AS Richie Porte cycled in the solitude of the high mountains early this week, he played over in his mind how his dream of winning the men’s elite world road race championship might unfold.
The Tasmanian, who has so often ridden for others, would love to claim next Sunday’s crown for himself. But if another Australian is in a better position to win the 272-kilometre race, Porte will have no problem playing the team game.
Porte (Sky), 28, and 2009 champion Cadel Evans (BMC), 36, will lead Australia’s nine-rider team for the men’s elite road event in Florence next Sunday. Both riders come in to the world titles after competing in last week’s two Canadian one-day World Tour races – the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal – rather than the last of the three grands tours, the Vuelta a Espana, which finished last Sunday.
The risk of having two leaders from the same lead-in is that neither will have a first-hand gauge of the form of other contenders who raced in the Vuelta. But they will have a close knowledge of each other’s condition; and because they have both raced in Canada they have been able to discuss world title tactics.
Evans won the 2009 world title in Mendrisio, Switzerland, on a hilly course. It will suit him that this year’s circuit in Florence is tougher than at Mendrisio. And judging by his recent form – highlighted by a stage win in the Tour of Alberta in Canada – he is on the right trajectory for a best performance in Sunday week’s race.
Porte, meanwhile, has taken a steadier build-up towards the road race, which he will enter for only the second time after his debut last year.
But he will start after having competed in Sunday’s first world championship event – the 57.2km team time trial he will race for his British Sky team – followed by the 57.9km individual time trial on Wednesday for which he will swap his black and blue Sky strip for the white with green and yellow hooped jersey of the Australian team.
While the men’s elite road race is the top event, Australia will field strong line-ups in every race – from the team time trials for trade squads in which the Australian men’s Orica-GreenEDGE and women’s Orica-AIS are highly fancied, to all road and individual time trial races.
Porte should be strong in all his three events, but his priority is the road race. If the chance arises, he will try to win it after spending most of this season at the service of his Sky leader, Englishman Chris Froome, who won the Tour de France and will this time be a rival in Florence.
But Porte is confident Evans will be worth supporting should he be a better option between the two for an Australian win. “I had a little chat with him about it,” Porte told Fairfax Media on Wednesday from Dolceacqua, in the Italian province of Imperia during a break in a ride that included 3,200m of climbing.
Asked about Evans, Porte said: “He’s fit. He’s lean and on a course like that – he’s done it before, hasn’t he? If I have a bad day I’ll have no trouble at all in trying to give him a hand for the win.”
Is he confident Evans will do the same for him in similar circumstances? “Cadel is a professional and so am I. If we can help each other,” said Porte, who has never forgotten Evans for his help on his grand tour debut in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, when Evans advised him on climbs en route to placing seventh overall, wearing the leader’s pink jersey for three days and winning the white best young riders’ strip.
Porte returned to Monaco on Monday from Canada and the US, where he trained at high altitude with Froome and his Sky team after the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado from August 19-25.
The US Pro Cycling Challenge marked the start of Porte’s back-end of the season after a well-earned break following the July 27 Clasica San Sebastian World Tour race in Spain a week after the Tour finished.
“I had a couple of weeks doing nothing but being a normal person, drinking beer and eating what I want. I needed that,” Porte said.
So what of his return to racing and training in the US and Canada?
“It’s as high I have ever been before,” Porte said of the high altitude training he and his Sky teammates did before the two Canadian races. “One day, we rode up to 4200m – then there was the intensity. We came down to Canada and did those punchy [World Tour] races, which was a shock. Now we’re back at sea level, recovered and feeling good, not just for the worlds but for the end-of-season races like [Giro di] Lombardia [October 6].” Porte’s training program this week has been simple, as he explained on Wednesday. “I’m just riding mountains … the jet-lag absolutely busted me,” he said. ”I’ve never had it this bad – at 2am I’m awake. After the flight it’s nice to get out and do the longer rides.”
