It’s now time for the national cycling championships across Europe. The right to wear a distinctive jersey for a year is something worth fighting for, it brings increased recognition but also extra earnings power as the rider becomes a default invitation for many criteriums.
The Italian championship in particular looks hard and anyone other than Tom Boonen in the black, yellow and red just doesn’t look right.
The racing can be unique because you can have 20 riders from one team in a race, something unheard of for the rest of the year. Take the Dutch championships, it’s Rabobank vs everyone else. It creates a very interesting dynamic where each team wants to win and, above all, stop their rivals from winning.
This turns almost comical in the French championships where the likes of Cofidis, Ag2r, Bouygues and FDJ are roughly equal and so any attacks have to meet a quasi-algebraic formula determining the appropriate balance; last year this man-marking was exploited by Dimitri Champion, then of Bretagne-Schuller, who followed two FDJ riders and whilst the pair drove to the line in a bid to distance the others big teams, Champion in a big attack to embarrass the bigger teams.
It should be an honour to wear the jersey. But some riders won’t be racing this weekend. For example arguably the best road racer in the world, Alberto Contador, won’t do the Spanish races, a shame, no? Similarly, Fabian Cancellara is sitting out the Swiss TT championships: Rubens Bertogliati has just won the right to wear a jersey that might as well read “I only won because Cancellara stayed at home“.
Some teams have yet to announce their rosters for the Tour and riders know a strong performance in the national championships can determine everything.
One final thing to note is the recognition given to smaller nations. The emblematic jerseys will remind cycling fans of far-flung places and prove invaluable for TV commentators struggling to distinguish between riders.