Monday was, for us Canberrans anyway, a public holiday (it now feels so long ago!). And it feels slightly wrong to write a Monday Musings piece about the weekends best sporting moments when we are now closer to the weekend coming, if you count Friday night sport anyway.
But alas, there were two sporting events that occurred on the weekend that are not only worthy of but necessitate a quick review.
The dust may have settled but for the Sydney Swans the pain probably still makes them feel numb. The AFL Grand Final on Saturday saw Sydney start as clear favourites against Hawthorn at the MCG. Sydney had the so-called ‘Bondi Billionaires’ to wreak havoc across the forward line and a midfield full of tough as nails onballers. Thats not to say the match was theirs for the taking. In their way stood a Hawthorn side playing in their third consecutive grand final. The epitomy of consistency. A side who had overcome off-field drama, injuries and loss of one of the best players in the AFL, to Sydney no less, in the off season.
The most disappointing thing about the whole grand final was that there was only ever one team it. Sydney had the better of the opening few minutes but once Hawthorn settled they went from strength to strength. And the anticipated Sydney revival and challenge never materialised. They were forced in to playing a lose man in defence in the second quarter just to stem the tide, they got smashed in the contested ball, couldn’t penetrate the Hawthorn defence and gradually wilted in the face of Hawthorn’s onslaught. Hawthorn played to the level expected of a side playing in a grand final while Sydney feel well short. And the final ten goal margin didn’t flatter the Hawks one bit.
Hawthorn had winners all over the ground. Luke Hodge was a deserving winner of the Norm Smith medal, and a romantic one as club captain and playing in his 250th game. He had 35 possessions, and was one of four Hawks who had more than 30. Jordan Lewis would have been just as deserving, as would Sam Mitchell. Brad Hill may not have the reputation of some of the others, or the possession count, but he broke the lines, created scoring opportunities for teammates and was as influential as anyone in the first half when the game was their to be won. He is one of a number of young players who have emerged for Hawthorn and this is one of the reasons that they and many others will believe that a third consecutive premiership is possible.
Sunday saw the conclusion of the world cycling championships with the mens road race in Ponferrada, Spain. All sorts of riders had proclaimed they had a chance of victory on a circuit that, whilst not easy, was certainly not as difficult as some that have come before it. An early break went away but it only included four riders and even they weren’t household names. The break was doomed, even if the lead did reach 15 minutes.
Poland did a lot of the work on the front, controlling the break and marshalling the peloton. It was a move that, at the time, many people questioned. But it also showed extreme confidence in their leader, Michal Kwiatkowski. Post race reviews have compared the racing pattern to an early season Milan San Remo, with the action condensed in the final ten minutes. And while this isn’t entirely true it is not a completely unfair criticism.
The Italians were the main protagonists but there were others who tried to spice the race up over the last four laps (70 odd kilometres). But while there were plenty of moves no individual or group of riders ever managed to gain more than a minute and each move lacked conviction and cooperation.
Ultimately the winning move came slightly earlier than expected, but still only ten minutes from the finnish. Kwiatkowski may have been isloated after his teammates had spent themselves getting him in position but on the descent of the first of the two climbs he slipped off the front of the main peloton, bridged seemingly effortlessly to the four leaders, sat on them briefly and then attacked. This was when the race was won. As Kwiatkowski ascended the final hurdle behind him was pure mayhem as cyclings one day stars exploded on the final climb. Approaching the top Kwiatkowski looked a spent force. He crested the climb with around five kilometres to go and his gap to the chasers was a mere 7 seconds. Those chasers were some of cyclings elite – Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans, Alejandro Valverde, Greg Van Avermaet, Tony Gallopin and Matti Breschel.
But Kwiatowski had timed his attack perfectly. The technical descent suited him down to the ground and he knew that any gap at the top might well be enough to hold on to victory. The hesitation in the group behind was minimal but the lack of co-operation was costly. Belgium was the only nation with two riders left and it was left to Phillipe Gilbert to do the chasing. The descent allowed Kwiatkowski enough time to recover and he held his advantage on the flatter closing kilometres to complete a memorable win. Behind it was Gerrans who won the sprint for second, ahead of Valverde. Second seconds behind Kwiatkowski the the first of the “sprinters” crossed the line, with Alexander Kristoff leading home the remanants of the peloton.
Ultimately Kwiatkowski and Poland were rewarded. Poland had done the bulk of the work during the race. They kept Kwiatowski out of trouble and he completed the job with a daring attack that caught his rivals off guard. The race proved more selective than expected, but only just. The next two editions include far less climbing and a sprint from a large peloton looks the most likely otcome.