National Championships

Niki Terpstra

Today sees the strangest races on the pro calendar. Across Europe it is time for the national road race championships and the format is unlike anything else all year.

Take the French championships, it is possible for four teams to each field over 20 riders. You will see Europcar, Ag2r, FDJ and Cofidis swarming all over the race, with the smaller teams struggling to match them. The likes of Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel and Garmin CervĂ©lo’s Christophe Le Mevel have their work cut out. And if you that’s different, imagine the Dutch championships with Rabobank.

The big teams dominate the race but in a curious way. Any breakaway that goes clear without a rider from a top team is not going to get far because maybe 20 riders are on hand to lead the chase. So there’s a constant flurry of attacks but the composition has to be just right before a move goes clear. It’s tactical and at times a bit negative.

It’s a little bit similar to the domestic pro races in the Coupe de France series where team representation in a breakaway is crucial and often a move goes clear not when everyone is broken and the elastic snaps but because riders spot a team mate up ahead and ease up, giving the breakaway some space. This is the opposite of a big classic where the strong riders come to the fore at strategic points and the race reaches boiling point and 95% of the field gets cooked.

FDJ’s luck ran out

But the big teams don’t always have it their own way. In 2009 Dimitri Champion live up to his name whilst riding with the modest Bretagne-Schuller team, profiting from the tactical marking to win the French championships.

Even within the teams things are competitive. It’s not like a normal race where the team has to win. Yes the team has to win but this is one race where personal ambitions can rise to the top too. A win in this race can guarantee plenty, from a pay rise to juicy fees in post-Tour criteriums to plenty of public recognition and fame. So you can find team mates chasing each other. Indeed last year Niki Terpstra won the Dutch championships partly thanks to Rabobank riders not working together as well as they could.

These are unconventional races where tactics are very important, it often takes a team effort to win the race… and sometimes a team effort to lose it too. But everyone wants to win, the honour of wearing the national jersey is still an important tradition in the sport.

5 thoughts on “National Championships”

  1. Nice post, A little different here in Japan with the big boys Beppu and Arashiro coming back from Europe and being the popular favourites to win. They have to do it all on their own too, since they have no supporting team members to chasedown, breakaways or the such.
    Fumiyuki Beppu pipped Arashiro on the line and doubled his Championship jersey cache for the year after also winning the time trial championship. The race was held in Iwate, Northern Japan not too far from the recent tragic earthquake and tsumani.

  2. Last years podium picture of the Dutch championship says everything: the rabo riders know they messed this one up.

    Also, if the race ends in a bunch sprint, the numerical advantage usually doesn’t help much either because of the chaotic and hectic nature of these sprints. That helps the smaller teams a lot, the big teams take control and reel in any escape groups and with a bit of luck and skill they can steal the big price in the end.

  3. I always enjoy looking at the various Euro Champs races, as to me its almost like they revert back to the old ‘club racing’ days of “every man for themself”…

    I like to think (not sure how true it is though) that in these races the riders with a bit more tactical nous and racing smarts, and who aren’t just pedalling machines that rely on team instructions, have a better chance than usual to rise above the peloton… 🙂

  4. Great weekend of Euro road champs. Numerous “big name” winners.
    Watched France and Belgie live.

    Gilbert was amazing as usual and his tactical sense is almost unnerving to go with his amazing “couple minutes” power.

    And as Qwerty pointed out, Chavanel overcame the larger squads manpower. Although, France did have a monstrous course that seemed to showcase the strongest riders anyway.

    The conversation at the beginning of the Luxembourg champs is one I’d love to hear. All the guys sitting on their top tubes, just wondering if they’ll get a chance to play against the brothers-Schleck.

    –> And lastly inrng’s article definitely came true in Russia and England and Canada, with Katusha filling out the top 6, and Sky the top 4, and Spidertech the top 3.

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