Mads Pedersen caused arguably the surprise of the World Championships as the Dane took the win in the elite men’s road race on the final day of the UCI World Road Championships.  Pedersen got the better of Matteo Trentin and Switzerland’s Stefan Küng on a day of upsets at the top of the standings.

The elite men’s race had a number of riders expected to thrive on the Yorkshire course.  Julian Alaphilippe of France, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, Mathieu van Der Poel of the Netherlands, Peter Sagan of Slovakia had all been mentioned as contenders for the rainbow jersey; however, none of the aforementioned would reach the podium and only one would even break into the top ten.

Anticipated bad weather saw the elite men’s road race shortened to 261.8km from Leeds to Harrogate.  True to expectations, the weather for kick off was bleak but the attacks were on from the very start with Dan Martin getting amongst the action early on for Ireland alongside Slovenia’s Vuelta a Espana champion Primož Roglič and Tom Wirtgen of Luxembourg.  The fast start did not meet with the blessing of the peloton, however, and after the initial move was brought back the attacks continued until finally an 11-man move made the break.

Matteo Trentin can only wonder what might have been, having come so close and having the numerical advantage, photo Sirotti

Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz of Ecuador was in the move along with Roglič, Nairo Quintana of Colombia, Jan Polanc of Slovenia, Alex Howes of USA, Silvan Dillier of Switzerland, Jonas Koch of Germany, Maciej Bodnar of Poland, Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark, Petr Vakoc of Czech Republic and Hugo Houle of Canada.  Together they built a lead that went up over four minutes as the conditions and crashes began to play havoc with a number of riders.

New Zealand weren’t immune from problems, with Patrick Bevin needing an early bike change with just 30km covered.  At the front of the peloton Australia were the early team to show themselves at the head of affairs with Rohan Dennis leading the way.  It was interesting to note the BMC machine he’d opted to ride rather than the Merida bike of his World Tour team; and it would be revealed that his contract with Bahrain Merida had been terminated.

Mathieu van der Poel faced early problems with a crash and so too Ben Gastauer of Luxembourg who found himself crashed into by the Irish team car.  The day would progressively become more and more a race of attrition through slick roads, shin-deep puddles and cold conditions that made life miserable for a huge number of riders.  In fact of the 195 riders to start the day’s racing only 46 riders made it to the finish.

With 160km to go the time gap between break and bunch was 4.25mins.  That gap progressively descended as the finishing circuit approached with 125.5km to go.  As the riders reached Harrogate a heavy crash brought down a number of riders with Philippe Gilbert hitting the deck.  Also going down were both Shane Archbold and Dion Smith of New Zealand in what was proving to be a miserable day for many riders.  Archbold remounted and joined Gilbert and time trial silver medallist Remco Evenepoel in pursuit of the peloton. 

In the main field, however, Jack Bauer was holding his own well as France put down the pace with Denmark getting involved as well.  With 8 laps to go the race was all together as Remi Cavagna of France leading the still-large peloton through the finish line with 150km in the legs.  Jack Bauer crossed the line in the top half of the peloton that was still a little over 100-strong as Dion Smith, Evenepoel and co went through the finish line 38 seconds back.  Shane Archbold was in a group further back.

The race changed twice. Once when Mathieu van Der Poel attacked and then massively when he cracked, photo Sirotti

The laps of the finishing circuit claimed scalp after scalp as riders dropped out in their droves.  Franche continued to have a presence on the front, with the Netherlands and Denmark also paying close attention to the goings on at the front.  There were a number of riders holding their own in the main field, with Greg van Avermaet just ahead of Jack Bauer.  

With 67km to go Lawson Craddock of the USA attacked and was joined by Stefan Küng of Switzerland.  The duo held a slender lead but they were committed to the move.  They continued to lead with a gap of around 20 seconds until Mads Pedersen bridged across with Mike Teunissen.  The Dutchman made it across with Pedersen but Craddock’s time at the front was up although now Gianni Moscon was trying to bridge across; 5 seconds adrift with 3 laps to go as Belgium led the peloton through 20 seconds back.

Moscon made the catch and the battle continued as much against the conditions as each other.  But Mathieu van Der Poel had a card to show, stamping on the pedals and bridging across to the leaders with Matteo Trentin; a revisit of the rivalry between the duo at the OVO Energy Tour of Britain.  They were joined by Dani Martinez of Colombia and with 31km to go the leading group had built up to five with the Colombian not quite able to hold on.

The gap never really grew to a substantial amount with Tim Wellens for Belgium trying to pile on the pace and limit the losses that with 24km to go were out to 35 seconds.  The winning move looked to have been decided and it also looked like pre-race favourite van Der Poel would take his first world road title.  With one lap to go the gap to the peloton was out to 48 seconds with Michael Matthews, Rui Costa, Greg van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, Zdenek Stybar all among those still in the hunt.

Matteo Trentin, Mads Pedersen and Stefan Küng on the podium, photo Sirotti

All of a sudden, however, out of nowhere van Der Poel cracked with 12.7km to go.  The Dutchman completely exploded with nothing left in the tank, simply unable to hold on to the wheel of Matteo Trentin.  The rest of the group continued on with a 1.26min lead with 10km to go; the winner surely coming from the leading quartet.  Nils Politt of Germany hit the front of the peloton but they were running out of road to catch the likes of Küng and Moscon who possessed great engines for these kinds of distances.

5km from the finish Moscon was now off the group, having turned himself inside out for Matteo Trentin.  The podium was decided then, it was only a matter of what order.  It was almost surprising that there were no attacks on the run in to the finish, with all three riders content to leave it to a sprint.  Pedersen led the way with 1km to go, Trentin second wheel and Küng third.  The trio waited on the final ramp before the finish, biding their time until Trentin launched with 200m to go.  Pedersen responded with Küng unable to go with them.  The Dane, after 6 hours 27 minutes showed a sensational turn of pace to see off Trentin and claim an emotional and exhausted world championship win ahead of the disappointed Italian.  Küng and Moscon took third and fourth as behind them Peter Sagan claimed fifth place.

The list of riders who didn’t finish was a long one with big names Remco Evenepoel, Philippe Gilbert, Sam Bennett, Nairo Quintana, Geraint Thomas, Daryl Impey, Marc Soler, Dan Martin, Pascal Ackermann, Alejandro Valverde, Bob Jungels, Bauke Mollema all among the list of riders who didn’t finish the race.  Also included in the DNFs were the entirety of the New Zealand team, with the cruel conditions seeing neither Dion Smith, Patrick Bevin and late call ups Jack Bauer and Shane Archbold make it to the finish.  

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