To The Circuit, Driver!
While the Road Champs are in Mendrisio in Switzerland, Team PEZ HQ is back across the border in Italy, on the shores of Lake Como (well, actually up a hill along a road and way out of sight, but we’re still in Como). Today we changed our approach, thanks to not having to lug a bike bag around so it was a bus from the hotel to the Swiss/Italian border town of Chiasso. The bus route took us along the edge of Lake Como and then up into the hills to get to the border. Seeing the view out across the lake made me envious of Ed, who will be piloting Team PEZ at the upcoming Tour of Lombardy.
After getting off the bus and walking through the border crossing, it was time to join the other race fans heading to the circuit on the regular ‘shuttle trains’. The people aboard were like a mini (but much more vocal) United Nations, although I don’t recall the British delegation getting off when Iran got up to cheer…
These Swedish fans were looking forward to a result in the women’s road race.
With Mendriso basically shut off from the outside world, thanks to the fully closed circuit ringing the town, the locals have thrown themselves right into the cycling festival and have decorated their shop windows and houses in a decidedly Swiss themed way.
One shop we passed had Pascal Richard’s original-styled Olympic Champions jersey framed in the window. Richard won the first ever “open” Olympic road race (where the professionals were allowed to compete) back in Atlanta in 1996 and had this jersey designed to celebrate the fact he was the Olympic Champ.
Celebrating a Swiss Olympic victory. We later chatted briefly with the man who finished third that day, Max Sciandri.
The current Olympic time trial champion and his PEZ friend countryman had plenty of support with displays and a reminder on the road, part way up the first climb, of just who the locals want to see do well tomorrow.
The Women Are Off
Luckily the rain had stopped by the time the women rolled away from the start, but the roads were going to be wet and treacherous for more than a few hours yet.
As the bunch rolled past the Boxes for the first time, there had already been a crash with two Australian girls going to the deck together. While both gave chase it was going to prove a difficult task to get back on terms with the bunch up the first climb. Vicki Whitelaw was back up and away first, but Alexis Rhodes was left chasing further back.
Access to the Acquafresca climb was 10 Swiss Franc, but thanks to the creds, we climbed the hill (on foot today) to take in the view. Getting in for free seemed like great bargain, but by the time I have replaced my mini-tape recorder which fell (or was ‘helped’) out of my back-pack as I walked up or down through the crowd, I don’t think it will be Team PEZ that comes out in front on this one.
We managed to snare a great vantage point on an old cement stairway to the sky, affording a great view up to the TV screen and also back down the hill. Right from the bottom of the climb, the bunch was strung out and every time up, the riders were going out the back in ones and twos.
After a hard chase that was never going to regain the bunch, Rhodes pulled into the pits at the end of the first lap. One of the top contenders for her country, thanks to the crash she did less than a kilometre in the peloton and was understandably disappointed with what should have been a season highlight.
Unfortunately, due to the wet roads, the padding on the wall got a bit of a work out in the womens race. By the time the men lined up, the streets had dried out, although that didn’t stop a few of the boys having some nasty touchdowns too.
Team PEZ 2020
An initiative of the organising committee, various schools around Mendrisio had selected 5th grade students to work this week as Junior Press officers. Following the championships there will be a commemorative book published, covering all of the events of the week. As well as photographs and articles from various professionals working in Mendrisio, these budding scribes and photogs will have their chance to have their first work in print and available to an international audience.
L-R, Alberto, Jan and Killian seem liked seasoned pros already. They had their creds, their vests and their elbows out to position themselves on the barriers.
Lining the walls of the press room there were also large posters featuring the artwork of school children of all ages. Some of it was the excellent work of high school student with a future in art and design, while other examples showed the enthusiasm for the championships of even the youngest citizens of Mendrisio.
Back at the start, Scott Sunderland and Jim Ochowicz were comparing notes for 2010. Between Team Sky and Team BMC, the riders under these two men will be creating a lot of headlines next year. The full rosters for both teams are yet to be officially announced, and with a few spots still available, the Worlds are the perfect place for picking up a ‘name for the future’.
We also had the chance to catch up with up and coming talent Richie Porte, who we featured on PEZ a month or so back. Originally named in the “long” team to represent Australia, Porte missed the cut for the nine man squad to race tomorrow, but got a call while out training on Thursday morning to pack his bike and come to Mendrisio. At one point it looked like Stuart O’Grady might not make the start, but by this morning Porte had resigned himself to the fact that he would likely miss out on starting the men’s race tomorrow.
