The testing climbs of the mountains at the ski resort of Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps proved a brutish test for junior riders at the UCI Road World Championships in Austria.
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Best of New Zealanders was Niamh Fisher-Black who finished in the second bunch in 36th place in the junior women’s race, under five minutes behind the winner, Laura Stigger (AUT), with fellow Nelson rider Britney Kerr 11:52 back in the fourth group.
The junior men’s race over 132kms was split asunder after a fast tail-wind start and two major crashes with riders left in small groups littered over the two laps of the Olympic circuit, where making the finish line in Innsbruck proved a major achievement in itself.
Belgium’s outstanding prospect Remco Evenepoel won in 3:03.49, 1m25s ahead of Marius Mayhofer (GER) and Alessandro Fancellu (ITA). Best of the Kiwi trio was Josh Lane in 62nd spot, 18:54 from the winner, with Theo Gilbertson 72nd over 20mins behind while Sam Cook, like a sizeable number, did not finish after he was stalled by one of the crashes.
Both races comprised an initial lumpy tailwind section from Kufstein before the Olympic circuit that featured one massive climb, and a spectacular descent down to Innsbruck to the famous Bergisel ski jump, originally used for the 1964 Winter Olympics, and finish by the Imperial Palace.
The junior women’s race over 71kms was circumspect over the initial stages before the race split once they reached the circuit proper, with Fisher-Black in a bunch 46 seconds back and Kerr in the group at 3:20 behind. As a four-strong group pushed off the front, Fisher-Black managed to maintain her place in the second bunch which lost time on the major ascent on the Olympic circuit, with Kerr in the fourth group further back.
The junior men’s race of 132kms which unfolded over a similar course but with two full laps of the Olympic circuit, hit the go button from the start. A major crash early on caught out many including Cook who was unable to catch back to the bunch on the super-fast flat tailwind section.
A second significant crash halted the progress of Gilbertson as the first lap of the circuit splintered the race with small groups littered over the course. Evenepoel, who has already been signed by the Quick Step Floors World Tour team as a teenager, bridged up to the leaders and cruised away to an impressive win.
“This is the world championships and the courses are traditionally very tough and it is a longer race than during the year. For young New Zealand riders, it is an eye-opener,” said Cycling New Zealand’s Jacques Landry.
“They all stuck at it and I am sure it has been an education on the strength of the European riders and where they need to get to if they want to have a professional career in this sport.”
Tomorrow’s attention goes on the under-23 men’s road race over 186kms with an initial 85kms from Kufstein with one significant climb before four laps of the 24km “Olympic Circuit.”
The New Zealand team comprise Luke Mudgway, Ryan Christensen and James Mitri, the UK-born Kiwi, who at 19 has already completed his first year with Continental Pro Spanish team Burgos-BH, one step down from the World Tour.
Junior Women Road Race (72kms): Laura Stigger (AUT) 1:56:26, 1; Marie Le Net (FRA) at same time, 2; Simone Boilard (CAN) st, 3. Also New Zealand riders: Niamh Fisher-Black at 4:56, 36; Britney Kerr at 11:52, 81.
Junior Men Road Race (132km): Remco Evenepoel (BEL) 3:03.49, 1; Marius Mayrhofer (GER) at 1:25, 2; Alessandro Fancellu (ITA) at 1:38, 3. Also New Zealand riders: Josh Lane at 18:54, 62; Theo Gilbertson at 20:34, 72; Sam Cook dnf.