IS POOLEY THE REAL DEAL?

During the women’s road race at the World Championships in Stuttgart last autumn, I spent about a lap and a half yelling at the telly.

“Get off the front! Get off the front.”

It was obvious that Emma Pooley was one of strongest riders in the front group, if not the strongest.

But she was doing too much work and spending too much time setting the pace, which meant that she was vulnerable when the final attacks went.

It’s not being unfair to say that tactically she was found wanting that day, although she went on to clinch a very fine tenth place.

At the time she was still something of a novice. Stuttgart was only her second crack at the World Championship road race and her World Cup appearances were few and far between. Her first attempt at the Worlds, in Madrid in 2005, had come to a painfully abrupt end when she crashed at the start of the fourth lap and was taken to hospital.

Now, though, she is shaping up to be Britain’s best hope of a medal in the road race at the Olympics in Beijing.

As a pure climber, she couldn’t have picked a better course herself than the one she’ll encounter in China. And Monday’s win in the Alfredo Binda World Cup race showed she’s taken a big step forward in terms of tactical awareness and confidence.

Crucially, she’s spent the winter working on her descending and time trialling and it certainly paid off handsomely in Italy.

Together with Nicole Cooke, she’ll give Britain a double-edged attack at the Olympics and the World Championships.

What will I be shouting at the telly in August? “Go on, Emma,” hopefully.

ROAD RAGE

Driving standards are pretty atrocious these days.

But although I’ve been given plenty of reason to shake my fist and, I admit it, shout the odd obscenity at a thoughtless, careless driver who has made a poor decision, I had not encountered a piece of out-and-out hostility towards a cyclist.

Until Easter Sunday, that is.

Myself and my colleague James were on the outskirts of Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire, stood astride our bikes at a crossroads, waiting to cross over.

As we stood there, shivering in the cold, a white van moved towards the middle of the road and the driver sprayed water at us from a blue plastic bottle as he passed.

He didn’t shout anything, or even laugh, which would have made the incident more understandable.

We had done nothing to enrage the driver and, to the best of our knowledge, had not encountered him earlier on our ride.

It was completely inexplicable and I was stunned into silence.

In the unlikely event that the driver of that white van is a reader of Cycling Weekly’s website, I can only say that I am torn between laughing at his pathetic watery protest and pitying what must be a really terrible life he’s leading.

He really needs to deal with whatever is eating him inside.

Perhaps he’s a Labour voter incensed that Tory leader David Cameron has been filmed jumping a red light on his bike.

Perhaps he just hates men in Lycra (in which case perhaps he has some issues he needs to deal with if it makes him so angry).

The incident was put in perspective later in the ride when James was forced to stop and put his foot down when another white van cut in so sharply as it attempted to pass us where the road narrowed for a traffic island.

On reflection James said that he could cope with being randomly squirted with water by a moron in a van, whereas being cut up by a fast-moving van posed a more serious danger.

But has it really come to this?

TOP OF THE WORLD

I am unreasonably excited by the prospect of the World Track Championships, which start on Wednesday.

Professional integrity means I shall not be out of my press seat, rooting for the boys and girls in red, white and blue, but when the action has finished, I shall celebrate each and every medal with a spirit of total partisanship.

When I first joined Cycling Weekly in 1998, the World Class Performance Plan was in its infancy and the ire directed towards ‘track and trackies’ was baffling even then.

The attitude that prevails in certain quarters that British Cycling is ‘only interested in track riders’ is something of a fallacy.

While it is definitely true that riders of all disciplines will be tapped up to see if they can transfer their skills to the velodrome, it would be more accurate to say that British Cycling is interested in success.

In the main, track performances are measurable. We know that a 4-15 will guarantee gold in the individual pursuit, that a 3-59 will do the same in the team pursuit. Even the sprint and Keirin events are more quantifiable than road racing. Once you know what it takes to win gold, you can work backwards and make it happen.

That doesn’t mean road racing is bottom of the list of priorities. Far from it, as Dave Brailsford’s oft-stated dream of a British pro team proves.

For now, though, we have a great chance of an armful of medals in Manchester and it would be churlish not to cheer them long and loud.

CANCELLARA THE GREAT

I don’t like to gloat, but I had 20 euros on Fabian Cancellara at odds of 17 to one with Unibet.com.

Thanks to the brilliance of selective memory, this win cancels out all the lousy bets I placed in the second half of last season.

It wasn’t just seeing Cancellara win Tirreno-Adriatico that convinced me he had a chance.

Ever since the 1999 World Championships in Treviso – the first Worlds I covered – I’ve followed his career. I remember standing about a kilometre from the finish of the junior time trial and being immensely impressed by the rider in red with the white Swiss cross on his skinsuit. A quick glance at the start list told me his name and I noted he was the defending champion, having won the title in Holland the previous.

I was not as surprised as some when he won the Tour de France prologue in Liege in 2004 either.

And ever since interviewing him in Qatar at the start of 2006, I’ve thought it would be only a matter of time before he won Milan-San Remo.

Because although he spoke in reverential terms about the world title, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, when he said he wanted to win Milan-San Remo there seemed to be an added edge of passion.

He said it was because of his Italian-Swiss heritage that the race had extra resonance. All he needed, he said, was the opportunity to get a gap after the descent of the Poggio.

On Saturday he got his gap and made no mistakes and, quite frankly it was a sensational piece of riding to watch.

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March 4 ? Why Het Volk is the real deal
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