Still, without pen on paper for a pro contract in 2010, Mendrisio is just the right place to be amongst the movers and shakers of the sport.
Although the jerseys say different, Matt Conn & Richie Porte could easily be ‘Team Tasmania’.
Here Come The Boys
A look down the list of former Under23 medal winners (Ciolek, Faillu, Popovych, Basso, Arvesen, Nocentini etc) shows that the three men who stand on top of the podium at the finish are more often than not, names to watch in the future.
Whether Sep Vanmarcke follows in the footsteps of Boonen and Gilbert remains to be seen, but his three nephews were on hand at the race to make sure he had one of the youngest, if not the loudest, cheer squads for the race.
L-R, Milan (4 Ѕ), Andres (3) and Xibe (1 Ѕ) were all smiles before the race, but we saw them later with Mum and by that time, the distance was taking its toll.
Maybe it was the cheers, but when the main break of the day started looking dangerous, it was Uncle Sep and the boys from Belgium, who had taken up the chase.
It isn’t quite that famous view up the hill you get every year in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but then again, I didn’t actually have to get up from the table where I was eating my lunch to snap this pic.
A slice of ham or six, a mass of cheese and seat by the course. What more could we ask for in the way of simplicity….except maybe a few less drunken supporters blowing clouds of smoke over us from the table next door.
I’m pretty sure the beast with the horns was not actually in my sandwich, but no doubt someone else had that honour at some point in the past.
There haven’t been all that many cowbells in evidence here at the racing (which is most likely an inaccurate national stereotype that has as much basis in reality as St. Bernard dogs and barrels full of rum), but we did manage to spot, and hear, a couple of Swiss Horn players near the team boxes.
Again, not exactly what we were expecting, as the horns looked to be made of carbon fibre, were telescopically collapsible, and the couple playing them were actually from the US. Go Figure!
Jeff and Becky Grant both live in Zurich and had travelled down for the day to catch the women-s road race. Both are triathletes, but are good friends of British rider Emma Pooley who lives and trains in the same area.
Getting About A Bit
As mentioned above, the streets of Mendrisio are relatively traffic free, thanks to the makeshift frontier formed by the courses barriers. Hat also presents a problem for the members of the press who want to get to and from the press centre, start /finish line and back area of the course.
The organisers have provided a fleet of vans to ferry anyone and everyone with an accreditation pass and the army are also on hand to move the large number of photographers from the finish line back to their internet connections.
There is also the option of using one of the fifty or so electric assisted bikes to move about the inside sections of the course.
With the heavy sweating done on the road bike on Friday, the notion of battery power seemed like a great idea and so the Mendrisio PEZ Mobile, is bike number 2175.
As well as being able to get about more easily to see the races, we also passed by the Swiss HQ of Hugo Boss. Not exactly a down scale looking place, you can see where at least some of the money you pay for one of their suits goes.
While searching out the back end of the course and being just like a man and refusing to look at the map, we actually thought we had taken a wrong turn and were heading off for a nice ride in the country. However, by following the road up, and up and up, we eventually arrived on the second climb of the course, just in time to snap a pic of the Under 23 break passing by. Electric assist or not, it wasn’t really the easiest climb to complete in jeans.
So far this championships the Belgian fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about, but with Philippe Gilbert one of the favourites for tomorrow’s race, the Flemish Lion flags will be getting a fair flogging around the course. Rather ironic, I know, as Gilbert is from the French speaking southern area of Wallonia and the Leeuw van Vlaanderen is also used as the symbol of the ultra-right wing political group that would like the Flemish speaking north to abandon their southern countrymen. It takes all sorts, I guess and as long as someone from Belgium wins, their fans will be happy.
Days Work Done
Having got about a bit on the course, we have managed to pick out a few good spots to view tomorrow’s pro race and with the aid of the Battery Bike, at least we won’t have to walk everywhere.
At the business end of the Under 23 race, the parking area at the press centre was filling up as the journalists rode their way back to their internet connections and big screen T.V.s to watch Romain Sicard solo to victory.
The number of people on the circuit on Sunday will make today’s crowd look like a ghost town, but even with the luxury of the TV and coffee on tap in the press room, we’ll be roadside, to bring you all of the action as the race goes on to crown the 2009 professional men’s road race World Champion.