On Thursday, Porte travelled to Tuscany to join his Sky teammates and fine-tune preparations for Sunday’s team time trial. With Sky as favourites are the Belgian Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Australian Orica-GreenEDGE and the US Garmin-Sharp and BMC teams.
In Wednesday’s time trial, Porte and Australian Rohan Dennis face stiff opposition, with the likes of German Tony Martin, Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara and Briton Bradley Wiggins all on form. “It’s those three guys for the podium. If it’s not an Aussie who wins, then I’d like it to be Brad,” said Porte.
As for the road race, it’s always a lottery. And Porte does not know what to expect from those who have just competed in the Vuelta.
“I just hope they come out on their hands and knees,” he says.Schedule of events for September 22-29
Sunday, September 22: Team time trial – women (42.79km), men (57.20km)
Monday, Sept 23: Individual time trial – junior women (16.27km), men’s under 23 (43.49km)
Tuesday, Sept 24: Individual time trial – junior men (22.05km), elite women (22.05km)
Wednesday, Sept 25: Individual time trial – elite men (57.9km)
Thursday, Sept 26: No racing
Friday, Sept 27: Road race – junior women (82.85km), men’s under 23 (173.19km)
Saturday, Sept 28: Road race – junior men (140.05km), elite women (140.05km)
Three key riders had to rule themselves unavailable for selection in the Australia team to race in the men’s elite road race at this month’s world championships.
Simon Gerrans is out with a fractured hip, Michael Rogers with a shoulder injury and Adam Hansen due to fatigue after finishing the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday.
However, selectors have still named a strong nine-rider line-up for the 272km event, which will be raced on the final day of the September 22-29 titles at Florence, Italy.
RUPERT GUINNESS looks at who they are and their form and roles.
Cadel Evans (Vic/BMC) Evans (pictured), 36, 2009 world champion, made great return to form with stage win in Tour of Alberta earlier this month and strong rides in World Tour races, Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec (12th at 8 secs) last Friday and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal (18th at 26secs) on Sunday. Form for world title race on hilly course augurs well.
Richie Porte (Tas/Sky) After a strong Tour de France (19th) to help Chris Froome win, raced Tour Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec (54th), Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal (DNF) and US Pro Cycling Challenge (92nd) for training, not results. Porte, 28, will relish world’s route and should recover well from individual time trial four days earlier.
Michael Matthews (ACT/Orica-GreenEDGE) Unafraid of hills or of joining breakaway, as he did in last year’s world titles on a hilly course at Valkenburg in the Netherlands. Matthews, 22, is a sprinter who likes a selective course. A threat should he find himself in a lead group. In terrific form, with two stage wins in the Vuelta a Espana.
Mathew Hayman (NSW/Sky) Hayman, 35, brings 13 years’ experience as a professional. He must co-ordinate tactics to protect team leaders and help them save energy before race explodes; a crucial role in a race with no radio contact between riders and their sports director in the team car behind.
Simon Clarke (Vic/Orica-GreenEDGE) Finished world’s preparation on Sunday, placing 69th in the Vuelta a Espana. Strong climber, unafraid to go in breaks, Clarke, 27, should provide great cover for Evans or Porte in the back end of the race, as he did for Evans in 2009.
Rohan Dennis (SA/Garmin-Sharp) Dennis, 23, has had a top rookie season that includes overall and stage 3 wins in the Tour of Alberta. Never raced over 230km, but form and hill-climbing ability should help early on. In his first senior world’s, he will also race in the individual time trial.
Cameron Meyer (WA/Orica-GreenEDGE) Tour de France finish with team time trial win and ninth on hilly stage 16. Meyer, 25, raced Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec (98th), Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal (DNF) and Tour of Alberta (35th). Good for an early long-range breakaway.
Rory Sutherland (ACT/Saxo-Tinkoff) Strong climber, Sutherland, 31, can support Evans and Porte in the hills. Last races include US Pro Cycling Challenge (9th), Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec (75th) and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal (83rd).
