Saturday, October 25, 2003 - Perspective
Watching the World Road Cycling Championships

- By: Magi Scallion

There may not be many benefits to being located in Southern Ontario – no early snow, too much traffic, lots of smog… the list goes on. However, there was one major bonus this October that made up for most of the downfalls: The World Road Cycling Championships!

Road cycling appears to be a boring sport from the outside. A bunch of guys wearing spandex riding together for several hours leading to a mass sprint at the end where everybody is assigned the same time and the same guys always seem to win. Boring. And of course, you don’t need any special bike handling skills – unlike mountain biking (the sport of champions). Don’t get me wrong - I love mountain biking.

The true excitement of road cycling becomes more apparent the more you learn about it. There are many unwritten rules of the peloton that make the sport so much richer. There are loyalties and rivalries. Road races cannot be taken as an event in themselves, but as a culmination of a long series of actions. Most of all there is so much more to a race than a big bunch sprint. The actions of the peloton are true drama. And you can’t tell me that bike handling skills are negligible when you are traveling down a hill at 93 km/h on a bike with your teammate’s handlebars a scant 3 inches from your own!

Road cycling, like cross-country skiing, is a predominantly European event. The crowds and passion for the sport are unequalled anywhere in the world. This was only the third time that this event has been held on North American soil. One of the most exciting parts of the event, for me, was standing in a crowd of thousands, cheering, waving flags, and smelling the sweat from the best riders in the world wafting over the metal barriers.

The races themselves were full of drama. I was only in attendance for the Elite men’s race (school and running racing got in the way of the rest of my plans). I cannot describe this race with words. It was a series of unsuccessful attacks and breakaways until the last two laps of the 6.5-hour race. In the final half hour a group of seven riders broke from the pack. This group included former world champion, Paolo Bettini; eventual winner, Igor Astarloa; and Canadian, Mike Barry who finished seventh.

During the 6.5 hours of excitement, my sister, Kate, and I climbed around the course. We went from climb to climb (the riders rode up the Niagara escarpment two times each lap – they did a total of 21 laps). The climbs were the most exciting place to watch the race because that is where most of the attacks were made. It also meant you got to watch the descents (and sometimes the spectacular crashes…). For any of you who get to travel in Europe during the summer – and don’t get to experience the atmosphere of a European cross-country ski race – go to a road bike race. The culture is amazing! It was great in Canada so I can only imagine how spectacular it would be in Europe!

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