Are the Worlds in the wrong place?
After Spain coast to their fourth title in six years, the question once again arises of whether the
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE An interesting story in this morning’s edition of L’Equipe asks how Oscar Freire stands up alongside the other riders who have won the world title on three occasions – Alfredo Binda, Rik van Steenbergen and, of course, Eddy Merckx. Freire himself says, “I’ve won three times just like them, but to equal Merckx’s achievements I would have to race for another 20 or 30 years.” The story then takes a turn, thanks to Merckx. Asked for his views on the matter, Merckx declared that winning the world title three times in five years is some achievement. However, he added: “Without wanting to diminish what Freire has achieved, I still think that the UCI has made a serious mistake by moving the Worlds to October. Too many riders don’t take part, and that takes away from the status of the event.” Perhaps, then, the issue is less about where Freire stands alongside three cycling greats, but whether the world championship is still the event it once was. Merckx believes that the world title race should take place on the day of the national championships, that is on the weekend before the start of the Tour de France. But would riders preparing for the Tour be prepared to endanger their chances there by tackling a high-intensity event like the Worlds just a few days beforehand? During Merckx’s racing career the Worlds used to take place on the first Sunday in September, when almost all of the top riders of the day could be guaranteed to take part. Of course, the Vuelta’s move from April to September has made this date impractical, but some observers believe a date in August soon after the Tour de France would attract a stronger field. It would certainly make it more likely that we would see Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and other riders who focus more on the major stage races. The Spanish, though, might not be keen on a switch to a date before the Vuelta. Like many others, Freire used the Vuelta as his key preparation event for the Worlds, and no nation came out of the Vuelta stronger than Spain. They could have fielded a second team of 12 riders almost as strong as the first, with Carlos Sastre, Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero, Roberto Heras and Santiago Perez as its big hitters. Another problem with October is the unpredictability of the weather in much of Europe at that point in the season. If the Worlds had taken place in some part of Britain last Sunday we’d have seen riders battling gale force winds and torrential rain. No country wants to host a championships that could be a wash-out, which makes the odds of a return to Britain for the first time since 1982 extremely remote. Let us have your opinions on this issue. Do you think the Worlds are fine where they are, or would it be better to move them to a date where both one-day and stage race specialists could compete at the top of their form?