David Tanner (Vic/Belkin) Tanner, 28, has valuable all-round qualities. Provides strong, reliable, selfless back-up to riders – and can do so in all terrain. Rode very well at last year’s world’s at Valkenburg. In good form after finishing Vuelta a Espana on Sunday in 106th place.
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IT USED to be that the Australian and New Zealand netballers would play each other so occasionally that, by the time the big clashes arrived, there was such tension and mystery that the intimidation factor played a big part in the result.
Often it worked to Australia’s advantage. Sometimes not. Liz Ellis confesses to having had mental visions of Silver Ferns players seeming to be ”10-feet tall”.
”We’d play against New Zealand, and someone like Irene van Dyk, she’d loom large in your mind because she was so good and you wouldn’t have played her in a long time,” says Ellis, whose career from 1993 to 2007 yielded a record 122 appearances for the Diamonds.
”By the third time you’d played her, you’d work her out. But then you wouldn’t see her again for 12 months.”
That has changed. Since the establishment of the ANZ Championship in 2008, the veil of secrecy has been lifted. Before it, the Australians had a national competition and New Zealand played in theirs. But the joining of the heavyweights in a trans-Tasman super competition, while increasing the sport’s overall strength, appeal and professionalism, may have started to alter the balance of power.
Following five straight losses, including a series defeat to England early this year, the Diamonds beat the Silver Ferns in a 47-45 thriller in Auckland on Thursday to even the ledger at 1-1 in the Constellation Cup, a series introduced in 2010 to mirror rugby’s Bledisloe Cup. The Silver Ferns are the holders after winning last year for the first time. The recent pattern has raised questions about whether Australian netball’s aura is diminishing.
”We didn’t have an ANZ Championship,” former Australia coach Jill McIntosh recalls of the dominant period in the 1990s under her leadership. ”There was a national championship, which evolved to the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, a good competition between eight teams which played each other regularly. Our youngsters, in that environment, were always playing against top players, week in, week out. Then the ANZ Championship started. It’s a fine competition. But, because we only have five [Australian] teams competing, it has limited the amount of space available for those up-and-coming players.”
There are five teams, too, from New Zealand. All franchises are allowed one import, meaning fewer Australian teams and one less place on each team list.
McIntosh says the set-up ”has benefits, but it has also worked a little bit against us”. ”It has given our players the chance to play against top international players,” she says. ”But it has also meant fewer positions for some of our younger players to get experience.”
Australian netball’s grassroots structure, talent identification and development remain sound, McIntosh says. But the international club-based championship has brought New Zealand closer to Australia in more ways than one.
”I think, overall, the New Zealand teams playing in a mixed competition with Australian teams has been more beneficial to New Zealand. But I don’t think that’s bad for the game. From an Australian point of view, we’d like to be winning more. But, still, the games are very close and great to watch.”
Only one New Zealand team has won the ANZ Championship, the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic last year, and often the New Zealand sides finish amid the bottom.
”From a club point of view, Australia still dominates,” Ellis says.
”Internationally, it’s certainly shifted towards New Zealand. I guess that having their players playing against the top Australian players week in, week out, it means both teams lose a bit of that fear factor and it evens things up a bit. It goes both ways.”
Ellis points to other factors behind the Diamonds’ recent struggles.
Vast experience has been missing, including Cath Cox being unavailable for this tour, Mo’onia Gerard having left the sport to give rugby sevens a go and Natalie von Bertouch having retired.
”There’s 250 Tests between them,” she says. ”Meanwhile, the Kiwis have had a very settled line-up. Their only changes have been in wing attack and wing defence positions. But there’s no doubt that the balance of power has shifted and it’s now up to Australia to play catch-up.”
Australian netball faced a similar predicament when Norma Plummer was appointed coach in 2004.
Under McIntosh, the Diamonds had won the 1995 and 1999 World Championships and the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medals, the pinnacles of the sport. At the 2003 World Championships they were pipped by the Silver Ferns, sparking a reshuffle.
”There were a lot of changes around that time,” Plummer says. ”Some players retired, some had got pregnant, there were some bad injuries. You have that happen occasionally.”
