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Last Call in Bergen

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Bergen, yo
Tim de Waele

Peter Sagan’s third consecutive world title is a record for that specific thing, being the elite men’s road race world champion, which is the most glamorous of the Rainbow distinctions, at least if you factor in dollars. But the three-peat is not unheard of in the sport of cycling. For example, this is not even the only three-peat in the men’s elite road race in the last decade; it’s merely the first one since Alejandro Valverde’s three consecutive third place finishes from 2012-14. He’s got another one as well, making him officially Mr. Bronze. Some other comparable streaks on the UCI’s watch:

  • Both Tony Martin and Michael Rogers three-peated in the ITT.
  • Jeannie Longo owns a three-peat in both the women’s road race (1985-87) and time trial (95-97), which is not as impressive (or credible, while we’re on the subject) as Marianne Vos’ silver septuplet, from 2007-11 and bookended by rainbows.
  • Speaking of Vos, her picture is on the front of the women’s cyclocross world champion’s jersey following her run of six titles from 2009-14.
  • Italian junior rider Elena Pirrone deserves some recognition of going streaking, taking the junior women’s road and time trial titles, just six weeks after winning the European Champion’s jersey in the time trial, along with her Italian national champion jerseys in both the road race and time trial. At any given moment she has either two or three special jerseys she’s supposed to wear. I know, that sounds bad, but she only has herself to blame.
  • ‘Cross is known for its repeat champions, to the point where it’s remarkable to have a podium that has no repeaters on it. That last happened in the magical year of 2013, when three riders on the men’s side, none of whom had been around the previous year, stepped up to hear the Belgium anthem played.
  • More notable, perhaps, is that both Bart Wellens and Niels Albert three-peated medals in the U23 CX championships. There aren’t a lot of years between when you graduate from juniors until your 23rd birthday, and even fewer of them if you’re on of the top riders in the world. Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert were both still under 23 at the last CX championships, despite now owning the last three victories between them. So it goes without saying that one of them, or both combined, could have gone on a pretty serious medal tear at the lower ranks if it weren’t so boring and underpaid. Begging the question, why was defending champion and three time medalist Wellens back for another U23 medal in 2000? Not sure, but Dutchman Richard Groenendaal won the elite title, and right now someone in Belgium is having an argument about whether Nys should have helped chase him down (in fact, I may have just prompted one), so maybe it was better for Wellens to stay out of that mess.
  • There are lots of streaks in track, but nobody cares.
Podium in Bergen
tim de Waele

I am happy for Sagan, but in hindsight I can think of a few reasons why it would have been more fun for Kristoff to win. I unfairly maligned his season in the moment, suggesting he hadn’t done anything, when in fact he’d scored a reasonable number of points, largely in races I hadn’t watched (not his fault). A more careful observation might also point out that his quarter-of-a-wheel loss was probably his most impressive performance of the year, a thundering front-of-the-bunch sprint after 267km and a fair bit of climbing as well. You could put his European championship win of 241km, but Herning (DK) is known as a place of very few vertical meters. More generally, Kristoff has had difficulty repeating his amazing 2015 spring run of success, but slipping from second to fifth in the world isn’t exactly something you should apologize for. Also, he clearly got going well heading into Bergen, where he had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attain ultimate glory on home soil. And missed it by this much! By most headline writers’ estimations, this would have made for a far better story. But Sagan is a better bet for a successful defense in 2018, even his third time around.

Who got it?
Tim de Waele

Given how things turned out, can we briefly revisit the whole Kristoff-Eddy Boss thing? Another place where I haven’t been at my finest (a running theme) is my failure to apply any sort of hard-headed judgment where it concerns Boasson Hagen. I look into his eyes and something... just comes over me.

The Wiz

Nobody beats Eddy Boss!

And yet... I mean, I guess Kristoff was able to use the Italian team for a leadout and do enough to win the race. Maybe if Boasson Hagen had been up there leading things out, Sagan still would have done exactly the same thing. Maybe the timing wouldn’t have worked between the two Norwegian stars and it would have done more harm than good. But... we are talking about a hundredth of a second. If Team Norge can find just a few hundredths of a second’s worth of speed, Kristoff wins.

The best thing you can say is that Sagan keeps winning each time without teammates, so assigning help to his closest competition to see if he still wins, I dunno, maybe that cheapens the debate.

Misguided youth
Tim de Waele

Speaking of cheapened debate, we narrowly missed out on possibly the worst round of all when the peloton reeled in a dangerous attack by Italy’s Gianni Moscon and France’s Julian Alaphilippe. Ala would have been a fine winner, a Lefevre guy on the attack is always a good story. Moscon... not so much. The 23-year-old Trentino gained notoriety in a poor, poor way this year by hurling racial abuse at Kevin Reza of FDJ at the Tour de Romandie. Now, I wasn’t there and I can’t look inside his soul, so I don’t want to make too much of it, but if you want to violate Pippo’s Law and judge him, the choices range from “indiscreet but redeemable youth” to “racist moron.” Time will tell, I guess.

Meanwhile, the Tractor was back in action and ploughing the roads of Bergen with aplomb, taking sixth at the time trial on Wednesday, only to find himself on the ground at the road race. He then got up and grabbed a “sticky bottle” from Davide Cassani of Team Italia as he was catching back on to the race. Cassani later said he knew what he was doing with the tow, namely violating UCI rules, and not in a brief “that’s cycling” sort of way but in one where you’re pretty much guaranteed an ejection. And unfortunately, being Italian and getting caught up in a conversation with your coach, which has the potential to last up to 15 minutes, is not a recognized defense. I think it’s because they can’t hold the bottle and talk at the same time. [Thank you, thank you, I’ll be Italian all week...]

Anyway, Moscon was a dead man racing (he was DQ’d afterwards), and a suspect character to boot, so it was with some horror that he got away in a dangerous-looking attack as the race careened back toward Bergen one last time. Cycling has worked hard to ruin restore its reputation lately, so to cap an otherwise dreamy Worlds with a racist guy winning the race and getting DQ’d in front of the photographers’ well is about as bad an outcome as you could design in that moment. I know you already know this. But it baffles the imagination to picture how horrible that would have been.

Moscon and Alaphilippe
Tim de Waele

Told ya it would end in a sprint. And with Michael Matthews winning... a medal. Oh, did you think I meant gold? Ha! Sorry for any confusion there.

About the only other story is the tactics of Team Belgium, which capped a medal-less Worlds with a chaotic and unsuccessful conclusion, one that wasn’t helped with Jasper Stuyven and Jens Keukeleire crashed at the bottom of Salmon Hill just prior to the final approach. But as coach Kevin De Weert points out, they couldn’t really have done anything different. It was a strategy that they executed as planned when Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert found themselves at the front of the pack on the climb, trying to link up to Alaphilippe and Moscon. Had one of them bridged, a strong trio could well have cooperated all the way to the podium. [Again, gasp! Although I doubt Moscon wins that sprint.] Just sometimes the legs aren’t there. And sometimes they aren’t there at a moment when you’re wrapping up a week where your northern neighbor earned its own weight in medals. It’s at times like this when you understand why they keep a lot of good beer around in Belgium.

Any other stories come to mind for you? Riders you learned about? Travel agents specializing in coastal Norway that you’ve consulted? Bergen won’t be back hosting the worlds again for a while, but it was a pretty ideal selection, a beautiful place jam-packed with screaming fans, cycling at its best. After interesting but way-too-quiet Doha and cool but oddball Richmond, cycling was back a little closer to home soil, and it showed. I like the adventures, but like any adventure it’s always good to get back home.

Bye Bergen
Tim de Waele