The Cycling Gods had a pretty good one in store for the home crowd at today's opening day of the Limburg World Championships, stuffing both the men's and women's Rabobank teams in favor of teams from neighboring Belgium and Germany. Yup, because if a Dutch team can't win, you know the locals were quite happy to see their nearby neighbors seize the honors instead.
- In the women's race, where the big question for Rabobank was whether her teammates could stay close enough to Marianne Vos to keep up the team's rhythm, they saw a nasty crash take out both Iris Slappendel and Pauline Ferrand Prevot. From there it was a two-team battle between Specialized-LuluLemon and Orica-AIS, with the German/American engine of Charlotte Becker, Amber Neben, Evie Stevens, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, Ellen van Dijk and Trixie Worrack holding off the Aussie squad led by Linda Villumsen and Judith Arndt, with 24 seconds to spare.
- Stevens, known as much for her beaming smile as her rapidly swelling palmares, capped off as fine a non-Vos season as you could hope for. Specialized LuluLemon sit atop the Podium Cafe world rankings; Stevens won La Fleche Wallonne and the Route de France, and her grin was one of the defining images of several events. Worrack also caps off a stunning year, bursting onto the big stage with two stages and a fourth place at the Thuringen Rundfahrt. And then there's Teute, who just keeps cruising along. Oh, and "capped off" probably isn't the right word, with two world titles still in play.
- In the men's race, Rabobank finished in good health, but Wilco Kelderman dropped off early and Stef Clement went too hard on the Cauberg, sending the squad into disarray. They dropped behind third-placed Orica GreenEdge and fourth-placed Liquigas, and also saw a two-team battle between BMC and Omega Pharma-Quick Step go the way of the Belgian squad. BMC lost precious time due to Taylor Phinney's late struggles on the Cauberg, though he was a very strong contributor up to that point. When you lose -- excuse me, win silver -- by just over three seconds, it's easy to find things to point at. Anyway, OPQS (with their Dutch-powered engine Niki Terpstra) got it done, and that's what counts.
- Speaking of counts, can Tom Boonen lose anything this year? He is now a time trial gold medalist, along with his condominium full of other prizes from 2012 alone. The lesson is, never put a great Flemish classics champion at 8 points in the FSA DS. Ursula really botched that one. Anyway, at this point they might as well ask him to form a government, I'm sure whatever he comes up with will work great.
- Getting back to karma, since the Dutch people haven't done anything terribly wrong of late, as far as I know, the best guess I can come up with for why things got off to such an unpalatable start is either punishment for the opening ceremonies (too flashy?) or prepayment on Vos finally getting her road rainbow jersey. Recall, she has an armoire full of cyclocross champion's kits, plus lord knows how many more track ones, but she keeps getting pipped in the road race, an incredible five times in a row now since winning in 2006. That obviously has to change at some point. Sort of like when the Leffe Brewery went on strike: you knew it couldn't last forever. A win on home soil would make up for half a decade of punching her handlebars. Moreover, the presence of the Cauberg so close to the line should give her the chance to shed the sprinters and get in a group of finishers whom Vos can more easily out-fox. It all makes perfect sense. So...
- Oh, and my TTT handicapping... I had 1. Garmin; 2. OPQS; 3. Orica GreenEdge; 4. Rabobank; 5. Sky; 6. BMC. Reality had 1. OPQS; 2. BMC; 3. Orica GreenEdge; 4. Liquigas; 5. Rabobank; 6. Movistar. Hey, I had two-thirds of the podium, including one on the correct step. Compared to how this usually goes, I'd say not too shabby!
Photos by Patrick Verhoest for the Podium Cafe