Thoughts while the Worlds go Dutch again...
The Worlds Go Dutch Again
Why does this keep happening? Dutch Cycling is easily the most enigmatic corner of the sport, rife with tantalizing talent every year that then, for some reason, on the men’s side, seems to fall short of what was promised. [On the women’s side they stomp everything all the time, except when Sanne Cant is around.] But despite that, the Dutch national team seems to score a ton of rainbow jerseys, particularly on the younger levels, beyond what you’d expect from a small country that hadn’t won a grand tour since 1980 before a few months ago. To wit:
2017 Road Worlds: three rainbows so far, as Sunweb’s women’s team is officially Dutch, whereas the men’s TTT-winning unit is only powered by a ginormous Dutch engine while remaining nominally German. Oh, and I seriously doubt they are done.
2017 CX Worlds: Two of the five rainbows. Level with Belgium except theirs were both the elite titles. Sigh.
2016 Road Worlds: Two rainbows, the women’s TTT and junior RR. Slim pickings, but it was a sprinters’ affair in Doha.
2016 CX Worlds: Two rainbows, highlighted by Thalita de Jongh’s elite score.
2015 Road Worlds: Zero. Which is weird, I could have sworn Lars Boom was primed to win.
2015 CX Worlds: Just one, but it was Mathieu van der Poel, whose win in the Elite race could have easily been applied to the U23 event and earned him that medal too.
2014 Road Worlds: Shut out of rainbows, though Dumoulin’s bronze in the ITT was a sneak peek.
2014 CX Worlds: Again, just one rainbow, though it was Marianne the Great.
2013 Road Worlds: Three rainbows, including young MvdP in the juniors road race.
2013 CX Worlds: Three of four events, stopped only by Sven Nys at the last moment.
2012 Road Worlds: One rainbow.
2012 CX Worlds: Three of four wins again.
You get the point. That’s a huge haul compared to... all the other countries of the world. So why isn’t cycling dominated by Dutch personalities? The answer: because you’re watching the men’s races; if you watched the women, you’d drop this query.
Tom the Great
Speaking of which, I tacked on some verbiage about Dumoulin being the next big thing in the live thread-jack recap, but to re-state the maybe obvious, this is a huge development. Cycling is in desperate need of new stars, and Tom Dumoulin is clearly the next one.
First, the context: Chris Froome is the sport’s towering giant, but while he’s well respected and appreciated, he’s not that well loved. His personality isn’t terribly magnetic (though he seems nice enough) and he’s viewed as having a lot of advantages from his team. Fair or no, he just doesn’t win hearts and minds. The remaining grand tour characters are the dour Nibali, smiling second-level Aru and Chaves, quiet Bardet, quieter Quintana, prickly Tejay, and a few stately vets like Rigoberto Uran and the distinctly unloved (out of Spain) Valverde.
On the classics side, the void left behind by Cancellara and Boonen is being filled by Peter Sagan, who’s a bit more of a colorful character and should just go completely Hollywood now. So that’s good. And competition-wise, Michal Kwiatkowski and Greg Van Avermaet make good challengers to the Sagemony, though off the bike they aren’t making much news. Philippe Gilbert was star-quality back in the days of his beige wedding suit, but that’s worn off a bit, possibly because of the beige wedding suit. I dunno, I am too close to the classics to judge, but apart from people like me nerding out on this stuff, and all of Belgium, these guys aren’t terribly famous except for Sagan. Oh, and nobody deserves any fame from the Ardennes classics, which are a collective colossal bore at the moment.
Honestly though, when we talk about stars in our obscure niche sport, we mean stars of the Tour, and that’s Froome. Dumoulin seems ready to join that conversation in a really big way, next year, by either stopping Froome’s run or giving him the fright of his life. His youthful charm and chill persona (in public) makes him likable to anyone watching that’s not too firmly in someone else’s camp, and maybe even if they are. That’s coming from a Nairo fanboy, if you’re wondering.
Back to the bike, what exactly did Dumoulin do today? Stomped the field by a margin we haven’t seen in a while (2011 if you’re keeping score). Tony Martin has had a few dominant performances, but Martin was always a specialist in the discipline and otherwise just a fantastic domestique. Bradley Wiggins was the last Tour guy to win, in 2014, but was clearly in the twilight of his career then. Prior to that, Cancellara dominated the worlds ITT, and he was the definition of a star to the extent one can be without winning the Tour. And before that, you have the bad old days.
So Dumoulin’s performance is the most exciting result by a young rider with grand tour pedigree perhaps in the history of the event. The fact that it happened on perhaps the most watchable crono course in the UCI’s history is another factor. He seized the moment, and it happened to be a really cool moment, with massive crowds in attendance. All that lends itself to building a budding legend.
Now, do 31km raced in September really prove anything? No, not even when you add in the way he obliterated Froome today. Nothing is proven until Paris, and as we know in all sports, if you are going to take the crown off of an opponent, you’re going to have to do it in a big, aggressive way. Froome and Sky aren’t going to roll over. It might not happen next year. But it’s going to be incredibly fun to find out.
You Want Hills? Wait Til Next Year
One thought I’ve had, and shared on the PodCafSt, was, when will we have a Worlds course that doesn’t try to be all things to all people? The answer might be, starting Friday, but my money is on a bunch finish with 30 or so people in contention late into the finale. If Geelong wasn’t sorted out from a sprint, neither will Bergen be.
But next year is a completely different story. It was a big day at the ProCyclingMaps Twitter feed, which was blowing up all day as the UCI released its course information for Innsbruck, Austria, the locale of next year’s road Worlds. And the message is, sprinters can stick around to the end of the Vuelta, because there will be no point in them saving any form for this event. It’s all for the climbers. Some points:
- The men’s race will feature nearly 5000 meters of climbing, with the usual point to point course that leads to a circuit where they get down to business.
- The women’s race is similar, just fewer laps, but apparently comes down to the same set of climbs. Even the time trials will feature climbing (congratulations Tom Dumoulin on the 2018 World ITT title...).
- The climb featured most frequently is the Igls ascent (Austrians have an uncomfortable relationship to vowels I think). It’s long and sort of steep:
- The other climb of note is the Gramartboden ascent, which is nasty, brutish and short:
If I am reading the map correctly, it seems like the main circuit goes back and forth from Igls to Innsbruck until the finale, where they do a single lap to Gramartboden, then finish back downtown. The official website has gotten a bit too cute in the maps display, but I am pretty sure that what this profile means is that all the races have the same finale and it’s merely a matter of how many Igls laps they do. Or, the map means that everyone just does the Igls lap except for the men’s elite.
This business about having only the elite men doing a certain feature of a course is patronizing bullshit that has to stop, by the way. There was no Earthly reason the elite women could not have ended their ITT on Mount Fløyen, and the fact that it made such a spectacle today only accentuated the bullshittyness of the unexplained exclusion. I’d say all the fields could have gone up the thing, it was hardly an unusual profile, though if you want to limit the challenge put to the junior boys and girls, fine.
As for Innsbruck, if the women’s elite course cuts out the Gramartboden climb, the UCI would do well to either reconsider or, god forbid, explain itself. Is it that hard to throw the Innsbruck organizers under the bus and force them to stop doing things like “let’s flatten out the course for those weak little girls”? No, I don’t think it is, but if the UCI won’t do it, maybe we can do it for them. Remember the Olympics in Rio? No punches pulled, and it was amazing (except for the crashes, which happened in both men’s and women’s road races). Let the elite women professionals race. They are pros, they know what they’re doing. [/]