grand Tour stages and a semi classic under his belt this year, Australian Simon Gerrans is sharing the top billing in his national team with Cadel Evans.
Gerrans was looking very relaxed before the start and after chatting briefly to Scott Sunderland (who will be his sports director next year at Team Sky), Gerrans called out a very Aussie, “See ya after the race mate,” to which Sunderland replied, “Yep, see you on the podium.”
I’ll have my fingers crossed that Gerrans does claim the big one today and then rides next year on home soil in Melbourne as the defending world champion.
With the countdown to the start under-way and the support staff heading for their cars, it was time to find the PEZ-lectric Mobile, make a quick trip back to the press centre and then get out on the course to bring you all the roadside action from one of the biggest days in the cycling year.