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Come to Canada - See the World!
By Staff
Date: 10/15/2003
Come to Canada - See the World!

By Tony Szurly

See Tony's Worlds photo galleries here.

If there is one strong impression I took away from the recent World Championships in Hamilton, Ontario, it’s one of hospitality.  From the reception of the Hamilton locals to the actual race organization, there was always a feeling of “Can I help you?” or “Are you enjoying our city?” offered up in a friendly way.

The race layout itself was very fan friendly and well marked. I though the $50 CDN fee some people paid to watch the race was a bit over the top as there were many places that provided much better places to view the race action that were open to everyone.

Near the top of the Claremont climb, there were all the obligatory beer and food vendors, places selling race souvenirs- “Hey, just $299 CDN for a cycling jacket, what a deal!," giant TV screens to watch the action, and good signage to the various spots on the course. There were volunteers on rollerblades passing out start lists, small Canadian flags and temporary tattoos for the kids.

The fans ran the gamut from first-timers to dedicated world travelers like the Belgian contingent replete with giant Cat in The Hat tophats in the national colors, face paint and flags. There were lots of kids on the course and plenty of fans riding their bikes and showing off their club or favorite team jerseys. Hamilton’s future entrepreneurs were out in force - ten and twelve year-olds selling soda from their little coolers in front of their houses for a buck a can.

Although Sunday morning dawned with clear skies and a gorgeous pink sky, the weather turned gray and damp just as the race was set to get underway.  At the start area, cameras were clicking faster than at a Milan fashion show as people spotted the riders they had only seen on TV or in magazines and murmurs of “Look- it’s Zabel” or “There goes Leipheimer, he sure is small” followed the riders as they made their way to the sign-in.  In the lobby of the media center I got autographs from Laurent Jalabert, Pedro Delgado and Ronan Pensec. For a guy who retired ten years ago, Delgado looked seriously fit. 

I spoke with Great Britain’s Charly Wegelius at the start and I asked him whether the road surfaces were as bad as some people were reporting.  “It’s nothing compared to what we see in Europe,” he replied, and mentioned that his job was to look after recent World Time Trial Champion David Millar and that he was looking forward to the end of the season after his race here and Lombardy the next week. American Chris Horner told me that he thought the race could go two ways - a big group would stay together if the riders were afraid to make the race happen and rode the climbs at a reasonable tempo, or that it could be a race that would “blow apart” if many riders took their chances and attacked. He was spot on when he predicted that a small group of 4-6 riders would contest the finish.

The early laps told us nothing about how the day would finish. The peloton was content to roll along, spread across the road.  The odd small groups would get away for awhile, but when the Italians came to the front, it was all a formality - this was coming back together. As the sun came out, the roads dried and we were treated to a beautiful Indian Summer day - bright sunshine, a warm breeze and the dappled light filtering through gold and red leaves warming the riders, now stripping off the morning’s vests and arm warmers.  Many fans had come out over the last few days to paint their favorite’s names on the climbs. No surface went untouched - the roads, walls and cement dividers all proved to be ready canvases for their colorful artwork.  Flags and banners of all colors waved in the breeze and the cowbells were ringing. The atmosphere was fantastic!

The giant TV screens provided coverage in the 20-minute gaps that passed before the riders would reappear in a flash of motorcycle lights, helicopters and cheers. The rather dry commentator on the TV only provided the rider names and time gaps and it was fun to hear all the Phil Liggett-wannabees providing their own color commentary.

Towards the end of the race, I made my way over to the Beckett climb. People were lined up two and three deep all the way up the climb and now the race of attrition was taking its toll, thinning out the group. Back at the finish area, the boisterous tones of the Orangemen Band, a group of Dutch fans all dressed in orange, entertained the crowd.  I stopped into the team box area, all the team staff arranged by country in their little white tents were watching the final three laps unfold on little televisions and they would pop out on cue as the riders passed. As I peered into each one, I met the great Francesco Moser, who signed a Campy hat for me, Luca Scinto looking all Hollywood in his shades and bleached hair, a very stern looking Johan Museeuw, who signed a huge poster of his 2002 Paris-Roubaix win which I had brought with me in hopes of seeing him there, and Eddy Merckx who also signed my hat. A funny sight was Patrick Lefevere and Walter Goodefroot, both Belgians, talking to each other but each probably privately hoping for an Italian (Bettini) or a German (Zabel) winner because it would help their respective trade teams.  And speak of the devil, yes, he was there too - Didi Senft in full Satanic regalia complete with pitchfork - definitely a fan favorite.

I got a spot on the rail about 20 meters past the finish line with a great sight line up the finishing straight in plenty of time to see the last two laps and then Astarloa soloing in to a well-taken victory. His celebration at winning the race was nothing in comparison to his compatriot Valverde, who was practically dancing in the saddle celebrating his sprint win for 2nd over Van Petegem and the overwhelming pre-race favorite Bettini.

The crowd cheered each man as he passed the finish, regardless of the time gap; many in the crowd  recognizing the effort and fitness required to race hard on this course for over 6 hours at an average speed of  25 mph. Like many, I was confused by the Italian tactics. They rode pace all day, reeled in all the dangerous breaks but when it was time to have someone up there in the final group with their capitano, no one answered the bell. Leaving home riders like Bartoli or Rebellin looked like a mistake now, but hindsight is 20/20.  I thought Van Petegem was clearly the strongest rider and animated the final outcome but Astarloa played his hand masterfully.

After the awards ceremony and press conference, it was time to head over to the Café Palazzo (hey, if their Italian food is good enough for Francesco Moser, it’s good enough for us!) for our post-race meal and bottle of Valpolicella. As we mingled in among the fans who had come from all over to celebrate their love of cycling and the riders who perform at the top of the game, I was reminded of something the great American hurdler and many time World Champion Edwin Moses said at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games - “Tonight, I feel like a citizen of the world!”

The next day, taking advantage of the light traffic on an early Canadian Thanksgiving morning, a bunch of us rode the road course and then the time trial loop. Many of the barriers were still up. The Claremont and Beckett climbs were draggy but not particularly steep and probably big ring affairs for most of the race for the majority of riders. The pavement was not so bad on the road course but there were lots of manhole covers and gaps. The time trial loop was actually quite surprising - two trips up the climbs used in the road race with some turns that were probably not too much fun on a dedicated time trial machine. The section on Scenic Drive was just that - nice views over the escarpment that probably went unseen by the racers. Unlike when the Tour de France comes through a small town, it did not look like much road resurfacing had taken place recently in anticipation of the event. Sadly, it was soon time to load up the cars and face the 8 hour drive home. Well, at least there was duty free to look forward to!

So thank you Canada, thank you Hamilton, and thanks Daily Peloton for the chance to share in a great celebration of cycling. Next year in Verona!

Please visit Tony's great Tafi site here.

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