Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tale of Two Races; Juniors and Under-23

SANKT WENDEL, Germany (January 29, 2011) – I got to announce two amazing races today at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Germany. Although held on the same course on the same day, they unfolded so differently that they may have been held on Mars and Venus.
I won’t bore you with race details as my friends on the news sites can do a better job. But I’ll give you some behind the scenes stuff.
I could not sleep last night; staying awake until 2:30 a.m. When I awoke, still groggy, I stumbled to breakfast with some UCI folks. What is amazing is that the conversation flows from French to Dutch to Flemish to English without much of a hitch.
With that I dressed and made the walk, alone, through the crisp January air through a gingerbread neighborhood. In being here, I have not been in an automobile since being dropped off. This is a walking town, nestled into the hills on the Western edge of the Black Forest.
I arrived to the venue about 9 a.m. under clear blue skies and a frozen course. I made my rounds, gathered some start lists, and chatted with some journalist friends, Charles Pelkey, Rob Powers, and Jan (sorry, Jan forgot your last name!) a great photographer from Canada. We also have Lynn Lamoreaux and Christine Vardaros over here.
From there I met my German counterpart ….counterparts! Turns out we had two guys working with me, Sven Simon and Jens Meiskowicz (sp?). These guys were great, and they were both fluent in English.
Before long, it’s on: junior men. These poor kids warmed up on a corrugated frozen course, making tire selections accordingly. On the first lap, they went over the barriers and this berm, about three meters tall that crossed the course at 45 degree. But in the 30 minutes before the race the sun had softened this stuff into a peanut butter. When the field hit this thing they tumbled like bowling pins. They got up and went back at it, with continued crashing that rattled the young brains of these racers.
Most of the favorites, the Belgians and Dutch in particular, were just unable to recover. Off the front went Clement Venturini of France who danced on the course where others stumbled. Most Americans speak about Belgium, which dominates the elite men and packs the venue with fans. But the French actually have perhaps the best overall national program at the worlds. Venturini got such a large gap that on the final lap he crashed and tangled his bike in the fencing. He had enough time to detangle the machine and ride comfortably to a finish.
What really impressed was that Venturini’s teammates, twin brothers Loic and Fabien Doubey, pounded away to finish the sweep of the podium.
Boom. Done. Awards, and then a 90-minute break during which time people flood into the massive beer tents and start dancing to horrid sing along disco that becomes infectious. It’s great if you’re with a crowd; but being alone I walk through and stay on task.

I walked about, chatted with some friends, and then examined the berm causing all the problems. I could not walk up the thing without hanging on to the fence posts. This greasy mud surely would wreak havoc on the second race…..

Alas when the U23s started, we expected mayhem. Instead the entire field, save for some clumsy Belgians who routinely tried – and failed – to find a line up the right edge – bombed right over the berm. This shocked everybody. They were like a charging infantry going up against an fort deemed impregnable only to clear the wall and discover they had no other orders….This race had surges but the group rode as a massive juggernaut with as many as 40 guys in the front group. The American Danny Summerhill rode brilliantly, with his nose right up in the wedge in a position to win. Only he punctured and came out.
Another great ride came from Valentin Scherz of Switzerland, who led with two laps to go. Americans adore this young man as he spends his first three months choosing to race in the States.
With those two laps to go, there I called out to my German colleagues that the name of the person who would win this race would be a name we had not mentioned. It became a race of patience; a battle of the one who kept his powder dry longest would be able to fire best last.
The mud had grown thick and heavy; the pits were busy every lap.
In the junior event all of the favorites were splattered about the course in confusion; their winner, Venturini, had placed 18th in the French national championships! That’s like Detroit winning the Super Bowl.
Although many of the favorites were gone in the u23 race, the powerful teams flourished. With one to go the Belgian carried their blue flag forward. Wietse Bosmans launched a firm attack. The Dutch went into pursuit, led by Mike Teunnissen. And quietly, a lone Czech rider, Karel Hnik, went along. Suddenly they had a gap. And across came the top-ranked rider, Lars Van Der Har – who won the World Cup without winning a single event – firmly on the pedals.
Van Den Har made contact at the high point of the course and descended like skier to the track hitting the clean surface with 10 bike lengths. Dutch gold, Teunnissen makes it for Dutch silver, and Hnik brings the first medal for the proud Czechs.
Everybody floods into the beer tents for sloppy parties that make New Orleans seem like an Arizona shuffleboard game.
Me? I walk back to the hotel, endure an international promoters meeting,where I got confirmation that my event, the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival - having received the highest marks by the UCI - would be recognized as Category 1 for 2011. And we would be partnered with our friends at Gloucester one week prior, also receiving a long overdue Category 1 status.

I will dearly need support from all my friends as the promoters of the USGP have decided to move off their date to move on to our date for their Fort Collins, Colo.

We have big plans to be revealed in the coming weeks.

I had dinner, went back to the room, and read about Upton's Charge at Spotsylvania....Where amid the gravest of consequences, he had been told by everybody that his strategy for overtaking an entrenched fortress would NEVER work.

Well, go read about Upton.

The Belgians are coming tomorrow. Be very afraid. This place with have five times the crowd……As an announcer, I’ve been very tame so far at every World Championships done to date. That changes Sunday.
Thanks for reading.

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