My sporting month: September 2011

Ah, September. The end of summer. The beginning of autumn. The conclusion of the last major events of the year in tennis (the US Open) and cycling (the Vuelta a España). The start of the quadrennial highlight in one leading sport. The resumption of hostilities in the qualifying campaign of another. Events all over the world ranging from one of the northernmost countries in Europe to one of the most eastern nations in Asia. And a first encounter between the most successful and longest-serving manager in English football’s top division and a newcomer less than half his age. It should be quite a month. Here’s what I’ll be watching this month.

1. Euro 2012 qualifiers – Bulgaria vs England (2nd), England vs Wales (6th)

England‘s qualifying campaign for next summer’s European Championships resumes with a double-header against the bottom two teams in group F, with victory in both games essential if they are to stay ahead of Montenegro in the race for the one automatic qualification spot.

A day before the anniversary of a 4-0 drubbing at Wembley courtesy of a Jermain Defoe hat-trick, Fabio Capello‘s men will travel to Sofia without key midfielders Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere in search of a repeat win over Bulgaria. Four days later they will host Wales, who have lost all four of their matches to date, including a 2-0 defeat to England in March which was more one-sided than the scoreline suggests.

2. Rugby World Cup (starts 9th)

Over the course of six weeks, 20 teams will battle it out in New Zealand for the right to succeed South Africa as rugby union’s world champions. In 2007 the Springboks ground down defending champions England 15-6 in a dour game, while the tournament’s surprise package Argentina repeated their opening night upset of hosts France with a 34-10 victory in the bronze medal match.

The balance of power in world rugby currently resides firmly with the southern hemisphere sides, with New Zealand hopeful of taking full advantage of their position as hosts to win their first World Cup since they co-hosted the inaugural tournament in 1987. Australia will look to carry forward the form which saw them win the Tri-Nations last weekend to claim their third World Cup, with South Africa also seeking to become the first country to take a hat-trick of victories. It will be a major surprise if England, France or any of the northern hemisphere countries come out on top.

The group phase occupies the whole of the first month, with the final taking place in Auckland’s Eden Park on October 23rd.

3. Manchester United vs Chelsea (18th)

This is more than just a clash between two of the Premier League’s heavyweight teams. Coming just three weeks after Manchester United thrashed Arsenal 8-2 in a battle between the division’s two longest-serving managers, this game is a tussle between the old guard, 69-year old Sir Alex Ferguson, and the new generation as represented by new Chelsea boss André Villas-Boas, who at 33 years old is the youngest manager in the Premier League.

It is too early in the fixture list to call this a season-defining match, but it will certainly lay down a marker for the rest of the campaign. Will the wily old fox – whose team this season has received a fresh injection of youth in the shape of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley – have too much for the latest pretender to the throne, several of whose players are barely younger than he is?

Cancellara will defend his time trial world title

4. Cycling road world championships (19th-25th)

Copenhagen plays host to the cycling’s road world championships for the fifth time in its history (but the first since 1956) on a relatively flat course which offers major opportunities for British glory. In the men’s events, Thor Hushovd (road race) and Fabian Cancellara (time trial) will defend their rainbow jerseys with Mark Cavendish, supported by a full-strength British team, a major favourite for the former.

In the women’s races Britain’s Emma Pooley (time trial) and Italy’s Girogia Bronzini (road race) are the defending champions. Lizzie Armitstead and former world and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke will be Britain’s main hopes in the road race – the pair finished ninth and fourth respectively in Melbourne last year.

5. Singapore Grand Prix (25th)

The battle for the Formula 1 drivers’ championship may be all but mathematically over – Sebastian Vettel‘s seventh win of the season in Belgium moved him 92 points clear with a maximum of just 175 still available – but that will not diminish the spectacle of Singapore’s night race, the first of five consecutive grands prix following the end of the final European race in Italy a fortnight before.

In last year’s race Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso just managed to hold off eventual world champion Vettel by less than three-tenths of a second to claim the hat-trick of pole position, fastest lap and race win. It was a victory significantly less controversial than his previous one for Renault in the race’s maiden outing in 2008, when he took first place after teammate Nelson Piquet Jr was ordered to crash by the team to force a safety car period. That provided the platform for Alonso to charge through the field from 15th on the grid. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton is the only other driver to have won in Singapore.


