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Thoughts on Innsbruck or If You’re Going to Win Worlds, do it in Style

It was a worlds I find it hard to fault.

Valverde Rainbow Jersey Tim de Waele/Getty Images

So, yeah, the rainbow jersey is no longer resident in Slovakia. That’s a bit of a change. The fact that it has transferred to Spain, nay Murcia, nay one specific Murcian is an even more important difference in the state of play. So, I’d just like to start this piece by saying that complaining about who the world champion is is acceptable on only two grounds:

1) The “Romāns Vainšteins” complaint, or “what’s the point in him having the jersey.” (This is unfair to Romāns Vainšteins, but it’s a genuine worry of mine on world championship day that a rider who rarely wins has a great day and proceeds to have an anonymous year in the rainbow jersey, something I think we all prefer to see at the front of races. Essay topic [1500 words]: Does Rui Costa fit into this category?)

2) The “Peter Sagan” complaint, or “Oh for fuck’s sake, him again?” (This is also unfair to Peter Sagan, but if he’d won for a fourth time I’d probably have started throwing things. I’d had enough of him in rainbows. He can set Bora’s design team working on a decent Slovak national kit instead. I suspect it will be a Bora-Hansgrohe jersey with a Slovakian flag smaller than Juraj’s ego on the front, so a trade team can finally get value for money out of having the Best Cyclist in the World™ on their roster, which [checks notebook] nobody has since Cannondale made him wear this in 2014:

Tour of Oman - Stage Four Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images

I mean, Cannondale-green is hard to pair with anything, but that looks like the Slovakian Cycling Fed didn’t know what rubber-stamping the proposed design meant. Urán is disgusted. Disgusted). Wow. That was a tangent. Clearly editorial concision is a real target of this piece. Back on topic.

If you think that Alejandro Valverde is in any way a “bad” person to have as world champion I simply do not agree with you. Wikipedia tells me he’s thirty-eight. This means that in, y’know, 2006, kind of a big year when it came to Spanish cycling, policing and where the two intersected, he was twenty-six. Or, well into a career. In 2006. Just think about it. Some really famous YouTubers were not even born then. So Puerto happened, and the huge body of evidence that Valverde was involved ended up being enough for CAS, so yeah, he was a doper. If he’s still one, everyone else is. If doping gives you a magical elixir of life that lets you keep riding till you’re ninety, why did Contador have his last good year aged thirty-two? Why is Francisco Mancebo eliciting a chuckle as I type his name rather than a nod of respect? Why is Valverde the only one of the old era to ride as he has? There is a good answer to these questions, and it is because like it or not, Alejandro Valverde is a generational talent.

I won’t give the ridiculous statement that he “deserved” to win a rainbow jersey. There’s one way to deserve that, and it’s to cross the line first in a World Championships. The instant you’ve done that, you deserve the jersey. So he deserves it now. What he does deserve is recognition of the fact that he’s been arguably the best cyclist of this millenium. That he has a doping conviction is a shame, but it is no reason to say that his achievements should have any more of a cloud over them than Contador, who suffered a fraction of the antipathy held generally towards Valverde. To me, his longevity is a marvellous thing, not a suspicious one and to say otherwise is to assume he is doing something his rivals are not. Of course this sport had a doping past. The old “I’d like to think I wouldn’t have doped” line wheeled out by writers of pieces such as this is one I don’t like reading. Because I would have doped. And I don’t think that’s a moral failure of mine any more than I think not wanting to dope is a moral success. He is as good a world champion as we were going to get on Sunday.

The way he won the race was, of course, very Valverde. He knew he didn’t need to break away from his group on the climb, that he had them in the sprint. He delivered. Alaphilippe’s absence would have given him peace of mind and if it were he in the French jersey sprinting against Valverde, perhaps this race would have had a different outcome. As it turned out though, it was Valverde’s to win as he has won so many races before, using his sprint to out him in front of climbers with no such pace.

Moving on from Valverde, I’m going to talk about the CPA election about which there was such a hubbub throughout the last fortnight. Obviously it was very important to David Millar, but a mistake I think everyone who is not a pro cyclist, David Millar and Gianni Bugno made was letting it become important to them. Regardless of how important the president of the riders’ union is to you, and regardless of their duties, I highly doubt Millar would have done a better job or a worse job than Bugno. I doubt it would have mattered at all for the simple reason that I had no idea that Bugno had that particular job and unless Millar continued to tweet about it as incessantly and annoyingly as he did for the past several days I’d have forgotten he owned it either. Bugno kept it, anyway. I’m sure the aftermath of this election will be monumental.

On the road race course, I think it more than sufficed. Having the hardest climb right at the end and bigging it up into this huge spectacle probably did not help the attacking racing but I thought the final kilometres were very exciting and the Gramartboden climb gave us Moscon’s capitulation, which means that it’s welcome in my (everyone’s) book. Finishing with just another run up Igls was hardly guaranteed to improve the event in any way.

Oh, and a quick point on Anna van der Breggen, or another worlds winner who has waited for a long time of near misses and second places, and really the target of this article’s headline. She did it in style. The arguments of how good a race it was strike me as kind of irrelevant. She won it her way, she wasn’t coming back and she won it in the most impressive way imaginable. We still talk about the 1980 LBL and Merckx in Mourenx, don’t we?

Finally, more style came from Remco Evenepoel. I can’t guess how his step up to the big leagues will go, but I know we’re all waiting with bated breath to find out.