It’s a Mads Worlds
At the start line in Leeds, all around Mads Pedersen were familiar faces expected to take the win. Mathieu van der Poel, Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert. However, the six hours and 262km along Yorkshire roads in horrific conditions left us with a finale few could have predicted.
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Having started bright and early for the one-day race, it was the 23-year-old Dane who proved to be the unexpectedly strongest rider, as Matteo Trentin was going nowhere quickly after launching his sprint.
While everyone focused on Van der Poel and then Trentin, Pedersen had managed to hide his head and snatch a first rainbow jersey for Denmark. Trentin was left to drown his sorrows, looking like there was no tomorrow on the podium, unlikely to ever get a better chance at gold.
Belgium brought the strongest squad to the men’s road event, and were expected to take the race to the other nations in their pursuit of gold.
However, their chances took an ultimately fatal knock before the race had even entered the Harrogate circuit, where the majority of racing was expected to take place.
Coming up to the finish line for the first of nine times, Philippe Gilbert hit the deck in a crash he admits he caused but can’t explain. The Belgian got back on his feet, grimacing, with Remco Evenepoel standing by ready to drag the 37-year-old back up to the peloton.
However, with the conditions in play making the Worlds even more of an attritional race than usual, this was easier said than done. A lap later Gilbert had abandoned in tears, he may never get another chance as good as this to take a second title. Evenepoel then followed soon after, his energy spent at his first Worlds.
Greg Van Avermaet remained for the Belgians, and despite top billing alongside Gilbert he has not had displayed the same form in 2019, his biggest win coming at the recent GP de Montréal. Really, Belgian hopes centred on Gilbert and Evenepoel, and when they climbed off the country’s chances of a gold medal did too.
Mathieu van der Poel is human after all
Despite 2019 being his first proper season on the road, Mathieu van der Poel was the pre-race favourite thanks to phenomenal victories at a number of races including the Amstel Gold Race.
Everything looked to be going to plan for the 24-year-old, as he attacked alongside Matteo Trentin with 33km to go, embedding himself in the leading group of five as the elastic began to snap back to the peloton.
What many overlooked was how well the young Dutchman would fare in a road race of this length. Van der Poel said he had trained to counteract this potential weakness, but the kilometres eventually became too much for him as he cracked in spectacular fashion with 12km to go.
It was a proper bonk too, as Van der Poel was the fourth last rider to cross the line, nearly 11 minutes down. Yorkshire will have been a useful experience for him, though, and the 2020 season holds many more opportunities for Van der Poel to take glory as we expect to see him place more focus on road racing.
Yorkshire weather plays decisive role
Every talking point and discussion of how the 2019 Worlds went down will need to be contextualised by the conditions riders had to contend with. Whilst rain has blighted all events throughout a particularly British week, Yorkshire saved its best for last, with riders waking before the sun had risen to find the course had been reduced and the start time delayed due to the torrential rain that had continued overnight into the morning.
A breakaway of Richard Carapaz (Ecuador), Nairo Quintana (Colombia) and Primož Roglič (Slovenia) went off the front early, and rather than looking to animate the race it’s more likely they were making a bee-line for their hotels in Harrogate.
Despite the climbs to Buttertubs and Grinton Moor being taken out of the route, after riders had gone over Cray Hill they rode into standing water on the road, creating images that will come to define these World Championships.
Only 46 riders out of 197 finished the race, with the likes of Geraint Thomas who grew up on the rainy roads of Wales not even fancying the Yorkshire conditions.
Mads Pedersen’s win was of course helped by the conditions, which doesn’t take away from what is a shock victory, but instead shows his class as a bike rider and the nature of his win will be remembered for many years to come.
Trentin left desolate
Amidst all the celebrations at the Danish hotel this evening, Matteo Trentin will be left to play over the final kilometres in his head and think of what could have been. The Italian and former European road race champion is unlikely to have a better opportunity to upgrade to the rainbow bands, and it was all nearly so perfect.
He did well to follow Van der Poel’s move off the front of the peloton with 33km to go as the right one to go with, joining up with the three riders up front, and he could hardly have believed his luck when the Dutchman cracked in the closing kilometres. Trentin then watched his two opponents carefully, knowing he had by far the faster sprint and experience to cross the finish line first.
However, at the end of a gruelling 262km course it was more of a case of who had the freshest legs rather than the fastest, and the 30-year-old was spent as the Dane powered past him to take the victory.