The week in numbers: w/e 3/10/10

Fabian Cancellara

4 – Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara won a record fourth rainbow jersey in the men’s time trial at the Road World Championships in Geelong and Melbourne. Britain’s David Millar was second.

1Emma Pooley became the first Briton to win the women’s time trial at the World Championships.

3 – Number of male Spanish cyclists who were reported last week as having failed doping controls, including three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and Vuelta a España runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera. In addition, Italy’s Riccardo Riccò had 50 unidentified pills seized from his house last week, barely six months after returning from a two-year ban.

1 – The Ryder Cup resumes this morning after a rain-hit weekend, the first time in its history it will finish on a Monday. Europe lead the USA 9½-6½ and require a minimum of five points from today’s 12 singles matches.

Lee Westwood (image courtesy of

1999 – After defeating Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 6&5, Lee Westwood is now unbeaten in Ryder Cup foursomes since 1999.

3 – Number of penalties awarded to Tottenham during their 4-1 Champions League win over FC Twente. They scored from two and missed one.

27 Steaua Bucharest threw away a three-goal lead against Napoli to set a new record of 27 consecutive matches in Europe without a win.

3 Hapoel Tel Aviv‘s Vincent Enyeama became only the third goalkeeper to score in a Champions League game (after Hans Jorg Butt and Sinan Bolat), netting a penalty in Hapoel’s 3-1 defeat to Lyon.

Dario Franchitti (image courtesy of

3 – Scotsman Dario Franchitti secured his third IndyCar title on Saturday after overhauling an 11-point deficit to Will Power – you just couldn’t make that name up, could you? – in the final race of the season at Homestead, Florida.

7Sébastien Loeb claimed a record seventh consecutive World Rally Championship by winning the Rally of France, securing the title with two races to spare.

71 – Number of countries competing at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, which got under way yesterday.

The Premier League week in numbers:

18 – A 2-0 defeat to Everton snapped Birmingham‘s 18-game undefeated streak at St Andrew’s in the league.

14Fulham‘s 1-1 draw at West Ham was manager Mark Hughes‘ 14th draw in his last 18 league matches.

5Wolves, who lost 2-0 at Wigan, have now conceded five goals in the last five minutes of their last four league games.

Karl Henry

11 – Wolves’ Karl Henry‘s 11th-minute red card was the earliest dismissal in the Premier League so far this season.

4 – Successive league away draws for Manchester United, after their goalless game at Sunderland.

8Carlos Tevez opened the scoring with a penalty in Manchester City‘s 2-1 win over Newcastle. He has scored all eight of his spot-kicks in the Premier League.

2 – After coming on as a 36th-minute substitute, Newcastle defender Sol Campbell became only the second player to play in every Premier League season, along with Ryan Giggs.

Didier Drogba

13Didier Drogba scored his 13th goal in his last 11 games against Arsenal, as Chelsea won 2-0.

36 – Consecutive goals scored by Chelsea in league games at Stamford Bridge since they last conceded a goal.

9Blackpool‘s league position after their 2-1 at Anfield, which is particularly impressive given that five of their first seven games have been away from home, including trips to Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

57 – It is 57 years since Liverpool started a top-flight season as poorly as 2010/11 – at the end of the 1953/54 season they were relegated.

The NFL week in numbers:

5 Baltimore defeated Pittbsurgh 17-14. It was the fifth straight regular season meeting between the teams which has been decided by four points or less.

23Detroit suffered their 23rd consecutive road loss, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history (Green Bay 28 Detroit 26).

222Cincinnati‘s Terrell Owens had 10 receptions for 222 yds and a touchdown, becoming the oldest player in NFL history to record a 200-yard receiving game at 36 years, 300 days old. Owens also passed Isaac Bruce to become the all-time number two receiver in yardage terms, behind Jerry Rice. (Cleveland 23 Cincinnati 20).

1,419 Denver quarterback Kyle Orton passed for 341 yards, giving him 1,419 passing yards so far this season. This is the second-highest total after four games in NFL history, trailing only Kurt Warner, who had 1,557 yards after four games of the 2000 season (Denver 26 Tennessee 20).

