Intensity, 'idiots' and a broken spoke: GB junior men secure top 10 in Worlds road race but residual hunger remains

The young Brits showed themselves well in the Flanders road race, happy with their performance but still left with thoughts of what could have been

Men's junior road race at Flanders 2021
(Image credit: Getty)

The second-place Frenchman Romain Grégoire rolls straight through the mixed zone after the culmination of the junior men's road race at the Flanders World Championships.

Coming to a stop just outside the tent, he promptly bursts into tears. He's got silver but clearly wanted the rainbow jersey that now belongs to the Norwegian Per Strand Hagenes.

The rest of the juniors look absolutely spent as they pass through. The GB boys, specifically, have given it their all after making it known they are here in Belgium, animating the race throughout and achieving a top 10 finish with Max Poole.

 Before Poole was involved in the sprint for bronze, Josh Tarling had gotten himself into the early move before Finlay Pickering then hit out late on. Poole looks exhausted afterwards while Pickering has the sort of intense demeanour you don't necessarily expect from an 18-year-old. It soon becomes clear they came for more than a top 10 finish and plainly have the hunger of pros in the making.

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"I probably hoped for more but that's racing," Poole told Cycling Weekly as to his view of his top 10 finish.

"It kicked off again at the end and we probably missed a couple of moves we should have got into...I'm not a sprinter but I think if I'd ridden it a bit smarter maybe I could have got a bit more out of it but you know we're still learning."

The Great Britain team thought it easier to ride the course on or near the front early on, so Tarling and team-mate Jack Brough got stuck and soon Tarling found himself in a three-man move off the front, forcing other teams to chase in the hopes of tiring the other nations. Disaster then struck, however, as his spoke snapped and he required a bike change, fighting to get back in contention but when they kicked again that was it.

That move was soon brought back in before Finlay Pickering followed an attack from Germany and Italy.

"Towards the end, I think some people were cooked so it lulled and I thought I'd try my chances," Pickering explained. "I'm not going to win a sprint and [so] tried my chances got in the break. 

"And then, I don't know how you say it, but some idiot absolutely messed up the corner and that was it for the break, and then the break was away and I had some legs so I used my gas up to try and get the other break back, but my legs were just done at the end and we couldn't bring it back, unfortunately."

While Tarling is more effusive as to their performance, Pickering is already steeled to return to the Worlds in search of putting a rainbow jersey on a British back. 

"Well not really because the team didn't get a win," is his straightforward appraisal of whether he's happy with the result. "Hopefully, we can come back with this team in U23 and try for the stripes there."

Earlier in the week, Pickering had been going strong in the junior time trial where Tarling claimed silver, before crashing into a barrier yet still managing eighth, saying a ride where he was "on fire" could have been so much more.

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"I was pretty gutted," Pickering recalls. "I was on fire basically for that race on Tuesday and I was just pushing it to the very limit, I knew on that corner it was quite wide and then the kerb just kicked back in and that was my maker.

"Finishing eight with my's bittersweet, it's a decent result but it's just the thought of what could have been."

A medal and two top 10s for the British juniors in Flanders, a result they should be more than happy with, but their residual hunger bodes well for the future.

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.