After his scathing blog on the women's road race in Ponferrada and the social mediareaction it spawned, Anthony Tan believes there is really only one way to sort out who's right...
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

So... It seems many of you had - and still have - a beef with me after the blog I wrote on the elite women's road race in Ponferrada, 'Where's The Impetuosity?'

And that's okay. It's a free world. You're entitled to your perspective, as am I.

Was I simply after a reaction?

No, that's not my style. I'm not a Ray Hadley or Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt or Miranda Devine.

I'm not a right wing shock jock, or some permutation of. I don't whip up controversy for controversy's sake.

Believe it or not, every blogpost I've penned to date on the Cycling Central website - or any other opinion piece, for that matter - has been written because I've truly believed in what I've said. To paraphrase Clive James, nothing comes more naturally to me than saying what I think.

Yes, saying what I think has found me in hot, sometimes boiling, water over the years. Yet on each and every occasion I've been prepared to cop flak (warranted or otherwise), be sued, or even lose my job over it; I stand by my opinions because they're just that: an opinion. I think it would be a poor reflection on today's society if I were to lose my job over expressing an opinion, since in essence, that's what I'm paid to do.

Thanks to the editors and producers I've worked with over the years at SBS, I accept I've been very fortunate to be able to express my opinion, have it aired in the public domain, and get paid for it - though the latter doesn't influence what I say or what I write, nor do the potential consequences.

Perhaps it's because too many sports journalists are prepared to toe the line, acting as de facto extensions of teams' press officers or riders' agents, so they're assured of another interview, or the fact that they're mates with so-and-so, that in turn makes my opinions appear more skewed than they actually are. If you want the 'I did the best I could', 'I couldn't have done it without my team', 'thanks to everyone who supported me' etc etc, by all means, go crazy and read a bunch of press releases or listen to umpteen vox pops. Yes, mine is a perspective, but I believe it to be a balanced one because the facts are there; as in any debate, I simply use certain facts to support my position/narrative.

I accept, however, that I do not write enough about women's cycling, and so when I do write something about the topic and it's a critical observation, the criticism is accentuated. I want to write more about the girls; in future, I will write more about the girls.

Notwithstanding, if I had my time over I would have written the same thing about the women's road world championship in Ponferrada, and in the same way.

It was an opinion based on observation, and what I observed was a race that left me wanting, exasperated at teams without pure sprinters like the Netherlands, Spain and Australia who did not try their hand sooner or did little soften the speedsters up, which was what was required if a rider like Tiffany Cromwell was to prevail. There was no 'coalition of the willing' from them. The attrition needed to happen earlier than the final two laps if the likes of Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Lisa Brennauer, Giorgia Bronzini, Shelley Olds and Lizzie Armitstead were to be flicked before the finale.

Clearly, I'm not saying the Australian team was solely to blame. As Cromwell observed in her excellent post analysis on the CyclingTips website, Australia came with "a relatively inexperienced team this year" - which led to the South Australian being both leader and captain in the seven lap, 127.4 kilometre race around Ponferrada in the northwest province of León, Spain.

"We identified the Dutch, Italians, Americans and Germans as the four 'big' teams who would potentially dictate the race," Cromwell wrote in her diary entry after the race. "Being more of an 'underdog' team we didn't believe it was up to us to make the race in the early parts - instead the plan was to be present in the moves and work off of the bigger teams.

"If we still had numbers in the final two laps then we would look to start launching moves off the front for a possible late break. This would ultimately allow me to sit in, be patient and wait for one big attack or go with the major players and sprint at the finish."

I feel I've seen enough in my 15 years as a journalist specialising in professional road cycling to know being a leader and captain in a race as momentous as the road world championships is a role fraught with danger. In sport, as in life, sometimes you need to observe from afar, or let someone do the observation for you, to see what you're doing is wrong or ineffective, or what could be done right or done better. Undoubtedly competent as she is, I felt that Tiffany - all of 26 years young, don't forget - occupying the two most important positions in the Australian women's team in Ponferrada was a conflict of interest, and didn't allow either role to be fulfilled to its absolute potential.

The Dutch team, one of the 'big four' Cromwell mentioned, had only themselves to blame. "They had me confused; I didn't know what they were playing at," wrote Cromwell.

"They came into the race with nine riders - two more than any other team - including the one and only Marianne Vos. I was sure they would want to use their numbers, be aggressive, and race hard enough to get rid of the sprinters while keeping numbers at the front of the race. For some reason they were also playing the waiting game."

As I said in a blogpost Monday this week after Daniel Martin won the Giro di Lombardia with a perfectly timed, eleventh hour sucker punch, he - or she - who hesitates is lost.

It was abundantly clear from the outset, when Vos was dropped in the team time trial earlier that week, she wasn't the rider we saw the previous two years. She could not rely on her sprinting strength alone, yet at the same time the Dutchwoman wasn't prepared to attack early, nor do any more than follow wheels. Then, when she (along with Armitstead, Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini) stood a one-in-four chance of a gold medal, there was little to no cooperation - just like the sextet of men chasing Michal Kwiatkowski the very next day. The result was the same: an upset, an outside favourite profiting from the favourites' incertitude.

Cromwell, realising her predicament two laps from the finish: "We needed it to be harder to get rid of the sprinters - the non-technical flat sprint would make it hard for me to beat the 'true' sprinters."

The reality was that only the final lap was raced how Cromwell and Vos needed it to be raced. And as such, the reality was that, under the circumstances, Cromwell probably got the best result she could, given she was 1) unable to go with what should have been the winning four-woman move on the final climb of the Mirador, and 2) the lack of cooperation from the aforementioned quartet allowed riders like Cromwell and eventual winner Ferrand-Prevot to contest the victory. "Ultimately though I was happy and did have luck on my side," she admitted.

Regardless of whether you side with Cromwell or myself, or sit on the fence, the best thing is that Tiffany is still just 26, and will only get stronger and race smarter as the years progress. In my earlier blog, I said that "under the right conditions and on the right parcours" I believe Tiffany is capable of wearing the Arc-en-ciel bands of road world champion - but qualified the statement with: "Cromwell first needs to change the circumstances and put herself in a race-winning, not race-losing, position".

I stand by what I said. As does Tiffany by her words, who said that "with the way this race panned out and the nature of the course, it was what I needed to do to achieve my best result".

"I already have my eyes set on Richmond 2015. It sounds as though it is a classics style race; right up my alley."

Until then, Tiffany, you'll have to contend with me at next year's Ride Nationals, where, on January 11, the morning of the elite men's road race, we'll be going for a ride up Mount Buninyong...

"I am looking forward to riding up Mt Buninyong with him," said the spunky lass from Stirling.

"As punishment for what he said about women's cycling, I'm not going to drop him. I'm going to stay at that annoying pace, half a wheel in front, that has him at his limit the whole way up the climb."

If I stay only half a wheel behind, Tiff, I reckon I'll be doing well.

More details on Ride Nationals, including entry forms, can be found here.