59Jacksonville‘s Josh Scobee kicked a game-winning 59-yard field goal as time expired, the longest FG in franchise history (Jacksonville 31 Indianapolis 28).

9The New York Giants sacked Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler nine times in the first half alone, propelling them to a 17-3 win in the Sunday night game.

(Some statistics courtesy of @OptaJoe@optajim@OptaJean and

Thor thunders to victory to bring Road World Championships to spectacular end

In the early hours of this morning, Norway’s Thor Hushovd brought the 2010 UCI Road World Championships to a close by winning the elite men’s road race after six gruelling hours in the saddle over a tough, undulating 257 km course between Melbourne and Geelong which proved too much for many of the pure sprinters such as Britain’s Mark Cavendish.

Thor Hushovd wins the men's road race (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The 257.2 km course proved to be much more difficult than was initially anticipated before the championships, playing into the hands of Classics men such as Philippe Gilbert and Hushovd who are able to both climb and sprint. Mark Cavendish, the world’s best pure sprinter for the past three years, had already abandoned by the time the decisive moment came on the final steep climb of Challambra Crescent with about 11 kilometres remaining. Belgium’s Björn Leukemans attacked the front of the lead group, launching teammate Gilbert – a double stage winner at last month’s Vuelta a España and the champion at the Amstel Gold classic earlier in the year – into a 14-second lead by the top of the climb. Behind him, a chase group of six formed, led by defending rainbow jersey Cadel Evans, as the sudden acceleration shattered the peloton into fragments. Hushovd had been unable to live with that initial burst, but as the group ahead battled to claw back Gilbert’s advantage (which reached a maximum of 21 seconds), he and about ten others clung on grimly and were eventually able to reintegrate as the Belgian was swallowed up with three kilometres to go.

In the final uphill sprint, Hushovd timed his attack perfectly. The 32-year old – nicknamed the ‘God of Thunder’ – held back patiently and only hit full gas in the final 100 metres as he swept past a tiring Matti Breschel to claim the rainbow jersey by nearly two bike lengths. Aussie Allan Davis was third, while Gilbert finished at the back of the lead group of 18 who were all credited with the same time.

Hushovd, the under-23 time trial champion back in 1998, was delighted to claim his first senior world title:

It is hard to understand that now I won at the Worlds. It’s a dream and sometimes I feel it’s an unreal dream. I’m speechless.

Of course, the last lap was really hard when Gilbert attacked but I think the wind was too strong out there. It was too hard to stay in front alone. I just told myself don’t make mistakes and don’t mess it up, I said to myself 100 times.

I think it was still a perfect race.

The organisers should be praised for setting a challenging road course featuring a number of short but sharp climbs that mitigated against a straightforward bunch sprint and provided considerable scope for small groups or individuals to launch dangerous attacks, keeping both the men’s and women’s races exciting and unpredictable throughout. Despite being overshadowed by the swathe of positive drugs tests during the last few days – in the space of 48 hours four Spanish riders, including three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, were reported to have provided positive doping tests – it has been an excellent championships, with lots of close and hard-fought racing.

Yesterday, Britain’s Olympic champion Nicole Cooke narrowly missed out on a medal after getting into an apparently decisive breakaway with Germany’s Judith Arndt in the final kilometres of a thrilling elite women’s road race, which featured several attacks and counter-attacks on the final loop of the Geelong circuit. As Cooke and Arndt jockeyed for position on the uphill straight, they were swallowed up in the closing metres by a small chasing pack led by Italy’s Giorgia Bronzini and Holland’s Marianne Vos. Cooke was unable to respond with her sprint in time, and finished a disappointed fourth. Time trial winner Emma Pooley featured in a number of speculative breakaways late on, but was unable to make any of them stick.

Despite disappointment in the two elite road races the British team have had a successful championships, winning gold and silver in the women’s and men’s time trials courtesy of strong rides by Pooley and David Millar, the latter beaten only by the incredible Fabian Cancellara, who claimed a record fourth rainbow jersey in the time trial discipline. Alex Dowsett, one of the favourites in the under-23 time trial, finished well down the field after swapping his time trial bike for a road version midway through the race.

