I have to say that this was one of the most exciting races of 2006 and certainly the finest Women’s Worlds race ever. Better still was the BBCi coverage and it was great to be able to watch the whole race live, for free.
Nicole Cooke was incredible. OK she didn’t win, but she showed that she was head and shoulders stronger than the rest of the World in the Women’s road race on Saturday. Only team dominance stood between her and certain victory. It was an impossible battle for the Welsh World Cup winner. Rather than wait for help from other teams, Cooke was the one who made this race, she was involved in all the decisive moves later in the day and rode a faultless first half of the race.
Time after time she chased breaks and it looked as if she had made the selection on the final ascent of the 17% hill – rocking all over the bike and staying glued to Vos and Brandli. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Swiss rider refused to pull, this move may have stuck and given her a better chance. So the remaining re-group of the strongest riders on the descent made the final selection and this is when Cooke made her only mistake, getting boxed and entering the home straight way down, giving herself an impossible sprint to victory.
When you realise what Cooke is up against it must be frustrating for her. The final selection contained several well represented teams all capable of riding away, so she is always isolated and has to do it the hard way. It’s hard to criticise the team, especially when they try their best, but we are simply too weak on the road to offer Cooke any support, when it matters.
The truth is she isn’t likely to win a rainbow jersey until we have at least two more riders who can make the selection with her. That’s the harsh reality of women’s racing at this level and something that BC are going to have to do something about. What’s good is that Cooke is only 23, so time is on her side. But then again Marianne Vos is only 19 and she already has two Rainbow jerseys…
Results – Women’s road race – 132.6km
1. Marianne Vos (Netherlands) 3.20.26 (39.783 km/h)
2. Trixi Worrack (Germany)
3. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
4. Noemi Cantele (Italy)
5. Priska Doppmann (Switzerland)
6. Oenone Wood (Australia)
7. Annette Beutler (Switzerland)
8. Nicole Brändli (Switzerland)
9. Svetlana Bubnenkova-Stolbova (Russian Federation)
10. Andrea Graus (Austria)
David Millar has his critics but whatever you think about him you can’t help to notice that he has talent. When it came to the finale in the Men’s race he was at the head of affairs, he even managed to go clear with the most dangerous split on the last lap, featuring Vinokourov and Bettini. Millar has learned a lot over the past few years and he seems to have had the edges knocked off him, he seemed pleased with his ride too and should be proud of his comeback. Racing clean seems to suit him.
But this race was all about ‘The Cricket’ Paolo Bettini. He was perfectly positioned for the final hour of racing and his team worked selflessly and perfectly, Pozatto, Paolini and Rebellin all sacrificed themselves chasing dangerous breaks – The Azzuri were on fire. The final sprint was set up for Valverde by Gonzalez, but Zabel and Bettini had hijacked it perfectly, it was a great ride from Zabel too and there was nothing in it as they belted for the line. Great racing.
Results – Elite men’s road race – 265.8 km
1. Paolo Bettini (Italy) 6.15.36 (42.476 km/h)
2. Erik Zabel (Germany)
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain)
4. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spain) 0.02
5. Robbie McEwen (Australia)
6. Stuart O’Grady (Australia)
7. Uros Murn (Slovenia)
8. Alexandre Botcharov (Russian Federation)
9. Tom Boonen (Belgium)
10. Vladimir Gusev (Russian Federation)
35. David Millar (Great Britain)
62. Roger Hammond (Great Britain) at 1′.53″