The Silver Ferns won Commonwealth Games gold in Melbourne in 2006, but the Australian team soon settled and regained the world championship in 2007. The Silver Ferns claimed the 2010 Commonwealth Games title in a double-overtime epic, but the next year Australia won yet another world championship.
Plummer says a key to her success through the transition time was that, as a former Australian under-21s coach, she knew which players to bring up and wasn’t afraid to do so. ”It allowed us to build things up quicker,” she says. ”You’ve got to make sure you’re always blooding youngsters.”
Neither Plummer nor McIntosh believe there is any reason for concern. They are confident that depth, resources and programming augur well for the Diamonds’ future. But they know Australia needs to be on its toes.
”Australia and New Zealand are still one and two, clearly,” McIntosh says. ”But England are making big strides forward and Jamaica are realising the benefits of some of their players playing in the ANZ Championship. It’s having a positive effect. The top four are very competitive now.”
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Messi still the one with three … Fourth time lucky for McKenzie … It’s 5 o’clock somewhere but O’Connor wouldn’t know … Six the new eight as seven becomes the new six … Hat-trick for McKay but it’s still England on cloud nine … Atlantic Jewel shoots for perfect 10.
SEATTLE SOUNDS OFF
It may be two decades since Seattle was the centre of all things noisy but it’s good to see the spirit remains after Seahawks fans at CenturyLink Field this week set a Guinness record as the loudest stadium crowd. The mark of 131.9 decibels was set when Michael Bennett sacked San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the first quarter, breaking the record held by a football crowd in Turkey. Taking a leaf out of Pearl Jam’s book, the Hawks faithful went on to bigger and better things than their stellar debut, later beating their own mark by hitting 136.6dB in the third.
STACK OF MACS
Don’t say you haven’t thought about it. The Dudefoods blog is packed full of goodness such as the inside-out grilled cheese sandwich, chicken and waffle wings and the bacon weave taco, but his latest effort tops the lot. The McEverything. It’s exactly what it claims to be – a combination of every burger (including breakfast offerings) available at the Golden Arches reaching a height of 1.5 metres. That’s a total of 43, and set him back $US140. In the immortal words of another Seattle legend, there goes my hero.
MOVE TO BAR MARS
Sticking to this developing theme of all things American and loud (tautology anyone?), here’s a cause we can all get behind. Sugar’s item last week about the travesty of Bruno Mars getting the Super Bowl half-time gig struck a nerve and no group was more vocal than fans of theatrical heavy metal act Gwar. More than 18,000 people have signed a petition to see the Virginian five-piece, famous for non-hits such as Meat Sandwich and Stalin’s Organs, take the biggest stage of them all. There’s some football pedigree there too – frontman Oderus Urungus, right, writes a column on the game for metalsucks.net. Check out their version of Carry On My Wayward Son for a glimpse of what might have been.
SNAGGING A WIN
Basketball legend Cal Bruton stole the show at the NBL season launch at the Entertainment Quarter on Thursday night. The pioneer of the competition’s early days revealed the secret to his team’s success way back when – sausage sizzles. ”We’d have a barbecue on court two while we were playing on court one,” the 58-year-old Hall of Fame guard said when asked about his initial foray into Australian basketball with the Brisbane Bullets. He said the smell wafting onto the main court would often distract opposition players. ”That was our sixth man,” he said.
IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING SPORT YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING TO …
Silk Degrees. Boz Scaggs. Summer is on the way and the feeling is laid-back. As in banana lounge. Poolside. Cabanossi. Margaritas. Never mind albums with ”never mind” in the title – chillax to the Californian sounds of the 70s.
IT’S NOT A MONKEY RIDING A GREYHOUND BUT YOU’LL LIKE IT …
Can he get an encore? It’s our man Adam Lefkoe again who, fresh from his Seinfeld heroics last time out, this week devoted his Sportscast to classic hip-hop lyrics. Jay-Z, MC Hammer, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Dr Dre, Blackstreet, Eminem, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Aaliyah, Beastie Boys, Naughty By Nature, LL Cool J, Wu Tang Clan, it’s all there. Search: Rapcast.
