It was a fucking great race, and like a really good bout of energetic sexual activity (player’s choice) sometimes you just need to take a deep breath and consider the finer points (or so I’ve been told). Let’s start by acknowledging that there will be better recaps written about this fucking fantastic race. For example, this one by Sarah.
But I do have my own observations about the race and for better or worse the internet was invented so that I could share them all with you. Here they are, in no particular order (but numbered all the same to make it easier for you to tell me which one I am wrong about):
- Women’s races are fundamentally different to men’s – this seems kind of obvious but it’s surprising how many people don’t seem to get it. When the peloton is made up of fewer than 70 riders and the race is under 150kms that means you will have a different dynamic than the men. Watching a women’s race and expecting it to play out like a men’s race is like ordering a Leffe and expecting it to be the same as a Westmalle. Yes, they’re both beer but they’re different and that’s a good and right thing.
- Olympic rules are weird – This is true for the men and the women. For a start you’ve got variable team sizes based on national performance. The better a country does, the more riders it can send in the team. This does 2 things. Firstly it means some of the big teams can hedge their bets and have riders for multiple scenarios (break, sprint, etc.). Secondly it means that the politics of the peloton get complicated as the bigger teams are expected to do the work, but the teams are still small enough that no one team can control the race easily. Bear in mind that the teams are smaller than trade teams, so deals on the road between nations come into play, as do the personal ambitions of riders from smaller nations looking for their next trade ride. I’m not suggesting these rules are wrong per se, but they do change the nature of olympic races.
- Men are control freaks – I saw a lot of noise after the men’s race as people expressed their dissatisfaction with the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’s win. There also seemed to be quite a few (understandably) lamenting the fact that the British team hadn’t been able to control the race and bring it back for the sprint. I saw many, many people saying that they’d like to see the max team size increased by 1 rider (to make it 6) so that the race could be more easily controlled. I think that this is an incredibly interesting and rather revealing aspect of the mentality that goes with men’s racing. We’re used to a certain script. Break is established and allowed some time, bunch reels in the break when it’s time for the bigs to begin the real race (maybe a sprint or maybe a series of late attacks). It appears to me that the men weren’t as adaptable to the changes that come with the olympic race as the women. To be fair the women are more practised at it, as they race smaller teams regularly. Still, I think the men’s peloton could stand to give up the notion of control a little more.
- Women ride the chaos – sure, part of the reason the men ride a bit more of a controlled race is due to the extra distance that they cover but that really just begs the question, why have the longer race if they just ride more of it with less racing? That said, the women just attacked the fuck out of the race. From well before the first time they hit Box Hill there were riders and teams just aggressively battering the race apart. It’s interesting to note that it’s a different style of attacking to the men as well. I think (guess) that this might be because women’s racing is generally more attacking in nature so the teams are more aggressive about covering moves. That means we don’t see riders get breaks as readily as may happen in a men’s race, but the impact on the peloton is still there. It strings out and the group splits, maybe several times over, before a select group get away. From my point of view, men try to control the chaos, while the women let the chaos unleash and then ride the waves and ripples it causes.
- Cycling is cruel – special mention has to go to Shelley Olds who made it to the race-winning break and then tragically suffered a puncture. A four-up finish would’ve made the contention for medals just a little more hectic and Olds is a great sprinter who stood a very real chance. I can only imagine how disappointing that must be, to be robbed of your chance in this way. This is part of why sport is a beautiful encapsulation of life, in all its cruel indifference.
- The London crowd was fantastic – Sure, it’s England so they’re used to constant rain, but even the English will stay indoors when it’s pissing down like it was on Sunday. That’s how their notorious drinking culture got started (note: I am not a historian). Even so, it was fucking cool seeing thousands of people line the sides of the course and cheer for riders from all nations. There are plenty of races where the women don’t get the benefit of the large crowds so I’m sure this was a very special day for those who got to enjoy it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, go to races when they’re on near you. You get the best stories and experiences there, and you never know when you’ll be lucky enough to meet your favourite rider.
- Twitter is fucking awesome – you probably already knew that, but in this instance there are specific reasons why. First of all both @ds_stef and @Bridie_OD provided excellent real-time analysis and commentary on the race, far better than any broadcast commentary I heard. If you’re not following both of them already, fix that now – I’ll wait for you to get back. Secondly, while I have my favourite places online to hang out and chat with folks during a live race, you get some truly hilarious and fun stuff going on via twitter. If you’d like to know more about women’s cycling then you have to follow the inimitable Sarah, not least because she has a series of very handy lists for major races and of all the best riders. Plus she knows all sorts of crazy details. Trust me, you’ll get smarter about women’s cycling without even trying.
- Women’s cycling has to be one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ sponsorship opportunities around – let’s face it, cycling in general is a cheap sport to sponsor (compared to others, like football). Sometimes I wonder if one of the problems for cycling teams is that they’re not asking for enough money. Kind of like the episode of The Wire when Cutty asks Avon for some money to help set up his boxing gym. Anyway, compared to men’s racing, women’s cycling is a certified fucking bargain! Benefits of sponsorship include (but are not limited to) – an existing and growing fan base; a core demographic that is largely ignored/missed by traditional advertising streams; access to some of the best-educated, smartest and most articulate professional athletes in the world; involvement in the growing business sport of choice (slowly overtaking golf); modest investment yields huge dividends in terms of team and individual rider performance. Seriously, I wish some Hollywood film producer would get the message that for a fraction of the marketing budget for a summer blockbuster they could sponsor ALL the pro women’s teams and several races and still have money left over. Just sayin’.
- Articulate and passionate women are inspiring to us all – Post-race Lizzie Armitstead was pounced on by the media, the first British medal winner. She gave some great comments in her interviews (especially those on experiencing sexism in sport) and took the time on twitter to thank her team, family, friends and fans for the support. Aussie Rochelle Gilmore also made a major contribution in a different way by providing commentary on the Eurosport coverage of the race, it’s impossible to imagine a better commentator than someone who rides with and against these women on a regular basis. And then there’s THE image of the race – at several points during the race Bridie O’Donnell mentioned in her twitter commentary that she was worried Vos was riding with too much emotion and was going to burn her matches too early. It turned out Vos had some emotion to spare:
(Photo credit: AP Photo/Christophe Ena via http://www.daylife.com/photo/0arm85yfLf7he)
There’s a lot more to this race, and to women’s racing in general, but this’ll do for now. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, and keep an eye out in the next day or so as Sarah and I record a special episode ahead of the ITT.