Norway’s Kristoffer Halvorsen pipped Pascal Ackermann of Germany in a high-speed bunch sprint to win the Under-23 men’s road race at the UCI Road World Cycling Championships yesterday.
The Norwegian finished off a great team-effort, when he beat Ackermann and Jakub Mareczko of Italy for a total of 165.7km in The Pearl with a time of 3:40.53.
The race included ten 15.2km laps around The Pearl and so was more like a criterium with constant changes of line, sweeping curves, roundabouts and tight corners.
“My teammates were so good, they’ve been working so hard, I’m incredibly happy,” a joyful Halvorsen said just minutes after crossing the line.
“The course was perfect for me and this was my biggest goal for this season.”
Talking about his plans for next season the 20-year-old champions, said, “Next year I will ride for Team Joker, the same team I rode for this year.”
The flat course was tailor-made for a sprint finish, although there was a breakaway that stayed off the front until the final 10 kilometres. The race started with two crashes at roundabouts within the first five kilometres. Many riders tried to escape from the peloton and after about ten kilometres Dutchman Pascal Eenkhoorn, Amanuel Gebrezgabihier from Eritrea and Portugal’s Nuno Bico were the first to maintain a real gap. The three had 44 seconds at the first crossing of the finish line. With the escapees still in striking distance several riders tried to make a jump. Swiss Patrick Muller and Colombian Bryan Gomez were the first to join the escapees.
While the five leaders were fighting to sustain their lead, Bico slipped, crashed in a sharp turn and lost contact. He stood right up, remounted and managed to get back into the lead group. At the same time Iran’s Mahdi Rajabikaboodcheshmeh, Michael O’Loughlin from Ireland, Gregory Daniel from the USA and Rwandan Jean-Claude Uwizeye joined to a form breakaway, that would make last until the final lap.
Russian Pavel Silakov and Irish Daire Feeley made an effort to escape from the peloton, but they did not manage. The nine leaders worked together to increase their lead to about three minutes, with the chasing peloton not yet fully organised. Many riders still tried to escape, but did not succeed in bridging the gap.
Spain and Kazakhstan joined forces in front of the bunch halfway the race. The battlefield went into a status quo, with the breakaway holding on to their three-minute gap. Meanwhile the heat and the fast pace took their toll at the back of the bunch. Costa Rica’s Gabriel Marin was the first to step off his bike in after the first full lap and many were to follow. In total only 149 of the 188 starters completed the full 165.7 kilometres in The Pearl.
With about 50 kilometres to go, mutual trust seemed to fade in the breakaway group. In the peloton, Norway came to the front row, working for pre-race favourite Halvorsen, who had dominated the sprints in this year’s Tour de l’Avenir.
Together with British, Spanish and Kazakh help, the Norwegians slowly drew the peloton nearer and nearer to the leaders. At three laps from the finish, the gap was 2.20 minutes and with two laps to go it was 1.36 minutes.
Gebrezgabihier was the first of the leaders to give way. The Eritrean rider suffered from heavy cramps and had to let his eighth fellow escapees go in the eighth lap. He was quickly swallowed by the hunting peloton. Bryan Gomez was the second to drop from the breakaway and in the penultimate lap Nuno Bico attacked. He didn’t get space, however, and heading into the final lap the seven frontrunners still held on to a 22-second lead. The Norwegian army was chasing them in full blown fashion.
In the final lap, Rajabikaboodcheshmeh and Eenkhoorn surrendered just seconds before their companions were caught with ten kilometres to go. Norway were still in the driver’s seat, with France, Denmark and Germany eyeing their chances in second row. France and Germany made pace in the final five kilometres, but the Norwegian train rushed to the front again after clearing the red flag for the final kilometres. The final sprint was a close call between Ackermann and Halvorsen, but the Norwegian lived up to the expectations.
Halvorsen followed the footsteps of fellow countrymen Kurt Asle Arvesen and Sven Erik Bystrøm, who captured the Under-23 title in 1997 and 2014. Norway has now collected three Men’s Under-23 titles to equal France in second place of the all-time ranking.
Italy still leads with four gold medals.
Ackermann was piloted very well by his German teammates and looked on a world title course entering the final straight, only to be pipped on the line by Halvorsen.
“The race was tough and fast. The final sprint was a little too long for me. But I’m happy with how I did,” said the German.
The Italian team were nowhere to be seen in most parts of the exciting race, but Mareczko managed to place himself well for the final sprint and rolled to bronze.
Later on, he explained the Italians’ strategy: “The team helped me throughout the race. In the final kilometres my teammate suffered a fall. I could sprint well only in the last 150m, bit it was too late. I’m still happy with the bronze.”
The 2016 Road World Championships continue today with the junior men’s and junior women’s road races. The elite women’s road race takes place tomorrow and the 2016 Worlds draw to a close with the elite men’s road race on Sunday.
MEN’S U-23 ROAD RACE RESULTS
1. Kristoffer Halvorsen (Norway) 3:40:53
2. Pascal Ackermann (Germany) s.t.
3. Jakub Mareczko (Italy)
4. Phil Bauhaus (Germany)
5. Amund Grondahl Jansen (Norway)
6. Jason Lowndes (Australia)
7. Ivan Garcia (Spain)
8. Aksel Nommela (Estonia)
9. Jonathan Dibben (Great Britain)
10. Alan Banaszek (Poland)
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