The underwhelming nature of the elite women's road race in Ponferrada, Spain is a clarion call to throw caution to the wind and bring back impetuosity, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

With just under two laps remaining in the elite women's road world championship, as lone escapee Alison Powers held a slender 21-second advantage to the peloton, the conversation in the SBS Television studio between Cycling Central host Mike Tomalaris and pundits Olivia Gollan and Henk Vogels went something like this...

Tomalaris: Well, the laps are running out in the women's road race... Under two laps to go and we've got an attack from an American, Alison Powers... Liv, we've been waiting for this for a long, long time, haven't we?

Gollan: Hopefully, someone will go across to her... It's time for someone to light this race up a little bit...

Tomalaris: This race, it seems to me, Henk, is falling into the hands of Marianne Vos...

Vogels: All signs are out there today that teams want a bunch sprint, because we've seen just one or two attacks in this race so far, the Slovenian and now Alison. For me, I find it flabbergasting that we haven't seen any more attacks. We're staring down the barrel of a bunch sprint... unless they light it up this time - but we've been waiting the last couple of laps and everyone's very, very nervous, and I don't understand why.

Gollan: This is the time for people to take a risk, because it's now or never. If they leave it any longer it will be Vos or (Lizzie) Armitstead or (Emma) Johansson or (Shelley) Olds or (Giorgia) Bronzini... It will be one of those five riders to win. There's another 40 riders in the peloton - they've all got a chance of winning a world title here. I'd love to see several of them start to light this race up and make a spectacle of it.

There was a palpable sense of urgency in the studio that, rather inexplicably, did not seem to translate to inside the peloton.

For the previous 91 kilometres, or five of the seven laps, we had seen just two attacks, both solo efforts. As a genuine advocate of women's cycling it pains me to say this but it was like watching paint dry, which, even if you're a painter, isn't terribly interesting.

The women's race was just 127.4km long; a perfect length to see an engaging, highly attacking affair and perhaps a winning move like we saw the day previous with the under-23 men, when Sven Erik Bystrom of Norway stole the show - especially in light of the number of teams who didn't bring a fast finisher to the table who could beat Vos or Armitstead or Bronzini, and that included Australia.

Yet those teams without a sprinter were not prepared to risk everything, which is what it takes to win a world championship. Nor were the teams with sprinters willing to send a rider up the road, forcing their rivals to give chase, or instigate a Plan B, should something happen to their leader.

Sure, the second lap crash changed the dynamic somewhat, but at the end of the day the favourites were unhurt and afterwards there remained 77 riders in the main group - plenty to create a stir, if they chose to do so...

For the next three laps only two showed any sass, Slovenian Spela Kern on lap four and then Powers a lap later. After she was caught Australia's Rachel Neylan, silver medallist from the 2012 Worlds, had a go, followed by another - but there was never a concerted effort from any one nation or group of individuals willing to throw the kitchen sink at the peloton, and, like Olivia and Henk, I don't understand why.

The final lap was equally exasperating to watch; what should have been a winning break of four including Vos, Johansson, Armitstead and Elisa Longo Borghini refused to work properly together over the top of the final climb of the Mirador, and were subsequently caught by a small group containing Bronzini and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, the eventual winner.

Ferrand-Prevot is a worthy winner but she can thank her rivals for what was essentially 127.4 kilometres of indecision. They got what they deserved.

Up against a slew of riders faster than her, fifth place, a creditable result from Australian leader Tiffany Cromwell, is the best she could have done in the circumstances. "I felt like maybe I had a little more, but sprinting against the best in the world I'm happy," she said. But if she was to win - which, under the right conditions and on the right parcours I believe she is capable of doing - then Cromwell first needs to change the circumstances and put herself in a race-winning, not race-losing, position.

"One of the things we have been working on with Tiff is to develop patience. She really did that today and she was rewarded for it," Martin Barras, the Australian national women's road coach, said afterwards.

I don't agree.

For me, Cromwell's 'patience' was incertitude, and uncertainty cost her - and Australia - a chance of winning. I prefer seeing Cromwell, and Neylan too, for that matter, at their impetuous best, because after all, wasn't impetuosity the very thing what won Michal Kwiatkowski the rainbow jersey Sunday, and five years previous in Mendrisio, the same for Cadel Evans?

Tiff and Rachel, go back to how you were, and when you race, throw caution to the wind.

Along with 'La Course' this is one of the handful of times in the year when the world gets to watch a high-profile women's race, and as Olivia Gollan intimated, we desperately needed to see a spectacle.

Instead, we got a three-and-a-half hour advertisement on why we shouldn't watch.

If you saw the Olympics and Worlds in Valkenburg you've seen something so much better than this. C'mon girls, lift your game, and give us a reason not to switch off.