• Kirsten Wild (L), Amalie Dideriksen (C) and Lotta Lepisto (R) celebrate on the podium after the women's road at the UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar (Getty)Source: Getty
Holding the World Championships, one of the biggest events of the season, in one of the least hospitable places on Earth was always going to be controversial. Some aspects went better than others.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

19 Oct 2016 - 9:40 AM 

The Champions

Peter Sagan has been a joy to behold as the world champion and it’s no hardship to imagine him repeating his 2016 theatrics next year. One of the most versatile riders around at the moment, he boasts the mercurial personality that attracts neutrals to the sport. To think that Australia will get to host the start of his 2017 season is already giving goosebumps to local fans.

Amalie Dideriksen was the surprise winner of the women’s road race, the sort of surprise win that we love in cycling. In this case the young Danish rider spent most of her season setting up her much-vaunted Boels-Dolmans teammates for wins but showed that she’s got much more to give in her career.

It was good to see Tony Martin back at his field-annihilating best in the time trial and Amber Neben’s win was a tremendous result for the athlete who has suffered so much hardship throughout her life.

There are plenty of young riders who look the goods in the junior ranks, names like Brandon McNulty (USA) and Kristoffer Halvorsen (Norway) are ones to remember for the future.

A race to remember

For all the complaints of no scenery, flat courses and a lack of action, the men’s road race gave us a style of racing which we rarely see, where the decisive split is made with 170 kilometres to go.

True, most of us would have like to see the Belgians make more of the numbers advantage they gained through the move and not much happened until six kilometres were left, but it was a unique spectacle.

 

Aussie showing

It’s fair to say that none of the Australian team were overjoyed with their results in Doha. For a national team which had shown so much promise going into the world championships, two bronze medals and top ten finishes in most other events was probably the minimum that was expected going in.

Whilst it was great to see Katrin Garfoot (elite women’s time trial) and Miles Scotson (under-23 mens time trial) bounce back from Olympic disappointment, there was a lot of unfulfilled potential left squandered on the sands of Qatar.

Chloe Hosking and her leadout were apparently riding different races and despite the hard work from riders like Sarah Roy and Loren Rowney during the race, Hosking had to do far too much work in the finale to have much punch left for the sprint.

Michael Matthews was in the perfect position to win in the final kick to the line, but in reality the race wasn’t tough enough for him. He does much better in sprints where others have been put under strain over hilly courses.

Caleb Ewan showed that he isn’t cut out for that sort of race at this stage of his career, he was in amongst the front riders when the split occurred and couldn’t latch onto Sagan’s wheel when he bridged across. He blew up soon after, dropping to the grupetto and abandoning when back on the circuit.

Rohan Dennis will have lost few admirers despite finishing 6th in the time trial, just lacking that top level of performance after a long season with a lot of bad luck. What will be interesting for the South Australian is whether he continues as a time-trial specialist or makes a full conversion to the GC rider that many think he can be.

 No crowds, no atmosphere… lots of money and centigrade

The advisability of running a race in a place that averages a top of 38 degrees Celsius, has no history of popular interest in cycling and a small population was always going to raise eyebrows. It was perhaps best summed up by Matt Keenan during commentary when he said “The UCI have sacrificed sporting criteria for financial ones”.

Brian Cookson, the president of the UCI, whilst not president at the time of Doha being chosen as the host was on the committee that made the choice, defended the decision.

"Obviously this is a part of the world where cycling is not an immediately popular sport, but I think we'll see a good crowd on Sunday,” said Cookson. “It is what it is. We're here.”

"There's a lot of interest in cycling out here. There's a lot interest in supporting, funding and sponsoring cycling by way of running events here or sponsoring and running teams. That's a good thing, I think."

Cookson also confirmed in the same press conference that the Doha bid had been supported by 10 million Swiss francs, roughly double what is normally bid for the event. Whether that money is best gained by making one of the premier events of the cycling season something that was a fairly tedious procession around the largely uninspiring loop of ‘The Pearl’ and a drab spectacle is dubious.

Finally the heat was, for the most part, well dealt with by riders and the support staff. But the disingenuous claims of Cookson came as a big surprise to those who saw riders like Anouska Koster and Iver Knotten collapsing mid-race.

“We have not had any cases of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, as I've been advised by the medical team. We've had plenty of cases of exhaustion, plenty of cases of riders being extremely fatigued, which you get at any World Championships, but no actual cases of heat exhaustion.”

The Fallout

For all the problems of the world championships being held in Qatar, it was far from a disaster in execution, but I doubt anyone outside the sport watched the racing and decided to become a cycling fan.

The UCI was giving back to a region that runs numerous events and will be running a (likely) World Tour team next year. But by lumping in with a series of tycoons, oil barons and worse, is the sport really being grown to a point where it is self-sustaining? Rather than propped up by multi-millionaires until they grow bored and wander off, like Oleg Tinkov?

By holding the World Championships in Qatar, the UCI are depriving the sport of what should be something to attract new viewers to grow the sport for all.