Men’s under-23 time trial:

1.  Taylor Phinney (USA) 42: 50.29

2.  Luke Durbridge (AUS) + 1.90

3.  Marcel Kittel (GER) +24.01

31. Alex Dowsett (GBR) +3:25.19

Elite women’s time trial:

1.  Emma Pooley (GBR) 32: 48.44

2.  Judith Arndt (GER) + 15.17

3.  Linda Villumsen (NZL) + 15.80

Elite men’s time trial:

1.  Fabian Cancellara (SUI) 58: 09.19

2.  David Millar (GBR) + 1:02.75

3.  Tony Martin (GER) + 1:12.49

Men’s under-23 road race:

1.  Michael Matthews (AUS) 4:01: 23

2.  John Degenkolb (GER) same time

3.  Taylor Phinney (USA) s/t

11. Luke Rowe (GBR) s/t

56. Jonathan McEvoy (GBR) +1:04

Alex Dowsett (GBR) DNF

Andrew Fenn (GBR) DNF

Elite women’s road race:

1.  Giorgia Bronzini (ITA) 3:32:01

2.  Marianne Vos (NED) same time

3.  Emma Johansson (SWE) s/t

4.  Nicole Cooke (GBR) s/t

9. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR) +0:03

16. Sharon Laws (GBR) +0:03

20. Emma Pooley (GBR) +0:03

29. Catherine Williamson (GBR) +1:42

Lucy Martin (GBR) DNF

Katie Colclough (GBR) DNF

Elite men’s road race:

1. Thor Hushovd (NOR) 6:21:49

2. Matti Breschel (DEN) same time

3. Allan Davis (AUS) s/t

Mark Cavendish (GBR) DNF

David Millar (GBR) DNF

Jeremy Hunt (GBR) DNF

Pooley on top of the world after Dowsett is grounded

Emma Pooley (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Britian’s Emma Pooley has won the women’s time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Melbourne, completing the 22.9 kilometre course in 32:48, 15 seconds faster than Judith Arndt of Germany, with New Zealand’s Linda Melanie Villumsen claiming the final podium position.

Winning the world champion’s rainbow jersey caps a brilliant season for the 27-year old Cervélo rider, who has also won Flèche Wallonne, the Tour de l’Aude and the Giro del Trentino in a breakout year which has finally seen her emerge from the shadow of compatriot Nicole Cooke, for whom she played a vital support role in winning her road race gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Pooley was delighted afterwards, explaining that she had targeted this race specifically in training:

The Olympic Games is pretty special, but in a way, that was easier for me because I had no expectations and no pressure. This time it was different. I trained specifically for this, doing a lot of hill training and intervals on my time trial bike. Now I get to wear the world champion’s jersey with the stripes for a whole year.

The day had started with disappointment for Britain’s Alex Dowsett in the under-23 time trial. His podium chances were ruined when he grounded a pedal and he was forced to switch to a road bike. The race was won by Dowsett’s American Trek-Livestrong teammate, Taylor Phinney.

Having achieved the time trial and road race double at this year’s British National Championships, Pooley has a realistic opportunity to achieve the same in Saturday’s 127 km women’s road race on a hilly course which should suit her well.

However, having done a recce of the men’s road race course, Mark Cavendish has effectively written off his chances of  hopes of becoming Britain’s first world road race champion since Tom Simpson in 1965:

According to what people had been telling me beforehand the  rainbow jersey was a possibility, but now that I’ve been able to check it out for myself, I’ll have to revise my ambitions.

The circuit, which the riders will have to negotiate eleven times, features two steep climbs and a long, steady uphill finish which should negate the pure sprinters and favour Classics specialists such as Philippe Gilbert or Fabian Cancellara.

Women’s time trial result

1. Emma Pooley (Great Britain) 32:48.44

2. Judith Arndt (Germany) +0:15.17

3. Linda Melanie Villumsen (New Zealand) +0:15.80

4. Amber Neben (USA) +0:37.66

5. Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France) +0:43.94

6. Evelyn Stevens (USA) +1:00.08

7. Tara Whitten (Canada) +1:05.91

8. Shara Gillow (Australia) +1:13.18

9. Emilia Fahlin (Sweden) +1:22.20

10. Tatiana Guderzo (Italy) at 1-25.5


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