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By the e-book: FFA released its online curriculum designed to reshape Australian football. Photo: Justin McManusIf a Socceroos team ever wins the World Cup, historians will pinpoint the day back in 2013 when an online e-book was launched, aimed at reshaping the style and culture of football in Australia.
Around midday on Friday, Football Federation Australia released The National Football Curriculum – The Roadmap To International Success, which national technical director Han Berger described as his legacy, a comprehensive blueprint the Dutchman is confident will transform the way the game is played and coached from grassroots upwards, hopefully eventually placing Australia among the world’s football powers.
Based on years of research and analysis, the free resource – which Berger believes may be unique in the world – is aimed at players, coaches and parents and provides detailed practical lessons on training, coaching and football philosophies.
It offers age-appropriate drills and model sessions directed towards building a style of possession-based, pro-active football, rather than relying on physicality and mental strength.
”At this moment [the patient possession-style game] is not really in the Australian psyche,” Berger said. ”The simple fact of the matter is that, at the top level, it’s impossible to think you can ever be successful consistently with a physical direct playing style. In a one-off, everything is still fortunately possible in football. But on a consistent basis, the direct physical playing style is not the way to go. Modern top level football has moved away from that.”
Berger revealed that Guus Hiddink’s former assistant, A-League-winning coach Graham Arnold, warned shortly after the 2006 World Cup there was not a sufficient succession plan. Pim Verbeek repeated the warning when he left in 2010.
Berger, who joined FFA in 2009, said when things were going well, it was sometimes hard to look to the future. ”People and organisations tend to take things for granted,” he said. ”Then suddenly the coin starts dropping when things go less well.”
In recent years, despite qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, the Socceroos’ rank has fallen from the 20s to the 50s. The so-called ”Golden Generation” of players who carried the team to relative success throughout the mid and late 2000s is breaking up and cracks are appearing. No longer can Australia simply hope that another good group of players comes together.
The building blocks have to be laid. In 2009, the first edition of the curriculum was released but it dealt mainly with the over-riding philosophies required to implement a new way of playing football.
It was focused on the top down and some of the results have filtered through to A-League and national junior sides. Berger highlighted the under-20 team as having shown encouraging signs at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey in June.
This edition is a practical resource, which will be implemented at future A-League club elite academies and national premier league clubs. It is especially aimed at the foundation level.
”When it starts there, I’m convinced we’ll see the results of that,” Berger said.
The main culture change will centre around changing the win-at-all-costs mentality in junior football, which Berger explained led to booting the ball upfield and scrapping for possession. That approach emphasised physicality, not technicality.
It also had the effect of alienating smaller children. He said he wanted young players to be encouraged to be creative and clever with the ball, rather than just trying to get the ball to the goal as quickly as possible.
”At grassroots level it’s still very much a winning at all costs mentality, a direct physical type of game,” he said. ”That’s the big challenge now, to convince the coaches, the players and the parents that that’s not the right way to go.”
Implementing such a change will take much more than publishing a book, apps and videos. It will take time and patience. In Japan, a 50-year plan was launched in the 1980s. In Germany, it took a decade.
”That is the minimum,” Berger said. ”So, you have to think in decades. That’s a difficult selling point because people tend to look at results next year, or changes next year, they want it to be tangible and visible. But those processes do not happen overnight.
”To really make it happen … there needs to be a shift and change in culture and mentality. The success [of the curriculum] stands or falls with how much, how deeply, it will be embraced.”
If it is embraced properly, Berger is convinced the long-term approach will develop generations of players to take Australia to the top levels of the game.
”We’re three or four years into it. We’ve only touched the surface. We’ve only worked top down. Now we have to start putting our energy in working bottom up. Only if you have a broad and strong foundation, your summit will be of top quality as well.”
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