I went to Melbourne for the events surrounding the professional worlds the first week of October. Seemed like a nice thing to do given that I am living in Sydney. I also had the ambition of contesting the Australian Masters Nationals a few days before the big professional race. Unfortunately the fierce rain, 50 degrees temperatures and a howling wind put an end to those dreams on the course in Ballarat.
But more interesting was the time spent watching the mens RR in person on Oct 3. I was at the start in Melbourne and got very close to some of the big stars (see the pics I snapped of Evans, Schleck and Hushovd for instance). The female broadcaster, Niki, for the one/ten network in Australia also attracted quite a few glances. The start of the race began in Melbourne and travelled about 75 kms away to Geelong where they would do 11 laps of a hard circuit. I had ridden parts a few days before when I was there for the mens TT.
The start of the race was remarkable only that the usual `no-name’ breakaway was quickly established and steadily gained ground on the peloton, which seemed more interested in numerous pee breaks than in actually racing. After almost two hours of this nonsense the break was out to over 22 minutes, whereupon somebody realized that this was approximately the time of doing one lap of the circuit. If the peloton didn’t start chasing the break would have lapped the field and could conceivably sit in and win the world championships! Horrors. So then the peloton got serious and pulled back enough time.
The small city of Geelong about an hour away from Melbourne by car was an absolutely delightful place to hold the circuits and the finish. The crowd was estimated at more than 150,000 and it was a true cycling festival. Numerous large screens were setup at the optimal viewing areas which were on the climb as well as in the finishing area. The scenery of the bay and racing along the esplanade next to all sorts of displays of cycling products was quite nice. The race itself wasnt particularly remarkable except for a brief split mid race with some of the favorites caught out. Most of the action came in the last 3 laps with riders such as Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert, Philippo Pozatto, etc. the chief protagonists. Evans defended the jersey well, repeatedly clawing back breaks including a daring solo move from Gilbert. When at one point it looked like Evans was getting away with Schleck and a couple others near the end, the party I was at near the finish erupted in raucous cheering. Unfortunately for the Aussies the remaining 25 or so came back together and Thor Hushovd was the best suited to the uphill finish. I estimate the last 50 meters were actually at 6% and he had by far the best kick. But all the spectators were great sports and cheered for him as though he was one of their own.
It was a highly enjoyable experience. Watching the world championship race is one of the better spectator events to go to in person because of the circuit nature of the course and the difficulty of it. It lived up to the hype.