Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympics: FuckYeahWomensRoadRace

Ever since male cyclists stopped taking EPO and blood transfusions and bought SRM's instead, road racing has been a boring and predictable procession. My ill-informed and over-thought explanation is that the playing field's got so level that attacking is futile - for every minute a contender spends churning out 6.5w/kg, you know they'll have to repay it with a period at 5.5w/kg, giving the person who's steadily knocking out 6w/kg a chance to catch up. It happened all through the Tour: Nibali attacks, Wiggins and Froome slowly peg him back. Softly, softly, catchee monkey.
On Sunday morning I didn't have high hopes for an exciting Women's road race. I was however fully committed to some serious sofa time, but after an hour of 30kph gruppo compatto I was counting sheep and expecting to drift off any momen...

Then Ellen Van Dijk happened.

Fuck me, what a rider! Attack! Attack! And then attack some more in a style we've not seen in men's road racing for years. By about the fifth time she shot off the front, through a wall of wet road spray, on yet another suicide mission I was smitten. When you dream about bike racing, this is what it looks like - aggressive, assertive, passionate, hard, EPIC.

Then Emma Pooley got active too - rather than covering moves, she started countering them. Chase 'em down, sprint straight past, look back and watch the carnage unfold. The hammer had well and truly been dropped and I - and it seemed the whole of twitter - was loving it.

By the time they got to the top of Box Hill for the second time it was shaping up to be a classic, and then Vos attacked, her match-stick thin arms almost buckling under the violence her legs were wreaking on her bike. And who was that immediately on her wheel? Only bloody Lizzie Armitstead (Armitstead with a T, thankyou) - you beauty!

The only time I feel as nervous, as shiver shake adrenalised, as I felt through that final 30km to the line is when I'm approaching a sprint in a bike race myself. Your head clears, your heart rattles, your arms feel empty and you feel shaky, like you've had too much coffee.
I had drunk too much coffee, but that's besides the point - I was watching a race that made me feel like I was there. It was beyond enthralling.

As they came into the Mall you couldn't help pre-emptively hanging the gold round Vos' neck - let's face it, the woman's unbeatable on two wheels. Armitstead did a good sprint, but second is the best you're ever going to get against Vos, and that's what happened.
Was I disappointed that the Brit didn't get win? Not really, I'd just watched the best race I've seen in almost a decade, and was so fired up I chucked my kit on and gladly went riding in the rain, trying to emulate Ellen Van Dijk for 2hrs on the slick sodden roads of Essex. I don't remember ever trying to emulate a female sportsperson before, but yesterday I did, and when we go to Crystal Palace tomorrow night, I'm going to remind myself of Emma Pooley and the way she rode so aggressively for the team. How good is that? The Women's Road Race wasn't just a brilliant advert for Women's road racing, Women's cycling or Women's sport, it was a massive win for sport full-stop.